Working around my phone plan’s lack of roaming


  • I need to deal with SMS one-time passwords, especially for online banking in the Philippines.
  • I like my plan with Freedom Mobile, but they don’t offer roaming in the Philippines.
  • My Philippine prepaid SIM will expire if I don’t regularly load it.

I could leave my SIM plugged into a phone and set up some kind of forwarding or logging. However, this means I can bring only one phone to the Philippines. Having two Android devices was handy for setting up WiFi Baby Monitor and for writing even if my battery was running low. On the other hand, we could use W-‘s phone as the receiver, I can keep a power bank or charger handy, and there might even be a spare phone at home that I can set up.

Alternatively, I can try to set up my Fongo number for incoming texts. I’m planning to pay for Internet access anyway. Some services like Namecheap won’t let me use the Fongo number for two-factor authentication, but others do.

I can check with W- if he has roaming. If so, maybe I can use his phone number as a backup.

I can use my Philippine prepaid SIM as the contact number (likely to be more successful with Philippine banks anyway), enable roaming before I leave, and periodically reload online to keep it active. If I can find the Smart Pinoy SIM, that can receive text messages with zero balance and it expires a year after the last load. I might also be able to change the contact number online once we’re back in Canada.

Hmm… Plenty of things to try. I think I like the convenience of bringing both phones, since they’re already all set up for writing. I’ll try Fongo first, then I’ll try the Philippine SIM if that doesn’t work. If I have to keep my SIM active by buying a roaming SIM and/or spending a few dollars a month, it’s probably worth it, and it won’t be for a super-long time anyway. It’s a good opportunity to experiment with paying for convenience.

  • Jeremy

    It’s hard to tell what all of your requirements are but it looks like something like might work for you. Similar to the Fongo solution but using more open standards (XMPP – send text messages right from jabber.el anywhere you have wifi/data!) and there’s some good clients for phones for it.

    Also if possible it’s best to avoid SMS for 2-factor since that’s a common vector to steal accounts since most phone companies are overly lax. Sadly seems that namecheap is still working using one of the better standards though:

    • Wish I could avoid SMS! I generally use an authenticator app whenever I can, but sometimes I don’t have a choice.

      JMP looks interesting, although I might also try rolling my own service with Twilio if it comes to that. Thanks for sharing!

  • Google Fi worked well between USA and Malaysia.

  • Mark Janes

    Google Fi has the added benefit that calls / SMS to your US phone number
    are handled over wifi if you have no cell reception. I change my phone
    to wifi-only overseas, to avoid roaming charges (which are generally
    cheaper for Fi than other plans)

  • Mark, Grant: Yeah, I’ve heard interesting things about Google Fi. If it were available in Canada (and if it worked with my phone, since I’m not planning to upgrade any time soon), I might have considered switching to it. Ah well! :)

  • tanica

    When I had the same problem, many years ago I opted to leave a nokia symbian phone at home with an app that would forward all the text messages and informations about the lost calls to my email address. This way I was able to text back or call with any voip provider I set up on my “travel” phone sip app. Not the simplest way to keep a conversation going via text, but it worked. I presume there should be apps for android that do the same thing now, I never looked for them.

  • I also use Freedom Mobile and Fongo. The countries in which Freedom/Wind have favoured rates have declined, so I use as I hop around the world. I use pay-as-you-go in China, Finland, and Austria, with whom Freedom Mobile don’t have negotiated rates. I use a separate SIM in an extra Nexus 5 phone, so I am carrying multiple devices. I haven’t used the included U.S. phone number for calls, and just use roaming data, particularly for Wechat. Know roaming is a Canadian company, and I have been well satisfied by the service.

  • As it turns out, Freedom lets me get text messages in the Philippines, so that’s all sorted out! Yay. :)