With all its downsides highlighted lately (cesspool of political division, actual fake news calling real news fake, and violent trolling, anyone?) it can be easy to forget the Internet is magical, allowing the world to shrink in wonderful ways. In the roughly 18 years between my move to Mexico City and my recent move to Edinburgh, times have changed enough that we all have computers in our pockets, connected in sometimes too many ways with people around the world. My relationships with many people are no different here than they were in Vancouver, because of the ease of communicating online. And now I’ve set up my Vancouver phone number so calling me is no different for my fellow Canadians than it was before.
Even though I’ve never been a big fan of phone calls, when I was planning my big move from Canada to Scotland, one of my concerns was giving up my Canadian phone number. I’ve had it so long — since arriving in Vancouver from Mexico City — and it’s out there in ways I don’t always know with freelance clients as well as acquaintances (and spammers). So I explored Voice over Internet Protocol solutions that allow you to port your existing number, and luckily I discovered they do exist. You need a VoIP provider and then either an actual phone that allows for a VoIP connection or, as I’m doing, a “softphone” app.
I landed on using voip.ms as my VoIP provider but don’t remember what led me to them — a simple Google search, I think. The “.ms” is the country code for Montserrat, but they seem to target customers in the United States and Canada, don’t require a contract, allow you to use a wide range of devices and apps, and allow porting of your existing phone number. Not all numbers can be ported, but they have a search function that allows you to check before you sign up.
You can get a new phone number from them, but I was less concerned with having a Canadian number than with continuing to receive calls from my existing number. Today, for example, I have a phone meeting with a Canadian client and I could tell them to keep using my Vancouver number. No fuss over how to dial an international number, no long distance charges for them. (Friends and relatives, this applies to you too.) I always have the do not disturb function on so I don’t get notifications while I’m sleeping, so no one has to worry about forgetting about time zones and waking me up.
Setting it up is relatively easy, though I did have to send proof of my identify (as in scanning and uploading my passport with any private bits blacked out). If you’re not a telephony geek, don’t get bogged down in all the options and terminology in the dashboard; follow the step-by-step instructions provided in the Wiki. They have responsive chat help as well.
I’ve set it up so that calls to my Canadian number are automatically forwarded to my UK cell number, and I set up voicemail in case that number is busy or unreachable — and voicemails are sent to me as sound attachments to an email so I don’t have to sign in to hear them. Because of that, I haven’t missed a single scam voicemail telling me I owe the Canadian Revenue Service money and am going to jail.
I’m currently using the free version of an app called Zoiper to make outgoing calls from my cell phone or computer. The app does allow you to receive incoming calls but keeping it on in the background is a serious drain on battery life and doesn’t always seem to work. There are paid options to apparently make it work better which I’m avoiding given how little I believe I’ll use it. The voip.ms wiki has a list of actual phones you can use plus other apps, but I landed on Zoiper because the free version seems to provide all the features I need.
I can send and receive texts as well through the voip.ms app, and the texts can also arrive via email. They come in chopped up into 160 character segments, which feels archaic, and for my ease of use I would rather use iMessage, Messenger, or other ways of instant messaging instead. But the ability to receive texts I wasn’t expecting has already come in handy.
The cost is minimal. You have the option of a monthly plan that includes unlimited incoming calls, or pay 85 cents per month for each number plus less than one cent a minute for calls. Unless you’re setting this up for a business with multiple lines, or you’re superchatty, I can’t imagine the monthly plan being cheaper. Because I have my Canadian number forwarded to my UK number, I pay for both an incoming and outgoing call (incoming from my caller, outgoing to my UK number) but it’s still a negligible cost for the amount I will use it.
So even now that I’ve moved to Edinburgh, if you have my Vancouver number, you have my number. In the immortal words of Carly Rae Jepsen, call me maybe?