My friends were appalled when I told them what I was doing. “You’re never supposed to change your number,” I texted. “It’s like your SSN!!!” He’s right: a stable phone number means people always know how to get in touch. Additionally, phones play a major role in proving your identity online. Many companies will text you to verify who you are when you log in (although Consumer Reports recommends setting up two-factor authentication use an app instead of SMS).
But what if you could get a new number, while keeping your old number almost for free? That’s what I set out to do.
There are many reasons other than mine for changing your primary phone number while keeping the old one. You might be so inundated with spam calls and texts — an annoyance that’s on the rise, as The New York Times reported — that you decide to burn things down and start over. Or, if someone is stalking or harassing you over the phone, you might want to change your primary contact number but still have access to it just in case.
To make my switch, I relied on Google Voice, a popular free service that lets you choose a virtual number and forward texts and calls sent to that number to another phone. This is useful if you want to assign a secondary number to businesses or if you want a separate number for work.
My goal was to move my old number to Google Voice and replace my main number with a new one that I would choose myself. The whole process only cost me $23, but it was a bit trickier than it looks.
To start, I looked for a new phone number that I liked. I live in San Francisco so I wanted a local number. Google Voice lets you pick a new virtual number, as long as it’s not already in use, so I picked one with a 415 area code, and even picked a meaningful four-digit series for the end of the number.
My old number still lived with my service provider, Mint Mobile, a low-cost carrier that piggybacks onto T-Mobile’s network. I wanted to swap it with the number I had just hung up on Google Voice. Then the new number would be the primary way to contact me, through my Mint cell plan. But my old Seattle number would live with Google, which would forward texts and calls to my new number.
It’s a delicate exchange. Thanks to a law passed by Congress in 1996, telephone companies almost always have to let you take your phone number with you when you leave. But there’s a catch: if you let go of a number, even for a moment, you risk losing it forever. It must always be linked to a service.
I started by transferring my new 415 number from Google Voice to a new Mint account, while keeping the old one active. The process was simple: I unlocked the number in Google Voice, paid a $3 fee, and used my voicemail account number and PIN to tell Mint to grab the numbers from Google. I activated the new Mint plan using a virtual eSIM, so I didn’t even have to wait for a physical SIM to arrive in the mail. The number took a few hours to transfer.
Great, but now I was paying for two phone plans at once. Not ideal! It’s time to retire the old number.
I repeated the mixing of the numbers, this time in the opposite direction. I asked Mint to transfer my old phone number, which took about 5 minutes in an online chat. A representative gave me my account number and a PIN, which I submitted to Google Voice to start the transfer. Porting a number into Google costs $20.
In the morning, everything was done.
Dial my new phone number and you will come straight through; Dial the old one and Google will route it to my new number, but I’ll know it’s coming through Google Voice, so I can tell you to update my contact card. If you text that old number, it will just show up in my Google Voice app and I’ll text you from the new numbers.
That way, I don’t have to contact everyone I’ve called or texted to tell them to change my information, or I might lose contact with them.
The only roadblock came when I texted a friend my new number and she didn’t believe it was me. “I really don’t buy Kaveh changing his phone number out of nowhere and then texting me saying he did,” she replied. The only way to convince her was with a proof-of-life selfie, with her text feed on my computer screen in the background.
In fact, his suspicions were well placed: it’s smart to be wary of someone claiming to be someone you know, contacting you out of the blue from a new number or email address. . It’s a classic scam.
If you are considering changing your number this way, check your mobile phone plan first. When you port your old number, your carrier will likely close the account associated with it. If you are under contract, this may result in early termination fees.
In my case, I had prepaid for a year of Mint service to save costs, so I traded in after that year was over and another was about to begin.
And if you’re not as picky as me, you can ask your carrier to add a new line with a new phone number to your account. You might not have control over what the number will be, but you won’t have to go through the initial step of creating a number on Google and porting it to your carrier.