Monday, February 11, 2019

moving abroad and keeping your old number

i should probably write a post about all the aspects of moving abroad, but until then, this post about a problem I only recently solved to my satisfaction will be a start :D

so one of the bigger problems related to moving abroad is related to your phone number. if you, like me, have used the same number for a while (13 years!), you probably wouldn't want to let go of it that easily. also, you probably have stuff linked to your mobile number that you simply cannot or sometimes would rather not link to your number in a different country. in general, you have three options:


  1. activate international roaming, and keep your old number active. this might turn out to be expensive. not sure about other countries, but in india it's way more expensive to keep a number active for an extended period on international roaming. and then you need both sims (old and new) to be in a phone to be useful. my phone forces me to choose between a second sim and a memory card, and i would be quite sore if i had to take out my 128gb memory card out!
  2. find a way to forward everything without having the sim in a phone. again, calls are expensive to forward, especially if the majority of them are spam calls. i have no idea if forwarding sms without the sim being in a phone is even possible!
  3. give the sim to someone trusted (either pop it into their dual sim phone or give it to them with a phone that's frequently checked) and keep it active remotely. this obviously works only if you have someone trusted who is willing to take calls on your behalf.
after carefully considering option 1, i went with option 3.

there are a few operational hurdles with this approach though:

  • the person needs to take calls on your behalf (obviously!)
  • sms needs to be forwarded somehow.
in my case, i don't get many personal calls (do i even get any personal calls? i don't think i have, in the last 7 months!) so the first concern isn't a big deal - all my trusted custodian needs to do is politely decline (and also tell them the number no longer belongs to me, in the hope it reduces unwanted calls!).

when it comes to sms though, it's a slightly more complicated problem: most phones that i know of do not let me access sms remotely out of the box. my first solution was to ask my custodian to forward sms to me on whatsapp. it was quite a bit of work though, as i actually get a LOT of sms! there's also timezone constraints, which are a significant problem. an automated solution is the obvious answer.

i've been using smsbackup+ for a long time (ever since i started using android, some 10 years ago!), but it was for archival purposes - when i tried using it for remote access, i realized that sms took about half an hour to be sync'd, despite it being set to 3 minutes in the app! this defeated the purpose of using it, as many (probably all) uses of sms as a form of two factor authentication are time bound to a 30 minute limit.

so then, my next option was IFTTT (if this then that) - a very flexible digital automation tool that also supports forwarding sms to email as well as saving it in a google docs spreadsheet with all metadata - perfect!

except that it randomly stops working in realtime, and then i'm stuck with the problem that smsbackup+ had.

and so i found a two pronged strategy: ifttt is on all the time, but if i need realtime sms and it's not working, i have a plan b - airdroid. airdroid lets me remotely access the messages on the custodian's phone. it's so good, i probably don't even need ifttt!

also, there seems to be a tendency for some phones to close background apps to save power, so you need to make sure these apps do not get cleaned up to save power.

tl;dr: if you have a trusted person willing to keep a phone charged and connected to wifi, install ifttt, setup the sms to email and sms to google docs plugins, and then install aidroid + enable messaging access, and disable power saving for both apps (cos some phones tend to aggressively close apps to save power).

1 comment:

Pallav said...

Always fun to read your posts, man. Keep it up. Hope foreign is treating you well. Best wishes!

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