Best VoIP options for iPhone users living overseas?

What are your favorite VoIP phone/text options to keep a U.S. number while living overseas? I live in Japan.

I currently use three services, but each have problems. It would be nice if I could find just one that was perfect.

  1. Skype: I have a Skype 617/Boston number. The yearly subscription is inexpensive. And my personal Office 365 subscription includes international talking minutes. I basically never use it though, and just keep it for historical reasons. Big cons: You can’t use it for free texting, and you can’t receive or send texts with short-numbers.

Note: Text short-numbers in the U.S. are important because they are often used for ID verification with banks, credit cards, and other services. Even the IRS uses it. Not having good short-number text support is a complete show-stopper for me.

  1. TextNow: I have a nice 314/St. Louis number I ported in. Pros include VoIP calls work well from Japan. With a subscription ($99/year) I can use it on my iPhone for texting and calls. There are transcriptions of voice messages. Support is easy to reach. And texting both to and from short numbers works. Cons: There are small bugs with the iOS app (which they say they are looking at). The biggest con is that while it works fine over wi-fi everywhere, and over cellular on my iPhone here in Japan, it will not work over cellular in the U.S. unless you use their SIM card in their Android phone. I didn’t even realize that for the first week on a recent visit to the U.S. but then got stuck at the airport in St. Louis when I couldn’t phone the car rental agency. But when I dug out their Android phone from my backpack and turned it on I could. That was a show-stopper for me because I mainly want to use my iPhone with Softbank’s “America Houdai” in the U.S., but also want to use a U.S. number. Still… it’s a nice emergency backup. Plus even if you use it free you can use it for basic calls and texting in the U.S. on their Android supported devices. So that might be nice for everybody as a phone backup.

  2. Talkatone: It’s a regular VoIP only service. Not convolved with a SIM card and regular phone service like TextNow. So it works over wi-fi and also just fine on my iPhone when on Softbank America Houdai in the U.S. With a subscription you get nice voicemail transcriptions (even emailed to you). Texting from short numbers works, so in most cases you can do ID verification (like type in the code they send you to login somewhere). But… for some reason it doesn’t support texts TO short-numbers. Many services, like banks and credit cards, have features to reply and get more info or control settings. You can’t do that with Talkatone, and you can’t with Skype, but you can with TextNow.

I’m wondering if anybody knows of yet another VoIP they can recommend that’s the best of all words: U.S. number that works over wi-fi and over cellular on all devices, unlimited send/receive texts, and that includes sending/receiving texts with short numbers. Plus syncs nicely between devices.

I recommended Magicjack before.
Magicjack is an Internet phone device that you connect to your router. I think it is about $50 for the device and about $50/year. It also has a mobile app, which can do texting (free) on an iPhone.

I recently used its mobile app in Japan over WiFi (free) when my iPhone would not connect to cellular. (I have used it over cellular in the US.) It works like making a phone call on the normal iPhone phone app.
There is no SIM card involved; it’s just VOIP. You are calling from your US number, so if you are calling the US, it is free. (It doesn’t know you are on WiFi in Japan.) If you are calling Japan, it would be an international call.

I don’t know about “short-numbers” since I have never used them.

Sounds interesting. But I don’t see how it helps in this situation.

Google Voice? I had an Obihai device on my ethernet which worked nicely Haven’t used it for several years now since iPhones started supporting dual sim/esim.

Just checked. Obi is end of life according to the all-knowing inter webs. I plugged in my old Obi device, and my Google Voice number still works! Obi says it will continue to work until Google makes changes which need firmware update.

Sorry. I guess I don’t completely understand your situation. :slightly_frowning_face:

Is there some reason WhatsApp, Viber, Signal, FaceTime, even ZOOM, aren’t mentioned? I use one or the other of them for calling from Europe to other countries even in other continents. While these won’t satisfy all needs/purposes someone may have, in my experience one or the other, including free Skype, usually works fine for basic communication, sometimes more.

I checked out Google Voice yesterday. I even got a number. But it’s linked to my TextNow VoIP number and it says that number will ring if the Google Voice number is dialed. Plus it doesn’t work with short codes apparently. I honestly don’t see the purpose of it at all.

My post was rather long. If I wanted to quickly sum up it’s this:

I want a VoIP I can use as a U.S. number while I live in Japan and also when I travel in the U.S.

I should be able to send and receive texts, including to and from short-numbers. And make and receive phone calls. And I should be able to do this on my iPhone on both wi-fi and when I’m on my regular cellular plan outside.

I am currently using 2 VoIP services: TextNow and Talkatone.

Problem with TextNow: Phone calls don’t work over cellular when in the U.S. unless you are using their SIM card in one of their supported devices. So I can’t use it with my cellular service in the U.S. Just over wi-fi.

Problem with Talkatone: Receiving texts from short-codes work, but replies to them are not supported.

So I want the best of both worlds.

I have a WhatsApp account but only use it to keep in touch with a few other WhatsApp users. Do any of those apps you mentioned let you send and receive phone calls with other regular U.S. cell phone and other phone users and exchange texts with them?

As I said, basic communication. Most people nowadays seem to use or at least have, or at least can have one or the other of these on their phones and computers. Even if they don’t, you can often ask them to DL and use it and they will. Companies, however, won’t/can’t comply. ZOOM’s screen sharing often comes in handy. As to texts and other docs, some of these do it. Larger files can be sent to any email with WeTransfer, up to 2 GB free. Of course, email alone will often suffice. All those I’ve mentioned are free, and I have no experience with paid versions of these or other apps. I imagine there’s probably no single app, free or paid, which does everything anyone might need.

This needs to include things like calling stores, calling your hotel, calling your rental car company, reaching friends and relatives who are not tech savvy and have alternate devices, getting login and other verifications from banks and credit card companies and places like the IRS. In other words, everything you do on a smartphone these days, without requiring the other party have a special app installed. That’s what I mean by basic communication in these times.

Maybe just continuing the combination of TextNow and Talkatone is ok. Or maybe I can figure out a way to use TextNow for phone calls over cellular (not wifi) when in the U.S. It seems to work over cellular here in Japan.

You should be able to configure your number so that you receive calls and texts using the Google Voice app and not your other number.

Google Voice does work with short codes. Why do you think it doesn’t? There are a few companies who say they can’t send texts to VoIP services like Google Voice. In my experience, those were pretty rare, and you’ll probably have the same problem if you’re using any VoIP service.

I can’t seem to use the Google Voice app itself unless my device is on VPN. So that’s sort of a show-stopper right there. Difficult to use.

The reason I thought Google Voice did not work with short codes was just from people posting that in different forums.

Anyway, it seems unusable. I can’t even get back into it even after creating a number! I think it’s because I had to be on VPN in order to create the number and get it verified via my TextNow number because the site wouldn’t work from Japan.

But I can’t stay on VPN all the time on all my devices. So for that reason alone I think Google Voice is out.

I wonder what the purpose of Google Voice is actually. If you are already in the U.S. and already have a U.S. phone number and Google Voice requires that to use it, why do you need it? What purpose does it serve?

It lets you have a second line for free.

Greg Meline I don’t want to detract from the main discussion here, so posted about this issue to Google Voice help forums: I created a Google Voice number yesterday, but now Google Voice says I need to get a number - Google Voice Community

I don’t use short codes, so I’m not familiar with them. I googled short code text over VOIP and it seems most VOIP providers do not support short codes. They don’t have a complete explanation of why not. Maybe their cost for the service? It’s a special attribute that carriers have to process in a non-standard way.

You have found a couple that do support short codes in a limited way.
Good luck!

Those two only support short codes for paid subscriptions. TextNow provides them in both directions, and Talkatone only lets you receive them, which is usually enough. But there is some advantage of being able to reply.

Some people were saying that Google Voice supports short codes. If I can figure out what happened to the number I created yesterday I’d like to test that.

In my experience, origination and termination of messages using short codes is unreliable on a lot of platforms. I suspect they only work well with major carriers. Yet another reason why using SMS for MFA is a Very Bad Idea™.

I am acronym-challenged. What is MFA?

At this point I’m more curious about Google Voice than anything. I don’t know why the original claimed Voice number disappeared and I got a long-winded, but ultimately not very helpful, reply in the Google forums.

Right now, again, even with VPN, I’m not seeing numbers to select.

I suspect one problem is the linked U.S. mobile number I started with (the one that comes with TextNow and I have an activated SIM card for in my Android) is with too minor a carrier.

If I link an actual, major carrier U.S. mobile number to my Google Voice account do you think that will help? I don’t see any way of proceeding though. It’s not showing me available numbers anymore. Is that because there is currently no mobile number linked to my account?

Confusing. As I said, I’m just curious now more than anything.