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Low maintenance cell phone plan for people who may take sabbaticals abroad

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I have an old T-Mobile pay to go cell phone plan that only requires a $10/year refill in order to stay active, which I can do even when I am out of the country. A friend who sometimes takes 6-month-or-so long sabbaticals (academia) was asking me whether she can get something like that. So I had a look and it seems the short answer is, sadly, no, nothing close to that. But I'm having trouble figuring out what the current best solution is.
I checked Tello (which wouldn't be ideal due to it being CDMA anyway) for which I had read you need to make a call at least every 6 months and started a chat with them to ask whether there was a way to keep the service if you were abroad for more than 6 months. Their answer was "prepaid expires in 3 months. anything else?", so I guess that's a no go. Then I looked at T-Mobile pay 2 go which seemed promising at $3/month. But the small print says "Pay As You Go: $10 SIM starter kit may be required. Sufficient balance required to use service. Domestic use only. Service available for 30 days after activation/refill/conversion; then account is suspended.". So it is not actually $3/month, it involves you having to refill every month. If the smallest refill is $5 and it could be automated for every month, perhaps it could still be at viable solution, but if it is $10 and/or can't be automated... Any idea?
Any other services that might do?
TIA!

PS. Cell phone plans (esp. low cost ones) are getting worse and worse with the years in the US, when they are always improving in Europe (that EU roaming thing recently was also great), the current gap is quite significant...

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rated:
Move the phone # to Google Voice.
Buy a prepaid phone while in the states
Forward the google voice to the prepaid phone.

stop paying prepaid when not in the states.
Done!

And the whole EU thing is pretty funny, people in EU were paying horrible Roaming rates and that promoted that rule.

BTW Why not get your friend TMobile, free roaming in EU with TMobile.

rated:
get a google voice number if you want a "permanent" number. pagplus can get you yearly with $100. or get a tracfone from hsn for $60 including a year's worth of service and an android phone with texts and data to boot.
howardforum or even prepaidnews.com for more information

rated:
forbin4040 said:   Move the phone # to Google Voice.
Buy a prepaid phone while in the states
Forward the google voice to the prepaid phone.

stop paying prepaid when not in the states.
Done!


Thanks, I'll look into that, it seems to be a common suggestion.
forbin4040 said:   And the whole EU thing is pretty funny, people in EU were paying horrible Roaming rates and that promoted that rule.

Eh, it didn't actually work that way, you would just buy a local prepaid SIM whenever you traveled to another EU country and enjoy cheap calling and data for your trip. Or if you just wanted some data you could get a travel package for your original SIM, which I would only call expensive compared to domestic EU prices, and not compared to the US (e.g. a Greek SIM I had offered 1.90€/day for 100MB, 3.90€ for 400MB and discounts for more days for EU trips). If you travelled completely unprepared and just turned on your standard roaming, that's when you were in trouble! But it is much simpler now!
forbin4040 said:   BTW Why not get your friend TMobile, free roaming in EU with TMobile.

Interesting, I didn't know that, thanks. However, I see T-Mobile only has one plan for new customers (the.. ONE plan - no free roaming for pay as you go), at a hefty $70/month. Wow, last contract I had with T-Mobile (10 years ago?) I think was just $29 if memory serves! Right now, apart from the old T-Mobile pay as you go gold, I have a UK SIM for £7.50/month (1GB, 500min) and a Greek SIM (zero cost, never expiring contract, you pay only the data/ calls you make - outgoing only of course, incoming calls are always free in Europe), so that $70 seems astronomical!
  

rated:
Ecuadorgr said:   
 
forbin4040 said:   And the whole EU thing is pretty funny, people in EU were paying horrible Roaming rates and that promoted that rule.

Eh, it didn't actually work that way, you would just buy a local prepaid SIM whenever you traveled to another EU country and enjoy cheap calling and data for your trip. Or if you just wanted some data you could get a travel package for your original SIM, which I would only call expensive compared to domestic EU prices, and not compared to the US (e.g. a Greek SIM I had offered 1.90€/day for 100MB, 3.90€ for 400MB and discounts for more days for EU trips). If you travelled completely unprepared and just turned on your standard roaming, that's when you were in trouble! But it is much simpler now!
 
  

  What happened is if your phone is near the border, you were picking up the signal from across the border, hence you were roaming, and it was racking up lots of $$$.  So many people complained that the law was added in.

rated:
miserly said:   pagplus can get you yearly with $100. Page Plus can be as low as $30/year ($10 every 4 months).
  

rated:
NoMoneyInMyWallet said:   
miserly said:   pagplus can get you yearly with $100.
Page Plus can be as low as $30/year ($10 every 4 months).
  

  Op stated can't be bothered for 6 months.

rated:
miserly said:   
NoMoneyInMyWallet said:   
miserly said:   pagplus can get you yearly with $100.
Page Plus can be as low as $30/year ($10 every 4 months).
  

  Op stated can't be bothered for 6 months.

  
Can't be 'bothered'? Can't OP login to PPC and add $10 every four months?

rated:
rsuaver said:   miserly said:   NoMoneyInMyWallet said:   miserly said:   pagplus can get you yearly with $100.Page Plus can be as low as $30/year ($10 every 4 months).Op stated can't be bothered for 6 months.Can't be 'bothered'? Can't OP login to PPC and add $10 every four months?Or set up auto refill?
  

rated:
rsuaver said:   
miserly said:   
NoMoneyInMyWallet said:   
miserly said:   pagplus can get you yearly with $100.
Page Plus can be as low as $30/year ($10 every 4 months).
  

  Op stated can't be bothered for 6 months.

  
Can't be 'bothered'? Can't OP login to PPC and add $10 every four months?

  It's not exactly for the OP per se, but in any case that is the kind of thing I was asking for. The problem is with services like Tello which ask you for example to make at least one call every X months, but don't work abroad, so you have no way of making it work. Also a no-go would be having to do something manually often e.g. every 1- 2 months, since it is easy to forget. But every 4 months should be doable, and if it can be automated, then even more. 

rated:
Does Tracfone require calls? I'm not sure because Im usually out of the country around 2-3 months at a time? Im using a Samsung S6 and bring your own phone with a $199 pay as you go card only offered online. Giving you 4500 call minutes, 4500 texts, and 4.5G of data. I'm not a heavy user so this will last me two years by adding a little more data. While purchasing any size pay as you go card online, they will offer you another year of extra time and no minutes for about $50. This gives you the minutes mentioned with two years of service. You can add more pay as you go time with all three buckets or just any of the three you need at any time. 

rated:
AFAIK, neither tracfone or pageplus require any calls to be made to maintain active status.

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