Telecoms Redux

man wearing black zip jacket holding smartphone surrounded by grey concrete buildings

I wrote about my plan for how to do what we needed to do for phones and watches and everything already. But now it’s come time to actually do it. Hasn’t quite gone to plan.

I started from a worldview where I figured all phones and everything all use the same chipsets at this point. It didn’t used to be that way, but I figured it should at least be *now*. And I figured I had done enough research and preparation in order to be able to run this transition in a safe and sound fashion, without too much muss or fuss. I am a tech guy, after all.

Turns out, that is not the case. I mean, yes, I am a tech guy, but apparently I did *not* do enough preparation at all. Here are some problems I found out only after we got here.

Problem Number Zero: Only Two SIM’s at a time

And this is one that I literally do *not* have a solution for at this time – an iPhone can only have two active SIMs in it. Mint Mobile is expensive to use internationally (but cheap to maintain over time, so long as you don’t make too many phone calls on it). Vodafone has good, inexpensive (to Americans) mobile products that work great in Portugal. I signed up for Vodafone first, so when I signed up for Mint, I had to actually deactivate my Verizon SIM. So my US number is – temporarily – disconnected. This solution sucks. One of the last Verizon texts that I *did* get, though, was one that said a number porting process was beginning. So I’m hoping that I’m doing the right thing here. NOTE – it’s actually kind-of surprising, but according to Mint Mobile, my number port is all *done*! I’ve even gotten some text messages from them about my new service 🙂 I’ll talk more about Mint Mobile later.

Problem Number One: Getting service in Portugal

If you want to sign up for Vodafone, the only way to do that is to go to a Vodafone store. There is no online option. Every online option asks you for your phone number – and it will only take a Portuguese phone number. So you need to go into the store and they will put your brand new cell # in your new Vodafone account. So that’s a bit annoying, but it is what it is. (You’ll notice that phrase repeating a lot).

Next, SIM cards. Some American iPhones are sold without even having a SIM card slot; assuming that you’re going to use an eSIM instead. I’m not sure you can use that here; the SIM card seems pretty baked-in to the process. There’s some stuff on the Vodafone site about some eSIM options, but that might only work on your second or third phone – probably not your first. So another thing to keep in mind.

And SIMs can be somewhat finicky beasts sometimes; Alison’s phone just won’t recognize her SIM card at all, period. Sounds like another trip off to Vodafone to fix that one – or she will have to snag a new phone, which does not sound like an appealing solution right now 🙁

Another thing that is weird for Americans – I got a SIM card and they said “oh, it’ll take 24 hours to become active.” And I had to fill out and sign something like…I dunno, 8 pages of stuff. It seemed excessive and weird to me, but I can’t say I didn’t expect it.

Problem Number Two: Apple Watch

Turns out that there are three Apple Watch kinds out there:

  1. North America-ish – specifically, US, Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands.
  2. China, Macau, and Hong Kong.
  3. Pretty much everywhere else.

(see: Apple’s page about it for the nitty-gritty details)

And as you can imagine Portugal is in #3. So, uh, oh well. We either need to get new watches or live without cellular on the watches. I’m probably going to go with the latter for now, unless I start feeling fancy and want to upgrade to the Ultra. We’ll see.

Problem Number Three: Inexpensive maintenance of a US number

Verizon has always been good to me, in terms of service and quality and coverage. And they have a semi-reasonable service called TravelPass, where any time you use your US-based number, you just toss them $10 and you get a handful of megabytes of data, and some minutes of airtime for phone calls.

But it’s still highway robbery – and always has been.

However, as I mentioned in my previous article – there are always going to be some things that need my old US phone number – bank accounts, government things, stuff like that.

So the solution I came up with is to switch to Mint Mobile – 10 bucks a month – and throw a couple of bucks of international service on it so that I can text people back – “hey contact me on +351-xxx-xxx-xxx”.

The Mint Mobile side of this was gorgeous. Go, navigate to the 1-year-long plans, add it to the cart, put in your US-based address for the signup, pick ‘eSIM’ – get an email in less than a minute. Fill in the forms and mention the number port and then you’re on to the HARD PART.

Mint does a decent – but unfortunately not quite stellar – job of prompting you to go to the appropriate places on the Verizon app or website to get a PIN code, and to get your account number. They even disable copying the account number as its displayed. Sigh. So you just have to eyeball it. (I even tried to disable Javascript to be able to copy it out, but no go). Luckily, Verizon was really quite on the ball about the process – it sent me a text message almost immediately stating that a number port request was “In Progress” – and that if I wanted to stop it I needed to call a certain 800 number (which would be hard to do from Portugal :/ )

And so once you have finished the port request, you get your eSIM in your email – super fast. And it’s a breeze to add the eSIM – go to mobile, go to ‘add eSIM’, click ‘QR code’ – point it at your computer.

And then comes the hitch – you’ve already got Vodafone added, which is great, and Verizon’s still there, and now we want to add Mint Mobile. Kerplow. “You must deactivate one of your SIMs.” I pulled a Hail Mary and decided to deactivate my Verizon eSIM – figuring, “hey, they said the request was in-process…”

The port was FAST – The email popped in from Mint Mobile in almost no time! It said, “Number port completed.” I noticed my phone said something about how it was still activating the eSIM, so I threw it in my charger.

In maybe 10 minutes or so, I saw text messages popping up on my computer welcoming me to Mint. I did some quick tests and everything seems to be in order. That went way better than expected.

Problem Number Four – iPads

So for this one, to be honest, I don’t think it’s going to be too bad. I managed to find on Vodafone’s site – somewhere – where you can get Post-Paid data-only plans for tablets. A little pricer than I wanted, for a little less data than I wanted, but it should work for us. €15.90 for 15GB/mo. Should be fine.

But I wonder – do we really need it? Like, we have our phones – and it’s considered a little more tacky over here to whip out laptops or iPads and hammer away at them at a coffee shop or whatever. I’ve seen it but I don’t know if we want to do it. My favorite coffee shops here have nice little tables outside and are typically very very tiny and seem a little more…social, in nature. So it feels like it would be weird to put on headphones and trying to type a bunch of stuff.

Once we can get better at Portuguese we can probably chat with locals to figure out if we will look like tasteless Americans for busting out iPads or MacBooks and trying to work out in public. We’ll see.


Well, we’re not quite done yet, but I feel like the worst hurdles are over. And now that I’ve switched all of my stuff over, I’m hoping it will be really easy to flip Alison’s stuff over, too. And we’ll figure out the iPads.

And, despite my whining, the internet here is quite good, and very cheap.

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