Telecoms Woes Redux Redux?!

Anxious woman feeling frustrated by a phone.

As I mentioned before, I hooked myself up to Mint Mobile from here in Portugal and it went fine – it actually went quite well! But hooking up Alison’s phone has been an absolute disaster – up until now. I JUST GOT IT WORKING!

This is going to be an in-the-weeds post about the specifics of how I got it working, so it may not be of much interest to other people. That’s okay. This is more for all of the gajillions of people asking on the internet how to activate Mint Mobile from Portugal. It CAN be done. I’ve just done it twice.

So when I activated my phone, I just went through the normal process and it worked. The number port was almost instantaneous. And within a few minutes my phone started showing messages showing up welcoming me to Mint Mobile. I ran a test (emailing my phone number, and it went through, and showed up on my phone. Cool.

The Problem

When I went to activate Alison’s phone, it didn’t go so smoothly. We did everything right but then…no bars. No nothing. Messages sent to her phone just didn’t show up.

I did all the normal troubleshooting stuff you would expect a tech-ey person to do, still nothing. So eventually, I had to reach out to tech support.

The First Failed Attempt at a Solution

So, I waited until 1pm Portugal time and contacted the Mint Mobile support folks via chat (They’re available 5am to 9pm, Pacific time). I had to impersonate Alison (with her permission, of course). I went through the steps like I should – and finally they tell me to remove the nice tasty Vodafone SIM we just got working for her phone. So I lied and said I did. Then they asked for a screenshot, which would’ve definitely shown that I was lying. So this was all going terribly wrong, and then people came in to work on a leak problem that we’ve had in the apartment so I aborted this attempt.


Alison is one of the best troubleshooters I know (other than me, though she disagrees on that ranking 😊), so I decided to chat with her about what the next possible steps were. (The phrase “Rubber-Ducking” is from an old story about a senior IT person who would force people to first explain their problem to a rubber duck on his desk, and only then would he help them. Nine times out of ten, they would figure out the problem on their own by explaining it to the duck.) She made the really smart observation that whenever you’re dealing with some smart-ass customer (e.g. me), you get really frustrated when they won’t do what you ask. Sometimes, you just gotta go through the steps. She convinced me, so that was going to be my next attempt.


I made sure to grab one of our paper clips and scratched off the plastic so it would be small enough to act as a SIM-popper. I snagged two Monsters (the Energy Drink, not actual monsters). I found the place in our apartment with the best reception (by comparing with my phone, which was switched over to Mint just fine). I found a spot to sit comfortably. I had a few hours handy, and I was ready to be patient and kind. I also was doing the chat from a second machine (with a keyboard!) so that my thumb wouldn’t explode 😊

The Solution

The problem I was worried about with going through regular support channels is that plenty of people on the internet have said that Mint mobile won’t let you activate while overseas. But I know it’s possible, because I literally just did it for my phone. So I needed to route around anyone who might tell me that I can’t do what I want to do. I basically was going to need to just route through front-line support, and maybe even the next-line escalation team, to get to the people who can actually fix the thing.

So my tactic was going to not actually lie to them – but I wasn’t going to offer up that I was in Portugal right at the start.

I popped the SIM, took the screenshot they requested, sent it to myself, and got to work.

There was lots of rebooting, lots of doing things I knew weren’t going to work, and another set of screenshots, this time of the Cellular settings.

I did my best to stay patient, and pleasant, but direct and efficient.

At one point, someone said “What’s your address so I can see if we’re having a service issue there?” And I answered – not lying! Well, kinda lying – “My home address is <my old US address>.”

Finally I get moved to someone who says “turn the phone off, I’m gonna do something on the server, then when I tell you, turn it back on.” THIS was the person I wanted to get sent to, I knew it.

That first attempt didn’t work. Eventually, they get to asking, “What is the address of your current location?” My heart sank. This might be the end of this attempt. I answered honestly with my Portuguese address. I also was able to mention that my “husband’s phone showed 2 bars.”

I swear the three-dot “someone is typing” thing was showing in the chat window for, like, a million years. But finally, when they came back, they said “OK, now go and do this next step – go into ‘network selection’, turn off ‘Automatic’ and pick one of MEO-NOS, or Vodafone.” OH THANK GOD. They didn’t abandon me!

So I _thought_ I saw my phone saying “MEO” before, so I started with that. No go for Alison’s phone, for whatever reason. Then I double-checked – now my phone was saying it was on “Vodafone P.” So let me give that a shot. Restart the phone, and then – BLAM – 4 bars of cellular! (That’s more than my phone had! Jealous…). Within a few seconds, I saw a crappy text message spam show up. Hah! And then all of the messages from the past few days come flooding in. SUCCESS!!!!!


It took a few hours to get all of this done. You have to go through the stupid troubleshooting steps to get to the stage where the people who can do the real stuff on the network-side will even talk to you. It pays to be nice. Be patient. Throw a $20 credit on your international plan as soon as you can – if you can’t log in yet to the Mint Mobile website (because it insists on sending you a two-factor code), use the app on your phone instead, which somehow routes around it (I guess because it looks at the eSIM on your phone?). Unless you want to slowly-but-surely bleed out all of your international roaming credits (I’m down to $13.30 from $20), turn *off* your iMessage from your US-based number. Yes, you’ll be a green bubble to some people. Deal with it. You’ll be able to reply from your Vodafone number or email address and it will be fine. I think the reason is that Apple sends some kind of SMS messages periodically behind-the-scenes, and each one of those will cost you a nickel from your US-based plan. And if you somehow get stuck working with someone who says you can’t do what you’re about to do, try again another day. Maybe you’ll be luckier.

AtΓ© la!

(Image by stockking on Freepik)

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