Voicemail while cruising

One of the things that is stressful about living aboard and traveling is that governmental and other systems are not set up well for vagabonds. We just had a rough time getting our drivers licences renewed because we don't have a street address. I once had someone almost refuse to rent me a DVD, despite the fact that I had a Gold VISA card because my mailing address wasn't a street number or PO Box.

Everyone wants an address and a phone number and will deliver important time sensitive information via mail or via phone. For the phone number, this is what we decided to do.

We wanted:
1) A phone number with voicemail.
2) The least amount of stress for not too much money.

Skype Number: We already have Skype accounts that we use to call people when we have a good internet connection. We can talk to our family with video for free when they are signed into their Skype accounts and we can call people on their phones when they are not. A SkypeIn number costs $60 and gives us an honest-to-goodness phone number that we can give our family, friends and various institutions (like banks, etc). A SkypeIn number is 50% off if you also have a subscription with Skype. So, we signed up for unlimited calling from our Skype account to Canada and the US (on sale 15% off for $30/yr) and that reduced our SkypeIn number to half off ($30/yr). For $60/year we have a phone number, voicemail and unlimited calling "home" when we have the internet to do so. This completely solves #1.

Google Voice: We also signed up for a Google Voice number. This gives you phone and voicemail (#1) but also Google will send a transcription of your voicemail to your email account. This means that if you have crappy internet but it is good enough to download your email, you can see if anyone has called you which really helps with #2 (stress). The translations suck (missing words, errors, etc) but they are generally enough to get the gist of the message (i.e., is this my bank, my mother or spam?). As anyone who has used any VOIP service like Skype, you know how crappy connections can be and checking voicemail with Skype can be extremely frustrating with the system continuously saying "I'm sorry, I don't understand your response".

Why didn't we just use Google Voice? You need a US phone number (or at least someone willing to play along with you) in order to set up your Google Voice number. We used our SkypeIn number rather than using a family member or friend for two reasons related to stress: 1) you need the phone also to set up and change your voicemail greeting and 2) because of fear of not having complete control over the account in some remote port if it goes wonky.

Skype + Google Voice: We enabled voicemail on our Skype number and then forwarded it to our Google Voice number. Our voicemail is currently being collected by Google, transcribed and emailed to us. We get a phone, voicemail, email transcriptions and we don't have to worry about the number getting shut down at some point when we don't have the facilities (i.e., internet) to fix it.

Other options that might work better for you:

If you don't want the added complexity, don't need the texts but you want the control, you can stick with a SkypeIn number only. Skype can be set up to send you an email (no transcription, just a notification) whenever you have a voicemail.

If you want a completely free version, and have a trusted person to coordinate with who has a phone and who doesn't want their own Google Voice account, you can use their phone number and set up a Google Voice phone number for free. This is what we would have done if we were mainlined to the internet which would have allowed us to fix any problems that might come up, in a relatively short time, without interruptions in our voicemail service.

6 comments:

  1. Great info! Thanks for sharing what you've learned.

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  2. We're trying to figure out our future non-address and have only come up with the typical mail forwarding companies that give you a street address. So how are you managing to get any mail? This residency thing seems like a bigger challenge than any of the boat projects on our list.

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  3. @Victoria - It is even worse in Canada because there aren't any cruiser forwarding services (that we've found - anyone want to start a business?). Right now we are using family.

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  4. Whoops - that was Livia!

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  5. There is also a company called Ringcentral(easily located online) that is somewhere in between the Skype & Google voice for as little as $10/month depending on your set up options. For anyone looking for additional options!
    I use this for my "business" to get a toll free # & it gives me extension options, it does do mp3 voip playbeack of messages with pretty clear resolution and it sends me an e-mail when there is a message. You also have the option to set it to "take message only" mode. For this one you can use a cell # for the call controller & can do everything needed from a cell phone if you have no internet service available (of course this assumes you have cell signal)!!
    Just thought I would let everyone know about an additional option :)

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