Understanding the Ins and Outs of Phone Number Portability

You can port your phone number as long as you stay in the same country

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Porting refers to keeping your phone number when you change phone service providers. As long as you remain in the same country, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has ruled that you can port your existing phone number between landline, IP, and wireless providers.

However, if you move to a different country, you may not be able to port your phone number when you change providers. Also, some U.S.-based rural providers enjoy state waivers regarding porting. If you encounter this rural exception, contact the state public utilities commission for more information.

How to Port Your Phone Number

Check your current phone contract. It may stipulate early termination fees or require that your account is current. Don't end your service before contacting the new company; it must be active at the time the number is ported. When you are ready to begin the process of porting your number:

  1. Call the new company to start the porting process. The new carrier is not required to accept your ported number, but most do to acquire a new customer.
  2. If you want to keep your existing smartphone, give the new provider its ESN/IMEI number. Not all phones are compatible with every company. 
  3. Give the new company your 10-digit phone number and other information it requests (often the account number and password or PIN).
  4. The new company contacts your existing company to handle the porting process. You don't need to do anything, except possibly confirm with your existing carrier that you wish to port the number. Your old service is canceled when the porting is complete, unless your contract stipulates that the contract endures—if it does, you'll be assigned a new number from the carrier's pool.
  5. You may receive a closing statement from your old provider.

If you are porting from one wireless provider to another, you should be able to use your new phone within hours. If you are porting from a landline to a wireless provider, the process may take a couple of days. A landline long distance package won't move with you to a wireless provider, but long distance can be included in your new contract. Text messaging services usually take longer to make the transition from one phone to another. Allow three days.

Does It Cost to Port a Number?

Legally, companies can charge you to port your number. Contact your current provider to find out what it charges, if anything. You can request a waiver, but each company has different regulations. That said, no company can refuse to port your number just because you have not paid a porting fee. For that matter, despite pressure from customer-service agents, the company cannot legally refuse to port your number even if you are behind on your payments to your current provider. You remain liable for the debt though, even after the number transfer.

Special Considerations

Because different countries have different forms of regulation and infrastructure, you often cannot port a number between countries. In addition, in the United States, some special area codes (including toll-free exchanges like 800, 888, 855, 844 and 833, or high-toll exchanges like 900) may require different transfer procedures.

Porting specifically landline numbers between area codes may prove more difficult, given that in some parts of the country, the infrastructure may not be well-suited—or the local carrier too small—to manage out-of-area ports on PSTN (copper wire) lines.

A Voice-over-IP phone port between VoIP services is generally less of a hassle because the "device" is just an Internet connection. Your geography is not a salient condition. As long as the VoIP provider services the country of your original number, you should be able to port that number to the new provider.