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In the last few months all Canadian mobile operators have terminated roaming agreements with Russian carriers, reportedly to comply with the Canadian government's sanctions against Russia.

If someone with a Russian SIM card is now travelling temporarily in Canada, is there any legal, relatively inexpensive way that they can occasionally receive an SMS to their existing Russian number? (Being able to receive text messages is often required by 2FA systems.)

I'm only vaguely familiar with the concept of VOIP services, and know that you can sign up for one and get a new virtual Russian phone number. But do any such services let you port an existing Russian number to it so that you can then receive text messages online? And if so, is this porting process easy to set up and easily reversible, in case you later want to use that number in a standard mobile phone?

Or is there some other non-VOIP solution that might work?

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  • 1
    Their best bet is leaving this phone at home connected and exposed via some remote control service to be accessed over the internet. Getting another one for Canadian SIM.
    – alamar
    Feb 8 at 21:20
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    Not a good bet if they're already in Canada with the SIM card, especially since Canada Post stopped accepting mail and parcels for Russia in March 2022.
    – Psychonaut
    Feb 8 at 23:52
  • Drive over to the US border, assuming roaming works there?
    – JonathanReez
    Feb 9 at 0:04
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    @JonathanReez, that may not be wise if the person has Russian nationality and no visa for entry to the US.
    – The Photon
    Feb 9 at 6:29
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    I'm sure there are lots of places where you can get US reception without actually entering the US. Just try not to get hit by a Reaper drone while doing this. ;)
    – kontextify
    Feb 9 at 10:17

3 Answers 3

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I've been locked out of SMS 2FA in another country with no way to quickly restore the phone number. F*** that. A few things you can do before that happens:

  • Some carriers let you send and/or receive SMS online by signing into your account, find out if that's available in Russia. It might even be enabled as a "parental control" option for parents to see what their kids are texting.
  • Some banks and services let you use Google Authenticator or their own app for 2FA instead of SMS. Set that up wherever possible!
  • Try to get a SIM card from a "neutral" country like Kazakhstan that will hopefully be accepted on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

If all else fails I would leave the Russian SIM card with a trusted relative or friend and ask them to relay the messages. I definitely wouldn't use some app that exposes your phone and sends your bank SMS messages through an unknown cloud. Even an innocent service that works well today may choose to leave Russia at any time, or it might get blocked by new Internet restrictions in Russia.

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  • "Iron Curtain", there's a term that fell in 1989...
    – FreeMan
    Feb 9 at 14:50
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    @FreeMan With the Great Firewall and Russian/Western blocks, curtains are back in style.
    – Therac
    Feb 9 at 15:09
  • Fair point. Maybe this is the "Silicone Curtain", though...
    – FreeMan
    Feb 9 at 15:12
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    @FreeMan yep for the most part it's the West that's been blocking Russians out, not the other way around.
    – JonathanReez
    Feb 9 at 20:14
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    I'm accepting this answer because something akin to the first point worked for my acquaintance—it turns out her mobile provider offered something called "Mobile over WiFi" that allows her to receive texts (and maybe calls) from an app that connects via a WiFi connection rather than the local carrier's data connection.
    – Psychonaut
    Feb 15 at 18:42
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  1. Install an app which relays incoming texts to email.
  2. Leave the phone in Russia, turned on and connected to power source.
  3. Travel to Canada (or wherever) and receive texts by email.
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  • And hope your phone doesn’t reboot (because updates or whatever other reason) and asks for a passcode before any apps are restarted. Interesting approach, though, but I think you need someone in country who is able to operate the phone if needed.
    – jcaron
    Feb 9 at 22:41
  • any relay app examples? Feb 10 at 2:58
  • @PerdiEstaquel When I needed one 5 years ago, there were a few options, and I found one that worked well. Can't recall the name though. I'm sure it won't be a challenge to find a good one today.
    – Greendrake
    Feb 10 at 3:00
  • im asking bc with all the GDPR (general data protection regulation) since 2018 all this kind of apps seem to have vanished Feb 10 at 3:04
  • Keep in mind that email is inherently insecure and can be spied upon quite easily, if not set up correctly. Feb 11 at 7:43
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One option you could explore is Google Voice, which allows you to port your existing Russian number for a one-time fee. Once ported, you can receive SMS messages online, fulfilling the requirements of 2FA systems. The process is relatively straightforward, and if you later decide to revert to using your standard mobile phone, you can do so easily. Another alternative is Skype Number, where you can obtain a local Russian phone number. While you can't port an existing number to Skype, you can get a new one and receive SMS messages online hassle-free.

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    Is Google Voice really available in Russia? Per support.google.com/a/answer/9053675, it's not a supported country. Feb 9 at 7:15
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    Skype has also left Russia.
    – kontextify
    Feb 9 at 9:50
  • From what I've read, Google Voice isn't available in Canada either, except as a business product with a monthly subscription fee.
    – Psychonaut
    Feb 9 at 21:07
  • Yeah, I'd suggest using a VPN to access Google Voice or Skype from Russia. Feb 12 at 0:43

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