The average phone plan in the United States is $80 a month…
With such a high price tag, few Peace Corps Volunteers would consider keeping their phone service during their time out of country.
But what about our phone number?
It might seem irrational, but over the years you get connected to your phone number. You identify with it. And let’s be honest, the idea of memorizing a new number just seems like too much to think about right now.
Luckily, the major telecommunication companies offer a suspension program for customers that are deployed overseas. Unluckily, Peace Corps Volunteers rarely qualify for this service. But no matter…with a little persistence you can sneak into the program, or side-step it entirely and go through Google.
Let’s take this company by company:
The suspension program offered by AT&T allows for up to 999 days of a discounted cost of $0.01 per month for each mobile number on your monthly wireless plan. Annoyingly, they make it abundantly clear that this service is reserved for military personnel and that:
Volunteer workers, such as Peace Corps and missionary work, aren't eligible.
Each company is going to put up a level of resistance, but not equally. AT&T has a bad reputation of being a stickler with the program and success stories are few and far between. However, it has been done.
A useful strategy is to print out any and all formal documentation regarding your upcoming deployment to the Peace Corps and persistently approach AT&T branches until you find an employee that helps you out. If one employee says no, go to another branch and try again. Don’t be afraid to humble yourself and ask for a favor. If all else fails, throw the company’s own words back in their face and watch them uncomfortably decide how to act:
One of our core values is building strong customer relationships. We want customers to have an effortless experience with us, and our mission is to mobilize their worlds.
Verizon offers a similar program to AT&T. You can suspend your service for up to 3 years or simply cancel the contract without paying the Early Termination Fee (ETF). Verizon does not explicitly say that Peace Corps Volunteers do not qualify, so your chances are good. I personally visited only two branches before an employee snuck me into the program.
The idea again is to be nice but persistent. Have all of your Peace Corps documentation printed and in a folder. Visit each branch and plead your case until an employee helps you out. Try the assumptive technique and explain that other Peace Corps Volunteers have successfully suspended their plans with Verizon. The uncertainty might be enough to get you in.
Offering suspension plans at 36 and 39 months respectively, Sprint and T-Mobile are quite similar in their programs. The language on the website acknowledges only Military Personnel, but does not specifically exclude Peace Corps Volunteers.
As with AT&T and Verizon, the game is to humble yourself in front of the person helping you and to not be discouraged by ‘no’. There are a lot of Sprint and T-Mobile branches - if one store says no, go to another one and ask again.
If maintaining your plan is not important to you, consider porting your old number to Google Voice before you leave for your Peace Corps Service.
For a one time fee of $20, Google Voice will link your number to your gmail and forward all future calls to any other number you choose.
For details on how to do this, see this helpful article from How-to Geek.
Among many things, the Federal Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) required telecommunication companies to be flexible with those that travel overseas to do service work on behalf of the Federal Government.
Far be it from us to explain why U.S Peace Corps Volunteers cannot share in some of these benefits…
Nevertheless, if you would like to suspend your phone plan during your Peace Corps Service, you certainly can, but may need to fight for it.
If the plan doesn’t matter to you, Google Voice might be a good alternative.
If you have any recent experience with suspending your phone plan or can offer insight that would benefit the community, feel free to drop a comment below.
Congratulations on making it through this article and preparing yourself for your Peace Corps experience. You can find more information about Preparing for the Peace Corps, Peace Corps Discounts and Concerned Parents in our other articles.
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