Traveling abroad can be stressful on its own without needing to worry about getting locked out of your Apple ID services. But that’s definitely possible if you aren’t careful while overseas.
As it turns out, there’s a very specific — and yet not too-uncommon — a scenario that could see you losing access to your Apple account, and possibly other important services, when you’re traveling.
Here’s what you should know about that specific problem and how to avoid it.
The problem with two-factor authentication when traveling
We strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t enabled two-factor authentication (2FA) on all of their accounts to do so as soon as possible. While it isn’t perfect, it is another line of cyber defense for your important accounts.
Apple’s 2FA works by sending a special code to your trusted Apple devices when you attempt to log in through an unverified browser or new device. By default, any Apple device that you explicitly add to an Apple ID is a trusted device. Most devices can only be tied to a single Apple ID, while Macs can be tied to multiple IDs as long as they have unique user accounts.
So, when you’re at home, it’s probably pretty easy to grab one of your trusted devices and type that number in to authenticate.
But what about when you’re traveling? Depending on the circumstances, you probably don’t have all of your trusted devices with you. In some cases, you may only have one or two.
That’s all fine and good unless one or all of your trusted devices are lost or stolen when you’re traveling.
Then you’re in a scenario where you can’t really get to your Apple ID account. And beyond being locked out of your iCloud, you won’t even be able to locate and mark a device as lost or stolen.
A few possible solutions to traveling with 2FA
One possible solution to this problem is to keep a backup iPhone or iPad in your hotel that you don’t carry with you. Even if it doesn’t have a SIM card in it, it can still be used as a trusted device with a Wi-Fi connection.
Another possible solution is to set up an internet-based phone number that Apple can send 2FA codes to.
A solution like Google Voice is a great one. You can easily set up and maintain a free internet phone number and access that phone number anywhere you have an internet connection. Other options include Skype, although they aren’t free.
Of course, there may also be an issue if you use 2FA on your Google account (which you should). If you lose your primary phone, you may not be able to get into your Google account.
There isn’t necessarily an easy solution to that problem, but you could set up a secondary Google account with no 2FA. Create a strong and unique password, write it down on physical paper, and carry it with you when you travel.
That may sound like a lot of work, so just go with whatever suits your lifestyle and travel needs.
How to add trusted phone numbers to your Apple ID
Once you create a Google Voice account, you can easily add it to your Apple ID as a backup 2FA method. (It may also be a good idea to add your primary phone number as a trusted number, too.)
Here’s how to set it up on an iPhone or iPad.
- Open the Settings app and tap on your Apple ID card at the top.
- Tap on Password & Security.
- Look for the Trusted Phone Numbers subheading.
- Tap on Edit to the right of this section.
- Add your phone number and follow the prompts.
You can also set it up in macOS Mojave by going to System Preferences —> iCloud —> Account Details —> Security. Just click the + icon below Trusted Phone Numbers.
The process is a little different on macOS Catalina and alter. You’ll go to the Apple ID settings pane in System Preferences, then Password & Security. Click Edit next to Trusted Phone Numbers.
Don’t have a Mac? You can also set up trusted phone numbers in a web browser. Just go to the Apple ID site and log in. Click Edit to the right of Security and click Add Trusted Phone Numbers.
Other tips to help you recover from a lost iPhone while traveling overseas
Although these are the basics of using Google Voice for 2FA when you’re traveling overseas, there are some other useful things to keep in mind about the service.
- Use your Google Voice number for other platforms. You can (and probably should) add the Google Voice number to other important accounts when you’re traveling — such as banks and other financial institutions. That’s especially true if you plan on swapping SIM cards abroad since most services require a phone number for 2FA.
- These tips are preventative. If your device has already been lost or stolen and you’re locked out of your account, you may need to go through Apple’s (intentionally) arduous recovery process.
- Set up a “family” number. Unlike devices, a phone number can be used across multiple Apple ID accounts that don’t belong to a single person. Because of that, it may be handy to consolidate your family’s 2FA backup plan into a single Google account.
- Use that number for other purposes. It’s incredibly handy having a secondary phone number that you can route certain traffic to. With the Google Voice app, you can even have calls to the internet number ring your own device.
- Set up and use a security key. While we recommended not using 2FA on your “Google Voice” account, that isn’t really a best practice. What you can do instead is use a physical 2FA key like a Yubikey. The Yubikey acts as a second factor, kind of like those number code messages. Just plug it into any device with a USB port and you’re into your account. Great for security. Great for traveling without your primary phone.
Mike is a freelance journalist from San Diego, California.
While he primarily covers Apple and consumer technology, he has past experience writing about public safety, local government, and education for a variety of publications.
He’s worn quite a few hats in the journalism field, including writer, editor, and news designer.