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How to deal with two-factor authentication when you’re overseas

Judging by the number of emails I receive each week, the question of how to receive two-factor authentication messages while overseas continues to cause confusion. This applies especially to the common banking practice of sending codes via SMS to confirm financial transactions.

Making payments overseas can be tricky if you are unable to receive SMS confirmation codes from your bank. Credit: iStock

To receive those messages, you need a cellular connection. This alarms many travellers since they want to avoid the high charges for data roaming, but whether you have an iPhone or one based on the Android operating system, it’s simple to leave cellular on to receive calls and messages and turn data roaming off using the settings function on your phone. If you’re in any doubt how to do this for your model phone, Google provides the answer. Note that most telcos do not charge customers for receiving SMS messages overseas, nor do you need to tell your provider you’re travelling.

There are times when this will not work. In Morocco recently, I needed to settle a credit card bill with a payment from my bank account. My bank sent me an SMS code but even with an active cellular connection I was unable to receive the SMS message, most likely because my Australian telco does not have a relationship with a Moroccan cellular provider. However, Morocco is a rare exception.


What if I’m using an overseas SIM card with a new number, some ask? That solves the problem of expensive data roaming costs but that phone number is not the one associated with your bank account. Calling your bank from overseas and asking them to change the number to which they send messages could be tricky.

If your phone is a dual-SIM model, or one that takes an eSIM, you can leave cellular on and data roaming off for your regular phone number and have data streamed to your other SIM. This is the optimal combination for overseas travel. The data stream via your second SIM keeps all your apps functioning while the cellular connection to your primary number allows you to receive calls and messages. Or just buy a second-hand phone and put your regular SIM card in that, they’re cheap as chips.