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Cheap virtual number providers to receive SMS (Twilio and alternatives)

The web has become a privacy nightmare, and one of the causes of this is that so many websites are so comfortable with demanding that users provide them with a phone number. So naturally, I’ve started looking into ways to get alternative numbers.

It’s no news that, even though mobile plans often include them with almost no limits (the notable exception being the number of unique recipients you are allowed per month), SMS APIs are bloody expensive. However while I get why renting a number and sending texts can’t be free, I don’t see why receiving couldn’t be a lot cheaper, if not fully free. I’ll focus on receiving costs, since this receive-only is your typical use-case when getting a number to deal with websites that require SMS validation.

I was surprised to see how complicated the pricing tables are. In particular, there is often a base price and a surcharge depending on the carrier, not only when sending but also sometimes when receiving. For the sake of brevity (and for my own sanity…), I’ll just list the price that seems to be the one I’d be most likely to pay. Note that I listed them here in the order I found/browsed them, not in my order of preference.


To the best of my knowledge, the usual “reference” for SMS APIs is Twilio. Let’s start with it:

Frankly, that receiving fee is an outrage. We see that carriers charge the sender for accepting their SMS, and to my knowledge I’ve never seen a carrier charging their customer for receiving an SMS. I would understand a small fee to cover API costs and whatever, but paying as much for receiving as for sending… This sounds like a bad joke…

Vonage (and Nexmo)

As far as I understood, those 2 merged not that long ago.
They also get a special mention. I had been sitting on writing this post’s draft for a few months, meaning I prepared the data at the time, but as often postponed composing it until now. And guess what happened in the meantime… they increased the sending and receiving prices by 5 cents per SMS, and the monthly fee per number by 8. I guess I didn’t wait for nothing.


Finally one with free SMS reception (although a carrier fee may apply depending on the carrier, namely for Sprint and T-Mobile). Also, on the opposite to the previous one, it seems that they lowered their price since the time when I did my draft. Nice.


They seemed to be the cheapest, however it looks like they only take business customers. Not sure if they have a minimum volume requirement or not.


This one felt a bit special… I didn’t really understand the pricing nor the documentation… It seemed more expensive than the others, so I didn’t really try hard either.
Here are just a couple of links:


They don’t communicate their prices publicly and it seems they set a minimum volume (Monthly Minimum Contract – MMC)… Not really what I was looking for, but I have no idea if they have good prices or not if you happen to reach the volumes they want. Their pricing page is there.


Another one with free receiving, yay. The monthly cost of the phone number is a tiny bit higher though, but stays reasonable.
I got a bit triggered by the fact that they charge first for the phone number and then again to “enable SMS” on it (and they hide this little “extra” deep into footnotes, that’s low). On the other hand, that’s not what I was looking for, but they seem the cheapest to send SMS (if your volume is high enough to compensate for the more expensive number rental). Beware for the crazy carrier fee of Lleida though.

  • Pricing page
  • API documentation on inbound SMS
  • Monthly fee for a number: $1.10 / month ($1 base + $0.10 to have SMS: “An additional charge of $0.10 / mo applies to add SMS and MMS capabilities to a number”)
  • Sending an SMS: $0.0025 + carrier fee ($0.0020 to $0.0400 for Lleida)
  • Receiving an SMS: $0, and apparently no carrier fee


The last in my list, doesn’t seem to be appropriate for my use, they give a price for sending SMS but not receiving. No pricing either for renting numbers. It seems to be targeted at companies who want to run a support center or ad campaigns.

That’s all folks. I haven’t actually used any of those in the end (yet), but at least, when I need to, I’ll have a starting point now.

Edit: some more ideas:

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