Whenever you buy a new Android phone, say, the Pixel 7, you want to get it up and running as soon as possible. Any time you spend working through your old phone is time you could be spending with all the new bells and whistles you paid for. I totally get the excitement, but slow down a moment: There’s an important step you likely need to take before you erase your old phone, one that will save you a lot of headaches in the future.
This warning is for those of you who use Google Authenticator on your old Android phone. If you do, good on you. The app is a great way to protect your many accounts across the internet with two-factor authentication. Thanks to authenticator apps like Google Authenticator, bad actors can’t break into your Google, Instagram, or Twitter accounts even if they know your username and password. The final key lives on your phone.
But that’s the point: It lives on your old phone. You see, Google Authenticator won’t follow you automatically from your Pixel 6 to your Pixel 7. If you erase your old phone before setting up the new one, those codes will all vanish. Redditor Kracer20 experienced the pain of switching phones without transferring their Google Authenticator app in the past, which is why they issued a helpful PSA on r/GooglePixel, knowing many on the subreddit were likely to receive their new Pixel 7 or 7 Pro around now.
How to transfer Google Authenticator codes to your new phone
Google’s instructions make it easy to transfer codes from your old Google Authenticator app to your new one. First, make sure Google Authenticator is fully up to date on your old phone. Next, install Google Authenticator on your new phone, then open the app and choose “Get Started.” At the bottom of the page, choose “Important existing accounts?”
Now, switch to your old phone, open Google Authenticator, then tap More > Transfer accounts > Export accounts. Choose which accounts you want to move to your new phone, then choose “Next.” This will create a QR code. If you’re moving more than one account, your phone may make more than one code. On your new phone, tap “Scan QR code,” then scan your codes.
Once you receive confirmation from the app that your accounts transferred, that’s it! You should have no problem accessing your various 2FA accounts on your new phone. Before you erase your old phone, of course, make sure other important data is backed up and synced, if not already on your new phone, such as messages, photos, videos, and contacts.
Consider other authenticator options
As many point out in that Reddit thread, other authenticator apps avoid this issue entirely. If you were to set up your 2FA codes with a password manager like Bitwarden, you could easily sign into your account on your new phone and retrieve your codes there. There’s a security risk, of course: Google Authenticator lives only on your current phone, while someone with access to your Bitwarden account could also gain access to your 2FA codes (sometimes referred to as OTPs, or one-time passwords in this situation). However, you might find the convenience outweighs the risk. Just remember to make your Bitwarden password strong and unique.
Another good option is Aegis Authenticator, an open-source authenticator app with support for backups. That way, if your phone kicks the bucket, or you erase it before transferring to a new phone, you’ll still be able to retrieve your codes without worry. You could also consider Authy, a popular alternative available across devices, so you can access 2FA on more than just your smartphone.