How to Configure Automatic Text Message Alerts for Important Emails

Despite the ever increasing reach of cellular data networks there are still plenty of places where the only cell coverage you’re going to get is sparse at best with phone calls and plain text messages (SMS) only. Read on as we show you how to set up text message alerts so even when your email client can’t update you’ll still get critical notifications.

Why Do I Want To Do This?

Although it would be lovely if all of us with our various cellular providers could enjoy coast-to-coast total data coverage, well all know that’s currently (and for the foreseeable future) a fantasy. In reality even with great cell phone coverage there are plenty of times we find ourselves in areas where data coverage is non-existent and we’re lucky to even get the basic coverage that provides for phone calls and text messages.

Most of the time this isn’t a huge deal as the majority of us can live without getting constant email updates. There are those times, however, when the email updates you’re expecting are critical enough that you’d want to drop everything and get to a computer immediately to interact with your email and other services: job acceptance notifications, real estate transactions, high profile auction notices, and the like, all might merit greater urgency and attention than your typical email.

In instances like that, where you really truly want that alert no matter where you are, it makes sense to configure your email client to forward those critical emails to your phone via SMS so that, even outside of data network coverage, you’ll receive the alert.

What Do I Need?

To configure automatic email forwarding, you’ll need a few simple things. This trick should work for nearly everyone but there are a few minor exceptions that we’ll highlight in this section.

First and most obviously you’ll need the number of the phone the messages will be forwarded to. Second, you’ll need to identify which carrier the phone is attached to (e.g. Sprint, Verizon, etc) and then lookup the email or SMS gateway for that cellular provider.

We highlight the addresses for major U.S. carriers in this article but this list offers a more extensive overview of SMS gateways for both smaller U.S. providers and providers around the globe. If you have trouble finding your provider’s SMS gateway or want to verify it with official documentation from the company website or the like, you can always search for something like “providername sms gateway” to turn up an official reference.

Finally you will need an email service that supports always-active forwarding rules. If you have a web-based email service this is a non-issue as your email service immediately processes all incoming email and applies any rules you have set. If you’re using a server-to-local-client model for your email you’ll need either the ability to set forwarding rules on the server (so they act immediately and independently of any rules on the local client) or you’ll need to leave your computer and email client running for the duration of the time you require the email-to-SMS alerts.

For the purposes of this tutorial we will be using a Gmail account as Gmail is widely used and the instructions can be easily adopted to nearly any service.

Configuring Your Email Client for SMS Forwarding

Once you’ve done the legwork of collecting the necessary information as outlined in the previous section, it’s simply a matter of plugging it all into your email client in the form of an auto-forwarding email filter triggered when you receive an email from the source you’ve deemed critical. Let’s take a look at setting up just such a filter in Gmail.

Authorize the Forwarding Address

First stop is to add an authorized forwarding email address to your account. Not all providers require this step but Gmail does, and it’s a welcome security feature. Navigate to the forwarding menu by clicking on the gear in the upper right hand corner and Settings -> Forwarding POP/IMAP.

Click “Add a forwarding address.” When prompted insert your phone number and SMS gateway in the format specified by your cellular provider. If you’re using Spring, for example, the format is phonenumber@messaging.sprintpcs.com.

After you enter the address and click OK you’ll receive a message from Google at that address (and by address we mean to your phone via SMS) with a security code. The code is the nine digit number in the subject line. Enter that code to confirm that you control the address the mail will be forwarded to and click OK.

Back at the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” menu you’ll now see the forwarding disabled by default and the new address listed (as seen in the screenshot above). This is perfect, you needed to authorize the address so it was available for general use but you don’t want to blanket forward all your email to that address.

Create the Filter

Before you set up a filter for the emails you’re expecting we suggest setting up a filter for an email address you control so that you can test out the filter to ensure it works. It’s easy to use the very email address you’re setting up the filter on for this task.

To create a filter in Gmail you simply use the search function to search for the string you wish to filter for. For example if you want a specific email address, search for that email address (e.g. ask@howtogeek.com). If you want email addresses from a certain host you can use a wildcard (e.g. *@howtgeek.com) and so on. Click the down-arrow on the search box after you complete the search and you’ll see an advanced menu.

It’s worth noting you can also do this by navigating to Settings -> Forwarding and POP/IMAP -> Creative Filter, but using the search method is faster and pre-populates the filter form for you.

Down at the bottom of your search results you’ll see a small link “Create a filter with this search.”

On the next screen, check “Forward it to” and select your SMS gateway address.

Select “Create filter” to save your filter.

Testing the Filter

You can wait around for the actual email address in question to send you an email or you can, as we suggested in the previous section, use an email you have control of for testing purposes. Let’s take a look at how an email comes through as an SMS message by firing off an email from our How-To Geek account to our private email (where we configured the filter).

The test is a success! It also highlights one significant (but not unexpected) limitation of the SMS alert system. You’ll get the subject and only a fragment of the message (unless it’s very short) because of the 160 character limitation of a single SMS message.

Given that the purpose of the alert is to notify you that you have an important email that needs attending to (and not to break up a long email into dozens and dozens of text messages) that’s little cause for concern.


With a little research and filter wrangling you’ll never miss an important email again. Have a pressing email or SMS related question to ask? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to answer it.