While two-factor authentication (2FA) via text messages (SMS) is still widely used, 2FA apps have become the bread and butter of online security, making it difficult for hackers to access your web accounts. Google Authenticator and Authy are two of the popular options currently available. However, a major turn-off from Google's solution was how the codes were stored on your device. Since they were encrypted using a key that's specific to that particular phone, you couldn't access the codes anywhere else.
This isn't a problem unless your phone is stolen or broken, in which case, you're practically locked out of your online accounts. Google introduced the option to transfer your accounts in 2020, allowing you to import and export authentication codes between devices. But the process was still manual. However, with the recent April 2023 update, Google made it easier by enabling code synchronization across multiple devices using your Google account.
This article walks you through the process of synchronizing your codes between devices, whether you use an iPhone or an inexpensive Android phone. If you need to use the manual methods, we cover those, too.
Automatically sync Google Authenticator codes to a new phone
To get started with automatic 2FA syncing across your iOS or Android devices, follow these steps to sign in to your account:
- Launch the Google Authenticator app on your old device.
- Tap the avatar icon in the upper-right corner of the screen. A pop-up box asks you to choose an account from a list of accounts that are currently registered on your device.
- Select the appropriate account. The sync feature automatically turns on with a green cloud button next to the avatar.
Once syncing is set up on your old device, download the authenticator app on your new iPhone or Android from the AppStore, Google Play Store, or Samsung Store and sign in with the same Google account. Your codes automatically appear on the new phone.
The main advantage of this feature is that if you lose your phone or it is damaged, you can retrieve your verification codes on your new phone without a hassle as long as you signed in previously. Despite the update, the old manual methods of transferring your 2FA codes still work. Let's see them next.
Manually transfer Google Authenticator codes to a new phone
If you want to transfer your Google Authenticator accounts to another device for whatever reason, follow these steps on your old device:
- Launch Google Authenticator.
- Tap the hamburger menu icon in the upper-left corner of the screen to open the side menu.
- Navigate to and select Transfer accounts from the options. You're asked to export or import existing accounts.
- Select Export accounts. You're asked to verify the action with your fingerprint or lock screen password.
- Enter your password or input your fingerprint. You're asked to select the accounts to export. All the accounts are selected by default, but you can uncheck those you don't want to move.
- Select the relevant accounts and tap Next. A barcode displays on your screen to be scanned by your new device.
On your new device:
- Open Google Authenticator.
- Tap the hamburger icon to open the side menu.
- Select Transfer accounts.
- Select Import accounts.
- Tap Scan QR code in the lower-right corner of the screen. The camera opens.
- You're asked for permission if this is your first time using the app.
The codes automatically transfer to your new device once the scan is completed. You can now use Authenticator on both phones or delete it from your old device.
Reset the Authenticator app from individual services
The previous methods should easily get your Authenticator app issues sorted. However, say you lost your phone without syncing your codes to your Google account, and you can't transfer said codes to a new phone. You can take the long and painful route of resetting two-step verification on each website where you've previously installed it.
The downside of this method is that it requires you to be logged in and able to access the platform in the first place. For your Google account, you can reset the app from the security settings by deleting it and installing it again using the new phone. To do this:
- Launch your Chrome browser and log in to your Google account on your PC or Mac.
- Click the avatar icon and select Manage your Google account.
- Go to the Security tab.
- Scroll down and click Authenticator.
- Click the bin icon next to it to delete the existing setup.
- Click OK to confirm the deletion.
- Click Set up authenticator to use it on your new phone. A QR code pops up.
- Scan the code with your new device to get started.
- Click Next after scanning. You're prompted to input a code from the Authenticator app.
- Input the code from the app and click Verify.
Before now, the Authenticator setting had a Change phone option that allowed you to switch to a new device. However, that has been replaced with a Change authenticator app button that doesn't work similarly. In testing, we found that the new button works seamlessly when you want to change authentication apps on the same mobile device. However, to change the phone entirely, deleting the old setup and creating a new one yields the best results.
If you're requested to input your 2FA while logging in to your Google account, use one of the ten backup codes to get access. These codes are automatically generated when you set up 2FA for your Google account. They're stored within the account, but you must copy them to an external location in case you're locked out of your account without your 2FA app.
Do the same for all services you use with Google Authenticator, be it Facebook, Amazon, Apple, or Dropbox. However, you may not be able to access apps that require you to input your 2FA while logging in unless you have your old phone.
Transferring your Google Authenticator has never been this easy
Transferring your Google Authenticator to a new phone is now more seamless than ever, thanks to the tech giant's introduction of the user-friendly sync feature. If concerns about the transfer process have kept you from setting up Google Authenticator 2FA for your apps, you can now start protecting your account without worry. See our guide on setting up two-step verification on Facebook to get started.