As someone who is a professed early-adopter for technology, I’m pretty reliant on my phone for everything from social media to banking. When I’m on one of my trips, life doesn’t tend to slow down much so it’s a given that I need a rock-solid data connection, even on vacation.
In the past, I would spend countless hours on forums, blogs, and mobile carrier websites to determine which carrier had the most reliable data connection in the country that I was visiting. Once I figured out which carrier to go with, I had to decode which plan was right for the time that we were in-country.
Then I had to do it for every country that I was visiting.
Fast forward to the day I land in the country and now I have to take time to find a store or kiosk in the airport that sells the SIM card that I need and then wait to have them insert it and for it to establish a connection which has taken half an hour at times. Also, conveying the plan you wanted in a country that doesn’t speak English was a challenge in and of itself.
It was a GIANT pain in the a$$.
Enter Google Fi
I found out about Google Fi from a fellow attendee of a Frequent Traveler University (FTU) in Seattle (2017). She told me about some very interesting features about Google Fi that seemed quite appealing but there were quite a few hoops to jump through in order to make the solution work for a non-US resident. I did my due diligence and decided that the product would likely work for me and I took the opportunity to order a Google Fi SIM card the next time I was in the US.
I received my Google Fi SIM card in February of 2017 and it’s been my go-to solution ever since.
Recently, it has become easier to get and use a Google Fi SIM card and plan so I thought I would take this opportunity to enlighten those that are in a similar situation that are looking for a good solution.
There are quite a few things that I enjoy about Google Fi. Much like other Google services, the features are well thought out and feature-rich. While the pricing can be a bit more than if you got a SIM card in each country you visit, the convenience is well worth the nominal price difference in my opinion.
It’s Simple and It Just Works
For me, the best thing about the Google Fi setup is that I don’t have to think about anything. In every country that I have visited, the SIM card just works. The SIM card detects which country you are in and automatically connects you to the proper cellular network. At the time of writing, Google Fi works in 217 countries and regions (even though the UN recognizes 195 countries … don’t ask me how that works) – so virtually everywhere on earth.
I get a strong LTE data connections almost everywhere and at the very least, 3G. Calls work as do SMS messages and for those that aren’t heavy users of WhatsApp, MMS works as well – though I should warn you that if you are calling to anywhere but the country you are in, you’ll pay 20¢ (USD)/minute. If you are in the US, long-distance calls are much more affordable. Calls back to Canada when you are based in the US are free and calls to other countries can be very cheap (like 1 cent per minute to France as an example). Pricing varies per country but you can check out the US-based long distance rates at https://voice.google.com/u/4/rates?pli=1.
Rates while abroad are much more expensive at 20¢/minute. I tend not to make many calls while abroad but it can be expensive if you need to wait on hold to get a hold of Aeroplan for example.
Google Fi is just so convenient that it has changed how we travel. When we were in Japan last summer, I decided that using Google Fi was a much more viable solution than having a portable hotspot, the standard go-to for many travelers. Not only was it cheaper, but much more convenient without the need to pick up and return a piece of hardware that needed to stay charged throughout our travel.
You Can Pause Your Service
Coming in at a VERY close second is the fact that the plan can be paused. Yes, that’s right, you can pause the service, meaning you don’t have to pay for the plan when you’re not using it! This is a game-changer for Travel Hackers.
If you’re anything like me, you are visiting multiple countries on the same trip but after you’re done your vacation, you go back to work for 2-3 months before you start your next adventure. Now, with Google Fi, you don’t have to pay for your plan during those months that you are back home in Canada.
It’s also dead simple to pause your service – either in the Google Fi app or through your account at http://fi.google.com.
You Can Add Data-Only SIMs and Share the Plan
This feature is HUGE for my family. I’m subscribed to the standard plan but I have two data-only SIMs – one for my wife and one for my daughter. Wherever we go in the world, I will have calls, texts, and data and they will have access to data. We mostly stay in contact through WhatsApp so they don’t need calls and texts so it works beautifully for my family.
The best part of it is that the data is all used and tracked under my account so I know exactly how much data is being consumed as soon as it’s consumed.
This is great because of the next feature I’ll cover.
There’s a Cap!
Google charges a somewhat expensive $10 USD/GB of data but you only pay to a maximum of $60 in any one billing cycle. That means that even if you have 5 people sharing a plan (1 main SIM + 4 data SIMs), you will only pay $60 – for up to one month’s worth of data consumption! That’s bonkers.
Now a word of warning, your billing cycle matters here. For example, if your billing cycle is between the 1st and 30th of each month, if you start your vacation on the 25th and use up the 6 GBs of data by the 30th, you reset back to 0 as soon as the next billing cycle happens. So while you may be expecting not to pay more than $60 for your data, you may end up paying more if your billing cycle doesn’t quite mesh up with your travel dates.
If your travel dates mesh up well with your billing cycle, you’re in for a very inexpensive and convenient way to stay connected on your travels.
There is one small thing to keep in mind. After you reach your billing cap at 6GB of data usage, you won’t pay another cent for data until your next billing cycle. Data speeds remain the same (LTE) until you reach 15GB of data usage. Once you hit that, you will be throttled to 256 kbps until your next billing cycle. If you want to unlock your full LTE speeds after 15GB, you can pay $10/GB. I have personally never gotten close to 15GB and I have taken 1-month trips. I believe the most I have ever used is about 9GBs in a one-month period and that includes my wife and daughter’s usage.
The cost is pretty simple to understand. It’s $20 USD per month for the voice and text features of the plan and $10 USD per GB of data used (to a max of $60 per billing cycle). All plans are prorated for the time you use them – meaning that you take the number of days your account is active and they charge you for those days only.
Let’s use an example for clarity. Let’s say I use the plan for a 14-day vacation and use 1.53 GBs of data. Here’s what I would be charged:
Phone Plan: $9.33 ($20 per month / 30 days in the month * 14 days of usage)
Data: $15.30 ($10 per GB of data at 1.53GB)
Total: $24.63 USD
Here’s another example: 18 days of usage with 7.43 GB of data used
Phone Plan: $18.00 ($20 per month / 30 days in the month * 18 days of usage)
Data: $60.00 ($10 per GB of data with a cap of $60 for the month)
Total: $78.00 USD
Before you ask, no, unfortunately, you cannot get a data-only plan. The voice plan is required in order to get access to the data of the plan.
How to Get Google Fi
Here’s where it takes a bit of creativity to get started with Google Fi. First, you should know that Google Fi isn’t intended for those outside the US – Google is trying to get US residents to get on the Google Fi cell plan as a replacement for their Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, etc. plans.
To ensure that they are targeting US residents, they use some simple ways to ensure that Canadians aren’t getting set up for Google Fi. The biggest one is that they check to see if your Gmail account is set up for a US address. When you are setting up your Gmail account, they ask you for your address and then verify that it is a US address through geolocation. Here’s how you get around that check:
- Use a VPN like TunnelBear to mask your IP to a US location. TunnelBear is free (up to 500MB of VPN browsing) but if you want a permanent VPN solution, you can pay for the service at $4.99/month. Connect to the VPN and choose a US location to VPN into. This will show the Google servers that you are based in the United States.
- Create a new Gmail account – when you fill in your personal information, make sure to use a US address. A simple solution is to create a new email address and use the same name as your regular email with US appended to the end. For example, if your email is [email protected], create a [email protected] account.
- Create a new Google Fi account – you’ll be asked to log in with a Google account – choose the Gmail account you created in Step 2.
You don’t have to actually get a SIM card when you create your Google Fi account so you have a lot of flexibility on when you actually activate your service. This allows you a couple of options. You can use a mail forwarding service to get your SIM card or you can just ship your SIM card to a hotel the next time you are in the US. Shipping is free for standard delivery, or you can pay for expedited service to get your SIM card sooner. I recommend that you think a bit ahead and ship your SIM card and your data-SIMs at the same time.
Another thing to keep in mind is that your Canadian registered Google Play and Apple App Store won’t be able to download the Google Fi app so you’ll have to download them from a third party site such as APKMirror for Android. As someone hasn’t used and iPhone for years, I’m afraid I don’t know the best site to download apps that aren’t available through official channels but I do know that you will have to sideload the application.
Remember, having the iOS or Android app is not a requirement as you can actually manage your plan through the website fi.google.com so don’t freak out … you don’t have to be a hacker to get Google Fi to work on your phone. The apps just make things a little more convenient but they aren’t necessary – the website provides the exact same functionality.
Why Are You Recommending Google Fi Now?
Google has made it much more attractive to get Google Fi service now than in the past. In the past, they would only allow Google Fi to work on Google Phones (Nexus, Pixel, etc.) and had a very difficult requirement to activate the SIM. The SIM needed to be placed in a Google-branded phone for it to be initially activated and it could then be used in another phone with some technical workarounds.
This is no longer the case as Google Fi is now supported in any unlocked phone, which makes it much more appealing to the normal user.
You can check your phone’s compatibility at https://fi.google.com/compatibility if you have any lingering doubts as to whether your phone works or not.
I have been a OnePlus convert since the OnePlus 3 because of its many great features, one of which is a dual SIM card tray. This allows me to keep my Canadian SIM and my Google Fi SIM in my phone at all times, making it the perfect travel phone. When I’m in Canada, I use my Canadian SIM, when I’m anywhere else in the world, I deactivate my Canadian SIM and activate my Google Fi SIM. If you’re looking for a new phone, check out OnePlus – I swear by them.
Sweetening the Deal
If you are interested in Google Fi, you can sign up using my referral code to receive a $20 credit after your first month of Google Fi. You can read the full terms and conditions for the referral program at https://fi.google.com/about/referral-tos/.
You can get the referral bonus at https://g.co/fi/r/J7X3FP.
Google Fi is the perfect solution for my family when we travel abroad. The connection is rock solid, pricing is fair and simple, and I don’t have to do any research before my trip to figure out the best option. Best of all, as soon as I land in a strange country, I have data and don’t have to take time out of my day to track down a retailer that carries the SIM card I need.
I don’t know about you, but when I land in a country that doesn’t have English as an official language, it immediately feels like more things can go wrong. With Google Fi at my side, I don’t have to worry about any of that.
I’m a BIG fan of Google Fi and I think it would be a great solution for those that travel in a similar fashion. Take a look and see if it works well for you.