I’ve done a lot of research on what to do with my phone while traveling. Should I unlock my phone and buy a local SIM card? Should I turn on airplane mode and get by with only Wi-Fi? Until recently, there was no perfect answer, but I’ve found something that’s pretty damn close. Enter Google Fi, a new phone service from Google.

READ MORE: Phone Travel Guide For Backpacking

Google Fi
Google Fi was made available to everyone in March 2016 (it was invitation only prior to that). Google hasn’t actually built out a cell network. Instead, they are acting as a mobile virtual network operator, or an MVNO (Google Fi has contracts with T-Mobile and Sprint to use their networks).

If you are a frequent traveler, not a heavy data user, and are ok using an Android phone, there isn’t a better choice than Google Fi. It’s easy to set up and will save you money. I’ve already made the switch, here’s why you should too.

Pricing is Cheap and Simple

Calling and Texts – Google Fi has a base price of $20 per month, which includes unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international texts, and the ability to tether (i.e. use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot).

Cellular Data – Google Fi offers a flat rate of $10 per GB for data: $10 for 1GB, $20 for 2GB, $30 for 3GB and so on. You can prepay any amount of data per month, but there’s really no need to. You don’t get billed a higher rate for going over like other cell providers. If you prepay for 2 GB and use 3.5GB, you’ll just get billed an extra $15. Here’s one of the best parts. You only pay for what you use. At the end of each month, any unused data will be credited to your account, so you only pay for what you use.

How is Google Fi so Cheap?

Google Fi is able to offer such low prices by using a hybrid calling system. When you’re on the move, your phone selects between Sprint, T-mobile, or international carrier networks (whichever offers the strongest signal). When you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network, your calls and texts will be routed through the Internet.

If you only use 1 – 2 GB per month, your monthly bill will only be $30 – $40 per month (plus taxes). Lets see how this compares to other cell providers.

DataGoogle FiRepublic WirelessT-MobileVerizonAT&T
1 GB$30$25$50$50$55
2 GB$40$40$50$65$55
3 GB$50$55$65$65$75
4 GB$60$70$65$80$75
5 GB$70$85$65$80$75
6 GB$80$100$65$100$100
7 GB$90$115$80$100$100
8 GB$100$130$80$100$100
9 GB$110$145$80$100$100
10 GB$120$160$80$100$100
Note – pricing above includes calling, texts, and cellular data.

International Text and Data is Included

You might have caught this already, but I’ll say it again. Unlimited international texts are included in the $20 base plan.

Guess what, international data costs the same amount too! Google Fi will work in 120+ countries and data costs the same $10 per GB as it does in the U.S. However, data speed is limited to 256kbps/3G. Only T-Mobile includes international data as part of their standard U.S. plans. Other providers will charge you astronomical prices for international data.

You do have to pay for international calls, but they only cost 20¢ per minute. You can also make calls over Wi-Fi, which are free if you’re calling to the U.S. and cheaper if you’re calling another country.

What are the Downsides to Google Fi?

Nexus 5x for Google Fi
You only have a choice of two different phones, the Nexus 5x and Nexus 6p. These are actually pretty nice phones, but some people have a hard time giving up their iPhone.

If you are a heavy user of data, Google Fi isn’t a good deal. As a basic rule of thumb, if you use 4GB of data or less, go with Google Fi. If you use more than 4GB per month, go with T-Mobile.

I haven’t been able to test the phone out internationally yet, but based on reviews there does seem to be some kinks that need to be worked out. Cell service isn’t always picked up instantaneously in foreign countries. Also, international calls aren’t always made over Wi-Fi even if you have a Wi-Fi signal (turning on Air Plane mode solves this problem). Keep in mind this is still a relatively new service and considering that Google employs the smartest people on the planet, I’m sure they will iron out all the issues soon.

4G LTE coverage isn’t going to be as good as Verizon. Google Fi uses T-Mobile and Sprint networks, so it’s still pretty good, just not as good.

Google Fi Cover (Dark Green is 4G LTE)

Google Fi Cell Coverage

Source: Google Project Fi

 

Bottom Line:

Again, if you’re a frequent traveler, not a heavy data user, and are ok using an Android phone, there isn’t a better deal out there than Google Fi.

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