Google Fi Review: The best cell phone provider for international travel?

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Google Fi
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Money expert Clark Howard recommends Google Fi, a cell phone service operated by Google, because of the provider’s affordable plans and simple international travel benefits.

Google Fi, formally Project Fi, partners with Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular, intelligently switching from one network to another depending on your location.

Everything you need to know about Google Fi

With several international trips planned this year, I decided to ditch my unlimited plan with Sprint and switch to Google Fi to lower my cell phone bill without sacrificing phone service abroad.

Read on to see if the service actually saved me any money during my trip overseas…

Google Fi review: Table of contents

Plans and pricing

As of September 2019, Google Fi offers two different types of plans:

  • Fi Unlimited offers unlimited talk, text and data
  • Fi Flexible offers unlimited talk and text, data is $10 per gigabyte

Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between the two plans.

Google Fi Plans

Fi Unlimited Fi Flexible
Features: Unlimited calls, texts and data Features: Unlimited calls and texts, data is $10 per gigabyte
International: Unlimited texts and data, calls are $0.20 per minute International: Unlimited texts, calls are $0.20 per minute, data is $10 per gigabyte
Cost: $70/month for one line, plus taxes and fees Cost: $20/month + $10/GB of data for one line, plus taxes and fees

An unlimited plan might sound appealing, but look at your last bill before you switch. I did the math, and at my current data usage, it is significantly cheaper for me to remain on Fi Flexible instead of switching to Fi Unlimited.

Since I’m still using the Fi Flexible plan with Google Fi, I’m going to focus on that plan and share information about my billing experience…

As a pay-by-gig data user, the most interesting aspect about Google Fi is the “fair and flexible” pricing structure. It’s easy to track your bill both online and through the Google Fi app so you’re never surprised at the end of the month.

Google Fi starts at $20 for unlimited calls and texts for one person, plus taxes and fees. It’s an additional $15 per person, and you can add up to six people to your plan.

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Data is $10 per gigabyte. However, if you use less than 1GB of data, you’ll pay less than $10 because the service rounds to the nearest 0.01GB. For example, I used 0.573GB of data, so my bill was only $25.73 in March of 2019.

To keep my data costs low, I set an alert to notify me if my usage goes over 1.5GB.

Google Fi data alert set to 1.5GB

Here’s where it gets interesting…

The Fi Flexible plan offers a Bill Protection feature which makes the service operate more like an unlimited plan, even though you are paying for data. The Bill Protection means you won’t pay for any data used after you hit 6GB. (The cap is 10GB for two people.) Basically, your bill can’t go over $80 for one person per month, plus taxes and fees.

Google Fi bill protection max cost chart

If you use more than 15GB, data is slowed (but still free) for the rest of the month. Fewer than 1% of users exceed 15GB, according to Google Fi.

Tip: Check your current data usage and input your average monthly usage to estimate your bill with Google Fi before you switch from your current cell phone provider or choose the Fi Unlimited plan.

International

If you’re a frequent traveler, this is the most important part of Google Fi! Relying on Wi-Fi alone may not be practical, so this plan solves that and allows users to keep in contact with free texts and access high-speed data while out of the country.

Google Fi’s network covers more than 200 destinations around the world. Text messages are free, and voice calls are $0.20 per minute.

The best part is you get high-speed data for the same $10 per GB price, and data is free after 6GB with the Bill Protection feature, even abroad. If you choose the Fi Unlimited plan, you also get free data while traveling internationally.

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So how do Google Fi’s international benefits compare to other carriers?

The real perk of the Fi Flexible plan with Google Fi is the flexibility — you’re only spending money on the services you use. Plus, you have easy access to high-speed data any time. While I had unlimited data with my previous Sprint plan, it was slowed to 2G abroad which made it more difficult to use helpful travel apps like Google Maps.

Looking at a prepaid provider, Metro by T-Mobile offers 200 minutes, unlimited texts and 200MB of data for an additional $10 per month to any $30 or higher base-rate plan — so $40 minimum for international coverage.

In April 2019, which includes my trip to Ireland, I used 1.475GB of data and made $3.40 worth of calls to family in the U.S., so my bill was $38.15 — a few dollars cheaper than a more traditional international plan like Metro by T-Mobile.

Google Fi international call fees $3.40

Network partners

The type of coverage you receive is based on your cell phone. Phones designed for Google Fi — all Google Pixel models, Moto G6, Moto G7, and more — use Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular, as well as a network of Wi-Fi hotspots. The service automatically adjusts coverage based on your location to provide the best experience.

Phones that aren’t designed for Fi are only covered by T-Mobile. Check your coverage here to learn more about the service in your area.

Phone selection

You can keep your current phone (check compatibility) and switch to Google Fi. In fact, most Android phones and iPhones work with the network provider. Learn more about bringing your current device to Google Fi here.

The key is understanding how your service is impacted by the type of phone you use. If you currently own or plan to buy any of the phones listed below, you’ll have access to more networks and hotspots which means better coverage.

Phones designed for Google Fi:

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  • All Google Pixel models: Pixel 3a, Pixel 3a XL, Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixel Model G-2PW4100, Pixel XL Model G-2PW2100
  • Moto G7
  • Moto G6
  • LG G7 ThinQ
  • LG V35 ThinQ
  • Android One Moto X4
  • Nexus 5X Model LGH790
  • Nexus 6P Model H1511
  • Nexus 6 Model XT1103

Tip: You don’t need to purchase a phone directly through Google Fi to access the three networks and hotspots! Price compare any of the phone models above to find the best deal so you can receive the higher quality service.

Planning to switch phones before joining Google Fi? You can trade in your old phone or sell it to make a few extra bucks.

Google Fi does offer device protection for $5 per month, but Clark doesn’t recommend it. Check to see if your credit card offers free device protection instead.

Activation process

The activation process was simple and seamless, and Google Fi doesn’t charge any activation fees.

Before I switched to Google Fi, I decided to abandon both my iPhone and my unlimited plan with Sprint. After comparing prices around the web, I purchased the Moto G6 through Google Fi to make setup even easier. Plus, the purchase came with a $100 credit per phone on my future bills.

I received my new phone — with the SIM card already inside — less than one week after ordering. My phone number transferred easily, and it took about 15 minutes to get my service up and running.

Call and text performance

Since joining Google Fi in February 2019, I have experienced zero dropped calls and zero missing text messages — at home and abroad.

I also tested Wi-Fi calls through Duo and WhatsApp to avoid the $0.20 per minute fee during my trip in Ireland. Wi-Fi voice calls to family in the U.S. worked well. I did experience poor quality during a video call, but my hotel also provided poor internet service.

After landing in Ireland, I noticed a delay — about 5-10 minutes — for my service to activate. Once the network established a connection, it was seamless.

Data speeds

Google Fi claims to offer high-speed data both domestically and internationally. While I don’t regularly stream music or videos on my phone, I haven’t experienced any issues with downloads or buffering.

I used the Speedtest by Ookla app to test download and upload speeds. The average was 36 Mbps download and 35 Mbps upload  — plenty fast for video streaming.

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Customer service

My service with Google Fi has been problem-free so far. The wireless network offers 24/7 support by phone, chat and email, which you can easily access from your online account or through the Google Fi app on your phone.

Google Fi customer support options

Pros and cons

Pros and cons of Google Fi cell phone service

Pros Cons
International features Not the cheapest pay-by-the-gig plan
Flexibility to only pay for what you use Limited “designed for Fi” phone selection
High-speed data

Final thought

Overall, Google Fi provides great service both at home and overseas. Plus, I’m saving money! I was paying $80 every month for two lines of unlimited service with Sprint. Now, I haven’t paid more than $60 since joining Google Fi. That’s $240 back in my pocket every year!

While cheaper pay-by-gig plans exist, Google Fi’s Bill Protection feature provides the flexibility of an unlimited plan so your bill is never a surprise. If you’re a frequent traveler, this plan is definitely worth your consideration.

Have you tried Google Fi? Let us know in the comments below! Read about other cheap cell phone plans in Team Clark’s guide.

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