Review: Google Fi Service For International Travel
What I had expected isn’t what you’ll find in this review: Google Fi service on international plan needs some serious improvements. I’ll cover the plan options, the sign up and registration process, and major areas that make this product fall short of what I expect from Google. This comes from 2 recent trips using a Google Fi SIM card in my phone.
What is Google Fi?
Google Fi is a new phone service offered by Google with a few different plans, but data is the largest focus. Second is international calling. They are really targeting international travel here. You can buy an unlimited plan or a pay-per-use plan. Both include large amounts of data and calls to the US, plus paying more for other features. I chose the pay-per-use plan.
As I work on traveling to every country in the world, it has become increasingly important for me to have access to the internet to find information, request an Uber, or check in with family to let them know that I’m fine (ex: I was in Thailand during a coordinated terrorist attack of 3 separate bombs in 2016, and being able to quickly tell people I wasn’t impacted was important, so I had to find a café with wifi).
However, when I’m at home, I don’t want to be paying for this service. The key feature that I like in Google Fi is the ability to pause the service when you aren’t using it. Pausing is possible for 90 days at a time. The service automatically activates itself after 90 days, but you can immediately pause again. After pausing for a total of 180 days, the service turns off. However, you can get a new SIM card and start the service again for your next trip. For me, having something that gives me a US number, doesn’t require buying a new SIM in every country, and comes from a brand I know checked all the boxes.
How Google Fi service is different
Google Fi is tied to your Google account and mails the SIM to your address (you can’t buy it in person anywhere, all services are done online). It needs activated and comes with a simple set of instructions. It took 2 minutes. However, you must turn it on and activate the service in the US before going on an international trip.
First Use: Friend’s Wedding in California
Living in Brazil, when I visit the US, I’m on “wifi only” mode. This can annoy friends and family who want to message me to alter a meetup time. It sucks when I’m running late and can’t notify people. I do have Magic App on my phone that lets me text and make calls with a US number, but it only works when you have signal already (phone signal or wifi). It doesn’t create its own connection. For me, Google Fi was great for this situation, as well as my main desire for something to use on international trips.
I had my SIM sent to my friend’s house and got it on my arrival the day before the wedding in September. Activation was simple, and I was able to use the phone and internet like you’d expect with any normal phone plan. When it was time to fly back to Brazil, I paused the service (done in the app or the website). First impression: works as advertised while in the US.
Second Use: Can’t Use it During International Trip
On my recent trip to the Middle East, Fi did not work for me at all. On my layover in Germany, I turned on my service and tried to check my email. Nothing. I checked all of my settings, restarted my phone, and nothing. I’m tech savvy, and I knew my settings were right. I messaged Fi on Twitter with screen shots and waited.
They replied with your typical “turn off and back on again” and a few other unhelpful messages before sending me a link to online chat with tech support. From talking to them, I learned a few things that make this service a huge failure at this point:
- Troubleshooting typically requires resetting your SIM card, which can only be done when you’re in the US
- Connection issues where you’re in another country that should have service can only be escalated if you will be in that same spot for more than 2 weeks to provide them updates
Those are major obstacles. For a business traveler or someone living overseas but using this service to have a US cell phone number, the 2nd one could work. For your average trip overseas, not many people are staying in the same place for more than 2 weeks. Tech support required a commitment that I’d be in the same city for 2 weeks to escalate the lack of service in a covered area.
The bigger issue was that I couldn’t get service and that tech support is unable to take the required steps to fix it. I tried chatting 3 different times, and the main issue is that they couldn’t fix it without resetting my SIM card. This can only be done when you’re in the US and connected to a local cell phone tower. This means that overseas support can be impossible. If you have minor issues, they can resolve them. If you’re overseas and can’t fix the problem with a dose of “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” then you’re out of luck until returning to the US to fix the problem.
My final resolution with Fi was that I need to pause my service and wait to fix this until back in the US. At that point, they’ll be able to reset my SIM and get things working again. The obvious question is “how do I know this won’t happen again?” No guarantees. I’ve seen positive reviews, and that’s why I was excited about Fi for this trip. However, it not only didn’t live up to the hype, it was disappointing in all areas. Not only did the product not work, the lack of ability to fix their main target (use for international travel) is absurd. A phone plan targeting international travel that can’t fix issues during international travel?!
I’ll give it another shot during a trip in December, since it doesn’t cost me anything. I’ll make sure to reset it and do the things they need while in the US later this month for Black Friday. However, if it doesn’t work next time, it’s going in the trash. Final review: Google Fi service for international travel has a long way to go. 0/5 stars at this time.