Review: Google Fi Service for International Travel Needs Big Improvements

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Google Fi International Plan Needs Improvements

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.

Google Fi service plans

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.

Review Google Fi Service international

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.

Review: Google Fi Service

Final Thoughts

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.

Ryan S
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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  1. Google is marketing Google Fi to people who live in the United States. If I put your statements together, you live in Brazil, and you knew Google Fi wouldn’t have knowing sold you their service, and you had specifically used your US resident friend’s address. You used it for a few days while in the US, paused the service, and then expected it to work when you were in Germany and tried to unpause service there.

    If I as a US resident were to purchase a SIM in Western Europe with a mobile service plan marketed for those who live in a specific Western Europe country, had the SIM sent to a Western Europe address instead of my actual US address, picked up the SIM, activated service while I was in the appropriate Western Europe country, used it for a few days, then “paused” service, then tried to unpause the service while I was in say, South America, should I expect the service to work? And if I then don’t inform the mobile service provider’s technical support of all of the pertinent facts — although technically I didn’t actually lie to them — am I morally in the right to say that they suck and the mobile provider sucks?

    • Google Fi advertises the pause/unpause in another country service very prominently. This is exactly what I did. There’s nothing deceptive in doing exactly what a company advertises, and consumers have every right to expect a company’s services to work as advertised. Consumers also have the right to expect a company should be able to fix issues when their service doesn’t work as advertised. You asked “should I expect the service to work?” 100% yes, because my use of the service is exactly how they advertise it: once it’s activated, you can pause/unpause anywhere in the world they say is covered. You seem to think I did something deceptive, which is odd. I think maybe you aren’t familiar with their service.

  2. Would be helpful to have more details. Such as “I have an unlocked ATT iPhone” or “I have a cheap Samsung I bought in Brazil”. Cause I’m betting your phone and prior plan have something to do with the problem.

    • I have an unlocked iPhone 7 that was unlocked by the manufacturer. It’s listed as supported on the Fi website when you can check your phone model.

  3. I recently tried using Google Fi in Europe and
    was generally disappointed with the service. I used a system compatible phone but found the service to be hit and miss and basically useless. Very disappointed.

  4. It’s worked for me countless times in Germany, and a dozen other countries. I really do think that you have to use the Google Fi supported phones though. That is what I have always done and had no issues. They even tell you that it will not work perfectly on other phones.

    • It says it should work on iPhones and I’m not willing to buy a new phone just for trips. That’s why I feel like it’s “doesn’t work as advertised.”

  5. We each have the orig Pixel XL. Bought them 3 years ago. Have been to over 40 countries in the last 36 months, spending 30 months away from home.
    If you don’t have a google type phone I would lower my expectations. I am not in love with google and they are falling lower on my list each year but it isn’t because of FI performance. It has worker everywhere it was supposed to every time (though sometimes a few reboots and angry words shouted into a silent phone were required for the system to welcome me to the new country)
    We don’t pause service it is our service even at home.
    FI service is essentially software and I would not be surprised if pausing service repeatedly or getting free data for a long while and then not getting free data were just not programmed correctly into the FI system originally.
    Clearly it works for many people as advertised and if it doesn’t work for you you have to troubleshoot it yourself in a bigger way. If it is your phone that is the issue. Is it worth it to you to buy a google type phone? If switching plans repeatedly causing the issue? If it isn’t worth spending the money on a google or not switching the service around maybe this service isn’t for you.
    When you (Miles to Memories) told me how to get Caesars Rewards Diamond through Wyndham and it didn’t work I knew it was me and when back through your articles to get it right. Kinda the same thing with FI

    • This was my first round of pausing and then turning back on. Everything I did is covered in their support articles. I did plenty of my own troubleshooting and still couldn’t get it to work. The issue seems to be that any issues where service isn’t working require resetting the SIM. However, they can’t reset it if you’re outside the US. That’s a huge problem on a product marketed for international travel. If they advertise pause/unpause service and international travel, those need to work.
      Like I said, I’ve seen plenty of great reviews (like yours), and when it works it seems awesome. When it doesn’t work, they seem unable to resolve issues. And no, I’m not willing to buy a phone just for this.

  6. I completely understand your disappointment. I had almost identical problems on 2 different international trips this year. On each trip nothing could be fixed until I returned to the US. Since I was traveling in eight countries on my most recent trip, I had really hoped to use Google Fi. My alternative was paying $10/day for Verizon (and I was traveling for 3 weeks), or buying a SIM card in each country, some of which I was transiting through for less than 24 hours. The irony is that previously I had used Google Fi for multiple international trips, from the days of “Project Fi”, and never had a problem until this year!

    • Was this the first time that you had an issue? Or were there other times but they could be resolved while overseas?

      • I use a data only SIM, (used with Hangouts for phone calls), that is linked to my partner’s Google Fi phone account. He has had a couple of problems over the last 3 years, that were always able to be resolved while traveling internationally. I never had a problem with my SIM until this year.

          • When we were crossing borders between Austria, Switzerland and Germany, (on Lake Bodensee), in quick succession it stopped pairing with the respective countries services. Fi support was able to fix this.

          • Was the solution to turn off “automatic” joining of networks and choose one manually / turn phone off then on again?

  7. Works GREAT for me all over Europe, Mexico, and Costa Rica.

    Are you using a phone with official Google Fi support? There are some known and documented issues with Iphones. Your review is not accurate.

    • This is what happened and their inability to fix problems while traveling. It’s accurate. Might not be your experience, but “your review is inaccurate” means you think I lied. I think you meant “my experience was different”.

      • Geez relax, inaccurate =/= lying. There ARE well-documented issues when it comes to using iPhones on Fi, so some of your assertions are definitely not accurate. I use my iPhone but take my Nexus internationally specifically for this reason.

  8. worked for me in usa, china, thailand, korea last month no problem

    being able to have a us number makes it easy for some banking and other online business

  9. Earlier this year I got Fi to basically exclusively use when traveling. I was able to stack a few promotions and got a bunch of free credit when porting a number (an unused Google Voice number) in, so I haven’t paid a dime for it so far since I pause the service when not using it.

    It worked great in Taiwan and Japan this spring, and late this summer I used it on a trip through the UAE and Turkey. Worked fine in Abu Dhabi and worked in Turkey for about 72 hours before the data completely stopped functioning. I was still able to use SMS and make calls, but the mobile data was most of the reason I wanted it. Had a bunch of back-and-forth with their support team but it came down to, “it’s something with the local partner, we can’t do anything”.

    Your “works amazing when it works, can’t fix it when it doesn’t work as advertised” statement sums up my experience with the product.

    • Did they ask you about escalating but needing to stay put for 2 weeks? Was their solution “reset the SIM when you’re back in the US”?

  10. I have used in England, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Holland, Prague, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Argentina Brazil and never had a problem. I also have data plan for tablet very useful for driving and having a big screen GPS. With my US number with ATT I can also use my ATT # for WiFi calling using Google phone as the hotspot

    • And these are the types of reviews that made me sign up for it. The problem is that for some reason it wasn’t working when I turned it on, and they just simply can’t fix it or reset it / do whatever was needed when you’re outside the US. That’s the part that worries me. It’s like “works amazing when it works, can’t fix it when it doesn’t work as advertised.” I’ll give it another shot. I really hope it turns into what you’ve experienced. Will need it for Senegal / Mali / Algeria in late December.

  11. I used the service in Mexico and the Bahamas with no problem Leaving tonight for Barcelona, then Gibraltar , canary islands and then Brazil. this will be a true test.

    • Panama Jim – I live in Brazil bu don’t use it here since I have a SIM card from my contract with Vivo. Interested to hear your experience with Fi here. If you can, let me know how it went.

        • More data points never hurt. “Works when it works, can’t fix it when it doesn’t” is what the service seems like, so I’m interested in any issues encountered and if they can be fixed.


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