I’ve been a loyal Google Fi user since December 2017, when I first wrote this article. It’s now almost 2022 and I still remain very happy with Google Fi as a frequent international traveler. I even used it for 5 months when living in Portugal last year. Here is my initial report about using Google Fi in Portugal back in 2017 – I’m happy to report that I’m still very happy with this network carrier and I think it’s one of the best options for frequent international travelers.
Since this original article, I’ve used Google Fi in so many destinations: Morocco, France, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and more. It’s fantastic being able to get off the plane wherever I go and instantly have service without thinking about added roaming fees. And when I have had to make phone calls, I’m still satisfied with the low-cost fees for making data calls overseas (Google Fi will also try to use the wifi for calls when possible, to keep costs down).
My experience using Google Fi in Portugal
In December 2017, I knew I needed to get a phone pretty soon. My iPhone 6 was over 2 years old and was constantly telling me I was out of space. With a trip to Portugal approaching, I knew that I would be frustrated using the iPhone as my main camera. I also knew that it was likely I wanted to use my phone as a GPS during our car rental (last time I used the physical GPS that the car rental place in Portugal provided, it wanted us to drive into the ocean), and that my usual method of Verizon’s $40/month international plan wasn’t going to cut it since that only paid for 100MB of data, with $25 per additional data.
Since I travel so much, I’d been intrigued by Google Fi, a mobile virtual network, providing phone, messaging and data services using both Wi-Fi and cellular networks belonging to Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Three.
The biggest selling point for me was the unlimited international roaming. You pay exactly the same overseas as you would here at home. The relief that I could remain connected to clients even overseas, without worrying about exorbitant charges or connectivity issues, was one of the main reasons I switched.
I’d had Verizon for years with excellent reception in the USA, and often had reception when Mr TravelObservations’ T-Mobile phone was struggling, so I was nervous about making a provider switch. Now after three months I can say there was nothing to be nervous about and this was the best phone decision I’ve ever made.
We were recently in both the United Kingdom and in Portugal and within about 5 minutes of landing (give it a little bit of time to adjust), I received this message from my phone:
And that was it. I didn’t have to change any settings or keep checking my bill or monitoring my data usage. I had excellent service all over London and Portugal, except in Geres National Park, an extremely remote location where other Americans’ roaming services also didn’t work.
There’s a base fee of $20, plus $10 per gigabyte up to $60. Google Fi also just announced bill capping – you will never pay more than $60 a month for data. If your bill reaches $60, the rest of the data is free. I believe after 15 Gig a month, they may start to throttle the free data, but you can pay for unthrottled data.
Google also only charges you for what you use – you can select the $30 (3 Gigs) plan, but if you only use 1.5g of data like I did last month, your data portion will only be charged $15. This is a great option for frequent travelers who may be able to use wifi for the majority of their trip.
Additionally, because I bought the phone during a special where you got $100 credit back, AND I turned in my iPhone for $180 credit, my monthly bill has been extraordinarily low, not to mention the savings on the phone which is admittedly expensive (but no less expensive than an iPhone, AND you’re not locked into a contract). Because I was so nervous about switching, I liked that the Pixel 2 is also available on Verizon, which meant that I could easily switch back to my old provider if I needed to – but that hasn’t been necessary.
Project Fi has its own app on the phone, where you can easily see the data you’ve used, contact tech support if there are any connectivity issues, receive alerts if you are approaching a certain amount of data, and preview your next bill.
Note: from my research, it appears that Google Fi network works best with Google’s own proprietary phones. They do have some phones on their website that they “brought in” on the network, but I chose to go with the Pixel 2 as I knew there was a much greater chance of the network working seamlessly and updating correctly.
The Pixel 2 is an amazing phone. (Update: I recently upgrade to the Pixel 5!) It took me 1-2 days to stop trying to use it as an iPhone – some of the swipe shortcuts are the opposite direction, for instance, but I got the hang of it after a day or two of playing with its capabilities. It charges very quickly and takes beautiful photos. I’m not a tech-y person, so you can find plenty of specs online, but I haven’t regretted giving up my iPhone one bit! I was afraid I’d miss my iPhone – and I did have to give away my Apple watch since it was no longer compatible – but the integration of the Pixel 2 with my Google email accounts (including my travel agent accounts) proved to be a worthwhile tradeoff. I’m so glad I switched to using Google Fi in Portugal and other trips!
The phone also automatically switches between WiFi and the network, so it tries to save you as much data as possible. My first month with the phone I was frustrated because I realized it wasn’t connecting to my home wifi and I spent an extraordinary amount of data, BUT this turned out to be an unrelated problem with the home network and I haven’t had this issue for the past couple months.
Planning on signing up for Google Fi in Portugal or other destinations?
If you found this article useful and are signing up for Google Project Fi, please consider using my referral code XM886D – we’ll both get $20 in credit after your first thirty days!
Are you planning a trip in general?
Wondering why I was living in Portugal or have so much international experience? I’m a professional travel advisor focused on designing thoughtful experiences for discerning clients in Europe and around the world. Portugal trips are my specialty in particular – you can read why on my Portugal Trips page.
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