The Best Cell Phone for International Travel
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"Thanks for the recommendation! We switched and cut our bill in half, no complaints so far!"
~My college roommate after I told him about Google FI
I’ll keep this post short and sweet. We switched to Google Project FI for our phone plan in May 2018 before we flew to Ecuador in June and have been blown away. Not only is it spectacular for international travel, it’s a sweet deal for being in the United States as well. If you sign up using any of the links on the page, like this one, or this one, you get a $20 credit towards your bill (and so do we)!
How It Works
Google Project FI piggybacks off of existing networks globally. If you are in the US, it’s Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Outside of the US it does the same thing in over 170 countries. For example, in Ecuador and Peru we used the Claro network which has 4G LTE just about everywhere we went (including the remote city of Chachapoyas in the Andes). In Bolivia we are on Tigo with fast 4G LTE everywhere we have been. The transition between networks and countries has been almost seamless. It takes a few minutes for the phone to realize it’s in a new country and sometimes you have to force it to search for the network at first but considering you can move effortlessly across international borders without having to buy SIM cards and minutes… It’s damn impressive.
In the US you get unlimited talk and text for a flat rate (depending on how many people are on the plan), plus $10/GB of data (also with a max cap on the cost depending on how many people you have on the plan). For example, if all you did was sit on your phone like a zombie all day and soak up 15GB of data for the month it would only cost you $135 (+taxes) for two people. For Kim and I, we have been using around 1GB per month and our total bill comes in at around $50 with taxes.
What You Really Get
Outside of the US you get FREE texting to the US (all the time) and FREE calling to the US if you call over wifi. Additionally, when you’re on wifi, calling to other countries is incredibly cheap. For example, we had to sort out some bus tickets with a Peruvian company while we were in Ecuador. We spent about 15 minutes on the phone and our total cost was 15 cents. If we had to, we could call if we weren’t on wifi and it would cost a little more but it would be a pretty rare case where a simple (free) text wouldn’t suffice to hold someone over until you could call over wifi. Who makes phone calls anymore anyways? If you do have an issue, Google has 24 hour support that is there to resolve issues in a jiffy. When we landed in Ecuador we didn’t know how fast the phones were supposed to lock onto the new service and we chatted with someone via text message over wifi that got us all squared away in about five minutes.
No, you can’t use your iPhone but you can bring your number with you. If you have a newer Google phone or some LG and Moto phones you can use your existing phone. For us, I had to give back my work phone and we did a trade-in with Kim’s old iPhone and got way more than we would have selling it ourselves (we got over $150 for an iPhone 6). We ended up getting the Pixel 2 and have loved them, mainly because the camera is incredible. I am really just telling you this part so I can share a few of the amazing photos we have taken.
We were skeptical of the service at first but after having crossed multiple borders in South America with essentially no issues at all… We can say that Google Project FI is without a doubt the best service out there for anyone traveling internationally and probably even for anyone in the US. If you know of something better, please let us know!