I've been using Google's Project Fi service for about 4 months now and it's one of those services that I wish I'd known earlier.
I first heard about this service when I was living in Bogota, Colombia earlier this year from another traveler. Currently, to sign up to the Project Fi service, you need to have a U.S. address. So when I visited family back in the U.S., I immediately signed up for the service.
What I really found appealing about this service is that it works in over 135 countries and the data rate is fixed at $10/GB. You pay a minimum of $20/month to use the service, calls are free within the U.S. (usually $0.20/minute if calling from outside the U.S.) and SMS is free everywhere.
For the data rate, you pay just for what you use. You prepay at the beginning of the month but you'll get re-imbursed for what you don't use. For example, if you think you'll use 1GB/month, you pay the $20 + $10 for 1GB (plus taxes) at the beginning of the month. But if you only use 500MB that month, you'll get $5 back.
So far since I signed up, I've used Project Fi in the U.S. and around 7 countries in Europe (Iceland, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Serbia) and have gotten 4G/LTE service in most of them (in Hungary and Serbia I was only getting HSPA, but still fast enough to be able to get work done).
The convenience of having Internet and cell access pretty much anywhere in the world I plan to visit without paying an arm and a leg for it is really, really nice. There have been cases in the past where I had to check in to an Airbnb and I wish I had a way to contact the host. For example, one instance I arrived late at night and my host (or the person managing her apartment) forgot to leave the key in the lock box. Luckily, I found a payphone (yes, they still exist!) a few blocks away and was able to call her.
While I usually stay in most countries I visit for 1-3 months and tend to get a local SIM card as it's usually cheaper, having Project Fi is still very useful when you just enter the country and don't have a local SIM card yet. I could call an Uber for example directly from the airport in those cities that allow it, which usually turns out to be cheaper than a local taxi. Also, in some countries, getting a local SIM card is not so easy.
One feature that actually makes Project Fi even more attractive to a digital nomad who tend to stay longer in one place at a time is you can pause the service. Yes, you heard that right, you can pause the service so you don't get billed for it when you're not using it! Google actually wants to save you money, which is quite unusual for a carrier.
You can pause your Project Fi service for up to 3 months at a time and you can unpause it at any time. This works perfect for me as if I'm staying for at least in 1 month in a country where it's easy and cheap to get a local SIM card with a data plan, I can just pause my Project Fi service temporarily to save money. Then when I change country, I can just unpause it right away and I'm back in business. All these can be done through the Project Fi website, no need to make time-consuming phone calls.
Another nice plus with the service is you can also request free data-only SIM cards. This could come in handy as a backup or if you have other devices. For example, you may have a tablet, a cheaper or older backup phone, or a USB modem. You need a Project Fi compatible phone to activate the service, though I've read somewhere that once it's activated it will actually work on other phones as well. But if you're like me and rarely uses voice or SMS, the data-only SIM would be sufficient if I lose or break my phone and still want to use the service. I'm not sure if there's a limit on how many data-only SIM cards you can request, but I was able to request 2 as backups easily through their website. I actually carry a cheap backup smartphone with me as well.
Summary of Benefits
- Good price (minimum $20/month + $10/GB per month + taxes)
- Get reimbursed for data you don't use
- Works in 135+ countries, free phone calls within the U.S., usually $.20/minute outside the U.S., free SMS anywhere
- You can pause and unpause the service instantly from their website
- Free data-only SIM cards if you have multiple devices or just use them as backups
I'm heading to Southeast Asia in a couple months and looking forward to trying it out there as well. I've been very impressed with the service so far and can't imagine ever going back to the old carriers. Activating the service was very straightforward and painless, you can do everything online on your own, I've always hated having to make phone calls where they ask you a bunch of questions and having to wait. These older carriers could really learn a lot from Google.
If you do decide to sign up to Project Fi, you can use my referral link to get a $20 credit.