A few years ago I was sitting on a train in China, I was trying to meet up with my friend that was living in Beijing but I had missed my connecting train and was going to be late. I had no cell phone service but somehow the girl I was traveling did. This was one of the first times that I really realized that I was behind the times. My cell phone provider was no longer cutting it.
Today I am sitting in the Lido Market of our cruise ship. We are at anchor off the coast of Durban, South Africa and I am posting this by hot-spotting my computer to the data I get through Google Fi.
My Cell Phone Story
I had AT&T for over ten years. In Vermont the two main carriers are AT&T and Verizon. I got AT&T fairly early on and just kept it. It worked well where I lived and that was what I needed.
When I first started working on cruise ships it was 2011. At this point in time WhatsApp wasn’t around, Facebook Messenger was not much of a thing, and if you wanted to video chat someone you used Skype. And, never mind all those apps on your phone – my first couple contracts I had a flip phone – apps were not a thing. Plus they were in Alaska and Hawai’i so there weren’t overly long stretches when I didn’t have cell phone service. I just accepted that out of the US I wouldn’t have cell service and that was alright.
Then, a few years ago, I started noticing that so many of my friends were able to use their cell phones in port – in places like Japan, China, Mexico, all over the world. I checked with my provider and the best option they had for me was to pay $10 to have a day pass to use my phone. It would include data, texting, and phone calls. Ten dollars a day wouldn’t be so bad if you traveled out of country for a week a year. When you are out of country for nearly half of the year though? It simply would not work.
Most of my friends had T-Mobile. International texting and data for nearly every country in the world. I was planning to switch to them when two things happened: I had some friends visit Vermont with T-Mobile and their service was atrocious and after doing a bit of research, T-Mobile wouldn’t let me bring my phone number with me. I’ve had this same phone number since I was 17, it may simply be a number but I have grown attached.
Enter Google Fi
Then, I found out about Google Fi. Google Fi in the US works between US Cellular, T-Mobile, and Sprint networks. It goes between the three different carriers to bring you the best service from what’s available. I sign up – switch my number over – and I am excited. This not only means I will have service in the places we go on the ship, but when we are in Scotland I will have service!
There were some growing pains with this. I didn’t do enough fine print reading and tried using this service on my iPhone 6. With the iPhone 6 it did not include WiFi-Calling (one of the most important features for me), and will not go between the three networks – it just picks one and goes with it.
This resulted in a lot of headaches. I wanted to switch back to AT&T. A few days with no service at all and I was frustrated beyond belief. I tried but couldn’t move my phone number back to AT&T for 60 days. I was stuck with this damn phone service that worked great in Mexico but couldn’t send a text message from my house in Vermont.
Frustrated, I did some research. Other people had my problems and when they switched to a Google phone it worked a lot better – even in more remote areas like Vermont that don’t typically have the best cell phone service. Call it a good plan on Google’s part to make money, but it worked. It was an expensive day for me, but it sort of worked out as my mom dropped her phone in a bucket that same week so she ended up with my old (that was Stuart’s old) iPhone.
How Is It Going Now?
It’s going well. As I sit about a half hour from land on a cruise ship the service is a bit spotty. It disconnects at inconvenient times. Let’s think about this for a minute though: I still have service. I had enough service to video chat my mom and my brother yesterday. While it can be really frustrating to be on a call and have it drop, it’s not that I am sitting in a city and it’s not working – I am out in the ocean and it still connects. Technology is kind of great.
After switching to the Google phone I was able to get Wi-Fi Calling. Right now going over data it isn’t a huge benefit, but when we are in Scotland at the house, connected to Wi-Fi then if my grandma (from her landline) calls, I can answer the phone just as if I was down the road in Vermont.
It’s nice to be ashore and be able to send a message home. It’s nice to be ashore and be able to WhatsApp call Stuart to see where he is and where we can meet. To be able to check your email, pay a credit card bill, or an electric bill. When we are in Scotland and are out and about to be able to get a message from my mom.
So far the only country Google Fi has not worked that I’ve traveled to is the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. It has worked for me in: USA, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Panama, French Polynesia, Tonga, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Scotland, and France.
And, while it is going well and I would recommend it for those that travel extensively, there are no brick and mortar stores for it. You order it online, you communicate with their support service either by phone, email, or chat. There’s no person to go to.
Would I Recommend It?
If you travel a lot I would recommend getting a provider that offers some amount of international coverage. For me, with still wanting cell service in Vermont and to keep my Vermont phone number, Google Fi was by far the best option. It is a bit more expensive than a standard cell phone plan, but you have the option each month to opt for the international option or the domestic option (a considerable savings) and adjust it month by month if you need to. This makes it overall a great choice for me.
My biggest comparison thus far has been with T-Mobile and Three – the UK company that Stuart uses. With T-Mobile internationally it is pretty comparable in terms of countries. Google Fi offers unlimited 4G (when available) whereas T-Mobile has unlimited 2G. In Vermont though Google Fi completely takes the cake.
Stuart has Three from the UK and he still overall loves it. He has a limit to international data that he can use and he is limited on his international countries. For instance, he is not covered in South Africa or Canada (go figure?)
So, overall, Google Fi has been doing well by me and I would recommend it.