Free International Data Roaming: Google’s Project Fi vs T-Mobile

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T-Mobile made international travel so much better in 2014 when they introduced free unlimited global roaming with its post paid plans. We were eager to take advantage and switched 2 lines over to T-Mobile – one for a an iPhone and one for an Android. The T-Mobile offering is excellent but most of the time you’ll be running at 2G speed. It is good enough for texting and email but definitely not fast enough for maps and tooling around social media. (Yes, we know, sometimes, you will get 4G speed with T-Mobile, but it isn’t consistent and it is country and device dependent).

In 2015, Google announced its own mobile service, Project Fi. Their basic service offering is:

  • $30 month for unlimited voice, text and 1GB of data. Additional 1GB of data at $10/month
    • The texting is FREE globally to a US number. It is always free to receive from anyone.
    • In New York City, the $30 plan with taxes comes out to about $36 (taxes will vary slightly depending on your location).
  • Unlimited global roaming at 3G speed (256 kilobits per second) included
  • Unlimited tethering so you can make your phone a hotspot and connect your laptop, iPad etc to the Internet
  • Credit you back for any unused data at $1/100mbs. If you only use 500mb a month, you would get $5 back. However, the taxes for the unused $5 are not credited back.

At first it was available on an invite-only basis and available on ONE phone, the Nexus 6. Now it’s open to all and available on 3 phones, the Nexus 5x (which is what we use), Nexus 6 and 6P.  We thought the value proposition was good enough that when our T-Mobile Android contract was up, we switched it to Project Fi in December, 2015. The porting process was seamless – everything was done via the Project Fi app on the phone and the whole process took less than 10 minutes.

WARNING: For those already with a Google Voice number, keep in mind you can only transfer that number over to Project Fi or select a new number (and lose your Google Voice number).


We have successfully used Project Fi in 8 countries:

  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Ireland
  • Malaysia
  • Martinique
  • Taiwan

We have not been to a country that it hasn’t worked yet. In the next 4 weeks, we will be testing Project Fi in the following countries: China, England, Iceland, Japan, Macao and Sri Lanka.

Update: May 7th, 2016 – We returned from our trip to Asia. Project Fi worked fine in China (had to switch to 2G to acquire a signal first, then switch to 3G), Japan (automatic), Macao (switch to 3G to acquire a signal), Thailand (had a layover – automatic) and Sri Lanka (had to punch this into the phone dialer – “*#*#347626#*#*” without the quotes to acquire a signal).

The Positives

In general, Project Fi is solid and we get consistent 3G speeds everywhere we’ve been. Google Maps (our number ONE app use) when traveling, loads a lot faster than T-Mobile—so much so that we can use it for turn by turn navigation when driving. That is something that we definitely can’t do with T-Mobile. We like how calls to the US are 20 cents a minute when using a mobile network and free with WiFi. Customer service is excellent. Calls are answered immediately and solutions are often very hepful. Email exchanges are usually completed in under 10 minutes. We do not expect this to continue when they add more customers.

All Project Fi phones are by default unlocked and hotspot enabled. Project Fi has coverage in over 125 countries which is about the same as T-Mobile, but for countries without Project Fi coverage this is great. Buy a local SIM and you are good to go. Some countries not covered include Jordan, Myanmar, Namiba, and Botswana.  In fact, we don’t even carry our MiFi anymore traveling internationally. That’s one less device that we are carrying now. In countries without Project Fi coverage, voice and text will continue to work over WiFi.

Project Fi plans have no contracts. You can cancel anytime after the first month. For travelers who might want to use Project Fi only while traveling – you can pause your plan up to 3 months a time all via the app – no need to talk to anyone.

The Negatives

  1. Acquiring a signal in a new country can take a few minutes. This is a lot slower than T-Mobile. The default option is LTE roaming, however, that does not work everywhere. We had trouble with it in Hong Kong under LTE mode and had to switch it 3G to get it to work. It took a support call to get that sorted but “Auto” network switching would be nice addition to the Nexus phones.
  2. Even with WiFi calling turned on, it does not default to WiFi calling when roaming. We didn’t realize this until later when we saw the bill. Now, when we make a call at an international location, we place the phone in airplane mode first to force WiFi calling.
  3. In Brazil, we had an iPhone tethered to our Nexus 5x. Every time we attached it, the Nexus 5x clock would be reset to 1970 and GMT time zone causing constant reboots. We haven’t been able to replicate that elsewhere, but just be mindful if that happens to you.
  4. If you have a 2GB plan ($40/month) and use only use $1GB, you will still pay taxes on the full $40 vs $30. So the most optimal plan is 1GB of data. If you go over, you will be charged $1 per 100 megabyte—the same as signing up for a bigger plan. So start with the cheapest plan possible.
  5. If you an iDevices user/fan, Project Fi only works with Android and the 3 devices listed above as a phone service. For data only there are a few more device options. But in order to get the data only plan, you need to be a Project Fi phone subscriber first.
  6. You need a personal Gmail account to signup and it does not work with Gmail hosted apps accounts.
  7. Domestically, you’ll need Sprint or T-Mobile availability to utilize Project Fi

Google Fi definitely requires a bit more tweaking than T-Mobile for it to work internationally. Which is fine for us, but probably not for everyone.

Final Thoughts

If you are a frequent traveler, slightly technically inclined, not a heavy data user, and open to using Android, we think Project Fi is an excellent choice.  We are happy with it despite the flaws and have switched two additional lines over to Project Fi. But, we are even more excited to share this with everyone:


That’s our bill for the last 4 months with a lot of international travel. You can’t beat that! Right now, you can get the entry level Nexus 5x for $199 until May 8th from the Google Store. If you are interested in learning more about Project Fi, visit the Project Fi website.


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26 Responses to "Free International Data Roaming: Google’s Project Fi vs T-Mobile"

  1. Ryan says:

    Been using Fi since Dec 2015 as well. Have had to do the LTE/3G mode switching, selecting different network providers, etc. but overall it has worked in England, Italy, and Mexico so far. Sometimes Fi automatically connects to the wrong roaming partner network (such as in Italy) and I did not have any service at all even though it was connected. I opened up the network providers list and selected another network provider and once it registered it worked great. Once you know these little tricks, it works well.

    • The Flight Deal says:

      @Ryan – definitely requires some tweaking on the user’s part right now. but like you, it works well once you figure these little nuances. definitely not for those who are not a little technically inclined for now.

      • Michael says:

        How do you switch from LTE to 3G on the Nexus 6P

        • The Flight Deal says:

          @Michael – this is how we do it on the Nexus 5x: swiping down on the notification bar, then hit the fi network icon, then more settings -> cellular network and downgrade the speed to 3G. it’ll connect after that. the ability to downgrade is only available when roaming.

  2. Nick says:

    “Right now, you can get the entry level Nexus 5x for $199 from the Google Store.”

    Is that a typo? I see the Nexus 5x for $299 ($349 with $50 off). I’d love to get it for $199.

  3. NitPicker says:

    // slight nitpick

    > All Project Fi phones are by default unlocked and hotspot enabled.

    This is true – All phones purchased through Project Fi (Nexus 6, 6P 5X) are unlocked.

    However, not Nexus 6 phones are unlocked. AT&T version of Nexus 6 came sim-locked. Once you unlock it, it’ll work on Project Fi.

  4. Ben says:

    When I moved to Sweden last year I ported my Verizon number to Fi so i can keep it. Been amazing so far.

    So far I’ve used it in
    – Sweden
    – Finland
    – France
    – Germany
    – Netherlands
    – Switzerland
    – UK
    – UAE
    – Hong Kong
    – Taiwan
    No problems so far

    One thing: If you do a factory reset while you are outside of the US, wifi calling will stop working properly until you can reconnect back with US cellular towers. If you are an expat like me think twice before you do a factory reset.

    • The Flight Deal says:

      @Ben – nice amount of countries visited with fi. glad it worked in them.

    • John Brewer says:

      It has worked in Thailand, Japan & Indonesia for me but not in Nepal! Although Nepal was a listed country, if you click on Nepal on THEIR list of working coubtries, it actually says it does not work. A little disappointed (BTW, Mongolia had the same misinformation)

  5. Charlie says:

    I’ve tested Project Fi successfully in Japan and South Korea. I’ll be testing it in Switzerland and Italy later this week.

  6. Rob says:

    This article seems to make the point that maps do not work well or at all on T-mobile. This is 100% not true. I used turn by turn navigation in many countries on t-mobile and had zero issues. This included:

    -Republic of Ireland

    Speeds were perfectly acceptable for almost all activities other than streaming music and video. Even small photo uploads worked fine.

    It is also implied that it is somehow difficult to get a t-mobile phone unlocked in order to use an international SIM, This is also untrue. The last 3 iPhones I have had were unlocked weeks after receiving them. Just call T-mobile support and tell them you plan to travel abroad in the next month. The will open a ticket and unlock the phone within 48 hours.

    • The Flight Deal says:

      @Rob – speed on t-mobile is device and country dependent. we said it didnt work for us — because on our phones it didn’t go faster than 2G. we also said nothing about getting t-mobile to unlocked the phone only that the google project fi phones are unlocked by default.

    • MSer says:

      I’ve had T-Mobile and always seem to have 2g internationally. Google Maps took forever to load making them effectively useless for turn navigation. Problem with Nexus phones is lack of external memory. #fail

  7. Binish Pillai says:

    Fi sucked when I travelled to India, I was left with no network until I wrote an email to Fi customer service, they responded and I got the network but it was very spotty and will die when you need it the most. my other phone on T mobile worked fine. Fi had issues with short message codes as well, so if any service like bank or fb account verification sends you a text it will never make it to your phone. That’s not all, they have several problems with LTE hspa switching on Nexus 6P
    I got rid of Fi and got back on T-Mo as soon as I was back.
    Used Fi from Nov 2015 to April 2016

  8. thalha nomani choudhury says:

    I agree with flight deal, i love tmobile calling and texting and but data is extremely slow and cannot be used for navigation, i have tried it in London and Saudi Arabia, i am thinking Rob works for tmobile

  9. Drew says:

    I find this particularly funny since Project Fi uses the international roaming agreements of T-Mobile to provide service…So given the same phone it would work just as well on T-Mobile as it does on Project Fi since Fi is using the T-Mobile half of their network to do it. Just like the Project Fi data only sim runs only on T-Mobile LTE data network.
    Also, there are some international roaming agreements T-Mobile has that do not extend to Fi…like the gogo free in flight texting…

    • The Flight Deal says:

      @Drew – while they might use T-Mobile roaming agreement, T-Mobile and Google supported countries vary slightly. There are a few on T-Mobile not on the Google list and vice versa.

  10. Ed S. says:

    Has anyone used Fi with a secondary account on their phone? For my last trip–UK, France, Egypt, Turkey, & Sweden–that was my plan so that I could avoid transfering my 6P’s primary account’s Google Voice number over to Project Fi. (I like some of the original GV features, and I also wanted to keep StraightTalk as my monthly domestic service.)

    It seemed to be working, but the day before my trip, my phone stopped recognizing that the Fi SIM was installed. There wasn’t enough time to get a replacement SIM before leaving the U.S., so I gritted my teeth and went with Tmo again. (Though I ended up buying an EE SIM for the UK since Tmo took THREE DAYS to get my account straight over the holidays!!!)

    Anyone else use the secondary account/email approach? Or have a Fi SIM go unrecognized?

    Side note: as a workaround for slow download speeds, I got in the habit of downloading/scrolling through the city’s map every morning while on hotel WiFi. It made walking the streets and navigating metro lines via a 2G Google Maps connection bearable.

  11. Maps says:

    Offline capable vector map apps using open source map data are much more efficient than Google Maps and don’t require connectivity to a cellular or WiFi network. Lots of free ones out there. I use one and use Google Maps as a backup. Much faster.

    Have used Project Fi in 18 countries so far. Great experience for the most part. A little sketchy in Sri Lanka.

  12. Reuven says:

    The issue of not refunding your tax when crediting your unused data for the following month is not really an issue.
    Why? If say you get $5 credit, next month your bill is $5 less so you are then taxed on a lower amount…

  13. Urchin says:

    Try Macedonia. I spent over a week there with Project Fi and couldn’t get it to work. I spent much of that time back and forth with Fi suppot, and local T-Mobile people and no one could figure it out. I am technically inclined, and when I have up and bought a T-Mobile SIM, I had great signal everywhere I went.

  14. Jeff says:

    Don’t know about “international” but recent trip to St. Thomas VI using T-Mobile and as soon as we left port area, we only had 2G service that would not permit use of Google Maps or similar services. Call to tech support at T-Mobile confirmed that outside the US, and even within territories, although you may have “service”, assume it will be 2G and mapping apps won’t work. Now ordering Fi to try it out when we travel and in many areas where T-Mobile claims to have service but it’s very poor.

  15. Curtis says:

    Has anyone had an issue with using Google Fi almost exclusively for international travel? We have a family ATT plan and have no intentions of changing that or giving up my iPhone 6S, and especially of using roaming data with it (ouch!), but with a lot of travel coming up the next year between us and my parents, we were thinking of splitting the cost and using it almost exclusively for our trips (Spain, UAE, Sychelles, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, India, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Argentina, Chile and more). With coverage in all of these countries with Project Fi that I cannot find in any other international plans, Project Fi seems like the clear winner, especially for the $10/1GB rate. The terms of Project Fi indicate that it’s designed to be used primarily in the US, and the phone will be in the US more than 50% of the time (and could be online and connecting via wifi to appease their terms). I’m just curious if anyone has been warned or cut off from Project Fi for international “abuse”. Thanks!

    • Curtis says:

      Well I ran into the same trap as someone above – I didn’t click on the country names to see that Zimbabwe, Seychelles and Madagascar are not covered. Oh well. Project FI still covers a ton of the places we have plans for.


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