For most digital-nomads showing up in a new location, buying a SIM card from a local carrier, and getting connected is second nature. Most countries make this easier and cheaper than it is in the U.S.
But sometimes it’s not so easy. Maybe your flight arrives in a new country in the middle of the night. Maybe you run out of data on a bus trip in the middle of nowhere. Maybe, like me, you show up in new countries on your own boat and don’t feel like immediately heading to shore to find a cellular store.
This is where Google Fi can fill a void.
What is Google Fi?
Google Fi isn’t much different than your normal phone data plan. For one line I pay $60/mo for unlimited data (speeds throttled after 22gb). If you are a U.S. customer Google will simply connect to its partner’s cellular networks.
That’s all fine and dandy, but the real magic of Google Fi comes when you travel. Google has partner networks in over 200 countries. When you travel, your phone simply knows you’ve arrived, and it seamlessly connects to networks in that country just as if you were still at home.
I purchased Google Fi when visiting my mom in the U.S. then got on a plane to Guatemala. Upon arrival I got an alert saying, “Welcome to Guatemala.” Without doing anything at all I was able to access the internet, text, or make phone calls.
From Guatemala I sailed to the Honduras Bay Islands. As I cruised along about twenty miles off the short of mainland Honduras internet popped up on my iPad. I use the Google Fi phone as a hotspot to all my devices on the boat. I checked the weather, stock prices, and e-mail, and a few hours later I dropped anchor on the island of Utila.
From Honduras I sailed for the Cayman Islands. Once again, Google welcomed me to the country while still well offshore. It was also 2 a.m. We were able to send out a quick message to family letting them know we’d made landfall, then go to bed.
The number one drawback is that Google Fi unlimited isn’t truly unlimited. Maybe a judge would rule that it is, technically, but in reality the throttle speed above 22gb renders it completely useless. Loading a basic web page will test your patience beyond its limits. Because of this, using Fi exclusively is not an option for me.
Everyone has different data needs, and for my family, 22gb/mo is not nearly enough. Without any movie downloading at all, my family still manages to burn through about 50gb/mo. So, Google Fi is part of our internet solution, it’s not the solution.
To bridge the data gap always requires local SIM cards. In many places this is more affordable than Google.
In Guatemala I paid $4.50 for 3gb of data. In Honduras the price was even less at $4.00 for 3gb. The problem with these is that in order to recharge the SIM I had to go into a store (all the local shops could recharge data). They have apps that should make recharging available on the fly, but they require local country credit/debit cards. So, occasionally recharging data would be a pain. To further get around this I’d buy multiple SIM cards.
Grand Cayman, however, was a different beast. A SIM card and 5gb of data cost $73. At over $14 data was over 10x more expensive than in the third-world countries I’d just left. In places like this Google Fi really helps keep costs down. Prices like this also do a great job of keeping everyone offline! With data/cash disappearing into thin air, the solution becomes either to turn off the devices, or go in search of free wifi.
One possible solution for those needing more data is to purchase a second Google Fi line. Two lines are just $50 each.
But again, every person and family’s data needs are different. Piece together what you need, but know that Google Fi is the real deal when it comes to having the convenience of immediate connection on your travels. Overall, being a digital nomad is easier than ever, and Google Fi is one more tool you can use to run your business all over the world. Until those magic satellites circling the earth start beaming unlimited 5G speeds from outer space, we’ll have to keep piecing together solutions that work. Google Fi works.
Note: I don’t have any affiliation with Google, but if you sign up through one of these links we’ll each recieve a $20 credit.