If you're a translator or interpreter who travels frequently, I might have some good news for you!
I recently returned from a trip to Hong Kong and Thailand, which was my first time anywhere in Asia and while I’d been to Europe several times, just a couple of months away from my trip, I realized that I had no idea how I would continue to keep my business running while I was there since I hadn’t planned to spend lots of time in the hotel with easy internet access.
My phone carrier is Verizon and they have the option of international use but it wasn’t cheap and I didn’t have the best experience with my phone when I was in Mexico, so I was looking for another option.
Enter Project Fi. As I’m considering various alternatives, I discover Google’s Project Fi. If you’re not familiar with it, Google has created a very cool option for those of us who like to travel or call internationally frequently.
The awesomeness that is Project Fi
For just $20 a month, you get unlimited domestic calling/texting, unlimited international texting, and the ability to use your phone as a hotspot (I use this far more than I thought I would). Data is $10 per GB on a prorated basis and that’s no matter where you are. So, that means while I was in Hong Kong and Thailand, my data was costing me the same to use there as it does here. The only extra fees involve phone calls, which appear very reasonable for the countries that I have looked at and are very competitive with other services like Skype. You can check out this link to get more information about calls to and from specific countries.
Easy billing tracking
The Project Fi app lets you see exactly what you’ve used at all times and if you’re traveling, you’ll see exactly what price you’re paying to make phone calls so there’s nothing hidden. I found this really refreshing for a phone plan.
Data only SIM option
You can also get a data only SIM if you don’t plan to need phone calls and this option works on multiple devices including iPads.
What’s the catch?
Sounds awesome, right? Sooooo…. what’s the catch? Well, there are a few. Oh, come on, you saw that coming, didn’t you?
First, Google didn’t build its own infrastructure. Instead, it’s an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) partnering with Sprint, T-mobile and U.S. Cellular. This means that the coverage can be slightly limited so if you live in a place where these carriers are a bit spotty, then Project Fi will be also. With that said, Project Fi will also seamlessly switch between phone carrier network and public WiFi (with your data encrypted). This feature also helps you save on data usage. You can view the Project Fi coverage here. When traveling, it works the same: they partner with local networks to provide you with service. When I was in Thailand it worked like a dream. I had lightning fast internet and made phone calls seamlessly. Hong Kong was a different story. My phone worked fine for data but the coverage for calls was spotty. Sometimes it the call would connect and sometimes it wouldn’t. Full disclosure, I didn’t care enough about calling to bother contacting support to see if this could be fixed. Also, I have a friend who recently returned from a trip to Europe and it worked perfectly in every single country with no problems. So, I wouldn’t let that experience dissuade you completely.
The next catch is that it only works with 3 phones: the newly released Pixel, Nexus 6P, and the one I have, which is the Nexus 5X. If you’re an iPhone user and not willing to use an Android phone, you’re out of luck at this stage. I use a Samsung Galaxy on Verizon as my regular phone and had no problems learning the Nexus phone. In fact, I have to admit I like it a bit better than my Galaxy and the Nexus starts at $199, which is really inexpensive for a smart phone these days especially for how good it is. I was really disappointed with the Nexus phone’s battery life until I discovered the battery saver, which worked well throughout the trip. All of the Project Fi phones have high-speed chargers, which helps with this too since I was able to get a decent charge in just a few minutes.
Heavy data users beware
If you’re a very heavy data user and you’re considering using Project Fi for not just a travel phone, but your only phone, keep in mind that 3 GB of data will be an extra $30 with no sorts of bulk data deals or “unlimited data” option…it is a flat $10/GB and that’s it. If you use it for a travel phone, this may not be an issue for you.
Only one Google voice number
I use a Google voice number for my business line and one thing stopping me from giving up my Verizon phone all together is that Project Fi’s phone numbers are technically Google voice numbers and Google will not allow you to forward a Google voice number to another Google voice number. The only way I’ve found to get around this is by porting my business line over to a different similar service but I’m not quite there yet. If you're a current Google voice user like I am, make sure you do NOT port your Google voice number over to your Project Fi phone unless you're sure that you plan to keep it. Otherwise, you could experience difficulties keeping the number if you decide to discontinue Project Fi. Instead, get a new Google voice number with new Google account (this also keeps things separated if you are a current Android user).
American phone number