I’ve been a happy Google Fi customer for about a year, but I’ve just run into three pretty major problems with Fi that I wanted to share. Let’s start with the worst:
1. “Extended” Fi use outside the US breaks the terms of service
Despite advertising extensive international coverage (and actually working outside the US), the Terms of Service (under “Using the Services”) include this:
The Services are offered only to residents of the United States. The Services must be primarily used in the United States and are not intended for extended international use. Further, the Services are designed for use predominantly within our network. If your usage outside our network is excessive, abnormally high, or cause us to incur too much cost, we may, at our option and sole discretion, suspend your Google Fi account, terminate your service, or limit your use of roaming.
This isn’t just a piece of legal fine print. People’s accounts have been terminated by Google for “extended” use of Fi outside the US. Here’s one story:
What exactly “extended” means is not specified, but some customers have been receiving the following email:
It looks like you’ve been using Fi abroad for over 6 months, but Fi’s terms of service require you to use our service primarily from a US address. This means we’ll need to suspend your international data roaming capabilities within 30 days, unless you start using Fi in the US again.
If you’re active-duty military, please contact Google Fi support as soon as possible for an exception (you may be asked to provide your 10-digit DoD ID number).
Your phone number is safe on Fi until you cancel service or move it to another provider. If you plan to remain abroad for a long time, you’re free to continue paying for Fi service—you’ll be able to use it for texting and receiving calls, but not for data. You can also choose to move your number to a more local provider or to Google Voice.
Thanks again for choosing Google Fi.
Fi being designed for use “primarily” in the US also means that you must have a US address as your primary place of residence. Pretty bad for digital nomads. I lost my phone a few weeks ago while traveling outside the US, along with the Google (Project) Fi SIM in it, and wanted to order a replacement SIM. Surprise…
2. You can’t ship yourself a Google Fi SIM outside the US!
What about customers who lose their phones while traveling? Google doesn’t seem to care. You need to force a friend to proxy the SIM for you, or have a mail forwarding service further delay things while you’re without a SIM.
But anyway, I had a data-only SIM as a backup, so I thought I’d just use that for my Internet needs. Here’s another nasty surprise:
3. Google Fi doesn’t support tethering from data-only SIMs!
As in, tethering doesn’t work. I’ve tried, from an unlocked rooted Android phone. No tethering.
There’s speculation that Fi limits international usage because it’s not profitable. But many of us digital nomads would be happy to pay more for a plan that worked, hassle-free, in any country. Local SIMs may be cheap, but getting a local SIM is often not easy.
In most countries, you need to provide extensive documentation for KYC purposes, so a random person at a phone shop ends up with a copy of your passport (at least). That is identity theft waiting to happen (see How much is your passport worth on the dark web for example).
You also often need to wait until you find a phone shop - you can’t just get a SIM at the airport.
Then you need to wait for the SIM activation and all the brouhaha - for a few friends of mine this took one hour each in Colombia.
In some countries, it’s actually illegal to get a SIM unless you’re a resident. In Brazil, you need a CPF number to get a SIM (similar to a US SSN). Most foreigners use an online CPF generator to obtain a fake CPF.
If you’re overseas mostly in one country, then sure, get a local SIM. But if you’re a digital nomad or a frequent traveler staying a few weeks in one country, getting a local SIM is a really annoying headache.
I wish Fi provided a plan for digital nomads, without this 6-months limitation. I would pay the price.