Beware about Google Fi and service outside the US!

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:

https://support.google.com/fi/thread/13675468?hl=en

What exactly “extended” means is not specified, but some customers have been receiving the following email:

Hello traveler!

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.

If I understood the last bit correctly, you have a backup non-Google data-only SIM and Google says that tethering off their Fi SIM in a device that accepts only data-only SIMs is not supported (tablets, portable WiFi hotspots), so those are unrelated things and you shouldn’t be affected.

I have a Google Fi data-only SIM, in a regular Samsung Galaxy phone. I expected tethering to work, and was surprised to see that it didn’t. Then I read in this Google Fi help page that “Tethering from a device with a data-only SIM isn’t supported”.

However, some folks have figured out how to tether from a Google Fi data-only SIM to a computer anyway.

My understanding, although I might be wrong, is that tethering from the data only SIM isn’t supported, but also not actively blocked. So YMMV.

Did you try both regular WiFi tethering and also USB tethering?

I would agree on this one with Thomas.
They don’t say that they ban it. It sounds more like “we don’t support it, so don’t come back to us asking for help and troubleshooting.” :slight_smile:

Has anyone had any issues with Google actually shutting accounts down? I’ve been in an ongoing process of getting my partner onboard with switching to Google Fi but obviously we won’t if that is a serious concern. I personally haven’t heard of it happening to any nomad friends.

What I’m saying it, tethering from a data-only SIM isn’t working out of the box, the box being a rooted, unlocked Android phone with a custom ROM on it.

I haven’t actually tried to hack my way around it, and I haven’t tried other phones.

Has anyone had any issues with Google actually shutting accounts down?

Yes, see the link in my post.

Updates:

  1. I managed to tether from the data-only SIM. Didn’t do anything special, just a different phone and a bunch of phone restarts, and at some point, tethering worked. I was still in Mexico, so no idea what changed.

  2. Another discussion about Fi terminating accounts for extended use, as well as alternatives (Skyroam, Mypokefi etc.) in the Digital Nomads Around the World Facebook group.

  3. Dug this up from a “Google Fi” Facebook group. Here is the text of the email someone got in November:

    Hello traveler!

    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.

[Side note: so much useful information in FB groups, but groups are private and not searchable by Google; plus Facebook’s discussions are vastly inferior feature-wise to this forum. It pains me every time I see a FB group that should be a Discourse forum.]

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Same thing here, just received the termination email from Google this morning saying Fi’s terms of service require you to use our service primarily from a US address, but it looks like you’ve been using Fi abroad for over 5 months.…

I hope there is a good alternative out there, fi was so convenient :frowning:

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Yes, beware! My service was blocked the instant my plane landed outside the US. Not only did I not receive any warning, I did not even get a notification that I had been blocked. In fact, the Google Fi app said my coverage was active.

I immediately called Google only to receive a recording that their call center is closed due to COVID (ironic for a phone company). I emailed them and they replied that I had been blocked because their service was not designed for use outside the US for an extended period of time, and that I could therefore only use my service from within the US. It is astonishing that their legal documentation does not define “extended time” and even more astonishing that they can justify interpreting that wording to mean immediate blocking upon departing the US. My trip would only last 3 weeks, but I was not permitted to use my service at all while abroad. By email Google recommended I cancel, which I did, and am still awaiting a refund. Google’s website clearly advertises this product as one that can be used in over 200 countries around the world so this is a clear case of false advertising and blatant fraud.

Also worth noting, my bill (with $0 in usage fees) included more than 70% in taxes and fees. Yet their website advertises that taxes and fees are “normally between 10 and 20%”

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