If you spend a lot of time around people planning to travel the world, you’ll notice that a common concern is what to do about cell phone service. US cell phone plans are notoriously expensive, so does it make sense to keep them while you’re traveling?
Many travelers would vote no, and instead choose to pick up local SIM cards wherever they land. This means that you have to have an unlocked phone, and that you need to navigate the ins-and-outs of setting up cell service in every country you visit. In some countries, this is super easy and cheap. While this wasn’t our usual strategy, we did pick up a local SIM card while we were in Morocco. That cost us about 2-3 Euros for the SIM card, with 3 GB of data adding another 5 Euros. We used our phones as a hotspot a lot. By US standards, this was very inexpensive.
In addition to the occasional local SIM, we decided to continue our Google Fi plan. We started the service in the US about a year before we started traveling, since you cannot initiate Google Fi from abroad. We loved the flexibility of the plan - unlimited text and calls, and $10/GB of data. Their international service is similarly straightforward, with unlimited texts, $10/GB for data, and $0.20/minute for phone calls.
Let me explain why Google Fi fits our international lifestyle perfectly. Every time I land in a different country, Google Fi recognizes where I am and immediately connects to local cell service. This usually takes less than 5 minutes and requires nothing on my part. The fact that I can pull up Google maps at the airport and use it as we try to locate our hotel and AirBnB is a great convenience.
When I land back in the United States, I can take advantage of free calls - and my employer is able to reach me as well. Since I still work in the US, I wanted to have a stable phone number where my employer can reach me when I’m in-country, and Google Fi made that simple as well. Since my husband doesn’t return to the US as frequently, he is more likely to use a local SIM card, and when he does, he can “pause” his Google Fi service. You can pause service for 3 months at a time without canceling service or losing your number. It’s a useful additional bit of flexibility for us.
While telephone calls abroad can get pricey on Google Fi, we really haven’t found that to be a problem. Most of the world is shifting away from phone calls, choosing to use FaceBook Messenger or WhatsApp instead. Free calls are frequently routed through those two services while on WIFI. I also regularly use Skype to call the US, and toll free numbers are free, even from Skype abroad. On rare occasions I’ll make a quick call with Google Fi, and in those cases the $0.20 was usually worth the convenience.
We purchased our phones through Google Fi, and these phones arrived unlocked - unlike so many other service providers. A number of phones now include dual SIM slots, which may allow you to use a local SIM and Google Fi (or other provider) in the same phone without manually switching back and forth. That’s an added convenience. All in all, our Google Fi monthly bill ranges from $30-45 for two lines, with service paused in some months.
Another popular US mobile phone service for travelers is T-mobile. Along with Google Fi, it’s the most frequently mentioned service used by people traveling frequently. We have no personal experience with it, but if you’re looking at options, this would be another one to consider.
Hope this helps clarify some of the best cell phone plans for travelers. How have you navigated this issue? Feel free to leave any questions or comments below.
This article contains an affiliate link and should you chose to sign up, we will earn a small commission. We continue to be satisfied with Google Fi and wouldn't recommend it otherwise!