The best way to get cheap data while traveling internationally

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Image: vicky leta/mashable

My favorite travel gadget isn’t my camera or noise-canceling headphones or even my iPhone. It’s a SIM card from Google.

I’m talking, of course, about Project Fi, Google’s wireless service that provides cheap voice and data plans to Nexus and Pixel owners. It’s also the perfect way to get data abroad without breaking the bank.

That’s because the service offers flat-rate data no matter how many countries you travel to (Fi currently has service in 135 countries), and makes it super simple to pause your service when you get home so you only ever have to pay when you need it.

A basic Project Fi plan starts at $20 a month for unlimited texting and local calling. Data is a flat rate of $10/GB and non-local calls are $.20 a minute. You can decide upfront how much data you want to be automatically included in your plan, but you only ever have to pay for what you use — Fi will credit back anything you don’t use.

It does require a bit of an upfront investment, since Google limits Project Fi to its Nexus and Pixel phones. And, yes, that means you’ll need to use Android (though there are workarounds for making Project Fi work with iPhones, assuming you have an unlocked phone and can get access to a Nexus or Pixel to activate the SIM).

Image: mashable/karissa bell

But you don’t need the latest Pixel 2, which starts at $649, to get the most from Project Fi. I’ve used the service with the Nexus 6 and Nexus 5x — both of which can be found online for well under $300. 

And if you don’t like the idea of spending a couple hundred bucks on an older phone, there’s the newly launched $399 Motorola X4, which is the first non-Nexus or Pixel-branded handset to be Fi compatible. 

That may still sound like a pricey upfront investment, but it could be well worth it even if you only take a couple trips a year. Seriously. Between time spent and cost, the savings quickly add up.

In the last two years, I’ve used Project Fi on trips to more than half a dozen countries, including Germany, Greece, Ukraine, and Israel. I’ve loaned it to family members for their own trips abroad and each time I’ve been impressed with the quality of the coverage and service. Fi did fail me once — in Aruba — though I suspect this was due to an issue with whichever local telecoms they partner with, not Fi itself. 

That trip aside though, Fi has enabled me to effortlessly keep up my Snapchat and Instagram habits without having to constantly search for Wi-Fi or worry about racking up a huge bill. 

Sure, $10/Gb might be more expensive than what you can find from some local carriers on the ground, but who wants to waste precious vacation time shopping for a data plan that may or may not end up saving you any money.

And that’s really the point — Fi makes it so you never have to worry about your data plan ever again.

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Author Karissa Bell

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