Looking For A Phone Carrier While Traveling? Stay Far, Far Way From Google Fi

A sad fact of modern life is that when it comes to telecom companies, we’ve all experienced bad customer service.

But never in my life have I ever experienced anything remotely as bad as Google Fi.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. After a year traveling as digital nomads, we needed new phones, so Michael did a deep dive into researching which phone and which carrier would best suit our lives zipping around the world.

On paper, Google Fi seemed perfect. No contract was required. For $20 a month, we got unlimited calls and messaging, plus data that cost an extra $10 per gigabyte, topping out at $60. Which meant our bill could never be more than $80 person. Plus, they had a phone that seemed perfect for us and at a great price: the Moto X4, for only $249.


There were a couple of catches. You had to be in the United States to receive and activate your phone. But we were going to be in the States for six weeks over the holidays, so no problems there. We ordered the phones, got them, and activated them.

And there starts a tale of woe that would quickly reduce me to total tears.

I had problems right away. For starters, like many people, I have two gmail accounts. But when I tried to add them to my new phone, it insisted on populating the phone’s contact list with every single contact in my second gmail account.

This was more difficult to fix than you’d think, so after a few different attempted “solutions” from Google Fi’s tech support (and a few hours on the phone with them), I ended up just deleting all the contacts in that gmail account.

But hey, technology is complicated. I get that. At least my phone would work right now, right?


Next I noticed that my coverage wasn’t very good compared to Michael’s, who had the exact same phone. So I was back to dealing with Google Fi’s customer service. Back and forth I went trying everything they said — wasting hours of my time — but to no avail. Our departure date for Thailand was fast approaching, but customer service kept assuring me the problem was fixed. When it clearly wasn’t, they assured me the problem would be fixed before we left.

“You’re sure?” I said, time and time again. “Because I’m leaving for Thailand on a specific date, and I don’t want to have to deal with this overseas."

“We’re sure,” they said.

Well, it wasn’t fixed, and I had to leave the country with a phone that still wasn’t working. And then the problems got worse once we arrived in Thailand. There I soon discovered that I couldn’t make or receive calls to the U.S. (Nor, does it appear, can Michael.)

But I have to make calls to the U.S.! I had a whole bunch of phone calls scheduled for my writing career! That was the whole point of getting a Google Fi phone, because they brag about their great coverage in 140 countries, and how you didn’t need to get new SIM cards wherever you go. I wasn’t even that annoyed when they explained that Thailand didn’t allow free “wi-fi” calls as per their sales blurbs. I’m sure the fine print disclosed this somewhere.

But here is where things got truly surreal. All I wanted was a working phone. So once more I went back and forth with tech support dozens of times, via both email and chat. (I couldn’t call because, well, you know.) I was told they respond to emails within 24 hours, but the reality was more like 2-5 days, and even then they wouldn’t answer half of my questions. They had me making call reports, and sending bug reports — things way above my pay grade, and often with instructions that were vaguely or inaccurately described.

Fine, whatever, I’ll do it. I just want a working phone!

In the meantime, I also wanted a credit to my account for a promised service that I couldn’t use. Finally, after multiple requests, they gave me a $20 credit. That’s it? I’ve gone months without a working phone and wasted hours and hours dealing with their customer service, and this was the best they could do?

Yup. I was told it was “impossible” for them to ever give me more than $20.

Literally “impossible,” mind you. Impossible. Because we all know what a small company Google is.

Finally, I said, “Look, it’s clear this phone is defective. Just send me a new one.”

In response, they sent me quotes from the warranty saying it’s invalid out of the country. And besides it’s literally “impossible” for them to ship internationally. The machine won’t print out the label, she said.

Really? Impossible again? You can’t, like, print out a label by hand? Or walk across the street to the post office?

And how could they possibly tell me my warranty was invalid? There was literally no way I could know the phone was this defective until I left the country! Isn’t Google Fi specifically designed for world travelers? But once you go travel, hey, too bad, so sad, but you just invalidated your warranty by doing the thing we told you our service was great for?

As I said, surreal.

So I have no phone, no way to get a new phone, no credit for an account I’m paying for that isn’t working. How about a refund?

“It’s too late. You’ve owned the phone too long.”

But! But! The only reason I’ve owned this phone too long is because you kept assuring me it would be fixed — or that it was already fixed.

According to them, the only way for me to replace the phone was for them to send it to someone in America, who activates it and then sends it to me in Thailand (and I pay that postage). Then I send my phone back to them (paying for that postage too). But, oh yeah, if they don’t get the phone back to them within 21 days, I get charged for the second phone.

Which would happen, of course. Because it truly is impossible to mail something three times, including between two different countries twice, in 21 days. Not unless I spent several hundred dollars for Next Day Air.

So, let’s recap.

They send me a defective phone, and make a looooooong series of errors and screw-ups in promising to fix it, and now there’s no returning it, and the only way to fix it is for me to buy a second phone? What if that phone doesn’t work either? Then I’m on the hook for two defective phones?

How is it that I, the customer who did nothing wrong, has to pay all this money for something that is entirely the fault of Google Fi?

At this point, it feels like they’re not even trying to work with me — like they enjoy screwing me over. “Ha ha! Sucker!”

I’d like to say I’ve learned something from all this — how to be more patient, or how to be zen.

But I haven’t. I just feel like a fool for ever believing that Google truly lived up to its slogan, “Don’t be evil.”

And I also feel like complete and total shit. That’s the worst part of all this. This experience has made me feel utterly defeated and miserable for almost two months now, believing the worst about corporations and the flunkies who work for them.

Don’t buy Google Fi. As far as I can tell, they’re truly evil.

And they seem to revel in it.