You may already be familiar with Project Fi, Google's answer to offering Android users a smarter, simplified phone carrier experience, which is currently available for Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6 users. Launched in 2015, Project Fi sets out to deliver a quick and easy wireless experience on your phone based on the fastest available network, whether that’s a WiFi hotspot, or 4G LTE, 3G, or 2G, with one of the partner mobile networks (Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular).
This morning, Google announced all Project Fi subscribers will now have access to high-speed data in more than 135 destinations. With the addition of international carrier Three, the service will be able to deliver speeds anywhere from 10 to 20 times faster than before. Because getting cell data internationally from your own plan can be expensive, and oftentimes too slow for what you're likely to depend on your phone for as a tourist (posting photos, translating, finding the best bike route to your hotel), the news is certainly a boon for international travelers or those who have a getaway abroad on deck. In fact, when heading out of the country, roughly 70 percent of Americans ditch cellular data and opt for WiFi hotspots (or, making a detour to purchase a local SIM card). Since there's no extra fee for using your data internationally (with Fi, you pay $20 for the basics and support, and all data is $10 per gigabyte, with credit returned to you for any unused data), you can travel without running the risk of raking up a seriously high phone bill.
If you're without Project Fi and traveling abroad this summer, here are five tips to keep in mind to keep your cell phone bill down:
1. If you’re traveling internationally, call your phone carrier to see if your phone is unlocked.
"You can also ask for them to unlock it," says Jeanette Pavini, consumer tech and savings expert with Coupons.com. "It may be worth it to buy a cheap unlocked phone on eBay (you can buy them for less than $100). Once it’s unlocked, buy a local SIM card, which usually runs about $25, as soon as you land and have it activated through a local carrier branch." Or, if time allows, buy one in advance and activate it online.
2. Save on data.
Between sharing photos on Instagram and emailing folks back home, going over on data is where most travelers run into problems. "To make the most out of your international data plan, be sure to go into your settings and turn off data for individual apps you don’t use," Pavini says. Also, be sure to update your email settings so your phone fetches emails manually.
3. Use offline maps.
All it takes is a little planning in advance: Google Maps actually allows you to download the area of a map you need and access it even when you don’t have service. To download an area, search for the location and select the "Download" tab to the right of the share button. You can also use the left-hand drop-down menu to select “Offline Areas,” and add a location. And it won't just save a static map; you’ll still get turn-by-turn directions and have the ability to search within the map should you take a wrong turn and need to get back on track.
4. Ask your carrier about its best international travel plans.
"Some plans allow you to travel internationally at no additional costs for text messaging and low rates for phone calls, say about 20 cents a minute," Pavini says. Some to look into: Verizon's TravelPassProgam (you can take your domestic plan with you for just $2 or $10 per day you use your device abroad); T-Mobile's no-contract plans (its plans are unlimited anywhere, so if you’re traveling for at least a month, this may be for you).
5. Set your phone to airplane mode and enable WiFi only.
This might be a good option if you are particularly paranoid about roaming or data charges while you travel. "You can also turn off your cellular data and roaming (Settings → Cellular → Cellular Data). Check with your individual carrier, but many allow you to turn off your data roaming and keep voice roaming if you choose to. This can save you significantly," Pavini says.
…Or, you could just try Project Fi. To sweeten the deal, if you don't already have a phone that works with the plan, Google is offering $150 off the Nexus 6P for the next week when you buy through Project Fi.
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