How to activate Project Fi with an iPhone for Travel

What’s Project Fi

Simply put it’s a phone service by Google that uses already existing towers and carriers to provide you with the same service you already have but at a cheaper price, you only pay for what you are using.

The best perk? Use it overseas and get worldwide LTE coverage at the same price as at home. This was my main reason for getting it. You can learn more about Project Fi on their main page here:

Before we begin, I use affiliate links to Project Fi in this post (like the link above), that means we both get $25 towards our bill if you end up signing up. Now with that out of the way.

If you are short on time you can skip to the end to see my analysis if it’s worth to make the switch or not. You can also read about my Project Fi 5 month experience review

Main Perks:
  • Use LTE world wide and pay the same rate as at home ($10 per 1GB) on LTE
  • Keep your current phone number when you switch or get a new one
  • Unlimited free texting world wide
  • Get free data only SIM cards to be used in your other mobile devices.
  • Outside of US calls are only 20 cents per minute or much cheaper if you use WiFi or your LTE data connection to make them
  • Voicemail that works globally
  • Only pay for what you are using and when you are using it (you can pause it anytime)
  • Even if you use another SIM card you can still receive all your calls and texts
  • Create hotspot free of charge and use it as much as you want

Officially Project Fi only supports Android and new Google phones. Unofficially you can use it on any iPhone or Android phone as long as it’s unlocked. And don’t forget that in US you also get Unlimited Calls, Text. Plus auto carrier switching on Google Phones.

 

iPhone Limitations

If you have the new Google Pixel or Google Nexus phone then you are going to get the best experience out of the service possible. That means automatic carrier and tower switching in the US. So what do you get on an iPhone? Well for starters you get a painful activation process followed by no automatic carrier switching. In US you can switch between T-Mobile (the default carrier) and Cingular. You won’t be able to even manually switch to Sprint. However, when you are traveling you can easily switch to almost any local carrier and use their LTE and phone network. Also, there are some small bugs:

  • When you get a voicemail you will get a text message saying something like “Voice mail notification failure”
  • If you don’t use Google Hangout for text messages and you are NOT using iMessage some of the text messages will have random characters attached to them
  • No dedicated app to see your usage. Although, you can check online plus you can get email status updates.

 

Steps Overview

So if that’s fine by you here are the steps that we will take, we will assume you will be porting your current number.

  1. Unlock your phone by calling your carrier, tell them you are traveling. While you are on the phone get the account number of your account
  2. If you have Google Voice number and want to keep it along with porting your cell phone you need to migrate it. Read how to migrate your Google Voice number
  3. Go to Project Fi site and start the process you will need your account number from step 1.
  4. Select if you already have a phone or buy one. (Nexus 5x is only 10$ added to your bill so it might be worth it since they sell it to you for $250 and you can sell it on eBay for more money, at the time of writing you can sell it for about $300)
  5. Wait for the SIM card to arrive, then activate in either Nexus 5X or using any of the methods below
  6. Set up Google Hangouts for voicemail and text etc.
  7. That’s it!

 

Activating Project Fi SIM on an iPhone

If you are getting a new / activating an existing Google Phone the process is very simple. You go on Project Fi fill out a form and wait for a SIM card. You get the card in the mail and you are done. Unless you already have a Google Voice number that you are using and you want to keep both numbers you might want to read this: How to keep your Google Voice number and use Project Fi.

The main issue with iPhone and Project Fi is that to activate it you have to do it in one of the Google phones (Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Pixel/ Pixel XL). Once the SIM card is activated you can then easily use it in any other unlocked Android or unlocked iPhone. Here are some ways we can get it activated:

  • Buy Nexus 5X (it’s only $250 and Google adds it to your monthly bill at $10 a month until you pay it off)
  • Buy the phone used on eBay, Craigs List etc, then resell it.
  • Find someone who has one of the Google Phones and borrow it for 5 min to activate your SIM
  • Buy Google Phone in a retail store, activate it and then return it (not really recommending this for moral reasons but it’s an option)
  • Go to a place where they have the phone on display and activate the SIM in it.

Thankfully to unlock your phone these days is usually as easy as calling your carrier and asking for it. I usually say I am traveling and will be using other SIM cards in my phone and they will unlock it within 48 hours (My experience with Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint).

Important things to know:

You can only activate the phone once. That means if you buy 2 Project Fi SIM cards (In my case I bought one for myself and my fiancé) you can’t use the same Google phone to activate both SIM cards. This is because when you activate the SIM card it also registers that phone to be used on a Sprint network (And since you can’t register the phone twice activation will fail). Wiping your phone or using a different Google account won’t work either.

You have to be in the US to activate the phone. If you are outside of US you might be able to ask a friend to activate the SIM card for you and then mail it out.

You will lose your Google Voice number if you have one. During the setup process, you will have an option to use your Google Voice number or port your current cell phone number. If you port your current number you will forfeit your Google Voice number. There is a way around this, it’s tedious, you got to wait about a week, but it’s worth it. You will need to do this before activation of your Project Fi number. I did a short guide on how to port your Google Voice number to a different service some time ago.

The setup process

The first step is you go to Project Fi and start the process. You can keep your current phone number and it doesn’t switch until you actually get the card. I recommend going with the minimum data amount of 1GB that way you don’t have to wait for refunds and will only get charged for what you are using. I picked to buy Nexus 5X, since I was going to travel for a really long time and I wanted to have a backup phone in case something happens to my primary iPhone (Smart phones are very expensive overseas so it’s better to have a backup on hand for only $10 more a month than the cost of insurance). For my second SIM card, I ended up activating it at Best Buy by asking one of the clerks if I can activate it on one of the display models.

Since I had a Google Voice attached to my account I had to first port my Google Voice number to a different place since you can’t keep it. If this is your case get ready for a few more steps. A guide on this is here

After about a week of waiting, I finally got the SIM cards in the mail. Activating is pretty straightforward, you just need to download the latest Project Fi application from the Google Play Store and make sure your phone runs the latest version of Android (for me it wouldn’t activate until I did all the updates). Once SIM is activated on the Android phone you are now ready to use it on an iPhone. Once you install the SIM and if your internet is not working check to make sure your APN settings installed correctly so go to your cellular menu in settings and check that these are there:

Project FI cards in all their glory

Here are a few steps to make your iPhone experience better.

Tips for better iPhone experience Google Hangouts:

  • Use Hangouts for Voicemail:

    Download Google Hangouts on your iPhone. Now when you receive voicemails you can listen to them in your Hangouts App. You will still receive a text about “Voicemail notification failure” though. If you choose not to do this the only way you can check your voicemails is online by clicking at the bottom of the page.

    To check your Voicemails online

 

  • Route green texts through Hangouts:

    If you don’t like extra characters that get added when you text none iPhone people (iMessages works fine) then you can go into Hangouts settings and enable “Messages” this will make all none iMessage texts to be routed into Google Hangouts.

    Turn these 2 on for better experience

 

  • Route calls through Hangouts:

    If you are traveling I would also recommend turning the option “Incoming phone calls” to on. This option will make Google Hangouts ring thus allowing you to answer your phone call through LTE data or WiFi network which is almost always cheaper than 20 cents a minute. This will also allow you to receive phone calls on your Project Fi number even if you have a different SIM card installed. The call will show up on your screen like any normal call (even shows up in call history). The only downside is that phone quality might be poor if you are in bad connection zone, and there is a slight delay before you answer and when you can start talking (you will hear a connection tone first)

 

  • Install Hangouts on your computer:

    This will allow you to make free calls to US right from your computer as well as read all your none iMessage text message if you enabled the option above. You can also answer any incoming call as well if you have route calls option turned on.

 

Should you switch to Project Fi? 

If you are in the US:

if you are in the US and your monthly data usage is less than 3GB a month and you are paying $50 or more for your cell phone then yes. Since Project Fi will cost you $20 For voice + $10 per GB but you only pay for what you use and you get refunded what you don’t so you are most likely going to pay less. If you have an Android or willing to switch to one of Google Phones then it’s more likely a yes. The iPhone set up is a little cumbersome and in US you will be stuck using T-Mobile network most of the time, so it might be only beneficial if you don’t use a lot of data. Otherwise, you might as well just use T-Mobile since they have ample free streaming options and other perks (like free texting on the plane etc)

Verdict: Maybe, especially if you are not using under 3GB of data

If you are a traveler:

If you are going somewhere short term than the T-Mobile plan is just fine. Since it provides a fair experience when abroad. You will be able to check email, text and load your Instagram feed .. slowwwlyyy. If you travel often and must use an iPhone I would still recommend setting up Project Fi. It’s just so convenient not worrying about buying new SIMs every place you go to and the fact that you can easily use other cheaper SIMs and still get all your calls and messages without paying anything extra is great. You can also get Project Fi, keep your current number and service and only use it when you go travel since you can pause the service anytime for as long as you want. You can also use it as an emergency mobile hotspot when you travel, however that will probably eat through your data quickly.

Verdict: Yes, there is currently no better option for travelers

If you decided to take the plunge you can use this link here to signup:  https://g.co/fi/r/CX467J  this will give both of us $25 towards our bill.  Comment on your own experience below