Project Fi, activating internationally and using it as a digital nomad (on Nexus and iPhone)

Pantelis Zirinis
6 min readFeb 27, 2017


I believe that most people reading this post are aware of project fi. It is a virtual mobile network service based in USA and created by google. As I do not spend much time in the USA this post will focus on the benefits of the service for people that are travelling around the world.

For the next couple of months (maybe more) I will be travelling to various countries, so I wanted a service that will not charge me crazy roaming fees. even if i use it long term.

After doing a lot of research on what service to use for travelling the world, the only one that made sense was Project Fi as it offers the following:

  • $20.00 monthly fee
  • $10.00 per GB for most countries around the world
  • 20 cents per minite to receive and place calls over GSM
  • Free to receive over wifi (on any phone that runs hangouts, that includes iphone)
  • Cheap calls to anywhere in the world over wifi, again through hangouts.
  • Up to 9 free data sim cards to use on any device
  • Full 4G/LTE data speeds, without any caps

Most other providers, charge by the day and if they give lte speeds that is for the first 200mb. Then they drop the speed to a level that most applications are unusable. Also charge by the day does not make any sense for someone that travels most of the time. With project fi, if i use 1gb in 10 days I will have to pay $10. With a daily charge provider I will need 10*$6–10 = $60-$100 dollars.

To order the phone you will need a gmail account with a USA address. If you do not have one you can easily get one from borderlinx.

Activating the service from abroad

I was very concerned on whether I could activate the service from abroad (outside USA). I could not find someone to forward the device to me, so I took the risk and placed an order using my borderlinx address.

The item arrived in a few days and was forwarded to my Greek address, where I started the activation.

To trick the activation I did the following:

  • Activated a VPN service on my iPhone (now my ip is a US one)
  • Enabled the personal hotspot
  • Connected the nexus to the iphone’s hotspot

You can do that with a VPN router as well, but my router did not support VPN. Also if you want to save some data on your iPhone, go through the android updates on an unmetered wifi first and then connect on the iphone to activate.

Then I started the activation process using my usa gmail account. In 5–10 minutes the process was completed and I got the following message on my screen:

After 10–15 I was assigned with a number and the service was working. The device connected with Cosmote, Greece (the fastest network in Greece)and the signal was LTE. You can now disconnect the VPN and personal hotspot.

Using the sim card on an iPhone

As an iPhone user, the first thing I tried after activation was to insert the sim card on an iPhone. Once I set the APN to “h2g2” everything was working without any issues

The only issue I had was that I was not getting 4g receiption all the time. I am using an iPhone 7, so 4G band should not be a problem.

Do I have to keep the nexus device?

The answer is “yes”. You cannot activate and resell the device, as once it is activated at another user’s account, project fi will stop working. Bear in mind that I have not tried this, but from various user statements it should be true.

Can I activate on a friend’s nexus?

No, you cannot. The device has to be linked with you project fi account at all times. You can activate it and then never use it, but cannot use the device with another gmail account. Again I have not tried to do it.

Using a data sim on an iPhone

Alternatively you can use one of the data sims on your iphone. APN is the same “h2g2". In that case you cannot make any GSM phone calls, service is restricted to data.

If you combine that with hangouts application, you can also receive and make calls/sms thought the Fi Service.

I also use an extra data sim on my caravan’s tracker. This way I save on the trackers sim card subscription.

Hangouts Application on iPhone

With this application you can make and receive phone calls using your fi number from your iphone. For incoming calls there are no charges, except from the data usage. For outgoing the charges are very cheap to call anywhere in the world.

Sending/receiving SMS is free for everywhere in the world. I find it very convenient for ebanking or any application that requires two step authentication through SMS. I no longer have to switch SIM to receive SMS. Any sim card i have in any phone with hangouts the sms will come through.

The main problem with the Hangouts application is that it does not support the VoiP features of iOS 10. So calls will come through as notifications and not as actual calls. This means that you do not see them on your call log like WhatsApp and other popular VoiP apps. You have to unlock the phone to answer and use hangouts to call. Hope google will update hangouts and incorporate these features.

Project Fi vs Local Sims

Local sim cards can always beat $10/GB. The problems that I ussually face with local sim cards are the following:

  • Hard to get one before you arrive at the country. Even if you get one the price will be more that $10 of the local price.
  • In many places getting one as a tourist can be a difficult task. Some shops ask for proof of local address or a local id. In other places communicating with the staff in a foreign language can also be difficult.
  • Long connecting flight / missed flight / short term stays. If you are visiting a country for 2–3 and will not use much data, it is not worth getting a local sim card.
  • 2 step authentication SMS and sim swap. Project Fi and handouts sorts this problem out, as no matter what sim you have in the phone, SMS go through.
  • Call forwarding from your other phone numbers. Project Fi give you a USA number, which is ussually very cheap to call and forward to. Local sims will give you a local number and when people want to call you or you want to forward your calls there, charges could be high.


Project Fi is the best global roaming service you can currently get. In combination with local sim cards for high data usage and long stays, it is the solution that works best for me.

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