Everyone using Google to host your domain’s email for free has until June 1 to either sign up for a paid plan or switch to a different provider. Google will shut down Google Workspace accounts that don’t pay.
If your only Google-hosted email is an address ending in gmail.com, you can keep using it for free. Free service is only being pulled from longtime users who have registered their own domain names (mydomain.com) and are using Google to host custom email addresses of the form firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re one of these users, you signed up back when Google Workspace was called Google Apps for Your Domain (the service was also called G Suite for a few years, so if you don’t remember ever signing up for anything called Google Workspace, that’s why).
Google has already emailed you if you are the admin of an affected accounts. The message has the subject line “[Action required] Upgrade to get started with Google Workspace” and comes from the address email@example.com, a bit of a tipoff that “The Google Workspace Team” that sent the email does not want to actually hear from you, although they will happily accept your cash.
While Google says there will be a waiting list opening up for a “no-cost option”, there are currently no details of what that option would include. And with Google’s history of closing down perfectly good services, I’m not hanging around to find out.
(Not that I’m still holding a grudge because Google killed its RSS reader, not at all! Not that I’m still bitter because that shutdown lit the first torch in a scorched-earth campaign that rendered the blogosphere easy pickings for proprietary services from corporations like Medium and Substack, no, not me! Anyway there’s a great free RSS reader called NetNewsWire that I highly recommend. The open web still exists even if Google doesn’t want you to know about it.)
Your ideal post-Google Workspace setup
One way to avoid paying Google is to set up your email hosting with a new provider. You can also choose to stay with Google Workspace (they’re even offering discounts for the first year of paid Google Workspace service), but for the purposes of this guide, I’m going to stick to the idea that you’re moving away from Google Workspace.
Once you’ve set up your new email hosting, you’ll be able to use the same email addresses you were formerly using within Google Workspace (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc.) to send and receive mail. You can even import all your old emails to your new email host (but this is optional, and subject to the storage space allotment of your chosen provider).
You can use a third-party email client, like Apple Mail, Outlook, or Thunderbird (and if you’re already using one of these, you can keep using it — you’ll need to change some settings to access your new email host, though).
You can even continue to access your messages through the gmail website or app, by using a free gmail account to read and send messages that are hosted by your new email host. You first have to set up the actual email hosting separately, and then configure your gmail account to add an address that uses those settings. So, for example, if you have firstname.lastname@example.org as a free address, and you have email@example.com set up with an email host, you would need to go into your gmail settings for firstname.lastname@example.org to add an email address, and use settings provided by your email host to set it up. Then, when you’re logged into gmail, you can receive emails sent to either of the two addresses, and choose which address to send from when you’re composing an outgoing message.
Choosing a new email host
When it comes to choosing a new email host, there are several options:
- Your web host may offer email hosting (either free if you have an associated website, or for an additional cost — hosts vary widely).
- Your domain name registrar (assuming it’s not Google) may offer email hosting, usually for a fee.
- There are paid email hosting services like Fastmail and ProtonMail that also offer services like calendars and shared documents, to take the place of Google Calendar and Google Docs.
Steps to switch your email
Here’s my recommended procedure for moving your email from Google to a new host:
- Clean up your email. If you’re going to be exporting an archive of your old emails, you don’t want it to be 10 gigabytes of spam and trash. So at least empty the junk/trash folders, and maybe even take a crack at unsubscribing from useless lists and deleting stuff that’s not crucial to keep. Note to my fellow e-hoarders: Don’t let this step stop you from moving on to the next step! You don’t have to fully Marie Kondo your inbox just to escape from Google.
- Export your email. Google offers a surprisingly straightforward service called Takeout, which lets you export not only your mail, but your calendars, docs, and even stuff like YouTube history, Google Voice messages, and more. Alternatively, if you’re exporting data for multiple usernames in your Google Workspace account, you can use their Data Export Tool.Don’t delete your email accounts yet.
- Sign up with your new host and follow their instructions to set up new mailboxes or mail users to take the place of your Google Workspace-hosted addresses. If possible*, set these up as placeholders before doing the next step, which is the most important one, which is:
- Update your domain’s MX records. Your new email host will have exact instructions for doing this, but basically you’re going to log into your domain registrar account, go to wherever the DNS records are maintained, and change all the records of the type “MX” (which stands for Mail eXchange) from “google” and “googlemail” to new records specified by your email host.
Tip: Before you switch these records, look up your MX records using whatsmydns.net or a similar checker. Then, after you make the switch and save your new MX records, do that same lookup again to track the changes going “live” across the internet. Providers and hosts usually say to allow 24-48 hours, but it’s often much quicker, and sometimes within an hour you can see that your new records have replaced the Google ones.
*If it wasn’t possible to create new mailboxes or user accounts at your new host before updating the MX records, create these immediately after you update the MX records. Because you haven’t deleted your Google Workspace user(s) yet, you will receive in your old Google Workspace inbox any email that arrives while the MX records are still pointing to Google. And you will receive in your new inbox any email that arrives after the MX records update.
- Test sending and receiving. Once you’ve checked that your MX records are updated, test both sending and receiving using your new email host. Make sure the email client of your choice (Apple Mail, or Outlook, for example) works as you expect it to with the new settings.
- (optional) Import mail archives. Your chosen email host will have specific instructions on how to do this.
Canceling Google Workspace
If you want to avoid being extorted into paying for Google Workspace, you’re going to want to cancel that service.
In addition to email, you may need to export (and import to a new provider) your calendars, documents, and anything else you want to keep.
Here’s how to avoid being billed by Google (or being shut down for not paying): First log into your Google admin console, then cancel your “subscription” to the free Google Workspace plan.
If you’ve safely exported all your user data and documents, you can now delete users from your organizations’s Google admin console. This permanently deletes the user’s email address and data.
To completely shut down everything, you can optionally delete your organization’s Google account, but be very sure you’re not still depending on any Google services before doing this. For instance, if you registered your domain through Google Domains, you will need to keep your Google account open (without any associated paid subscriptions) or transfer the domain to a new registrar.