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Cell Phone for travel in Italy

From what I can determine, the way to use my cell phone in Italy is to get a 'local' sim card. Does that mean I will see everything in Italian? Can the card be purchased in the US and activated in Italy? Is there a better way to get service for the 2 weeks I'll be there?

Posted by
2721 posts

Whenever I go to Italy, I always get the TIM for Tourist card. If you land at FCO, they have kiosks near the baggage claim in Terminal 2 where you can purchase and they will install in your phone. Note that this plan does not include texting.

Your phone will operate in English but if you need to contact TIM, it's in Italian. This sim is not available in the US but others are - see Amazon.

Posted by
2716 posts

You can also look into costs to use your phone service from home while there. Depends on your carrier (att, Verizon, sprint, etc)

Last I looked my service had a $10/day plan where if you use the phone off-wifi it cost $10 that day. I’ve paid the $140 for 2 weeks because I need my phone number to get calls from home (a local SIM card gives you a new number while using it). There was also a monthly plan with a small amount of data for like $60 or something if you only wanted to use it a little bit.
Different carriers will have different options, though.

Posted by
1820 posts

I can't tell you which sim card to get or use, but do get or bring a working one.
If you are renting apartments, quite frequently the host wants you to call them when you are near to getting to the apartment so they can come and meet you there.
If you don't have a working phone, and can't get wifi anywhere near to use WhatsApp, then you're hooped.
One place in Naples last time opened the apartment door remotely while talking to us on the phone.
(Which was not indicated when we had umpteen emails back and forth before arriving.)
We very nearly didn't buy an Italian simcard, but thankfully we had bought one.

Europeans expect travelers to have working phones.
I would recommend the TIM one...the Vodafone one we got was not very reliable.

Posted by
31471 posts

flick,

Which cellular network do you use at home? Others here on the forum have reported good results with T-Mobile international roaming (although it may only provide slower 2G or 3G service) and I've seen lots of comments here about Google Fi - https://fi.google.com/about/plans/ .

To answer your question, if using an Italian SIM card, some displays will be in Italian since you'll then have an Italian phone number, but the files on your phone should still display in English. I've never used an Italian SIM but I'm assuming that's the case.

Posted by
12923 posts

When you install an Italian SIM card on your phone, everything works the same as with your original American SIM card. However you will have an Italian number, therefore if you want to be reached on that phone people will need to call you on that Italian number.

TIM, Vodafone, Wind Tre, and Iliad Italia are, in that order, the largest providers. I’m a Vodafone customer because I have a country house in Tuscany where the Vodafone signal is better, but in other rural places signal might be better with others. If you aren’t in rural areas where signal may be spotty, it doesn’t matter which provider you select.

Having said that, according to Altroconsumo, Italy’s major consumer advocacy organization (the Italian equivalent of Consumer Report) reports Vodafone as the best mobile phone provider overall for the year 2021, while TIM resulted the worst of the four providers mentioned above.
https://www.altroconsumo.it/hi-tech/smartphone/news/inchiesta-telefonia-mobile

Posted by
1310 posts

Verizon has an international plan that I use. That way, my phone works just as it does in the US and I don’t have to bother with changing SIM cards. For me, the convenience is well worth the expense.

Posted by
164 posts

I use AT&T International Day Pass and it works great. It is $10 for each 24 hour period per phone. We can go from country to country and it will seamlessly change carriers without us doing anything. We can change the carrier if more are available in a location, which we do sometimes if the service is poor. I like the fact that for the $10 we get to use our existing cell phone plan, with is unlimited everything. Since I typically travel with my wife we can get by with just using one of our lines at a time.

Posted by
5865 posts

Lots of info, but a couple points to reiterate, and a few to add:

Obviously, it would be easiest if your carrier could offer you a plan like the ones mentioned. For even the $10 a day, for two weeks it may be worth avoiding potential hassles. Your number would be the same, people calling you would see no charges, you would not need to get them your new number, which would be an international call, with charges for them if they call. Your calls home will however be international calls.

Getting a SIM is a good option for a longer trip, or if you use primarily data. To do so though, your phone must be unlocked, call your provider and verify that you can switch SIMs while traveling. This was once a big issue, not so much anymore, but is with some carriers.

If going the SIM route, get it from someplace that can install it and get it working. If you are tech savvy, or have done it before, then buying a card from a kiosk and walking away to put it in works, but it sounds like you would need help.

If you think you may be traveling often, then look at T-Mobile or Google Fi. Their service is pretty much seamless across countries with no need for additional costs, except for international calls. This has made my life so much easier.

Posted by
126 posts

We have a T-Mobile 55+ plan in the US and it is great for travel. Our plan is a flat rate of $70 a month (2 phones) here in the states. We were in Italy last year for three months and our rate only increased by two or three dollars a month with roaming turned on.

Posted by
1806 posts

Verizon has an international plan that I use. That way, my phone works just as it does in the US and I don’t have to bother with changing SIM cards. For me, the convenience is well worth the expense.

We used this as well. We've used it in Italy, France and England. It is very convenient and really not that expensive. We used one phone as the "designated" phone for checking back home. Since my wife was on business in France and England, we used our phones to coordinate meeting times and places after she finished work.

Posted by
5488 posts

We are on the AT&T network and have been told we can't use our phones in Europe, except when wifi is available.

We do that and find that we just wait until we have wifi to use the phone. That could be an issue if you are using google maps to navigate, but we would not do that.

We did a tour of Iceland last July and our tour bus had wifi, so we had the use of our phones almost all the time.

Posted by
164 posts

Paul- my calls to the States from Europe were not charged as international calls. I have used AT&T International Day Pass dozens of times and the $10 per 24 period is a flat fee. There are no roaming charges, no international fees, just the $10 per 24 hour period.

Posted by
12923 posts

I also have T-Mobile Magenta and works fine in Italy.
https://www.t-mobile.com/cell-phone-plans/unlimited-55-senior-discount-plans?cmpid=MGPO_PG_P_UNL55PLUS_43700056503417915_449740586042&gclid=Cj0KCQiAu62QBhC7ARIsALXijXTAcO8Yatt3gsS1C81cBrDwjD9R_Cwzdt3P6zj605snEhQ5-jKdGlUaArcREALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

I also have a Vodafone plan in Italy because I need an Italian number for my Italian bank transactions, but one can easily do with an American plan, although I think AT&T is still exorbitant.

If you decide to go with an Italian plan with Vodafone or Tim these plans were designed for foreign tourists.
https://www.vodafone.it/portal/Privati/Tariffe-e-Prodotti/Tariffe/Estero/Dolce-Vita-English

TIM has an equivalent plan, but I don't like their customer service. My mother has it for her landline and internet but I hate TIM. They used to be the government owned monopolist (Telecom Italia) telephone company (it was privatized in 1997), but their government employee attitude hasn't changed. I call them the Alitalia (the now defunct government airline) of telephony.
https://www.tim.it/en/landline-mobile/international-calling/from-italy/tim-tourist

If you have a reasonable US plan for overseas calls, and you have an IPad with SIM, I like to buy a SIM for the Ipad and I use the IPad for my data needs in Italy. The Ipad (or any tablet) plans are really cheap and give you a lot of data (Vodafone for tablet starts at Euro 9.99 for 200 Gb of data). If you use a lot of data (for emails or surfing the internet), you are better off relying on your iPad instead of the phone. Works the same as the phone. However WhatsApp I don't think supports tablets.

Posted by
5865 posts

Paul- my calls to the States from Europe were not charged as international calls. I have used AT&T International Day Pass dozens of times and the $10 per 24 period is a flat fee. There are no roaming charges, no international fees, just the $10 per 24 hour period

That is a feature of that plan, part of what you are playing extra for, along with data, as what I recall. Other plans may charge calls to the US as an extra charge, or at a reduced rate.

Posted by
959 posts

I too buy the VZ international day plan - and I buy it day by day depending on need. I use WhatsApp normally when I can find WIFI. Our Italian friends almost always use WhatsApp to call us or even send us photos. As mentioned I do this for convenience.

Posted by
37 posts

The $10 a day plan on Verizon might not be the best if you are travelling for more than 10 days. Their $100 a month International travel plan gives you 5 gigs of data, 250 minutes of talk, 1000 sent texts and unlimited received texts. We find that this is more than we use in 17 or 18 days there. Unless you are a heavy phone user, you might find that the International Travel Plan is a better deal.

Posted by
1017 posts

Most new iPhones (and possibly Android ones, as well) have 2 SIM cards, a virtual one and a real one. This means that you have two telephone lines,

On my last trip to Italy, I kept the virtual SIM slot for my local home number, which allowed me to get phone calls on that line, while putting an Italian SIM card in the other slot. This gave me an Italian number and the Cellular data was from the Italian seller (the TIM for Tourists card was installed in mere minutes. ) Easy peasy. My wife “lost” me in the Archeological Museum in Naples and not knowing the Italian number, called me from her American phone to my American line. It worked fine, although two international calls were a bit pricy.

The TIM card came with more cellular data than I could use in 3 weeks.

Posted by
21 posts

"Verizon has an international plan that I use. That way, my phone works just as it does in the US and I don’t have to bother with changing SIM cards. For me, the convenience is well worth the expense."

This is what we do as well.

Although I will be looking into the Verizon $100 per month plan that someone mentioned for an upcoming Italy trip.

:)

Posted by
3 posts

I'll be looking up that $100 international plan from Verizon also. Thanks for the info. Last August, I used the $10/day for my trip to Amsterdam/Austria/Germany/Hungary and it worked great!

Posted by
52 posts

We are on the AT&T network and have been told we can't use our phones in Europe, except when wifi is available.

We have iPhones and use AT&T. We have never had issues using our phones in France or Italy using the AT&T International Day Pass. I'm wondering if limitations are due to the actual telephone they are using (dual band vs. tri or quad band)? International Day Pass is $10 per day. Not cheap......but convenient. Just remember, you must have an "unlocked" phone in order to use a different SIM card.

Posted by
50 posts

Last month, we bought a SIM card at the TIM shop near Rome's Largo Argentina. It was 41-plus Euros - way more than we spent on our last visit. Problem was we couldn't make outgoing calls and got an Italian recording every time we tried to make a call. Finally, at the tourist office in Cortona I asked if they could tell me what the message was all saying. Turns out the 41-plus Euro plan did not include any call time and I needed to add credit to in order to make calls. I think we got taken for a ride by TIM shop. YMMV.

Posted by
4933 posts

Sam, some tourists don't need to make calls while on vacation. There are data-only prepaid plans (which is what I always get). You can still make calls with only data using Google Voice or Skype - Skype is not free to call US numbers, costs a few cents per minute. Google Voice is free to call US numbers. Both can call any international number for a few cents per minute, if you put $10 of credit in your Skype or Google account. The nice thing about doing that instead of buying a SIM with a calling plan is that you can keep the credit for next trip to call in the future - and you can use it with just WiFi, don't even need a SIM in Europe to make calls with Skype or Google Voice.

Posted by
82 posts

I just stopped into AT&T to ask them about using our phones when we are in Italy this June. He set it up and said it is $10/24 hours. If we don't want to use it on certain days, you keep your phone in airplane mode.

Hi, So I'm a little confused. We have Sprint/T-mobile and were recently in Greece but will be headed to Italy this summer. I called Sprint/T-mobile and they told me to turn on international roaming prior to arriving in Greece. I also payed $25 a week to go from 2G to 4G. That said, I couldn't use the internet or make phone calls when we were not in a wifi area like our hotel, a restaurant or coffee shop so when we got a little lost in Athens, we couldn't rely on our maps app to direct us back to the hotel.

Could someone please explain how it is that their international plans seem to work fine oversease when they are not in a wifi area. I don't want to run into the same problem when we go to Italy because we will be driving in rural areas and will need wifi to turn on the maps app to get to our agriturismo. I'll also need to make local calls while in Italy to let our hosts know when we will arrive.

When we were in Greece, I relied mostly on WhatsApp to call family back home or hosts who were also on WhatsApp but again, my phone didn't work when we were not in a hotel, coffee shop or restaurant.

Posted by
4933 posts

What kind of phone do you have? If you have a "Sprint Phone" that got migrated to T-Mobile after the merger, it's possible it doesn't have the LTE frequencies needed to work in Europe. (In the US, Sprint used different LTE frequencies than T-Mobile but their phones may have had the other LTE bands used by T-Mobile.) The last time I used T-Mobile in Europe a few years ago, I was able to turn on my phone in Europe and it just worked - picked up the European frequencies (took a few minutes of scanning) but eventually I'd get a "Welcome to Italy" text reminding me of the calling rate. I'm pretty sure it works the same way now.

It's also possible you are grandfathered into whatever Sprint plan you used to have(?) and that plan doesn't support international roaming. I did use Sprint back in 2018 in Portugal I think - they had international roaming also, but my phone wasn't from Sprint and had the required frequencies.

Posted by
5 posts

We are with AT&T, when we travel to Europe, we put the phones in Airplane mode and don't take them off until we're back in the US. We have the WhatsApp App and use it with WiFi, have never had a problem and it's all free.

Ok so I called Sprint/T-mobile and was told that if I switch out our sim card that is currently in our phones to their 5g sim card we should be able to get data anywhere while in Italy. Just have to turn on international roaming and click on a link to request it when we arrive. We shall see.

As a backup, I also had our phones unlocked so that if that doesn't work, we will be able to purchase a TIM card. Hoping Milan airport has TIM kiosks as well.