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Cell Phone in Italy

Does anyone have any experience with using their own cell phone in Italy? I was told to unlock my phone and then purchase a SIM card when I get to Italy. Has anyone ever done that? Does the SIM card provide you with a telephone number? Is this easy to do?

Posted by
10 posts

I did a little more investigation and the following site has all the information you will ever need.

Posted by
1018 posts


I asked this question here and on Frommer's Forum with mixed results. My provider is Verizon and I could not learn how to unlock my Motorola Z6c World Edition phone. Verizon gave me a free sim card and then I purchased a $4.99 per month special where the calls were .99 per minute and texts were .51 each. After I arrived in Italy my phone took 5 days to interface with the Italian system. It could have been the Italian system or who knows. After I returned home I canceled the $4.99 package.

Someone suggested and I called them. They have several packages which require buying an unlocked gsm quad band phone. If your cell is not a gsm quad band it will not work in Europe.

Now, in my long-winded response... Before I return to Italy next year I am going to purchase an unlocked gsm quad band phone from ebay. Upon arrival I will purchase a sim card from an Italian phone store in the airport. I will have an Italian phone number and a sim card with time loaded onto it.I tried to avoid buying another phone, but this will be my new strategy.

Buon viaggio,


Posted by
10 posts

Thanks much for the info. You'd think it would be a bit easier. I have a Motorola Razar (sp?) and an AT+T site says it will work in Europe. My plan is to purchase a SIM card in Italy. I'll post my success or failure.

Posted by
1568 posts

Yes it will work in Europe. Call AT & T just before your trip to get an International Plan for the duration of your trip. Also have them turn off Data service whatever that is. Many posts on here about having the Data turned off before you leave for Europe otherwise HUGE phone bill.

Posted by
606 posts

"AT+T site says it will work in Europe. My plan is to purchase a SIM card in Italy..."

Well, you don't need to do both. Either use your phone as it is in Italy (no SIM change needed but make sure you have an active International plan with AT&T), or try the Italian SIM, which will change the phone from your normal home phone to an Italian phone (if your phone is unlocked so it can accept a foreign SIM).

The simplest thing to do is talk to AT&T, make sure your phone is ready to use in Europe, and just use it. Don't mess with the SIM change.

Posted by
606 posts

Steve: "Actually my old unlocked AT&T Razr works great in Europe with my Italian, (and German, and French, and UK, and Croatian, and Austrian, and Swedish, and Estonian SIMS)."

Key word in the quote is "unlocked", which gets back to the original post. Someone needs to explain to Karen if unlocking her phone is easy to do. I don't know. Never done that.

Posted by
10 posts

Wow, everyone is so great at giving me answers. Thanks to all.

I do not have a plan with AT+T, I have a pay as you go, so they wouldn't allow me to add the international calling plan to a pay as you go. And I'd rather have an Italian number, it's just to communicate with my fellow travelers if we should decide to split up for the day.

Posted by
267 posts

When I was there a year ago right now, I used my phone (a RAZR), and my own SIM card. I did nothing different to my phone or SIM card besides how I dialed out. I have no idea what a locked or unlocked phone is; I didn't mess with it.
Call your cell carrier and ask them if your phone will work in Italy; it has to be a tri-band or quad-band phone to work there (the RAZR apparently was). Ask your phone co how to dial to the U.S. from there. You'll have to dial the country code first (001 for calling the U.S.?? Or is 011?? I don't recall!! but be sure to keep the zeroes in there) then the area code, then the number. If you dial an Italian phone number, you may have to dial a + first: IE, +39 (then the rest of the number). To get the + sign, press the zero on your phone and hold it for a few seconds. the + will show up! Cool. I'm pretty sure Rick covers dialing codes, and how-to's, in his "Italy" book somewhere. I had insider info: a friend of mine lives in Verona. =-)
Per-minute rates will probably be over $1 to talk if you use your own phone, and about 50 cents per text message. Again, call your cell carrier for advice. And have a fun time!

Posted by
32247 posts


Your AT&T Motorola Razr should work fine in Italy, however as you found out, the "international roaming" option is usually not available to PAYG customers.

The first thing you'll need to do is determine if your handset is unlocked, as you WON'T be able to use an Italian (or any other SIM) if it's "locked" to the AT&T network. Did the AT&T staff check this for you or provide information or costs to unlock it?

One thing you might try is to pay a visit a T-Mobile store in your area and see if they'll allow you to try one of their SIM's. If the phone operates with the T-Mobile SIM, then it's likely unlocked.

To answer your question, YES, the phone number (and other account information) is contained on the SIM card. If you buy a SIM it Italy, you'll have an Italian number so anyone calling you from home will pay long distance from the U.S. to Italy.

Rather than purchasing an Italian SIM card, you could also look at any of the "travel phone" companies, such as Roam Simple, Call In Europe, Cellular Abroad, Mobal or Telestial. They can provide either SIM's or Phones for all the European countries. Be sure to check their rate structures carefully so you'll have a clear idea what your costs might be. One advantage of the "travel SIM's is that these provide consistent rates across most of Europe. If using an Italian SIM, you would pay higher roaming rates if you venture into another country.

When are you travelling to Italy?

Happy travels!

Posted by
1170 posts

I used my iPhone in Italy the last two trips there. I signed up for International Roaming and Data Roaming. I still ended up with a $700 bill both times when I got home!!! I don't talk that much while I am there either and the data plan was a flat rate of $60 for 50Mb of data which I almost used up with email, web surfing, etc... So, most of the charges were for the relatively short calls that I made while in Italy. All calls coming and going, local and international are billed at international long distance rates, which AT&T does not post, so I was flying blind. Next time, I will get a phone locally and use that instead.

Posted by
1003 posts

Have not used my own cell in Italy. We finally purchased a cell at the Vodafone store on a trip to Italy in 2007 and used it on last trip in July 2009. Had to purchase a new SIM card but it really is quite easy to do. Then you purchase top off Euros when needed. Prices were .50 euro to U.S., .16 Euro calls within Italy and ALL incoming calls free.

We thought it would be nice to have a 2nd cell phone so several months before leaving purchased what was to be an "unlocked" phone through a huge store in suburban Minneapolis, Microcenter, and it ended up not being unlocked. They did let me return it even after the length of time I had it but ended up with a SIM card I didn't use.

Posted by
518 posts

One word explains using your own cell phone in Europe: EXPENSIVE!!

Two words explain using data on your internet ready phone is Europe: OUTRAGEOUSLY EXPENSIVE!!

Posted by
606 posts

John: "I signed up for International Roaming and Data Roaming. I still ended up with a $700 bill both times when I got home!!!"

John, perhaps part of the problem is that you had International Roaming but not "AT&T World Traveler" which gets you the best rate.

Before I left Italy in May, I activated the following on my iPhone account:

AT&T World Traveler @ $5.99/mo. (this gets you their best roaming rate per minute) and 20 MB of data transfer @ $24.99/mo.

I made a few short calls home from over there. About 4, just to let family know we'd made it OK.

I made about 5 calls to others in our group while over there. Again, short calls just to arrange meeting places or to find people.

I sent about 25 text messages while over there to people in our group, to arrange to meet for meals, or locate people who'd become separated from the group.

I used data services about a dozen times to check e-mail and a couple of times to use the GPS to get an area map. This used about 18 MB of the 20 MB of data service I had purchased. There is a free iPhone app that will monitor your data usage so you can be sure not to use more data service than you purchased. Charges are very high if you go over the amount you paid for. They also have a 50 MB data plan available for $59.99, but I was careful and did fine with just 20 MB.

When I got home from Italy I canceled the AT&T World Traveler @ $5.99/mo. and the 20 MB of data transfer @ $24.99/mo.

Bottom line: my monthly phone bill after 17 days in Italy was about $65 more than what it usually is.

Posted by
6 posts

just returned 9/23 from Italy. Your phone must be unlocked to use an SIM card. Plus it must be the right band - I think GSM. I bought a SIM from the "TIM" distributor for euro 10. It came with euro 5. We topped it up when we needed more time. Incoming calls from are free. Frankly it is a great system the NA should adopt. We were going through passport control and watched as a young woman (who just got off a flight from spain) changed SIM cards (spain to italy) and began using the phone. It is very easy (as long as someone can help you set it up) which the TIM store did.

Posted by
606 posts

Steve: "Patrick, I'm so sad you had to pay AT&T $65 for your phone for two weeks."

I appreciate your sympathy, Steve, but I'll gladly pay $65 to just use my familiar iPhone abroad, with all my contacts already set up, e-mail accounts already set up, music, photos and apps just like I like them, and not have to deal with unlocked phones and SIM cards. And I sure wouldn't like to carry a second phone in addition to the iPhone (which I will not leave home without).

In the grand scheme of my vacation, a phone is a very minor part. I realize I'm fairly unusual in that I make and receive very few calls, and like it that way! When traveling, I use the phone more for e-mail than as a phone.

Certainly people who make a lot of calls, and lengthy calls, or someone gone 5 weeks like you were, should look for the cheapest option that makes sense for them. What makes sense for me is to just use the phone I'm already using, with a couple of international features temporarily activated.

Posted by
606 posts

Steve: "I did use my iPhone overseas..."

Oh. That's better. I was thrown off by the line "this year I took my two unlocked GSM phones with me." I thought you meant you were carrying two $13 eBay phones in addition to the iPhone.

You say once your iPhone was unlocked you just paid 5€ for a SIM card and recharged it a couple of times over 5 weeks. I don't know much about this stuff. How is "recharging a SIM" different from the 5€ scratch off international calling card you mention? You must have both? Or the calling card just means you don't use up the time on the SIM as fast? In a pinch, you can still use the iPhone data services (e-mail, GPS, etc.) with the European SIM? It just uses up the remaining time faster?

As you see, you've gotten my attention. How did you unlock the iPhone? Does unlocking change anything once you get back home, or do you just put your original SIM back in and you're totally like before? No complaints from iTunes or about iPhone OS updates?

Posted by
277 posts

OK, for the more technologically challenged among us, someone please go through the process of checking your phone to see if it is unlocked, and what sim to buy where with how much time. Someone said in the airport, was that some, or most? This sounds like the most economical route to go. thanks Jeff

Posted by
5 posts

As long as your phone is a quad band, you can unlock here, get a sim card there at a "Tims". We just got back and did this not problems.