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Cell Phones in Italy

We have rented an apartment in Florence for a month but it doesn't have a phone. Can we rent or buy a throw away phone or something for use while we are there? We only need it for limited use like to make reservations etc. No long distance calls. Thanks Clay

Posted by
31076 posts

Clay, It would help to know whether you currently have a phone, and if so which network you're with (ie: Telus, Rogers, Bell, etc.). For very occasional calls, roaming with your home network may be a cost effective option. You can buy inexpensive PAYG phones with one of the Italian networks when you arrive there. Those will provide the cheapest rates within the country, but if you should venture to another country the rates will increase as you'll be "roaming". You'll have to register for service in Italy using your Passport and it may take a short time to set up. All menus will be in Italian, so you may need help configuring the phone. If you choose this option, be sure you're clear on the method for topping-up. A third option would be to obtain a phone with one of the "travel phone" firms such as Cellular Abroad, Roam Simple, Call In Europe, Telestial, Mobal, EuroBuzz or TruPhone. The call rates are slightly higher than with a local Cell phone, however these usually provide consistent rates in most countries in western Europe (therefore rates wouldn't increase if you ventured into another country). Many of these use post-paid billing (calls charged to a credit card), so no worries about topping up (of course, if the phone is lost or stolen, it's VERY important to notify them straight away to limit fraudulent charges). If your current phone is an unlocked quad-band model, you could also just buy the SIM card from one of the above firms (often under $10) and use that in your own phone. Happy travels!

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks for the info. It was very helpful. We are with telus and we each have a cell phone. It sounds like we should just use our own phones. Clay

Posted by
831 posts

Clay,
Te big players in Italy are TIM, Wind, and Vodaphone. If you have an unlocked quad band you just need a SIM from one of these. You can google the providers and see the deals on phones.

Posted by
31076 posts

Clay, You will ONLY be able to use your own phone in Europe if it's a quad-band model. Could you clarify that? Also, are you planning to roam with Telus, or use a SIM from another network (either in Italy or a travel SIM)? You may want to have a look at the Telus roaming rates. Also, are either of your phones a Smartphone such as an iPhone? This is VERY important!

Posted by
9 posts

Ken We do not have quad band. I have the LG 5500 and my wife's phone is very old. It is a Samsung a570. We just need the phone for emergencies etc. The current roaming charges at Telus are $1.50 per minute. Clay

Posted by
223 posts

Clay:
I don't know all of the details, but my daughter and her family live in Naples, and will for about three years. They use international Magic Jack. She has international calling included, as well as local, for her, and she transferred her US cell phone number, so it's not costly for her old friends and colleagues.

Posted by
31076 posts

Clay, Thanks for the additional information, as that clarifies the situation much better. Both of your phones are CDMA-only, so neither will work anywhere in Europe anyway, regardless of which frequency bands they have. This means that you have two options: 1.) Buy a PAYG Phone when you arrive in Italy. TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) is one of the popular networks, but there are others. 2.) Buy a "travel phone" from one of the firms I mentioned earlier. With that option, you'd have a working phone as soon as you step off the plane. One point to mention - I'm not sure how long Telus is going to support their older CDMA network as they're very quickly moving to LTE. You'll both have to buy new phones eventually. Cheers!

Posted by
33 posts

Just a note to mention that Call in Europe has changed their format. I used them 3 years ago in Italy and it was great. I was hoping to use it again in Sept when I return but now they have merged or changed and are called Zero Forfait and everything is in French so it's very difficult to set up menus etc. They only issue French local numbers although their rates are still very good. I have not had any luck having any contact from them in English so I probably will have to try another company for this next trip. Anyone else run into this yet with them?

Posted by
11757 posts

If your phone doesn't work for Europe, don't jump through hoops to buy or rent one before your trip. You can pick up a phone for about 25 euro that includes 10 euro credit on your SIM toward calls. I found at least two 25 euro options through competing companies in Spain in April, those were the cheapest two but there were plenty of other options.

Posted by
5 posts

I have a quad phone with AT&T. Had excellent connections in France, Germany, and Switzerland, in and around mountains. But upon entering the Rome area, had phone trouble. Could receive some, but not send. My travelling companions had AT&T but no trouble. It was cleared up in a couple of hours. But several on our tour said that they always had some problem in Rome.

Posted by
414 posts

You can buy a cheap cell phone in Italy and get a calling plan there without a contract. There are a lot of pay as you go plans. I used TIM - there is a very large store right in the centre close to the Duomo on via Calzaiulo. They will do everything including installing and getting the sim card activated. They take credit cards. Depending on who you get, they will speak some English - enough to help. Locals use this store also so you should be prepared to wait as it can be busy. WIND, 3Italia (treItalia) and vodaphone also operate in Italy and have storefronts. You can also buy a cheap phone at an electronics outlet and get a sim card there. I can't remember the name, but there is one on Borgo San Lorenzo between the Duomo and San Lorenzo church. You can also check out Brightroam before you leave. They are a Canadian company and offer sim cards as well as phones. You get everything before you leave so you can leave your phone number with people at home. Calling charges are much cheaper than Telus, but more expensive than getting a SIM card in Italy. However, you do not have to recharge the phone if you run out of time as they bill you after the fact. There is no long term contract - you start with 90 days and then can either discard or keep paying. Wind Canada is also offering a good European roaming plan right now, but I don't know how cost effective that is for you if you are on Telus. You could check out their offer though. We are finally seeing some benefit from having an international cell phone company in Canada.

Posted by
11613 posts

Two years ago I bought an inexpensive TIM phone in Milano and have used it for several months at a time, buying minutes as I need them. It only takes a few minutes to set up, and you can get menus in English (the salesperson asked which language I wanted). The phone cost 29 euro plus minutes (I think it came with 10 or 20 free minutes). I still use it in Italy, to confirm hotel reservations, make reservations, and to call my credit card company and bank to check balances (all very inexpensive calls, the ones to the U.S. were about one euro for three minutes or so).

Posted by
6 posts

Are any of the recommended phones -- PAYG or TIM -- available at Fiumicino in Rome or do I need to find an outlet in Rome?

Posted by
11983 posts

If you have a cell phone that is blocked by your provider have it unblocked at a mobile phone shop. Once in Florence go toany mobile phone shop (Tim, wind, vodafone etc.) buy and install a SIM card with a local provider service (and local number) It usually comes with at least 10 euro prepaid in it. You're done. When you need to recharge more prepaid money, just buy at any shop. That's what I did years ago. I still have the same no. With Vodafone. You must recharge with at least 5 euros at least every 12 months or the number is disactivated.

Posted by
34 posts

I notice that everyone is referring to buying a SIM card in Italy. Is that better and cheaper than changing my AT&T plan to Global? I know that AT&T will charge $1 a minute. Also I have an iPhone 4

Posted by
11983 posts

Teresa: Unless you are going to use your AT&T phone very very very very sparingly (like 2 minutes a day max), which never happens in real life, especially to women (I have a wife, so I know), an Italian SIM card will always be infinitely cheaper. Calling back the US from my Italian Vodafone is only 50 cents a minute, and local calls within Italy are so cheap I don't even know (maybe 5 or 10 cents a minute). If you have a US smart phone also make sure it's on airport mode for your entire trip (or turn it off or leave it at home). My wife got slapped with a $600 bill in international data roaming last year by AT&T because she forgot to do it (we were in Italy only 5 weeks).
Remember that if you call an Italian number from Italy, using your AT&T phone, you'll get charged not only a per minute $0.99 roaming (if you have AT&T global) but also international call charges of up to 2 or 3 dollars a minute (basically it's as if you call Italy from the US). Buy a SIM card there, you won't regret it.

Posted by
6 posts

I'm concerned with making calls only within Italy. I am traveling with family and will be in touch with Italina family. We won't always be together, in terms of itinerary. We want to be able to keep up by cellphone while there (three weeks). What do you think my best course will be? Thanks.

Posted by
11983 posts

Cara:
See above. Best option is an Italian SIM card. You can buy a phone there, but alternatively you can have an American phone unblocked in the US, so that you insert an Italian SIM card when you get there. I had mine unblocked at a phone shop for $30.

Posted by
14 posts

I went to my local cell phone store in the US and bought a cheap phone that would work with a SIM card. Then, once in Italy, went to a TIM outlet (many stores sell TIM cards). When it ran out, I went to a store and they reloaded it. Good rates for phoning and text was even less money.

Posted by
11182 posts

Since Fran reactivated this thread, I just want to emphasize two points about her recommendation: 1. In order for the phone to work in Italy, it must be tri or quad band (quad is better). The US uses the frequencies of 850 and 1900, while Italy (and the rest of Europe) uses 900 and 1800. If your phone doesn't have European frequencies (and many inexpensive ones are only dual band, and only have the frequencies for the continent you bought them in), it won't work at all in Europe. 2. The phone must be unlocked. Most phones sold in the US are locked to a specific carrier, and can only be used with SIM cards from that carrier. It's possible to buy unlocked phones, or to get phones unlocked, and then they will work with a SIM card from any carrier. If you have a phone with AT&T or T-Mobile and it's quad band, contact them about how to unlock it; they often do this for free once you've had it for a while. This is especially useful if you (or someone you know) has an old "dumbphone" they're no longer using; you can then take it to Europe and get a SIM there, without the cost of buying a new phone or paying to have it unlocked.

Posted by
7 posts

Reading all the suggestions about bringing phone a from US and getting Italian Sim card. But will I be able to charge my phone there? Aren't the electric outlets different in Italy?

Posted by
11182 posts

Julie: Yes, the electrical outlets are different. But the real issue is if your charger is able to handle the different specs of European electricity. Look at your charger (you may need a magnifying glass). If it says "100-240 volts, 50-60 cycles" (and these days, most do), it will automatically accommodate to the European electrical system. All you need is a plug adapter, sold in many stores and websites, or right here on the RS ETBD Store. For Italy and the rest of Continental Europe, you want the bottom, two-pronged one; for the UK and Ireland, you need the larger, three-pronged one. If your charger is not multi-voltage (if it doesn't have voltages above 200, or only has 60 cycles), you should not use it in Europe, even with a plug adapter, as you'll either start a fire, fry your device, blow a fuse, or some combination of these. Get a new charger (or new device, in the case of something like a hair dryer) which is multi-voltage. Yes, there are transformers and converters. But getting the correct one for each kind of device is more complicated than it seems at first, and these things take up space and weight, so they're not worth the trouble and risk.

Posted by
36 posts

We have used our MOBAL phone all over italy. Text messaging isn't very expensive and super helpful. Also have used it for a few needed calls.
Since you don't have to be on a service, and only pay per call.. it is pretty simple. Also... when we travel in other countries we can use the same phone without the fuss of a new plan. easy peasy.

Posted by
4 posts

Hi A couple more options. You can buy a phone card there and use a pay phone to call your home country. Let your friends and family contact you by email and then check it 2-3 times a day where you can get some wifi or an Internet cafe. Then call them to respond. The phone cards are easy to use and not that expensive. You can get them at any tobacco shop. I hope this helps. No need to buy a phone if it is not necessary.
Scott in SC PS. Rick Steves is great.

Posted by
1020 posts

Be sure to check out the latest advice on Trip Advisor's Rome and Italy forums. I've found that local experts are up to date on the latest local phone deals. The last time I checked, Italy has cheap prepaid phone and data service and phones are inexpensive.

Posted by
500 posts

All portable electronic devices released in the past 10 years like phones and small portable electronics (ipods, iPads, androids, cameras and camera battery chargers) are multi-voltage. All you need is a plug adapter for Europe.