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US Travellers - What phone plan do you prefer ?

We are in the US and have Verizon as our cell phone service provider. What do usually folks prefer when travelling to Italy ? Buy a SIM card or get international travel plan ?

Thanks.

Posted by
4686 posts

I used to be with T-Mobile, who has free international roaming data, free texting, and 20 cents/minute calls. (Same with Sprint I think.) That plan is free with their service, unlike Verizon or AT&T, who charge extra (perhaps a lot extra) for international roaming. T-Mobile's international roaming worked great for me on a couple of trips, but their monthly rate was too expensive for my regular cell phone needs at home in the US.

Because I'm no longer with any of the "big four" cell phone companies, and my cell phone service does not even offer an international plan, I need a European SIM when I travel. I actually considered switching to (or activating) T-Mobile just for a month to use on my recent trip, but I estimated that that would cost almost $100 USD after buying a T-Mobile SIM. I bought a Dutch Vodafone SIM on eBay instead and that worked great (no roaming costs within the EU, already) - cost me about $30 USD total for 2.5 weeks in three countries, with 3GB of data.

If going just to Italy, buying a Vodafone or TIM or Wind SIM card when you get there makes sense. You can even buy the SIM at the airports. (At least at FCO, I've recently read.) It does take a little extra time in Italy where, like in France and in other countries. you must have your passport info recorded to activate a SIM card. Not sure what the best SIM strategy will be for traveling to multiple countries once the new EU rules that get rid of roaming fees take effect. We'll have to see how it works. I'm planning to try to keep my Dutch Vodafone SIM active and use it again next year on my next trip. I liked having a working phone as soon as I landed in Europe.

Don't forget you can use free texting apps (free on WiFi and with mobile data) and use Google Hangouts to make free calls to the US (even to landlines) from Europe.

Posted by
1845 posts

I use T Mobile (Simple Choice plan) internationally for all the reasons Andrew H points out and I also am on the same plan for cell service at home. But, my cell phone needs are not many as I am retired and I still have a landline at my house. The price from month to month is always the same whether I'm home, traveling internationally or vacationing in the US, less than $60 a month.

Posted by
4686 posts

T-Mobile's old Simple Choice plan is no longer available to new customers, unfortunately. Their only plan for new customers now is the "One" plan that costs $75/month for unlimited everything, as I understand it. You can save $5/month by signing up for auto-pay, and you can save another $10/month (I believe) if you use less data per month than a given threshold.

T-Mobile makes more sense for people on a family plan, which I am not. $60/month is still really expensive for someone who doesn't use their cell phone much. Metro PCS (owned by T-Mobile and running on their network) costs about half of that - but no international roaming. If you travel to Europe say once a year, then that $30/month or so savings would pay for a SIM card many times over to use just on that one trip.

Posted by
3112 posts

How do you plan to use your cell phone? If your primary usage will be keeping in contact with friends and family in US, then one of Verizon's monthly plans might work. They offer 2 levels of minute/text/data plans that can be tailored to any 30 day period (doesn't have to coincide with your US cell plan period). I find the 100 minute/100 text/100MB data plan works best for me, but they also offer a 250/250/250 plan. I control data usage by setting most apps and email to work only when connected to WiFi. If your primary usage will be making calls within Italy, then an Italian SIM card or temporary plan may be the better option. I have a pay-as-you-go plan that works well for me, but there are other options with which I'm less familiar. Other posters can better explain those.

Posted by
2329 posts

I tried the SIM card route when visiting France. Several hours in a phone store getting it to work. Once we hit the road it failed repeatedly. It's important for me to be reached reliably for work and relatives at home. Therefore, being Verizon customers also, we use the $40 for one month plan. It's easy to compare whet you get for the three options: $10/day, $25/month, $40/month. Once you choose signing up on line is simple if you have your dates of travel. Lot's of folks suggest changing to another carrier but we get a substantial discount from my employer so we don't shop carriers.

Posted by
2525 posts

A couple of years ago, I utilized a limited Verizon plan while in Europe. It worked fine. All other times, just utilizing WiFi works well enough. If someone back home wants to contact us realtime, it will be when we are on a WiFi connection. If it's an emergency, dial 911.

Posted by
20624 posts

First forty years or so we got along fine without a phone. So why change? 'Cause our kids say they need to keep track of us. (We are old, elderly (mid-70s), with early on-set so must be at risk of getting lost.) We do. But we have never missed the plane coming home. We use the cheapest plan from Verizon since we don't use the phone much and that works for us. Do use an Ipad w/wifi and Face-time in the evenings if absolutely necessary.

Posted by
4686 posts

I don't need to be reached every second by phone in Europe so much, but the smart phone itself has made traveling a lot easier. Using it for navigation in cities like St. Petersburg with Google Maps (walking and public transit) has made getting around much easier and saved me a lot of time. I used to find paper maps and bus/train schedules a headache when traveling.

It's also nice to be able to book travel (new hotel, cars, whatever) on the fly, even on a train. It's nice to be able to book train and bus tickets on my phone. At the end of my recent trip to Europe, I liked being able to call Delta Airlines as quickly as possible when my flight got delayed five hours and I wanted to try to change it ASAP (instead of perhaps waiting in a long line at the airport).

I could certainly live without a smart phone when traveling, but has saved me time and made life easier.

Posted by
362 posts

I use Verizon's Travel Pass ($10/day ONLY if you use data, text or cell phone). If you can get by without texting anyone and rely solely on WiFi to surf, then you can use it cheaply + have it available in the event of an emergency for $10/day.

Posted by
2329 posts

We limit data usage by using it sparingly. But, once again, its all relative as we have great pricing through my employer. And, the reliability is what I am paying for. And I don't feel that's $40 is material compared to the total cost of a month in Europe.

Posted by
337 posts

My contract will not be up until three weeks after we get back. AT&T will not unlock the phone before then. I could pay about $300 to break the contract and get it unlocked. Bad. Cheaper for me to use their pass that will give me my normal plan for $10/day. That's $140, which is vaguely appalling, but given the cost of breaking contract or the cost of a service doing an unlock around AT&T and then getting a Vodafone sim with a tourist plan and 30g of data... no. Next trip, when the unlock will be free, definitely.

Posted by
4686 posts

I don't need or want to use my data sparingly; as I said above, I use Google Maps everywhere to navigate by walking and public transit, and that saves me a ton of time. $40 for only 100MB of data for a whole trip is not worth it to me - I'd use way more than that just for the Google Maps walking/transit navigation, so I would just do without it. (And $10/day would be way too expensive for a 2-3 week trip, for me, because I would use it every day.)

But there's no need to do without it or spend a lot, given how cheap it is to buy a SIM card with lots of data, even before you leave the US if you prefer (not a SIM from Italy, though).

Anyone who needs to be reached from the US with a European SIM card can either get a Google Voice phone number (free) and receive calls on Google Hangouts - which is what I do - or buy a Skype phone number for a few months. Then forward your regular cell phone calls to that number before you leave for Europe. Use a free texting app like Google Voice or WhatsApp. Then all you really care about in Europe is having internet on the phone - through WiFi or mobile data from the SIM.

Some people think this is all a hassle and don't want to deal with it - and that's totally fine, if they don't mind the expense. We all have different tolerances for hassle and/or different levels of frugality.

Posted by
4686 posts

Actually, Max, you can probably buy a cheap Android phone in Italy for about 30 Euros and get a SIM for not much more. That would still be a lot cheaper than using AT&T's travel pass. Of course, then you don't have your own phone, and you can't be reached on your regular phone number, etc.

I'm surprised it would cost $300 to break a contract with only one month left in it, given that you probably pay a lot less than that for a month (that last month). This claims that it's $325 minus $10/month for each month of service you've paid for - so if you've been in a two year contract, it would be only $95. Some carriers have offered in the past to pay your ETF if you switch to them - not sure T-Mobile still does...

For fun, have you tried an unlock request here just to see what happens?

https://www.att.com/deviceunlock/#/

Posted by
792 posts

Don't get the Verizon $10 per day plan...imagine what that would cost you for 14 days@$10 per day ..added to your regular bill
...Insane. . Go for the $40 plan

Posted by
10792 posts

I bite the bullet and pay for the convenience of the TMobile plan. I have the One + plan which is not cheap buy I travel a lot and use a moderate amount of data. Most importantly, if I am in Istanbul, Sofia, Kyiv or Budapest or most any place in between I know it will work and for me the cost is worth it.

Posted by
337 posts

Whoops. It is $325 minus 22 months now, so still $105. If I wait until next month, it's a save of $10. Then €30 for a SIM then a €30 for a big data plan. So, $140 for unlimited data, text, and my normal phone allotment, or $95 + €50-60 for tourist startup and big data pack.

Still more affordable to take my own phone. But the burner smartphone has some appeal.

Posted by
4686 posts

Not trying to talk you into it, Max, but the SIM is only 10 Euros and 4GB of data is 20 Euros (or maybe 25 Euros - I've read both). Even then, maybe not worth the savings for the hassle - other than the opportunity to feel self-righteous and flip the bird to good 'ol AT&T. ;-)

Posted by
741 posts

As others have said, it depends on your usage. We relied on wifi and Facebook Messenger to communicate with family at home, plus offline GPS navigation, for most of our 12 days in Italy. For our last day in Rome, I used Verizon's Travel Pass so I could access turn-by-turn directions with Google Maps. It cost $10, just as expected. If you need cell and data access every day, there are cheaper options.

Posted by
2290 posts

I'm on ATT and stuck because of my contract - so I can't put a new sim in my phone. I want MY phone with MY apps so I don't want to buy a phone there - I like my apps and photos set up as I have them. I don't use my phone as a phone or even for texting very much at all when traveling - I use it as a logistical tool, apps, translations, internet research, that kind of thing.

So I'm limited to either the $10/day plan or the limited use $40 plan. I go with the latter for now. I use CityMaps2Go for offline maps, use data very sparingly, and rely on wifi. That didn't work perfectly this last trip (there was a big wifi outage in one location causing real trouble) but $10/day is $140 for a 2 week trip which is absurd to me.

Posted by
337 posts

I should add that I went through a couple or three data packs from AT&T on trips in 13 and 14. But imma look into the cheap android and the AT&T bird flip, though I really like my phone (6S Plus).

Posted by
226 posts

I just throw it on airplane mode and make sure I have all my offline maps downloaded, if I needed to use the phone in an emergency I could for $10 a day via my AT&T plan but never do.

Posted by
61 posts

You've received lots of replys, but here's my 2 cents. I have used the Verizon international plan the last 3 trips to Europe and it works great. I get the 100 minutes, 100 text etc and end up not using it all. It is so convenient when out and about. I called within Italy, sent texts home and searched when on the road. However, turn off data use and roaming when you're not using it and use wifi when it's available, which is everywhere. I would use Google maps to plan routes, then save the route to the home sreen. If we got lost, which was often, I'd just enable data and get turned around the correct way, then turn it off. I also downloaded whatsap, a free app for texting and calling users with the app. Many in Europe use this.

Posted by
131 posts

We used the $10 a day Verizon plan last year and it worked great. You only pay on those days you use your phone. My husband kept his turned off, and we used my phone for all of our calls and texts and social media posts. For $10 a day, you tap into your current monthly plan with Verizon, using however much data you have on your regular monthly plan.

The $40 a month plan doesn't give me enough data, so it doesn't work for my needs. We do a lot of Skype and FaceTime with family members. Last year, it was with our kids while we were there and they were here, in the US. This year it will be with our kids calling back to grandparents and their other parent (we are a blended family with stepkids.)

Posted by
10 posts

We swear by T-mobile. Totally seamless between countries, very reliable. We use our data on Google maps, would stay lost without it. A bit pricey here at home but worth it as we travel a lot.

Posted by
5 posts

Just got back from Europe (Spain, Portugal, France, UK). We have T-Mobile One plan (free data/text, 20 cents/minute calling in Europe, free calling to US if you use WiFi calling). It worked great. T-Mobile guarantees 2G data/text, but we always had 3G or LTE the whole time. While most of Europe is covered, a few places were not. On this trip, neither Gibraltar or Andorra were covered. When there, we turned off cellular to prevent large charges for data. Fortunately, those were only day trips. When we got our plan earlier this year, it was $80 for 2 lines with autopay. BTW, the $80 was about $45 cheaper than our previous AT&T plan (without the international coverage).

Posted by
4686 posts

DBHart, T-Mobile throttles your data speed to "2G" speeds no matter what speed of network your phone is connected to. Your phone will always connect to the fastest network available (e.g 4G), but that doesn't mean they aren't throttling your speed (slowing it down). Last summer, they lifted the throttling as a summer promotion, but I'm not aware that they are doing it again this year (yet).

Most of the time, for simple web browsing or checking email, the "2G speed" won't affect you. You'll notice if you try to use a lot of data at once (e.g. stream a video) - then your connection will slow down for a few minutes. At least, that's what I found when I used T-Mobile last year in Europe. I almost always connected to 4G networks though (or 3G).

T-Mobile is cost effective if you have a "family plan," but for a single person it's kind pricey for monthly cell service in the US.

Posted by
8906 posts

Your phone will always connect to the fastest network available (e.g
4G), but that doesn't mean they aren't throttling your speed (slowing
it down)

In practice it's rarely throttled as slow 2G. When I'm able to upload a 60 second full-screen HD video clip to Facebook, or Instagram in under five minutes, that's not 2G.

Posted by
33 posts

We just returned last night from 5 weeks in France and Spain, where for the 3rd time we used the Verizon $10/day Day Pass. Considering the cost of a trip abroad, it's a minor part of it, doesn't require extra effort once in the county, and being able to use your program data when you want or need it is worth the cost.

Posted by
4686 posts

Michael, I think they throttle only the download data. I was on a T-Mobile MVNO (a company selling service on T-Mobile's network) for a while and they advertised their speeds as "3G." I ran speed tests on it. Indeed, data download speeds were capped at 1Mbps even while I was on a 4GLTE network - but upload speeds did not seem to be capped and were faster than my download speed. I assume T-Mobile was using the same technology for throttling there.

Posted by
5308 posts

We prefer what's behind door #3 -- we put our phone service on vacation hold (dropping the monthly charge to $30), use free WiFi at hotels to get data and check/send email, and have a backup pay-as-you-go dumb phone for quick calls to hotels and airlines (usually less than $10 for a month-long trip.)

Posted by
36 posts

I use Project Fi, a Google cellular service (they buy wholesale from T-Mobile and Sprint, then resell it me). Much cheaper than anything else, and it's the same price in USA or all over the world (wherever T-M and Sprint work). The hitch...you gotta buy one of their Nexus phones (they have just two models, and the Android operating system). The phones are as expensive as any top-of-the-line phone is, but the service is very good and amazingly free. And Google updates the security system and adds features every month. Look it up (google it). I've had ithe service (and my original Nexus 5) for maybe 3-4 years now. Wouldn't go anywhere else, unless Google were to drop the service (Google has a habit of dropping cool things, such as their Picasa photo editing service, which no linger functions).

Posted by
8906 posts

I think they throttle only the download data

I'm also able to stream video from Facebook/BBC/MLS/YouTube; can't do that with 2G throttling.

Posted by
4686 posts

Michael, I guess I'd need to see a speed test result. I certainly saw my phone slow to a crawl when I tried to stream anything - didn't happen often, but it did happen. I used the same phone in May with a Vodafone SIM in France and Italy and never had any speed issues. So it probably wasn't my phone.

Not saying there's anything wrong with T-Mobile roaming data - as I said, most people will never notice a slowdown for routine things - but I certainly experienced slow speeds for some things. I'd certainly consider T-Mobile again in the future if not for the price for a single line.

Posted by
4686 posts

Bob, Google also supports Project Fi on their Pixel phones. I hear they plan to offer support for it on other phones soon, too. The phones must be able to switch seemlessly between T-Mobile and Sprint, and most phones aren't yet able to do that. I guess someday most phones will be able to.

I have a friend who has Project Fi and seems quite happy with it. I think it's a great solution for some people. But it wasn't worth the investment to me to buy an expensive phone just to use Project Fi. And I don't want the burden of having an expensive phone in my pocket, something I could lose or damage. I don't use my phone heavily at home in the US when not on WiFi, so even Project Fi's monthly cost is more than I need at the moment. It's very easy to buy a SIM for traveling overseas.

Posted by
11970 posts

It depends on the use you intend to do.
If you don't plan to make a lot of calls, but need a lot of data to surf, and you have also an iPad with a SIM card you can keep your home plan for your phone and buy a local SIM for your iPad. That's what I'm doing now. I purchased a sim for my iPad from Vodafone. 20 euro for 10Gb.

Posted by
16 posts

I have an iPhone 6s with AT &T. I also have an old iPhone 5s which is not connected to any carrier anymore.
I take both to Europe with me. I buy a European country SIM card (last trip was in France) for use in the 5s. I have all the same Apps on both phones. The French SIM card was 29.95 Euros. Worked fine for me. I was able to access both my personal and office emails, send emails and texts and make phone calls on the 5s as well as surfing the net/using the various apps. In fact, I listened to my favorite US radio station on an app on the 5s while in Paris in April. I'm sure most people have an old phone lying around. Use it for your European communications with a local country SIM card. Then there is no hassle with your current carrier or exorbitant fees.

Bill

Posted by
4686 posts

DonnyBee, consider buying a cheap Android (maybe even in Europe) next time and use it as a hotspot with your Vodafone SIM's data instead of renting a separate hotspot for your laptop.

Posted by
603 posts

I will go with the Verizon $10/day plan. I will plan to use it sparingly since wifi is available in hotels and other places. I would much rather have my 5 gb data plan available to me than the meager 100mb offered by the $40/month plan.

Looking forward to the day when cell phone and data access will be universal throughout the world and these conversations won't be necessary. It's really silly that it hasn't happened already.

Posted by
1343 posts

I also use Project Fi and absolutely love it. For the people talking about the expense of the phone - it is like $200-$250 for a 5x. Not very expensive to me. And when you consider your cell phone bill will be pretty much the same as it is at home and typically is cheaper than other providers - 40-50$ - no super expensive add ons, daily charges etc - it literally pays for itself. I think when my wife switched from AT&T we calculated it paid for itself in like 3-4 months, including a $175 early cancellation fee (oh yeah, also no contract on Fi).

I too worry that this is a project that google will end up dropping but until then they are by far the best out there. Oh - and when you call customer/tech support, an competent person answers, someone who is not running through canned scripts and can actually help diagnose complicated problems. Also, they support chat, which has helped me a couple times as well.

Posted by
4686 posts

Actually, Kaeleku, $200 does seem expensive to some of us for a phone. I paid $90 for my most expensive Android phone and that seemed like a lot to me! I pay much less than $40/month for cell phone service at home in the US, too. I'm not knocking Project Fi - I know it works great for some people - just saying that it doesn't "pay for itself" for everyone! We all have different phone needs.

DonnyBee, I bought a Dutch Vodafone SIM card on eBay before my last trip to Italy. With free data roaming in the EU, it worked all over Italy and France (roaming on Vodafone in Italy, obviously). And it's not a "tourist" SIM and in fact should be active for a year if I keep some top-up credit on it. (I have 5 Euros left on it - no monthly fee to keep it.) I plan to use the same SIM next year when I go back to Europe. I'll add some credit to it right before my trip and buy a month of data for use there.

Posted by
4686 posts

DonnyBee, I think some of the SIM plans for tourists (from Orange and others) may not offer roaming at all - so with the new EU rules they still don't have to offer it; if they offered roaming before for a fee, now they can offer it but only without a fee. Not sure about the Orange plan from Spain - there are many different plans from the same companies, and they of course vary in different countries, too! Maybe the salesperson at the Orange store was confused or just misled your friend.

I had been assured that the Dutch Vodafone SIM would work in different countries, and I was skeptical - but it worked just as advertised. I never even visited the Netherlands before buying the SIM - I used it only in Slovenia, Italy, and France. But I only needed the data - I didn't need to make any local phone calls in Europe while I was there and usually don't. My Dutch SIM allowed me to call people back in the Netherlands (where I don't know a soul!) without roaming charges but not to call Italy, while I was in Italy, without paying 20 Euro cents per minute.

For calling the US from Europe, look into Google Hangouts as I've mentioned a few times now. It lets you call the US for free from Europe - even for calls to landlines. Well, it's "free" in that it uses data or WiFi, and you of course have to pay for mobile data on your SIM plan, but if you have enough data and don't use it all before you go home, it may not cost you anything in the end. I use Hangouts as my phone service even in the US now (not perfect - but it works). You can even receive calls from the US for free (even from landlines) with Google Hangouts if you get a free Google Voice phone number - so if someone from the US needs to reach you by phone while you are in Europe, they don't have to call an international number associated with your Italian SIM card. You can use Hangouts to make calls to people in Europe, while you are in Europe, but it's not free; you have to pay a few cents per minute and buy blocks of credit at $10 USD at a shot, like Skype.

Posted by
4686 posts

You'll need a smart phone to use Google Hangouts. And to use Hangouts, you need to sign into your Google account on that phone. (On an Android, it's hard not to sign into Google when setting the phone up, but you can.) Because you already have a Google Voice number, if you sign into the phone with that same Google Account, then you can already receive calls on your business line on Hangouts - if you want to.

Google Voice supports forwarding to multiple phone lines. It can keep ringing your US cell phone while you are in Italy if you wish. Or you can turn that off while you are away, so the calls forward to Hangouts (this assuming you have it on a smart phone). Then turn the Google Voice forwarding to your US cell phone back on, when you get home.

But it only supports US phone numbers. You can't add an Italian phone number (say from your Vodafone SIM) to your Google Voice account. The best you can do is get incoming calls from the US on your Google Voice business number while you are traveling in Italy - using Google Hangouts on a smart phone. Actually...if you have your laptop, you can use that too - have your Google Voice calls "ring" in Gmail. You could then answer them on the laptop. If the laptop has a microphone, you could use it as a speaker phone - or get a headset for it. You can try this out in the US and see how it works for you. I used to use it that way before I had a smart phone. It was a bit awkward to use - the smart phone is much easier.

If you really want an Italian phone number to receive Italian calls anywhere, even in the US, you can buy one through Skype (about $60/year I think). Skype too works better on a smart phone than on a laptop.

Posted by
1250 posts

Even though this isn't what you asked for . . . When I travel, I use Whats App. As long as I have access to WiFi, I can make calls and send messages back to my family in the states. Now the big caveate(sp) is that my family in the states have to be connected to WiFi also (or at least that is how my daughter explained it to me)

Posted by
80 posts

Don't use AT&T.

I paid to activate a minimal international texting and data plan and it didn't work at all. Wouldn't load any pages (like museum reservations) and took 5 minutes to send a text. Originally it was so we could split up and find each other but then we just did it the old fashioned way and said let's meet back here at ___ time. Also just used wifi back at the flat. It was fine.

Also in wifi an iPhone can place voice calls with face time.

If you can't do without it buy something cheap when you get there so you can be assured it will work.

Posted by
1 posts

My wife and I switched from Verizon to T-Mobile a year or so ago. We get two lines for $100.00 per month, which includes all taxes and fees. When out of the country, ( about 12 weeks a year) we have unlimited free data, unlimited free text and calls are only .20 per minute. This works fantastic for us as we almost never call anyone and most of our friends and family know to text or email us. I used to have two phones from England that were would pay as you go, and that didn't work well as we were always having minutes expire or constantly adding minutes to the phone. T-Mobile is the only way to go

Posted by
2 posts

This doesn't exactly answer the question posed, but I just returned from a trip to Europe and I had a difficult experience with my cell phone.

I have T-Mobile and had all my booking info, contacts, city guides, etc on my phone. Hours before my flight to Nuremberg, Germany I got an update notice from T-Mobile. I debated doing it, but decided it might make the phone run better while I was in Europe. Unfortunately, it fried the phone. I have used T-Mobile's plan in the past for service in Ireland and France with no problem, but now I had no phone.
My husband uses another service (Consumer Cellular) which doesn't have international service. We bought a Vodaphone sim card in Germany and inserted it into his unlocked phone. All the messages from Vodaphone were in German (I can understand some German). The phone worked pretty well in Germany and Austria. Had some issues in Slovakia and Hungary. Then I started getting messages that I needed to add more time. Nearly all my calls were made on Wifi, so I didn't understand this. I tried to contact Vodaphone and get a live person, but I was unable to, possibly because of my insufficient German. I also couldn't seem to "top up" the phone. Finally, I was cut off from all calls, although I was still able to text. I went to a Vodaphone store in Venice and the fellows there couldn't access my account because it was German. By the time I hit France and
The Netherlands, I gave up.
I have used Vodaphone sim cards before, purchased in Ireland. I had no trouble using the service in The Netherlands, although the roaming charges applied and ate up minutes. This experience certainly was not a positive one.

Posted by
4686 posts

braelynfarms, what a shame about your phone right before a trip! That must have been very frustrating.

FYI, you could have simply put your T-Mobile SIM card in your husband's phone, which would have given his phone your T-Mobile phone number. If a Vodafone SIM card worked in his phone, your T-Mobile SIM would have, too. The only possible issue would have been the size (mini-SIM, micro-SIM, and nano-SIM). If the SIM was too big for his phone, you could have found a place to cut it down physically (some mobile phone stores make tools that do this - probably in Europe too). If the SIM was too small for his phone, you might have found an adapter to fit your SIM into his phone.

You might also have purchased a cheap phone while in Germany and used your T-Mobile SIM card in that, if you didn't want to mess with your husband's phone. They don't necessarily cost that much more than just buying a SIM locally.

(Thoughts for next time!)

As for the German Vodafone SIM: it doesn't matter whether you are on WiFi or not - you are still using your SIM credit on whatever plan you bought to make calls. I bought a Dutch Vodafone SIM for my trip in May. It came with 3GB of data (which is what wanted it for) and 30 minutes of calls (for 20 Euros for the month) back to the Netherlands - which was useless to me (I never set foot in the Netherlands on that trip), so I never used the minutes. I could have called other phones in Europe for 20 Euro cents/minute, but I didn't need to make any of those calls, either. I made all of my phone calls to the US for free using Google Hangouts.

Posted by
769 posts

I have Project Fi with Google as well and just used it during our England/Wales trip and it worked great! No worrying about changing sim cards, buying a new plan, or anything. And the google map app we used to get around was very helpful which my sister couldn't get on her iphone for some reason. She kept telling me she didn't have data to use it. I didn't think the phone was very expensive at all compared to others on the market, and I have a friend who has used it in places like China/Serbia etc... with no issues.

Posted by
4686 posts

jlkelman, you are one of several people in this thread who use Project Fi. I'm glad it works for you guys but it's not ideal for everyone.

Google Maps works without any mobile data (as of maybe a few months ago?). You must download the maps ahead of time into your phone for the area in which you will drive. I used it that way to drive in Slovenia in May (I had mobile data but turned it off to save data). It worked OK. Occasionally I'd get an "map could not be loaded" error, but the phone never stopped navigating or speaking, and if I just hit the back button, it would resume right where I'd left off.

I didn't find changing SIM cards very difficult. The Dutch Vodafone SIM I bought was a great deal, and it may not even be the best deal out there.

Posted by
1 posts

I'll add my two cents about Project Fi. It certainly wouldn't make economic sense for everyone, but if you have the service, it's great for traveling in Europe. I have a Google Pixel that I use at home as a backup phone. I used it on a trip to Italy earlier this year. The best part about it was that the transition to the local networks was seamless. My phone was operative almost before I got out of the airport in Milan, and I didn't need to find a shop at the airport to buy and activate a SIM card. An added bonus is that the Pixel takes fantastic photos - I didn't need to lug around a camera. As always, your mileage may vary.

Posted by
20 posts

I switched our family from Verizon to T-Mobile for our current trip. With automatic payment and keeping our data under 2gb per person, we are paying 120/month for four lines. Having unlimited data in Europe has been really helpful as many of our hotels have had unreliable wifi. I also find it really helpful for navigation. It is true that I used to travel fine without a phone, but it makes things a lot easier.
TMobile doesn't require a contract so I could switch back when I return, but I doubt I will as we are saving a lot each month.

Posted by
653 posts

How about Skyroam? Portable WiFi hotspot with pay-as-you-go service. Charge up the battery, sinc to your smarty pants cell phone, and global WiFi is yours. Or, so they claim.
Around $100, comes with a few days of service with additional service days as "low" as $8 per day. About the size of a flip phone. Any opinions on this marvelous (or dastardly) technology?

Posted by
4686 posts

Blue, why would you need a portable hotspot if you already have a smart phone? Just buy a SIM for your phone - much cheaper. Use your phone as the hotspot for other devices if they need WiFi, if you have them.

Posted by
287 posts

I'm like Andrew H in that I don't worry about being instantly available for texts and calls, but I like to have my smartphone for walking directions (I have a terrible sense of direction, and I've tried offline maps but find they don't work as well), looking up public transit routes, Googling about things I'm seeing, and similar uses. For my recent month in Italy got a TIM SIM card plus 1000 minutes (for Italy) and 10 GB for 25€. I had 4G speeds in most locations, often faster than my hotel's wifi. I used my free minutes to call for dinner reservations and not much else. I forwarded my US cell # to Google Voice, which offers voicemail and emails me when I get a call.

The only loose end left hanging was texts to my US cell #. People who were set up to use iMessage (on iPhones) could still text me, but I didn't get other texts. That was okay too, because the people who would have texted me knew I was out of town.

Posted by
20624 posts

None -- we didn't worry about a phone the first 30 years we traveled and gotten along fine for the past ten years without a phone. Do take advantage of the free wifi when available but the need for a phone is not high on our list. A phone might be handy for many but for us, we don't need it.

Thank you for so much good information! I have a pretty basic question. If I get a SIM card in Italy for my current phone that is ready to be unlocked, how do I go back to my regular phone plan when I return?

Posted by
1029 posts

To get service on your normal telco carrier at home just completely power down your phone, replace foreign SIM card with the card from your US carrier. Turn phone back on. This is the process that seems to work with newer smartphones (3 or 4 years old). I think the SIM card tells the phone what settings to use to find the cellular network?

Posted by
14 posts

Has anyone tried Know Roaming? They're supposed to have a sticker that goes on your SIM that makes your (unlocked GSM) phone work like a dual SIM phone. Roam anywhere, they say.

Posted by
936 posts

I just signed up for Verizon's monthly international calling. I thought it was going to be for two months since we're traveling late August and early September, but the charge will be for one month. It's not calendar months but date to date months, ie 26th to 26th.
We chose this because one of the countries, Slovenia is not on their preferred list. But also don't like the $10/day charge if you accidently forget to return to airplane mode after using the phone. We just need the phone for emergencies. Wi-Fi and off-line maps will suffice most places.

Posted by
4686 posts

horsewoofie, the nice thing about Verizon's $10/day international roaming plan is that you get charged only on the days you use it. And, it seems they make sure you opt in every day that you really want to use it that day. As I understand it, you wouldn't really need to worry about leaving the phone on accidentally and being charged an extra $10 - you'd have to agree each day to use the roaming. You can confirm this with others who have used that $10/day plan.

Verizon's monthly international plan has very little data as I recall. The daily plan lets you use your monthly allotment of data.

If you can live mostly on WiFi, you can make calls home to the US for free without Verizon. Install and use the Google Hangouts app, assuming you have a smart phone. You can use it to call even landlines in the US for free. Just put a +1 in front of the number before calling a US phone number. You can call within Europe too with Google Hangouts but (like Skype which works well too for this) not for free; you have to buy some credit in $10 USD blocks (I think) so you can make calls for a few cents a minute, using your credit.

If someone from home needs to reach you, tell them to email you - and you can call them back while on WiFi using Hangouts.

Posted by
936 posts

Verizon's $10/day plan is not available in Slovenia. Thus our decision for the $40/month. We want easy emergency access for people at home to contact us. My tech phobic husband won't touch a computer or iPhone. And my travel buddy's mom is 97 y/o. Since we're only taking my phone and not hers, it's only $20 each for peace of mind.

Update: My friend's mother fell and broke her arm. She lives in the midwest, we're in AZ. She's in contact with Mom's nursing home. Going on trip as planned. All the more reason to have easy contact.

Posted by
37 posts

I have read where some people have been downloading the "WhatsApp" for their iPhone and using that app.
I have done the same and then tried to use it on my iPad without much luck. Seems like they want you to scan a "code" on the iPad with you iPhone before using it. This was not mentioned when purchasing the plan. I have been unable to "scan" the code presented on the iPad with my iPhone as of yet. WhatsApp support couldn't provide the answer either for some odd reason!!
Any ideas how it works for iPad and any tricks to getting it to work on iPad.
Thanks

Posted by
11 posts

We are traveling to Italy for 10 days with 2 other couples. Looking to just be able to text each other in case separated while out sight seeing and also have off line maps I want to access. We have Verizon but the other 2 couples have AT&T.
Not sure what the best route to go is for a phone plan. We do not really need to be able to call home just want to be reachable since both my husband and my mother are elderly and not in good health. Any suggestions?
Thanks!

Posted by
4686 posts

doffa50, both Verizon and AT&T offer $10/day international roaming plans - and you pay only on the days you use it. Install WhatsApp or some other texting app, and you can all reach each other via WiFi if you have it - lots of cafes offer free WiFi. If you can't find WiFI when you need to reach someone, then turn on your data and pay the $10 for that day to reach the other party.

Tell people from the states to text you or email if they need to reach you, and you'll call them back (enable your $10 plan for that day) when you get back to WiFI and get the message.

Or, each couple can buy a local Italian SIM card upon arrival - maybe one per couple - for about 30 Euros, so that person will always be reachable even without WiFi, via text or via the local Italian phone number that phone will get when you plug in the Italian SIM. Verizon phones are unlocked; the AT&T phones may not be, if they are still under contract or not paid off.

You can use the Google Hangouts app to make free phone calls home if you need to (to the US anyway), even to landlines, when you are on WiFi. Install Hangouts before you leave for Europe, though, so you are able to verify your number and get that all setup before you leave. So someone can text you, "Call home please" and you can call them for free from a cafe's WiFi or the hotel's WiFi without enabling your $10/day that day.

Posted by
2329 posts

I just returned from three weeks in Europe having used the Verizon $40/month 100mb plan. Yes it's skimpy. Kept cellular data off mostly but had to use it several times when out and about; more than I expected to. Got a $25 overage. But $65 for 22 days adds up to about $3 per day so if you are willing to use data sparingly depending on wifi when you can, it can work.

Posted by
4686 posts

Alan, I'd rather spend half as much as you spent by buying a SIM and being able to use my phone anywhere on my trip without needing to worry about skimping on data.

Posted by
2329 posts

I'm with you Andrew. But I need to be reached by work, elderly parents, can't change numbers. And my company has a hyper secure app to get email and my calendar. If that did not work I'd be screwed so for now I'm OK with Verizon. BTW, your photos are great! Looking forward to spending time in Portland next month!

Posted by
75 posts

Andrew, I have verizon and I am curious about the sims card. Don't you still have to buy a plan in addition to the $30 sims card?

My daughter is studying abroad this fall in Florence and the program offers students a free phone or sims card but you have to buy a plan too. The plans range from $25 (barebones- 100MB data) to $89 ( not unlimited- 250MB data).

After talking with Verizon about my options vs. the plans offered by Picell, one thing that came up was the fact that even if my daughter goes with a plan that offers unlimited texts I will still pay per text for sending/recieving international texts unless I put $5 monthly fee for the No. American Plan. So in the end, if we go for the sims card, we have to buy a plan for aprox $40 (midrange) add $5 to our Verizon plan (plus still pay for her phone on Verizon). AND with the limited data offered by Picell she still will need to use Whatsapp to avoid data overages at $25 per mb.

Assuming I understand the options-I think I am going to have her just stick with Verizon-keep the phone in airplane mode, add the travelpass for emergencies (she will have 24hrs on our unlimited plan for $10) and go with whatsapp. Her apartment & the school has wifi.

Can you elaborate further on the details of buying a sims card over there? Maybe this option is different from what her program is offering. She has an iphone 6

Posted by
4686 posts

Hi Alan. I know what you are saying. Although it's probably not worth doing to save $35 for most people, there are ways around the issues you mention. If you get a Google Voice phone number (free) before you leave the states, you can forward calls to your Verizon number to the Google number, then use Google Hangouts for calls while traveling. People could still call you on your Verizon number, and you could answer the forwarded calls with Hangouts. This might make more sense to look into if you go on a longer trip where the Verizon costs would be higher.

Some SIM card data plans may block some apps like VPNs that people use to connect to secure networks (perhaps like the app you mention), but I suspect most of them don't. My Dutch Vodafone SIM did not block anything - I connected to my VPN at home all the time. I'm guessing that means it wouldn't have blocked your app, either.

Enjoy your time in Portland - glad you like my photos, thanks!

Posted by
4686 posts

gosulliv4, the SIM card is the phone's "identity" on mobile networks. Once you remove a Verizon SIM, the phone isn't connected to Verizon anymore, so you wouldn't have to pay them to use another SIM in the phone. On the other hand, when you remove your Verizon SIM, you won't be able to receive calls on your Verizon number again until you put the Verizon SIM card back in.

That also means that when you buy an Italian SIM card, you will have an Italian phone number while that SIM is in your phone - your Verizon number will just go to voicemail unless you set it to forward first or something. To call people back in the US with the Italian SIM might be expensive - an international call (some SIM card plans come with a small number of minutes for making these calls). But your daughter can use the Google Hangouts app to make free calls home to the US, even to landlines, with or without Verizon, on WiFi. You and she can install apps like WhatsApp to exchange text messages for free.

$89 sounds ridiculously expensive for 250MB of data. She can always just buy a SIM card in Italy on her own. She would need to show her US passport at a store to activate the SIM - they keep track of who buys/uses Italian SIM cards. I have no idea if there are age restrictions or what - but if not, sure can surely buy an Italian SIM card with more data for a lot less than $89. She would probably want an Italian SIM card to call local Italians or have them be able to call her without making an expensive international call.

First thing you should do - now, long before she leaves for Italy - is install the Google Hangouts app on both your phone and hers. Then try calling each other with Hangouts. It will show up as "unknown number" when you call each other using phone numbers, but Hangouts, like Skype, lets you make calls without phone numbers if you both have Hangouts. (And video calls too.) But if you need to call a regular phone like a landline in the US, just use the phone number.

Same thing for texting: find a free texting app like WhatsApp (never used it, but I don't text much). Figure out how to text each other.

Once you do those things, at least you know you can text and call each other while she's on WiFi in Italy - and if she gets an Italian SIM after she gets there, you can reach her everywhere.

If she gets an Italian SIM, make sure she keeps her old Verizon SIM card safe and secure. Find something to put it in, a plastic case or something. They are tiny, easy to lose! She'll need that Verizon SIM card to get her old Verizon number back after she gets home from Italy.

Posted by
75 posts

Andrew H, Thanks for your reply!! You covered everything...AND, I understood it!! YAY! I would have responded sooner but did not realize I had a response.. I am new to the RS forum and still learning.

I ended up with a combination of your recommendations. She is keeping her phone's sim card in and putting it on airplane mode. She can use all the data she wants because we have unlimited data with Verizon and we will use Whatsapp or google hangouts to call/text each other or we can facetime. The study abroad program pays for them to rent a phone and activates it, so we took advantage of that and got a measily $10 per month non data plan for the reasons you mentioned. Unlimited incoming international calls, no cost to call locally and no cost to text to other pic-cell users. I feel better knowing she has the ability to communicate without wifi if needed. She won't use it unless she has not wifi or needs to make a call to an italian number.
Thanks again!

Posted by
2329 posts

She can use all the data she wants because we have unlimited data with Verizon

Are you referring to your domestic plan? Better check with Verizon as my understanding is that data is not accessed when overseas and if you use data you will get charges especially without an international plan.

Posted by
1700 posts

Have AT&T and worse yet a grandfathered unlimited data plan on the phones from AT&T

These means it is not unlocked so no go on the SIM card.
No go on the $10 international day pass because they don't want to give out that unlimited data overseas I guess :(
So my only AT&T option there monthly passport options which are great if you make calls and text and awful if you use data for anything more than the bare basics so not an option for me.

For all reasons above I have rented a wifi hotspot and will continue to do so.
They usually run $10 per day and are a great convenience.

Posted by
132 posts

What about TIM for visitors? We are probably going to go with that for our upcoming 25-day trip - $30 for voice and 4G data for 30 days. We mostly use WIFI but like the convenience of having data while out and about. You buy a voucher ahead of time, then visit a TIM store when you get to Italy so they can register the sim.

Posted by
75 posts

mreynolds, I was thinking of those times when she might to utilize the $10 travel pass- we have a unlimited data plan so if she really needed to use whatsapp or google maps we wouldn't have to worry. Otherwise she will be using wifi from her apartment, school or available hotspots for whatsapp or google voice and the pic-cell as a back up for local calls in Italy and to her other pic-cell friends also studying abroad. I am still trying to keep it all straight in my head! This phone thing, I find it very confusing :(

Posted by
1700 posts

Andrew: I was under the impression AT&T carrier US iPhones are locked. I have to look into that, too late for the trip I leave this weekend for but in the future will save me some money to buy a local SIM.

I was bummed because I don't mind paying their $10 a day for the daypass since it is just easier and quicker than having to find a SIM card locally (depending on where and when you are landing or staying that could be simple or a pain). If your trip is not long I think it is a good deal since you only pay on days you actually use it so adding it pre-trip costs you nothing.
Only to find out their grandfathered in unlimited data plans are not eligible for that despite nothing mentioning this on their website, ads, emails about the program, etc...
The new unlimited data plan offerings do allow it, my plan though it is their monthly passport options only and the cost for data is outrageous ; especially given how inexpensive data is in Europe locally.

The wifi hotspots I have used before though with great success and have one delivering tomorrow to my hotel in Rome.
The cost is similar, about $10 a day and has the added benefit of allowing multiple phones or devices for the one cost. If you abuse the data by constantly streaming they may throttle you so have to be a little careful with using multiple devices but allows you to stream a video here and there or make a facetime call home to the grandparents from a cool spot, unlimited use of map type GPS apps, plus of course the basic email I am required to keep up with from work!
It is a nice reward to let our young daughter watch some youtube videos on our Ipad while we drive somewhere if renting a car.
I have used Expresso Wifi in Italy ; and My-Webspot when doing more than 1 country in Europe on the same trip.. Expresso Wifi is cheaper and a better service overall I felt but limited to Italy.

Local SIM is almost always going to be the lowest cost option as long as your phone is unlocked.

Posted by
4686 posts

mreynolds, as I said, AT&T does lock their phones - but they are also required to unlock them upon request, if they are eligible (paid off). Try that link I gave you: just type in the info asked. You don't have to use the phone on this trip, but you can get the unlock code now - just hang on to it. It's easy to unlock a phone once you have the code: power off the phone, put in the new SIM, turn on the phone, and type in that unlock code, once. That's it, though you will need a non-AT&T SIM to do it the one time.. You'll never have to type the unlock code again; the phone should stay unlocked, whether or not you put in a different SIM or not.