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Basic questions about SIMs

I will be in Italy for two weeks in June. I would like to be able to make and receive calls on my cell phone, send and receive text messages, send and receive emails, and have enough data to use for navigation and other purposes when out and about (i.e. not connected to wifi).

On prior trips, I have used the Verizon $10 per 24 hours service. It's easy and uncomplicated. But it also seems relatively expensive compared to a European SIM card.

Here's where I get confused:

If I get a SIM card in Europe, am I reachable on my domestic number or do I need to inform people of my temporary European phone number?

Can I receive texts from people who send to my domestic number? Or do I need to inform them of my temporary number.

Can I access my emails?

I'm inclined to consider the 30 euro TIM for visitors SIM but want to better understand how it interfaces (if at all) with my domestic number.

Posted by
6818 posts

New SIM = new telephone number ( a foreign number).

Posted by
1331 posts

Verizon uses the CDMA format. Europe uses GSM. You can use your cell phone only if it also supports GSM.

If you get an Italian SIM card your domestic number is not usable for phone calls or texts (unless you have a cell phone that supports 2 SIM cards). You will have to notify people of your new temporary number.

Your emails are accessed over the internet and should still be available to you.

Posted by
4958 posts

Eric, you can read/send email just fine in Europe with or without a SIM (or with any SIM) - that has nothing to do with email. You will get a different, Italian phone number if you get an Italian SIM; you'll get your Verizon number back when you put your Verizon SIM back into the phone.

Pease take a look at this long thread about using Google Voice and Google Hangouts:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tech-tips/complicated-phone-needs-abroad

Google Hangouts lets you make free calls to US phone numbers, even to landlines, while on WiFi or with mobile data. (Only works with a smart phone, though, not an old flip phone.) You can call non-US numbers took but it costs a few cents per minute. If you get a Google Voice phone number (free), you can also receive calls for free with Hangouts plus get Google voicemail, too. You could forward your Verizon incoming calls to this Google number while you are traveling, so you won't miss any calls and you can get your voicemail from Google. Or...just tell people your Google number to contact you in Europe (texts too).

You can install Hangouts (also Hangouts Dialer for Android phones) right now and use it in the US to try it out and make calls, etc. Works the same in Europe, except if you get a European SIM, you may need to add a +1 in front of US numbers to call them.

I already use my Google Voice number as my primary number anyway in the US, so when I go to Europe I really don't need to do anything except make sure I have a SIM (if need be) so I can use the phone without WiFi.

You might consider switching to Sprint - they have a special BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) offer right now to get a year of free unlimited service if you switch with a qualified device you own (so if your Verizon phone is paid off). Sprint gives you free unlimited roaming data (2G speeds) and 20 cents/min phone calls overseas. I just switched a month ago or so - pretty sweet deal. Costs me $3.20/month just for the taxes and fees.

Posted by
4958 posts

Bob:

Verizon uses the CDMA format. Europe uses GSM. You can use your cell phone only if it also supports GSM.

Yes, but most modern smart phones support roaming on GSM - and Eric seems already to have used Verizon's roaming plan overseas, so clearly his phone can roam on GSM networks. Old Verizon (and Sprint) flip phones without SIM cards are CDMA-only and will not work in Europe.

Posted by
1331 posts

Andrew

You are correct. I missed that one in that he had already used his phone in Europe.

Posted by
2747 posts

As others explained, a SIM comes with a phone number. Calls and texts to your US number will not go to your phone when a new SIM is in it. Calls will go to voicemail, texts will show up once you pt your old SIM back in. Until then it's like your phone is unreachable. This is exactly why I don't use a European SIM (I want to be reachable). Others don't care about this and just give the new number to close friends and family with no difficulty.

Anything web based, like email, facebook, instagram, and twitterwill be fine. I don't know if the new SIM logs you off (I don't think so), but you can just log back in to gmail or whatever it is you use with your password. These things aren't tied to your phone number - you just need data or wifi and your password and can access them from any device. Occasionally they will want to send you a text verification code and you won't be able to get that - texts are tied to your phone number - but there's usually an email option.

There are web services for calls and texts not tied to your US number but I will let someone else explain as I don't really know how it works. I just pay the daily rate, which is getting expensive and I may want to reconsider...

Posted by
2744 posts

Eric, the TIM for Visitors card is great (used on my last trip) but it does not include texts. I believe they would cost €.20 each but you get a €5 credit with the card that they’ll be charged against. The Vodafone Holiday card includes 300 SMS but only gives you 2 gigs of data vs. 4 gigs for TIM. Both cards cost €30 and have great coverage all over Italy. Just make sure your phone is unlocked.

Posted by
351 posts

I have Verizon and while I am on WiFi I can make calls to the US and receive calls from the US for no additional cost by enabling WiFi calling on my phone. No need for a new phone number. For making calls in Europe I do purchase the international calling/data plan for $40. The data is minimal. For navigation I use my Garmin.

Posted by
4958 posts

If you've invested in a smart phone, you've got an extremely useful tool for navigation, among other things. Spending just a little more for a SIM, if need be, could make it much more useful while traveling.

You can use a smart phone as a GPS without a SIM card or any data - the GPS part works without a data connection. You do need to download the maps into it ahead of time, on WiFi. Google Maps for one has an "offline mode" that lets you download the maps ahead of time and get driving directions without mobile data. I tried it last year driving in Slovenia - works pretty well.

However, Google Maps doesn't work offline for walking directions or public transit directions. (Perhaps other apps do - not sure.) So you need a SIM and data for that, at least to use Google Maps. I have found this in particular extremely useful for navigating cities on foot and by public transit. It has saved me hours of time not needing to navigate paper maps or bus schedules ahead of time anymore, and it allows me to be spontaneous when I explore. I can be anywhere in a town and say, "OK, how do I get to this museum or back to the hotel?" and Google Maps will guide me there by bus or train or by walking.

So it would seem a big waste to me, having invested in a smart phone that is so incredibly useful, to cripple it with a roaming plan with almost no data. Sure, I could mostly use WiFi with Verizon's $40/month roaming plan and use my 100MB of data sparingly, but it makes my phone so much less useful - so why bother? My Dutch Vodafone SIM purchased last May cost me all of $30 USD including 3GB of data for a month. For my 17 day trip that was plenty of data (and free incoming calls from the US with Google Hangouts, where callers could call a US phone number). I just don't see how the $40/month Verizon plan makes sense. If I had Verizon, and I really needed to get incoming calls on my Verizon number anywhere, I think I'd just bite the bullet and pay the $10/day for that plan - and have all the data I needed for Google Maps navigation.

Posted by
727 posts

All things considered, maybe the $10 per 24 hour Verizon plan isn't so bad. Full access to my domestic plan and no hassles with getting a new SIM, phone number etc.

Someday people will look back and wonder why we ever needed these discussions. Your phone will work anywhere in the world with cell coverage on a global plan. For now, we have to put up with these complications.

Posted by
5697 posts

"Someday people will look back ..." And there are those who now look back and remember pay phones with phone cards, and tissue-paper aerogrammes as our best means of communication.

Posted by
4958 posts

Eric:

All things considered, maybe the $10 per 24 hour Verizon plan isn't so bad. Full access to my domestic plan and no hassles with getting a new SIM, phone number etc.

Let me suggest you do both. You aren't obligated to use the $10/day plan with Verizon by signing up - you pay only on the days you use it, so if you buy a SIM and find it's not working out for you, put your Verizon SIM back in and roam for $10/day. But if you're curious to try using a foreign SIM, give it a shot and see how it works, so you know for next time.

I really suggest you give the Google approach a shot, too, since it doesn't cost you anything other than a few minutes installing a few apps. If you can get the swing of Google Hangouts and get a Google Voice number to get incoming calls, maybe you can live with giving your emergency contacts that number while you are gone. Meanwhile, you can call your Verizon # with Hangouts for free to retrieve Verizon voicemails.

Posted by
35 posts

Eric,
How did the $10/day plan work? I also have Verizon and the wife wants a phone available on our next trip. Would you get charged if someone sent you a text? Could you use the GPS function without paying the daily charge? Not sure if I want to use my own SIM or get a European SIM.

Posted by
351 posts

Jerry, there is an app called maps.me that works offline. I had better luck with that app for walking around than downloading Google maps for offline use.

Posted by
4958 posts

Jerry, you won't get charged the $10/day just because someone sends you a text. You get charged if you enable the phone (except WiFi) and RECEIVE the text. I don't have Verizon, but I understand they are good at warning you before you enable data/voice/texting that you are about to be charged the $10 - are you sure you want to continue? If not, the text someone sent you will be waiting for you when you get home.

Otherwise, keep your phone in airplane mode then enable WiFi, so you can use it for free at the hotel or a restaurant. If you setup Google Hangouts as I've described, you can make free calls home to the US while you are on WiFi, even to landlines (call your airline, you bank, etc.) or use WhatsApp or other free texting apps.

You can use GPS if you use an app that downloads the maps/directions ahead of time so you can use them later "offline." Google Maps has an offline mode but works only for driving directions, not walking/public transit directions. The GPS function of your phone does not need mobile data - it's the maps you view and the directions that require information via the internet. As noted above, you can try other apps besides Google Maps.

Posted by
2576 posts

Getting a SIM means a new phone number. For me, a non starter. I have elderly relatives and they won’t remember my new number. In additions I get text messages from my financial institutions, credit cards, etc regarding transactions and I’m not about to change those numbers. I think the fees Verizon charges are outrageous, but for me that is part of the price I pay for traveling.

Posted by
35 posts

Thanks for the information. There's a lot more options nowadays.

Posted by
4958 posts

Alan:

Getting a SIM means a new phone number. For me, a non starter. I have elderly relatives and they won’t remember my new number. In additions I get text messages from my financial institutions, credit cards, etc regarding transactions and I’m not about to change those numbers. I think the fees Verizon charges are outrageous, but for me that is part of the price I pay for traveling.

That's why I like having my Google Voice number as my primary phone number. Then I don't care about my real cell phone number - everything forwards to the Google number. I just switched to Sprint, and I would have to look up the number - not sure what it is, because I don't give it to anyone. Everyone still uses the Google number I've been using for eight years. When I go to Europe, doesn't matter what SIM I use - texts and calls still come into Hangouts and go to voicemail if need be.

You can port your number to Google Voice for $20 one-time. Not saying you should, but it is an option.

Posted by
727 posts

To answer the question about how the Verizon $10 plan worked on past trips, I would say very well. Easy for people to reach me. Text and emails came through fine. I did use Viber to return calls since I was uncertain what the cost of calling back to the US would be. on a 15 day trip, I probably was charged for 10-11, 24 hour periods of use.