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Trying to make my phone choice

We'll be visiting Italy next year for about 3 weeks and I was just trying to figure out which is easier. I know you can get a SIM there for my phone but mine would need to be unlocked and AT&T won't do that unless it is paid for. Unfortunately I just got a new one. I really only need it for maps probably. On previous trips, we were able to use wi-fi for everything else. We'll still use our regular phones for everything else, as far as I know.
1. Pay the $10 a day that AT&T charges. (Not my favorite option even though it is easiest)
2. Buy a phone there and set up a prepaid plan.
3. Buy a phone here and get a SIM there.
4. Something else that I am not aware of.

Thanks for any help you can provide,
David

Posted by
38 posts

We use Verizon. Prior to pandemic we did the $10 a day thing. It's a bit of a hassle if you are trying to skip days that you pay for. Recent 2 trips, last month Rome florence and venice, we did the Verizon $100 month plan. MUCH easier and I was able to receive some very important calls from home as well as use Google maps and directions. Considering the cost of your entire trip, the $100 is relatively cheap for the added convenience and security.
Of course, Google maps has ability for you to download maps for use offline and I have done this as well. But in that mode, it will show where you are but will not give directions.
That's my experience...

Posted by
5479 posts

If you are paying for AT&T service anyway, then compared to your annual mobile phone bill, the cost of AT&T roaming for a month in Italy will be insignificant. If you are concerned about saving money, dump AT&T (someday) because you can get unlimited talk + text plus a good amount of data for a fraction of what it costs with AT&T. E.g. I am using Tello (uses T-Mobile network) - costs $10-$15/month. (I bought my own phone without going through a mobile company.) So I save hundreds of dollars a year vs. paying for AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon. And then I just use a SIM card when I travel.

Posted by
11887 posts

I, too, have Verizon and just got back from 3 weeks in Italy. I used the $10/day program because I was on a RS tour for part of the time and knew there would be a number of days when I did not need to use it. According the the text message notifications I got telling me when the "session" would end I used it 8 days out of 22. Will you need your plan every day?

I did wind up using Citymapper in Venice and Rome. In Rome the other day I did the routing function in the room before I headed out and then followed the map without realizing I had not clicked over out of airplane mode. It showed me where I was along the route even without wifi or data being engaged. I don't need the actual directions I just want to follow along on the map so that worked well.

I'd used Citymapper in Paris last Spring and Fall on the recommendations of one of the forum members who lives in Paris.

**editing to add: TMobile really depends on where you live. Here in North Idaho it's the blank spot on their service map as is the US destination I visit most often, Yellowstone.

Posted by
285 posts

Unfortunately if you just bought a phone via AT&T it is probably locked. This limits you to either getting a separate SIM card in Italy or paying for one of AT&T's international plans.

In future, consider T-Mobile's 55+ Magenta MAX plan (if you are 55+...) once you can get free of AT&T. WiFi calling in Europe, free texting, and 5Gb data/month in Europe. $45/month/line in the US.

Posted by
2825 posts

I am no help on the phone plan for a locked phone, but for maps, I save everything I think I will need and then download Google Maps offline - which then uses no data. And you can update it any time you are on WiFi. So if that is really all you need, you might still be able to get by on just WiFi.

But you should take note of recent threads on how many places are moving to systems that make life much easier when you have data.

Posted by
204 posts

If your map use is for driving, ask very nicely for a car with GPS when you pick up the rental. We had success without paying the additional fee....

Posted by
1744 posts

You say your phones are new—do you still have the old one you could unlock and use as a ‘travel phone’?

Posted by
118 posts

I plan to use the AT&T International Day Pass ($10/day) for my trip next year. If you time your 3 weeks to fall within your billing cycle, the maximum you pay will be $100 (free after 10 day passes per billing cycle). One will have to pay extra for those days outside the billing cycle.
In my case my billing cycle starts on 5th of each month. My Trip starts on 3th and ends on 29th; so I will end up paying 2*$10+$100=$120 and the total allowed data usage is based on my current AT&T data plan. I like its simplicity.

Posted by
937 posts

Google "how to unlock phone". There are services which will unlock your phone for a small fee. Just follow the steps in the website. I did this about 7 years ago with my locked phone for a trip to Italy. It's been a long time. When I did it, i think I found somebody on eBay, sent about $10 by paypal, and received the unlock code by email. It worked. Since then, I just buy unlocked phones and sign up for cheap phone plans like Public Mobile. I amcurrently paying about $16/month for unlimited national talk and text and 1GB mobile data. I have never used up all of my monthly mobile data; almost all of my data usage is via wifi.)

EDIT: Here is an article that explains unlocking. It says the going rate is about $30 now: https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/3-sites-to-find-free-unlocking-codes-for-mobile-phones/

Posted by
171 posts

I use a hotspot every time I come to Europe. There are many out there but I use https://myaccount.sapphirego.com/index/index/home. Just turn off your cellular and you are good go. Typically I buy a Europe package of 10Gb which last about 1 month (I also use hotel/airBnb wifi). You can rent or buy the hotspot. I rented first two years but now own one.

Posted by
334 posts

Just goy back from 23 nites in Italy. T mobile phone worked perfectly. You will not be able to change SIM cards with a phone that is locked.

Posted by
937 posts

SteveH3011, I don't get the benefit of the Sapphire hotspot. For $150, you have to carry a second device the size of your phone and only get a one time 5GB of data. Then, how much do you pay to add 10GB of data for 30 days?

Even the cheapest phones have the same capability to create a hotspot and allow tethering of other devices.. For about $20, you should be able to buy a sim or esim to give you the same 10GB for 30 days on your phone which you can share as hotspot with other devices.

Posted by
2950 posts

You can get an unlocked phone on Amazon for $40-50 and then get a TIM Tourist SIM for €25.
I did use an online unlocking service on my iPhones over the years and they worked fine plus I could use my own phone.

Posted by
5479 posts

Another option might be to pay off the balance of the new phone to AT&T, so then it can be legally unlocked so an Italian SIM could be used. I don't know what the other ramifications of that might be for your monthly plan - but it would also free you from having to stick to AT&T at home and be able to switch to a cheaper mobile plan.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks to everyone for the informative replies. I haven't decided which direction I am going in but these suggestions give my a lot of avenues to look into.

David

Posted by
24035 posts

One thing folks who don't travel alone should keep in mind is that a hotspot or tethering will only be useful for the travelers who are moving around together. If the group wants to split up, one segment won't have data when out of Wi-Fi range.

I managed OK without data on multiple trips to Europe, but more recently I have really enjoyed being able to surf the web during long bus and train rides. And now that Google Maps is online rather than an app, it's a big problem for me not to have data. (I'm going to try switching to a different mapping program.)

Posted by
5479 posts

It seems rather silly in 2022 to have invested in a smart phone but not be able to spend just a few bucks more on data for a trip that will make the phone so much more useful. If you are frugal (like I am) there are ways to get very cheap phone service at home and abroad. If you aren't frugal with your home phone service or the kind of phone you bought, I don't really see the point of being frugal with an international roaming add-on for a trip.

Posted by
937 posts

acraven, you can download selected areas of Google map so that it can work offline on your phone without data. It is not 100% functionality, but pretty good if you enter into an area with no cellular service.

Posted by
75 posts

I’ve been looking into the same thing.

I’m using an eSIM called Airailo — not need to buy a physical SIM card, set it up. Before you leave home.

Posted by
24035 posts

Thanks, funpig. I've been building my own maps, using Google's MyMaps, and I found that opening the map before leaving my hotel (while on Wi-Fi) was not a solution. When I recentered the map or expanded it, I'd end up with a blank screen. Even when I had data turned on, the map wasn't necessarily there when I needed it.
All too often I had to reload the map--not good when you're paying for your data by the gigabyte. The MyMaps app--no longer supported--didn't have that issue.

I really like the options MyMaps offers in terms of using different colors and icons to flag different types of points of interest, and I have gotten to be very efficient at adding pins within MyMaps while sitting at my desktop here at home, but if the map isn't really accessible when you're out and about, it's not useful once you're actually traveling.

Posted by
4 posts

I've been in Europe for the past 6 weeks and I'm using Google Fi on my iPhone. It has worked well in every country I go to and I hit the ground running as soon as I got here. I had cell service on the runway, as soon as I could turn off airplane mode as the service works in 200+ countries. You can switch to Google Fi with no contract on a month by month basis. And then, if you want, you can switch back to your regular service when you get back to the US. I have Google Fi all the time and have my 2 sons on it as well. I have also used it in Colombia for 2 weeks and Israel for 3 weeks and it worked well. You can port your phone number over, no problem and it has an electronic SIM, so no need for a physical SIM. Note that you must switch to it while on US soil and then travel, it won't work the other way round. We pay $50 for 3 of us per month, plus $10 per GB of data, with anything over 12 GB free. I am not very disciplined with my data use and don't switch to airplane mode when away from WiFi, like lots of people do. I just use it all the time when needed, so my bills have been around $200 for the last few months, but that includes my sons' usage back in the States. Your mileage may vary. Here's a link to find more info: https://fi.google.com/about/

Posted by
711 posts

acraven - for offline navigation, have you tried an app called Maps.me? I haven't used it lately, but it was very helpful a few years ago in Cuba. The government controlled all cell service there, and the only way to get it was to queue up for a government-issued SIM card (and maybe a phone?), but since we were there for only about a week I didn't bother. (Interestingly, we also arrived in the middle of the official national week of mourning for Fidel, which was a story in itself.)

Before I left home, I installed Maps.me and downloaded the map(s) for the Havana area. I took my phone with me as we walked around the city. With no cell service or internet access at all, the Maps.me app worked flawlessly as a GPS. I was with a small group of photographers, and Maps.me became our go-to resource when in doubt. Another member of the group also had it on his phone.

I haven't used the app at all for awhile, but you might try it if you're not happy with Google's offline options.

Also, it's good to see the love for Google Fi. I had Fi for a few years, and it worked very well for me in the UK. I've changed to Verizon because out here in the West there are some areas where Verizon has the best/only coverage compared to T-Mobile et al. - and those include places I tend to visit. (ETA: Google FI uses the T-Mo network and maybe one other, but not Verizon's. Sigh.)

Posted by
63 posts

Vendor lock-in of phones is so irritating! It begs the question: Who owns the phone, David or AT&T? I feel your pain.
We use option 4 - purchase our phones outright (iPhones directly from Apple, Pixel phones directly from Google), so there is never an issue with vendor lock-in nor any dispute about who owns the phone. I've purchased a SIM and service in Europe before, but since about 2015, we've had service with T-Mobile that includes International roaming, so we don't worry about that anymore.

Posted by
122 posts

I plan to use the AT&T International Day Pass ($10/day) for my trip next year. If you time your 3 weeks to fall within your billing cycle, the maximum you pay will be $100 (free after 10 day passes per billing cycle). One will have to pay extra for those days outside the billing cycle.

We are also planning to use the AT&T day pass for a trip to Europe coming up in June. Since our billing cycle would have turned over during the trip, we called AT&T and requested to change the dates of our billing cycle so that our trip falls into the same cycle. That way we’ll “max out” the day pass option (at $100 for the first phone, $50 for the second phone), without having to start over in the new billing cycle. That made the day pass an economical choice for us, and we can use our phones as needed in Europe, with the amount of data we’re accustomed to.

Posted by
63 posts

Another thought: do you use your phone # for MFA (multi-factor authentication) to email, bank, and credit cards?
If so, you'll need to have your home phone service and number with you. Even if you use an MFA app (such as Authy, DUO, Microsoft, Google Authenticator, LastPass Auth, etc.), that will need to be fully configured on the device you are taking with you before you leave for Europe.

Posted by
114 posts

Here is what I have done: bought a local SIM, and replaced my phone's regular North American number. Easy, certainly cheaper than $10US a day.

In future: I plan to take advantage of free WiFi calling - to call home and be available to those from home (not all the time, airplane mode will be on most of the time so I don't accidentally incur expensive roaming charges). This will have my normal number, and I'll use an old smartphone with a new European SIM.

As previously said, before you go, make sure you download Google Maps for the area you are going to visit, and make sure you turn on Airplane Mode, which still lets you use the GPS function of the phone. Airplane Mode stops the phone from automatically wasting your data downloading app updates etc. Of course, you can turn this off in settings too, so it only does it over WiFi.

In my case, I don't actually require that much data if I do this, and still have access to Google Maps. Note: on Airplane Mode, Google Maps will not have access to the bus/train information, though, which I find extremely useful. Google Maps is not the only decent app though: there are several good ones. Google just happens to be already on Android phones, and works.

Posted by
704 posts

My wife and I both use the AT&T International data and calling plan for both iPhones. For us it is the easiest way to handle calls, internet etc while traveling. The are many people on these boards who purchase a SIM card and even carry an extra phone for the card. Everyone who travels internationally will come up with their own way to handle their phone calls and data.

Posted by
2423 posts

I would pay and have the phone you own unlocked.
I can't believe companies still sell locked phones...that's a racket!

Then when you get to Italy, buy a simcard at a phone shop.
Don't buy one at the airport, unless it's TIM or VodaFone.
The best and most reliable seem to be TIM or VodaFone.
The shop will do it all for you and set it up.
It will (should) work right away.
I like TIM when I've been there.
You'll get more data than you can ever use in three weeks.

Just be sure that whatever you buy can make calls and/or texts to your home country from Italy....some plans do not, but have only calls and texts for Italy.

Posted by
4326 posts

Though I can't help with the decision but I am surprised no one has mentioned e-sims. New phones are generally equipped for this. I am an Android user, but it seems most of America uses iPhone. If you do too, this link may help. https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT212780
Ask AT&T if they would support this.