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nbbrown Jan 18th, 2005 11:39 AM

Cell phones and SIM cards in Italy
I am reading all about buying/renting GSM cell phones and purchasing SIM cards for our trip to Italy. Anyone have any advice on the best deals, what to avoid, or what to absolutely make sure of?

You guys are all great with all your help! Thanks!

stefanaccio Jan 18th, 2005 04:27 PM

my advice would be to buy a used european cellphone on Ebay, buy or recharge a card for it while in Italy using Tim, then keep or sell the phone on Ebay when you return.

Casale-Villa in Abruzzo

nbbrown Jan 18th, 2005 05:29 PM

Is a Tim card the same as a sim card? Also, kind of a dumb question. If I buy a phone off ebay, does it come with a number already? And how do I activate it? Is that what the SIM card does? Sorry for the ignorance!

stefanaccio Jan 19th, 2005 02:31 AM

Good questions. TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) is the name of the company that sells the SIM card for the phone. There are offices all over Italy. You can buy the SIM cards at other places but sometimes it is good to go to a place with a salesperson who can help you. If you buy a european cellphone on Ebay it may well have a SIM card already in it. If this card has any time left on it then it will have a phone number also. You will just need to go to Italy, charge up the phone, and if necessary add some more time to the card by going to one of the TIM offices. Basically the same process at the other offices (e.g., WIND) that sell the SIM cards. Hope this is clear.

Casale-Abruzzo Villa Rental

isabel Jan 19th, 2005 05:21 AM

I just answered another question a minute ago on the same topic. I had a zillion questions of my own last year - the whole subject IS quite confusing at first. Try doing a search here - the question comes up all the time and there have been some very good threads with lots of info.

tuscanlifeedit Jan 19th, 2005 06:34 PM

I did this last year: bought a used phone for Italy on Ebay. I am not going to sell it though, because I am planning to use it regularly when in Italy.

So: the phone was an Italian brand and it came with a SIM card from Italy in it. There were a few minutes left of talking time on the phone. We went to a newstand, bought a recharge card of the TIM brand, and had someone help us recharge the minutes. My husband found the phone's number with the help of someone working at our hotel.

We found very good instrutions for the phone on the site. I printed out all their instructions and suggestions, crossed out the ones that didn't apply to us or our phone, and then was easily able to figure out what to do.

I payed about 47 US Dollars for the phone on Ebay, including shipping and insurance. This seemed like a great deal to me and I still have the phone.

Am I wrong in thinking that if I go to France,I can buy a French SIM card and use it in my phone?

xyz123 Jan 19th, 2005 06:49 PM

Are you wrong? It depends on whether or not the phone is locked or unlocked. And you can't tell by looking at it or pressing any keys; since it is so cheap I assume it is a dual band but you can check it out in the US in the following manner...

Find somebody (or perhaps you yourself) who has a GSM US carrier (T mobile, some Cingular and/or some AT&T. Take the SIM card from their phone and insert it in yours.

Since it is a dual band it will not register on any network but if it is locked, you will get some sort of message saying the phone is locked (it may be in Italian or if you have set the language for the phone to English, it could be in English)...on the other hand if nothing happens, see it can't register because it probably doesn't have a US frequency, then it is unlocked and you are probably fine to use it in France. Or the French merchant selling you the SIM card can insert a company sim card into the phone and quickly determine if it is locked.

If it is locked, generally you can get it unlocked in Europe for prices ranging from $5 to $25 or you can go back to E bay and buy an unlocked pho e.

artsfan Jan 19th, 2005 07:06 PM

I posted this URL on the other thread that's active on this topic:
Haven't used it yet but it looks good to me.

tom_h Jan 19th, 2005 07:12 PM

Be sure to buy a phone that the seller guarantees to be "unlocked".

Make sure it is GSM dual-band, specifically 900 and 1800 bands, for europe. Asian phones use GSM 850-1800 (i think), so the asian phone would be partly crippled in europe. USA GSM phones use the 1900 band alone, and are totally useless in europe.

"Unlocked" means you can use the phone with ANY Network Provider (Orange, Vodaphone, TMobile, etc) IF you buy the SIM chip(s) intended for those providers.

So if later you decide you can get cheaper rates from, say, Vodaphone over TMobile, just buy a new Vodaphone SIM chip, and the "unlocked" phone will now work on Vodaphone.

"Locked" phones will only function with a specific Network Provider; if you change SIM chips, the phone won't work on a new network.

Locked phones are usually cheaper to buy because the Provider knows you cannot switch away from them, so they subsidize the phone to reel in customers.

Some phones are relatively easily to unlock and their "unlock" codes are somewhat well known. Other phones are NOT easily unlocked, don't get stuck with one. It's just better to buy it "unlocked" to begin with with. But I don't personally know any easy way to check this in advance, so buy from a reputable seller who will guarantee "unlocked".

Here is info on Operators/Providers for GSM Pre-PAid or Pay-As-You-Go phones, (which I assume is what you want):

Other info on Italian GSM operators, specifcally:

A forum for cell phones and Providers:

And a very long thread with reviews of GSM pre-paid Operators/Providers world-wide, just search thru it for Italy:

Patty Jan 20th, 2005 11:17 AM

Most of Asia uses the same bands as Europe (900 and 1800), with the primary exception being Japan which uses a completely different technology. US GSM is 850 and 1900. You don't necessarily have to have both bands. I have a phone which has (besides the US bands) 900 only and it functions pretty well in Europe and Asia.

Robespierre Jan 20th, 2005 11:43 AM

You can find out how a phone can be unlocked by googling

<b>unlock [model]</b>

For example, &quot;unlock 7868&quot; gets 4,000 hits on how to unlock a Motorola StarTac mocel 7868. Most phones can be unlocked from the keypad, some require a data cable, and still others require information that unlocking companies keep secret. I would never buy a phone that I couldn't control completely.

tuscanlifeedit Jan 20th, 2005 12:05 PM

I'm thick, so more questions: the phone I was referring to above, that I already own, was originally purchased in Italy, and the brand is Sagem. I don't think it was necessarily a &quot;cheap&quot; phone, but that I got it at a good price on Ebay because the original buyer had no plans to return to Europe.

So, does all the &quot;lock and unlock&quot; stuff still apply if I only want to use this phone in Western Europe (I already use it in Italy, but might want to use it in France, Spain, Greece or the UK)?


tom_h Jan 20th, 2005 12:41 PM


If you have a &quot;locked&quot; phone you'll be obliged to use the original network provider/operator everywhere. If it's locked to an Italian provider, you'll incur roaming charges outside of Italy, and roam charges can be very expensive.

With an unlocked phone you can insert a new SIM chip that is local to your country and pay the local rates.

However, that means you'll get a new Tel# assigned, as Tel# is in the SIM, not the phone.

If the roaming costs are not a big concern, then the locked phone should be fine.

tuscanlifeedit Jan 20th, 2005 12:46 PM

Thanks tom_h

I had no idea that the locked/unlocked thing applied to phones purchased in Europe. I learn something new here all the time.

Robespierre Jan 20th, 2005 12:52 PM

<u>unlock sagem</u> googles 540,000 hits. Even if you have to pay a few bucks to have it unlocked, you'll never have to pay a roaming fee.

LisaLou632 Jan 20th, 2005 12:52 PM

My brother, whom I'm traveling with to Italy, called his cell service (T-Mobile) and they told him that he could use his own phone. They would set it up for him, free of charge &amp; then it would be .99 per minute to phone home from Italy. This sounds too good to be true? Are we going to encounter problems trying to use an American phone and service?

Patty Jan 20th, 2005 01:20 PM

Provided he has a phone with the correct frequency band(s), he should have no problems using a US provider's international roaming service. When he turns his phone on in Italy, it should show whatever local roaming partner(s) that T-Mobile contracts with. This allows him to keep his US number and works well for emergency/infrequent use. For frequent usage, it would be more cost effective for him to get the phone unlocked and purchase a local SIM card (but he would then have an Italian #).

xyz123 Jan 20th, 2005 01:33 PM

Things are beginning to change for the better...several points from the thread...

1. Mobile phones are routinely locked by mobile phone companies to keep you from going to another company; in effect they are sabotaging the very most benefit of gsm phones. It is quasi illegal but little can be done about it. Most phones can easily be unlocked; especially Nokia ones for which a calculator exists freely available on the web or in most any European city zillions of shoppes exist that will unlock most any phone.

2. T mobile roaming is one big rip off. Imagine 99 cents/minute to both make and receive calls. With a local prepaid SIM, receiving calls is free to the recipient; the caller pays a little bit more.

3. There are several companies in start up mode that are beginning to have international capabilities which include no roaming charges throughout Western Europe. Most are in Lichtenstein which has very cheap rates. If these companies suceed, it will put pressure on rip off companies such as T mobile with its ridiculously asininely high roaming rates. Imagine, when you have a T mobile US phone and go to England, your roaming company is T Mobile UK. T Mobile US claims they are passing along a charge from T Mobile UK..what is this from the left pocket to the right pocket and the consumer loses. It's all a rip off and they all know it and one of the way mobile phone companies are making money.

But the EU is also beginning to get involved in this and Vodafone's CEO has admitted that big changes in international roaming are imminent. If the start up international companies work out, well consumers will have some good news perhaps very very soon and cut out this business of getting separate sim's for the UK then France then Holland then Germany which means changing your number each time (although modern things such as call forwarding do alleviate this).


LisaLou632 Jan 20th, 2005 02:24 PM

Goodness I feel silly. Here I am thinking that the .99 per minute wasn't a bad deal? I figured with people spending $50.00 to buy a phone (and apparantly this is a cheap one) then spending even more money to replace the chip or have it unlocked etc. I figured we wouldn't put $50.00 worth of minutes on the damn thing? A few calls to home &amp; checking a few reservations. Doesn't this seem more reasonable then everything you'd have to go through buying a European phone, getting a new SIM etc?

xyz123 Jan 20th, 2005 02:50 PM

It really depends on your view point. Remember it is billed to the nearest minute. A 61 second call costs $1.98. If in your view it is just for emergencies here and there, I can see your point.

But, if you use it the way I do, that is so friends can call you and get in touch with you or you can call them or you might want to make a call to a restaurant for a reservation, etc. if you have the phone already, and I have a tri band from T Mobile that I unlocked myself so I can just switch the SIM card, since with a local SIM my receiving of calls is free, I do much better. Some countries are different; Italy is supposed to be one of the cheapest ones around.

To me, a mobile phone has become a necessity. Once having travelled with it, I would find it very difficult to travel without it but believe me, contrary to others' opinion, I don't criticize other people, just because they live in the 20th century. To me this is the 21st century and 21st century technology is neat.

I'll give you an example...just recently I discovered that Verizon which is my landline provider has changed its remote call forwarding system and that I can remotely set call forwarding from my home landline to my foreign SIM without too much trouble and for not all that much (something like 30 cents/minute to the UK) in effect I can be holding my little mobile phone in the middle of London and if somebody calls my home number, it will instantaneously ring on my mobile. It is as if I have a universal number. Now some may think that's crazy; after all you're on holiday to get away from it all and I can see that point. OTOH I find it kind of amazing, dial my home number and my mobile rings in London. And when people find out I'm in London they are very apologetic thinking it is costing an arm and a leg but it really isn't as all I am paying is the 30 cents/minute for the call forwarding. Sure beats 99 cents/minute T mobile wants.

Now again I'm a gizmo freak and find these things fun. Others don't and that's certainly their perogative. But for those who actually want a mobile phone to use, then I believe the only way to go is with prepaid SIM's.

Best regards..

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