Cell phones and SIM cards in Italy

Jan 20th, 2005, 02:58 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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tuscanlifeedit, you wrote "I had no idea that the locked/unlocked thing applied to phones purchased in Europe".

I didn't either until recently. From what I've recently learned, if you go to a Vodaphone, Orange, etc company-owned cellphone store in europe, they will only sell you a "locked" phone, although they don't publicize that and the clerk might even (incorrectly) deny it.

To get a truly unlocked phone, eg in the UK, one may have to go to an independent retail chain (eg, Car Phone Warehouse or The Link, in the UK) and buy what they call a prepaid "SIM-free" handset or prepaid "Phone only" handset.

These independent chains might also be a good place to go to have a locked phone "unlocked", that others have mentioned.

My son is leaving on a 4 month trip next week, and it was bewildering trying to get all this phone stuff researched and sorted out!
tom_h is offline  
Jan 20th, 2005, 09:09 PM
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I spent three months in Italy a couple of years ago so I needed to have a cell phone and I researched my options very thoroughly back then. What I ended up doing is buying an unlocked triband GSM phone over Ebay and then purchasing a TIMcard (a SIM card from Telecom Italia) from some other site on the internet. I don't remember what the SIM cost me back then but probably around $50, which included a few euros worth of talk time. The card is "prepaid" cellular service so there is no subscription or contract and you just can purchase whatever amount of talk time you want and can "recharge" your talk time by going to "un tabaccaio" ("tobacco" shop where they sell stamps, etc) and buying a "ricaricard". It costs one euro for the card, the rest of what you pay for it goes to talk time. I believe you can buy cards for as little as 5 euro (4 euro of talk time). The TIM card is good for 12 months after you last use it or recharge it. Unfortunately, I have not been back to Italy since then and my TIM card has expired.

I am going to Italy again this spring for a couple of months so I've been thinking about this again. I was able to use the triband phone that I bought on Ebay here in the US by just getting a US SIM card from TMobile when I got back from Italy. Since then I have bought a new triband phone (Sony Ericcson T610) from TMobile and I asked that it be unlocked. They gave me the code to unlock it within 24 hours of purchasing it. I know it is unlocked since I did the unlocking myself and was able to see the status when I did it. So, I am going to use my regular old TMobile cell phone while I am in Italy, but I am going to have to buy a new TIM card (since the old one expired). I have looked at the TIM website and see that you can purchase TIM cards from them for 40 euro and that includes 20 euro of talk time. This is a much better deal than what US companies that sell them over the internet will give you. I plan on dropping into one of the ubiquitous TIM stores as soon as I get to Rome and buy a TIM card on the spot there. You can't use it until you are in Italy anyway so why not save a few $$$ ??? It does mean, however, that I will not know my italian phone number until I get there which can be somewhat of a drawback because I will have to communicate it to everyone from Italy.

So, I have one unlocked triband GSM phone, and a SIM card for whatever country I am in. I think this is the best way to go, if you don't mind the cost of the SIM card. The only other thing to think about is the expiration of the TIM card. I didn't mention it above, but if you have an Italian credit card you can recharge the card online. But you do need to have a credit card issued by an Italian banking institution. It seems that the only way for an American to recharge once they are out of the country is to have a Ricaricard on hand to apply to the TIM card. I think I will buy a couple of 5 euro denomination ricaricards while I am in Italy and bring them back here so I can recharge the phone once a year to keep the TIM card from expiring. I'm pretty positive this will work but will investigate it more when I am in Italy.

Sorry so long-winded.

AllisonK is offline  
Jan 21st, 2005, 12:03 AM
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That was perfect and your point about not dealing with the crooks on the internet who triple the price of these sim packs with scare tactics of how difficult it is to do in Italy or in whatever country you are going to is a good one and should be heeded by everybody.

The expiration thing is sort of company and country specific. For example, apparently in regards to TIM, it is simply a function of time.

Some of the British prepaids have a clause they have to be used every 180 days to keep the numbers valid. But no with international roaming, at least on those, there is a way around it. Simply every 178 days send a text message to your home phone and that should keep the phone active. Emphasize, that is only on the British prepaids which have the 180 days clause. Won't work in France, Italy, Holland or Germany.
xyz123 is offline  
Jan 21st, 2005, 08:47 AM
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If your brother already has a tri or quad band phone, he can contact T-Mobile to have his phone unlocked (I believe they're the only US provider that will do this). There's no need to purchase a new phone. Then you'll have the option of either using T-Mobile's roaming service or buying a prepaid SIM in Italy. And if it looks like you'll be using the phone more frequently that you originally thought, you can buy a card locally. That's what I do. Sometimes I use my US provider's roaming service and sometimes I switch to a local SIM depending on how much calling I think I'll do, how long I'll be in the country, and the cost of the card.
Patty is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2005, 10:22 PM
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After reading all I could here about this topic, I think that is exactly what we will do. He does have T-Mobile & his phone is compatible, I believe. A new question though. I found a seller on Ebay selling TIM cards w/ 5E on them for $19.95. He says retail is $49. Is this legit and most of all is it a good deal? Thanks all!
LisaLou632 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2005, 02:42 AM
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You can buy the 5E TIM cards all over the place for 10 euros (you get 5E "talk time"). At today's exchange that would be about 13 bucks. The advantage of buying one ahead of time is that you know in advance what your number will be.

Casale-Villa with No Bidet
stefanaccio is offline  
Jan 24th, 2005, 06:56 AM
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Where on E-bay did you find the prepaid TIM cards with 5 EURO value for $19.99? The only new pre-paid ones I saw were much much more than that. (I realize it is cheaper to buy one in Italy, but in may case it will be helpful to have the number before I leave.) Thanks!
BluEyezNSC is offline  
Jan 24th, 2005, 10:47 AM
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Is it possible to rent a phone when we are in Italy? It would seem cheaper based on reading this thread to rent a phone while we are in Italy and turn it back in since we don't know when or if we will be back. We could just add time on the SIM cards.

Does anyone have info on renting phones, what to look for or look out for, costs, where to go etc?

We fly in and out of the Rome (FCO) airport so it would be the easiest to get it from there.
areinert is offline  
Jan 24th, 2005, 10:53 AM
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Is it possible? Yes.
Is it recommended? No.

Once they've got that $900 charge for the deposit on your credit card, anything can happen. Horror stories abound on this forum.
Robespierre is offline  
Jan 24th, 2005, 11:19 AM
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There are lots of threads on this forum of horror stories involved with renting a mobile phone. It just doesn't make sense...sometimes a low rental rate is coupled with obscenely high call charges including the ultimate rip off i.e. the mobile phone you rent is not simmed so to speak to a provider in the country you are visiting so you wil pay not only to make calls but to receive calls also.

Renting is almost always not a bright way of doing it. If you are so sure you are never going back to Europe, you can always sell the phone you buy on e bay but you know what there are some very very cheap cell phones available now that I can't really conceive how renting can be cheaper or better.
xyz123 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2005, 01:48 PM
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Ok, good to know

Maybe this is the wrong thread, but it sounds like prepaid calling cards bought in Italy at newstands, tobacco shops or phone places would be the best way to go


We just need to call ahead if we are arriving late, confirm details with tours, etc.
areinert is offline  
Jan 24th, 2005, 03:45 PM
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Let me say this..

On the surface, you might be right. You might just need a prepaid phone card to just call ahead if you're late etc. And if you feel that way, that's okay. I certainly don't dispute that may serve your needs fine.


Consider this..although I am hardly an expert on Italy as I don't regularly travel there, I do know that in both Paris and London it is becoming more and more difficult to find a working pay phone with the advent of so many mobile phones. Not to say they don't exist but you never know if one will be handy just when you need it. Say you have a breakdown on a motorway ahd have to call for help or you are towed somewhere. Where is the nearest pay phone? (No different than at home; do you rely if you god forbid have a breakdown on finding a public phone in this day and age or do you carry a mobile phone?)

Or you want people to be able to reach you 24/7 (you know, they have to look up that night's hotel..with a mobile phone, they can reach you 24/7 and you don't pay to receive calls; they pay a trifle more)...

Believe me, 10 years ago, I couldn't conceive of the use of mobile phones we have today. Now I wouldn't get into a car without mine nor would I allow my daughter to go anywhere without one and being able to call me. And when travelling in Europe, now that I have gotten used to having one, it's almost to me how did I survive without one (of course we did but..)

So I am a proponent of using mobile phones and with all the many countries in Europe, Europeans are used t the idea of prepaid SIM's and switching SIM cards as they go from country to country. You know a UK resident has his mobile under contract but vacations every so often in France. Paying roaming rates is something he doesn't want to do...so he buys a French prepaid. This is the way it is today. Perhaps in the near future, there will be a universal mobile SIM card (there are companies out there which are begining to push these and if they suceed this will put pressure on the rest to reduce their obnoxeously high roaming charges)...

So, as I like to say and with no disrespect to anybody, this is the 21st century and we should be only too happy to take advantage of 21st century technology.

xyz123 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2005, 04:57 PM
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When you say "5E of talk time", about how much time does that work out to be? And if we buy a phone before we go, is it easy (as in at-the-airport kind of easy) to find a SIM card? We will need to use our phone right away after arriving. Also, is there an inexpensive place online to buy a SIM card? (Wow! I wrote "SIN" card before correcting my typo! Freudian slip??)

nbbrown is offline  
Jan 24th, 2005, 05:06 PM
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Somebody more familiar with Italy will have to answer directly about the ease of buying a SIM at the airport; I would suppose it is. Also, having been to a number of European countries, Italy unfortunately not being one of them, I can tell you that mobile phone stores are found on every street corner in any shopping district wherever but I understand that doesn't answer your question about the immediacy of buying a SIM pack.

As far as buying an Italian SIM before leaving, you can try EBay. Don't know if you'll find one there; others have reported they have found some European SIM's on EBay. There is an american firm called Telestial at www.telestial.com that specializes in selling foreign SIM packs to Americans who don't want to wait till they arrive in a foreign countrhy but the catch is they triple the price you will pay there and then slap on additional shipping and handling charges. Certainly not my recommendation but there are those who claim that it is a good deal because....

1. You will know your Italian number before leaving and can give it to friends and neighbors and relatives.

2. Apparently Italy requires a number akin to a social security number before you can buy a prepaid SIM in Italy; atleast that is what I have read. But the catch is or lack of a catch is that you need not be Italian to get this number and the merchant selling you the SIM pack will take care of this for you (after all he won't want to pass up a sale)...if you pay triple the prices at Telestial, this is not a problem and some have written they would rather go in that direction to be on the safe side.

Just food for thought!
xyz123 is offline  
Jan 25th, 2005, 10:17 PM
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For more specific info on italy and their cell phone operators, check out the cell phone forums at
http://www.howardforums.com/ and especially their european and pre-paid sub-forums.
(yes, every gadget or hobby or special interest has its own forum nowadays!)

Probably italy has their equivalent of the UK's Car Phone Warehouse,
http://www.carphonewarehouse.com/ ,
and you can check out pricing for Unlocked/SIM-free handset prices.

Having reserached this extensively for my son's 4+ month trip thru europe, I would agree with xyz123's strategy of buying a phone outright in italy (make sure it's "UNLOCKED" !!) and then buying local SIM cards intended for "pay-as-you-go" or prepaid service.

Roaming rates I've priced still seem outrageous on most carriers & networks.

Although european wireless coverage seems generally more thorough than USA, the balkanized european environment screams out for a mega-carrier to consolidate the patchwork of rates and carriers.

Most USA carriers (eg, Verizon) now offer "call Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime in the USA" plans for low rates without any onerous roaming or long distance charges -- simple, flat rate pricing. Europe seems long overdue for such pan-Continent plans. Instead, each european country has 3-4 carriers who will gouge you $$ if you roam outside their tiny service areas!
tom_h is offline  
Jan 25th, 2005, 11:53 PM
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Tom_h and others...

Take a look at www.riiing.com. This is a relatively new service offering no roaming charges to receive calls throughout Europe and relatively inexpensive call rates while in Europe.

You would have a Lechtenstein number but no matter; throughout Europe you will not pay roaming charges especially to receive calls. Making calls is less than 0,40€.

To buy the sim pack, one of the guys on the forum of www.prepaidgsm.net has purchased a bunch of them and is selling them through the forum.

Seems to resolve some of the high roaming costs and I don't see much of a down side.

Also note that, and I'll use AT&T ld as my example, calls to Western Europe on AT&T ld are listed at 10 cents/minute on its international plan ($1/month) but what they don't say is in a related site, there is a surcharge for calls to European mobiles of about 22 cents/minute. This, BTW, is the reason it is free to receive calls on European GSM mobiles; the caller pays part of the freight.

But to call Liechtenstein (country code 423), the charge is still 10 cents/minute but the surcharge for Liechtenstein mobiles is 1 cent (that's right one cent) a minute...

As you know, I'm pretty savy on these things and I am not advertising for anybody or anything but it is worth checking out; especially for those who visit several different European countries.

So go the site www.prepaidgsm.net, go to the forum section and go to the international section of the forum and read up on it. Also you can go to the operator section of that web site and read about riiing.

If they suceed and start drawing business away from operators such as Vodafone and Orange, we may all be beneficiaries of much lower internationnal roaming rates in the near future, even our friends who live in Europe and visit other countries!
xyz123 is offline  
Feb 8th, 2005, 10:03 PM
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My son's now been travelling in westrn europe for a couple weeks, buying prepaid "pay as you go" SIM chips for each country.

True, calling inside his country with these prepaid SIM chips is relatively cheap (US$ 0.25-0.50 per min).

But calling from western europe to USA is not always a great bargain. In addition to the initial purchase price of a SIM chip (which includes some airtime minutes),

country: UK
carrier: Orange
to USA: $0.40 per min

country: Spain
carrier: Telefonica Movistar
to USA: $1.00 per min approx (!)

On the other hand, for me (USA) to call him on his european cell phone,

from my USA Verizon mobile phone: $0.65 per min.

from my home phone: $0.15 - 0.25 per min.

So generally he will call me , we'll hang up, and I will call him back right away.
tom_h is offline  
Feb 9th, 2005, 01:27 AM
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Let him look into www.callbackworld.com.

No monthly minimum or charge and you pay only for use.

How does it work? They give you a US telephone number which is keyed to your foreign mobile phone number. You can change the number it is keyed to easily enough from the web.

Call that number and the phone is not answered so no charge. The call triggers a call back to your mobile phone in Europe. Since you will be receiving no charge. The computer asks you to enter the number you are calling so you enter 1 212 555 1212 or whatever and voila the call is completed.

Call fees are not dirt cheap, around 30 to 40 cents/minute but better than the $1 a minute for the Spain prepaid.
xyz123 is offline  
Feb 9th, 2005, 03:10 AM
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There's a question earlier about buying SIMs at airports.

As a general rule, assume you can't. Very few European airports have much retailing accessible to arriving passengers, except for the odd newspaper kiosk. Some airports don't segregate arriving from departing passengers (so you can sneak back into the duty-free area, though many businesses require a boarding card for purchases), and one or two have a fair slug of shops outside the secure area (Gatwick even has an electrical goods shop available to all) But most don't, and I've not seen any real shops for arrivals in Milan or Rome

But as xzy says, though, many main shopping streets, and practically every side street behind the main steet, are awash with SIM sellers.
flanneruk is offline  
Mar 24th, 2008, 07:50 PM
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So, if I buy the unlocked phone, get an italian simcard for it...and return to the US...I know it would be dumb..but would it still work in the US?? What if I know someone in Italy and want them to be able to call me in the US and it be local...would this work??
brynna10101 is offline  

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