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kbmtravel Sep 20th, 2015 04:30 PM

cell phones in Italy?

Can anyone offer advice on how to get/use a cell phone in Italy? Should I buy a cheap one there, or bring my own and buy a SIM/TIM card? I heard there are several useful Italy apps so I'm not sure whether to bring my own iphone to use these apps or what the best approach is. Thanks!

greg Sep 20th, 2015 08:07 PM

First, give us some background. Phone usage model and your constraints drive options.

Who is your current phone carrier?
Is your iphone unlocked or are you willing to have it unlocked (pay off subsidy as part of carrier T&C)?
How are you planning to use a cellphone? Calling home, calling local numbers, receiving calls from home, while away from Wifi, while having access to Wifi, etc.
Which apps are you referring to? Some can operate without data plan (complicated your options futher) while some is pretty useless without online data acess.

bvlenci Sep 20th, 2015 10:49 PM

You can bring your own phone if it's GSM compatible. All of the newer iPhones are. If you want to use apps, you would have to use a smart phone, of course, and the cheapest Android phones are in the €60 range. You could buy a cheap unlocked 4-band GSM Android phone in the US, but the price would ge about the same.

LoriNY1 Sep 21st, 2015 11:19 AM

i'm going to tack onto this because i am totally confused about all of this. DH and i would like to use my Samsung smartphone while in Italy primarily for the GPS function. I'm told by Verizon that i can simply call them and they will give me a 'plan', that i don't need a new SIM card. i want to avoid all data dumps and will not use it for texting, phone calls, pictures, facebook, checking web sites,etc. I have my IPAD for that and i utilize the hotel wi-fi (its free everywhere we are staying). however, i know that sometimes when you turn the phone on it data dumps, and then you get the crazy bills when you get home. so those of you with experience, how exactly should one go about this?

elbegewa Sep 21st, 2015 12:01 PM

Here's how I've always handled it:
Prior to the last 2 years: had an unlocked phone, bought local sim card in EU for web, email, & phone
Last 2 years:
Had T-Mobile with its $10/mo international plan. Gives me unlimited free email, text, and web almost worldwide ... voice calls outside of states a flat rate of $0.20 per minute ... voice calls to Canada & Mexico free, but $0.20 pm from or in them. One drawback: 2G web service, so web is slow. Has worked well for me in Canada and China, will be seeing how it woks in Italy next year (2016)

I often use phone settings which allow for roaming but not allow updates, etc. - most phones have such settings if you look.

All phones I use are quad-band - works on all the various platforms incl. GSM (which most of world uses and some US carriers) and CDMA (which Verizon and many US carriers)

ekc Sep 21st, 2015 12:11 PM

I use my own phone and simply sign up for Verizon's International Plan. I use it for the occasional email, internet every once in a while and a few calls for work. I keep it off or on airplane mode most of the time and utilize wifi whenever possible. I have never had an issue.

rbciao47 Sep 21st, 2015 12:56 PM

If you have Verizon they have a program for $40 which provides 100 minutes talking, 100 texts, and 100 gigs of data. This is newer than the $4.99 reduced rate phone service we've used in the past. The $4.99 reduced the price of phoning and texting. Generally, we would spend $110 on the old program and now we on spent $40 for the new program. We were in Italy for 3.5 weeks and used the cell phone. However, we used free wifi when it was available.

Verizon also has an $80 monthly program providing more call time, texts, and data.

Buon viaggio,

shellio Sep 21st, 2015 01:55 PM

I always buy a local SIM card and switch out my iPhone SIM. This means of course that you have a different phone number, but with all the Skype, Viber, WhatsApp etc. apps calling home or getting calls for free or minimal cost is no problem.

bvlenci Sep 21st, 2015 02:26 PM

You should just be aware that 100 mb is very little. You will want to set your phone to perform updates only when connected to wifi, and to turn off notifications. How you do this depends on the phone and the version of Android you have. It should all be found in "Settings".

Also, if you use Google Navigator for your mapping, you can download maps in advance when you have wifi, so that you won't need data service for downloading maps as you navigate. The actual GPS doesn't use data.

I thought T-Mobile's overseas data service was free; I never heard that you had to pay $10 a month for that. Do you pay it all year, or just when you travel?

elbegewa Sep 21st, 2015 02:57 PM

bvlenchi - I pay for it all year, but am somewhat unusual ... lots of lengthy voice calls to and from Canada and lots of visits to Canada ... my wife and I are bi - that is, American and Canadian

kbmtravel Sep 21st, 2015 05:25 PM

Thank you for your responses! Greg, my current phone carrier is Verizon, and I have an Iphone 6. I plan to use it for calling local numbers, possibly using the internet if needed (while away from the hotel/apartment wifi). I'm thinking about bringing my Ipad to use while connected to wifi at the hotel/apartment. I probably will not make calls to home, but will use email instead when connected to wifi.

I was going to download apps to use for free audio guides for tours, and any useful map apps (I heard Ulmon Venice app is good and Rome2go).
I will have a GPS with the rental car, but I thought it might also be useful to be able to use the Maps app for driving, but that's not necessary. Bvlenci, does this mean the Iphone Maps app won't use data?

It sounds like using the Verizon program for $40 might be a good idea, but is 100 gigs of data a good amount?

Shellio, is your iphone unlocked? Is that how you were able to use it with a new SIM card?

bvlenci Sep 22nd, 2015 07:43 AM

Elbegewa, do people who travel infrequently pay just in the months they're traveling? My daughter had T-Mobile for a while and used it, with greater and lesser success on some of her travels. I never knew that she paid anything for it. She gave it up because the coverage was dreadful where she lived, and besides, on a trip to London, it was useless.

HappyTrvlr Sep 22nd, 2015 09:22 AM

We sign up for Verizon's International Plan too for the time we'll be overseas.

jent103 Sep 22nd, 2015 09:27 AM

I have an iPhone 6 with Verizon and was in Italy in May. I got the international plan, but never used it, really. I used wifi heavily (everywhere we stayed had it), and used the Google Maps app to download maps while on wifi that we could use while driving if necessary. (We rented a GPS with our car, but it stopped working two days into the rental. By that point we were driving around small Tuscan towns and it was actually <i>less</i> stressful to rely on the signs than it was with the GPS, always looking down to see what was next, though I was certainly glad we had the GPS in Siena.)

Depending on the app, you can likely download it at home or over wifi and just use it in airplane mode when you need it. For example, when I used Rome2Go a few years ago, all the information was downloaded before I left and it didn't need a data connection to see its maps and info.

<i>do people who travel infrequently pay just in the months they're traveling?</i>
That's what I do. I start the Verizon plan online a few days before I travel and turn it off when I come home. I don't travel internationally nearly enough to pay year-round.

shellio Sep 22nd, 2015 11:12 AM

kbmtravel, all iPhone 6 and up are unlocked. I too use Verizon and have had no trouble switching SIMs. FYI, I did call Verizon last year to switch on the international plan as I was going a couple of other places for a few days before the longer Italy stay, and it never worked. I complained on my return but all I got was a refund, which obviously did me no good at the time.

Alternatively, if you want to keep your home cell number active for incoming calls (just remind your callers of the time difference or you will be woken at inconvenient hours!) you can buy a cheap phone and SIM in Italy. I have always found phones there to be very inexpensive and when I realized last year that the phone my husband had brought was locked we just bought another. I'm sure it was quite a bit less than 100E for phone and SIM but don't recall the amount.

elbegewa Sep 23rd, 2015 12:30 PM

bylenci: to answer your questions:
Re infrequent travelers: I don't know
Re usage in foreign countries: re UK, I've never had it there so can't comment. In Canada it works well because the roaming provider has excellent coverage, and found the same true in China. Will find out how well it works in Italy next year.
Coverage in US is good some places, non-existent many places. Most places I frequent have good coverage, but when bicycling in remote areas, or hiking in the mountains, or travelling in eastern OR, WA, and ID coverage often sucks and I have to rely on my companions using other services, or wait til I get to someplace with WiFi, or wait til I can find coverage

crosscheck Sep 23rd, 2015 12:46 PM

I use Verizon's international plan, which now offers 250mg, 250 minutes
250 sent texts plus unlimited received texts for $75. I use whatsapp for texting (used by EVERYONE in Europe - airbnb hosts, guides, etc.), viber for local voice calls, Facetime and Skype for calls home.

I also bring an old Blackberry in case I decide I want an additional local SIM (and because I can't give up my US number). But the Verizon plan was good enough on my last few trips to Europe and Asia.

bvlenci Sep 23rd, 2015 03:31 PM

I think you mean 250 mb, rather than mg! It's still not a lot of data, and very expensive as well.

I'm going to the US in a few weeks, and my TIM in Viaggio international roaming plan will give me 600 minutes, 600 SMS, and 600 mb, for €25. I've never understood why American phone and internet costs are so much higher than ours.

crosscheck Sep 23rd, 2015 05:00 PM

Haha - yes, mb. I have found that amount of data to be fine if you're not streaming endless videos, because there is wifi in most places.

You're right - US mobile costs are ridiculous, although there now are some pay-as-you-go plans. I'm never in a position where I can abandon my US phone number when I travel, but both of my sons did use local SIMs while studying in Europe (one had TIM in Italy and the other Orange in Spain).

I don't think it's worth the hassle of switching SIMs if you're only going to be there for several months. FWIW, most of the study abroad kids are now sticking with their US plans because they mostly rely on whatsapp to communicate.

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