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Cell Phone and Mobile Data Tips for Italy

Many US and Canadian cell phones will work in Italy both for voice and data, particular those offered by T-Mobile and AT&T. Those that do can be extremely expensive to use. The purpose of this guide is twofold; first,  to find out if the phone that you currently use in the United States, whether it be from T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or US Cellular will work in Italy and if so, how much.  The second purpose is to advise on how to save money on cellular service in Italy.

T-Mobile

Voice and data

If T-Mobile is your service provider in the United States, chances are your cell phone will work in Italy. With the exception of the entry level handsets – those generally given for free when you sign a contract with T-Mobile – the vast majority of all T-Mobile phones have the necessary GSM frequencies to work in Italy (900 and 1800 MHz). Phones with these extra frequencies, extra in that they are not used in the US, are usually called quad band phones or sometimes “world phones.” While any T-Mobile phone with the proper 900 and 1800 frequencies will work in Italy, please note that you will be paying around $1.29 per minute plus tax (so approximately $1.50 per minute) for all calls made or received, even calls within Italy. Furthermore, if anyone leaves a message, whether you retrieve it or not, you will still pay $1.29 per minute for this call.

For mobile data (browsing the web and emails), T-Mobile charges $15 per MB. Considering that the average webpage is one MB and that the average email, text only, is 15kb, this is a considerable amount of money. However, if you have a Blackberry handset, T-Mobile has a fantastic value for the world traveler who needs to stay in touch via email. For only $19 per 30 days, T-Mobile offers unlimited email capability overseas. They say that this is only applicable to emails and not for web browsing but, in practice, thus far, T-Mobile has not been able to easily differentiate between users who are strictly using their data for web browsing and those using data for sending and retrieving emails. For those who do not have a Blackberry, you will be paying the $15 per MB price. Hence, it may actually be less expensive for some to upgrade (or downgrade depending on your point of view and the version of the phone) to a Blackberry handset.

Money Saving Tips

If your T-Mobile cell phone does have the appropriate bands for overseas use, unless you absolutely need to retain your current phone number, it does not make sense to roam internationally with your T-Mobile provider. You can, however, still use your T-Mobile phone and simply swap out the SIM card for a less expensive SIM, one that is specifically for Italy. There are several providers to choose from including Vodafone, Wind, Tim and the Uno Mobile SIM card powered by Vodafone. TIM and Vodafone have excellent coverage while Wind’s coverage is good but not as comprehensive as the other carriers. The Uno Mobile SIM card was designed specifically for English speaking travelers going to Italy.  The menus are in English, customer service is in English and the rates back to the US and Canada are about 30% less than the other two carriers. The Uno Mobile SIM card is available at Cellular Abroad prior to your departure.

The best deal is certainly the one that is offered by T-Mobile on their international Blackberry plans. It is difficult to beat $19 for 30 days of service. This is not a yearly contract and can be turned on and off at any time. It is even prorated. Hence, if you are only going abroad for a week, you will only pay about $5 for this service. However, if you are seeking international data for your computer, e-reader, Ipad, Iphone or any other device, things get a bit complicated. If you have an unlocked iPhone or an iPad, in theory, you can get international data but, you will be paying extremely high rates, approximately $15 per mb. The easiest and most cost effective approach is to use an international MiFi device with a local SIM card.  What is a MiFi device? A MiFi is basically a device that, with the appropriate data plan, creates a wi fi hotspot. You can use any device, such as a computer, eBook reader or iPad as long as it has wifi capabilities to get access to the web. Cellular Abroad rents WiFi devices for Italy.

Verizon

Voice and Data

The vast majority of Verizon cell phones currently do not work in Italy. Verizon uses CDMA in the United States and their standard cell phones do not have GSM capabilities. There are however some world edition phones, including some of the newer Blackberry models as well as the Droid, that have GSM capabilities with the appropriate 900 and 1800 Mhz bands for Italy. If your Verizon phone does work internationally, with Verizon’s standard plan, you can expect to pay $1.29 per minute, plus tax, for all incoming and outgoing calls. If your cell phone does not work internationally, they will give you a free rental.

While Verizon does offer international data service, the rates are fairly expensive. For unlimited emails on a Smartphone or Blackberry, a month of service is $64.99. However, if you plan on using a laptop or any other device, according to the Verizon website, Verizon’s international data rates in Italy are $65 for 100mb of service or $155 a month for 200mb of service. Beyond the 200mb, you will pay a high premium per mb used. Verizon offers USB rentals as well as hotspot devices. While the pricing is confusing, in any event, it is beyond the affordability of many travelers.

Money Saving Tips

If your current Verizon cell phone does work in Italy, you can ask Verizon to unlock your handset, allowing you to put a local Italian SIM card in your phone. There are several carriers in Italy. The two largest are Vodafone and TIM. Vodafone offers a SIM card specifically intended for the English speaking traveler. The Uno Mobile SIM card offers English speaking customer service, voice prompts in English as well as lower rates than their standard product back to the United States and Canada. The Uno Mobile SIM card is available prior to your departure from Cellular Abroad.

If your cell phone does not work, you may ask for a loaner phone and have it unlocked. Please note that Verizon will not unlock your cell phone. You will need to go through a 3rd party in order to have the loaner unlocked. If you do not feel comfortable doing this, you may also rent or purchase an unlocked cell phone with a SIM card for Italy.

If you need internet access in Italy, especially if the meager plans that Verizon offers are not enough for your needs, it is recommended that you rent a MiFi wireless hotspot with an Italian SIM card. The MiFi rental for Italy offers unlimited wireless internet and works with any device, iPhones, Smartphones, laptops, etc. that have wifi capabilities. Cellular Abroad offers this service as well as voice services for Italy.

Sprint

Voice and Data

Most Sprint phones do not work internationally which is good news considering the whopping $1.99 (plus tax) standard rates per minute for all calls made and received in Italy. Sprint also offers a plan for $4.99 a month that reduces the rates to $1.69 per minute, plus tax. This means that most Sprint customers will look for alternative solutions and hence, save money. Still, there are several models that do work internationally, including some of the newer Blackberry models and the HTC Touch Pro. If you happen to have a Sprint phone that does work in Italy, (i.e., has the 900 and 1800 GSM bands), you can use the phone in Italy but check below for the money saving tips to avoid the high Sprint roaming charges.

Sprint does offer data for Italy on their international devices and here too the rates are unreasonably high at $0.016/KB. While this doesn’t sound like much, you can expect to pay several dollars per the average email.

Money Saving Tips

Sprint’s roaming rates for Italy and other international destinations are among the highest in the United States. Therefore, even if you phone does work in Italy, it does not make sense to roam with Sprint unless money is no object. If your phone works in Italy, as Sprint to provide your with the unlock code for your phone so that you can put a different SIM card in. Although they will not charge you for this, they will take up to several days to provide you with this code. If you do not have several days to wait, you can always get unlock codes on the internet for a fee, generally around $15-$20. Once you have unlocked your phone, you may put an Italy SIM card in your phone. The one with the lowest rates and one of the few available in the United States or Canada is the Uno Mobile SIM card. The main advantage of this card is the low rates, about one-fifth for calls back to the US or Canada and one-eight for calls within Italy. Also, all incoming calls are always free. If your phone does not work in Italy, your other options are to upgrade to a Sprint phone that does or to rent or buy a cell phone for Italy.

The same phones that work for voice in Italy also will work for data but, as are the voice rates, data rates are not competitive. What makes the most sense is to rent a MiFi device with an Italian SIM card with unlimited data. This way, you can create a wifi hotspot for any device that is wifi capable. Cellular Abroad offers this

AT&T

Voice and Data

Many AT&T cell phones will work in Italy. The rates are $1.29 per minute plus tax or $0.99 per minute plus tax if you sign up for their “World Traveler” plan for about $5.00 a month. According to the AT&T website, “You may not be able to place calls to international destinations other than the United States while roaming in this destination. Calls can be completed within the visited destination and back to the United States.” Therefore, if you are trying to make travel plans or need to call other countries, you may not be able to do so from your handset. This is a huge deterrent for many business travelers.

AT&T also offers data plans for the Blackberry, the iPhone and other Smartphones starting at $19.99 for 20mb of service to $199.99 for 200mb of service. These rates are also comparable with a data card. While voice rates are certainly not affordable enough for most people to use their phones with the frequency that they do back home, they are relatively cheap compared to the data charges. Be particularly prudent when traveling with a Smartphone such as the iPhone that is continuously seeking data. AT&T themselves admit that international data is expensive. According to the AT&T website, Web browsing and other applications that can use a significant amount of data, so r Money Saving Tips

Money Saving Tips

The vast majority of AT&T cell phones are unlockable and therefore will accept an Italian SIM card. The one main exception is the iPhone. Unlocked iPhones are available for sale but are expensive. You can also have your iPhone unlocked for a fee but you will need to use cautious as you can void the warranty and your phone may relock itself if you do any software upgrades. Many iPhone users prefer to purchase or rent an Italian cell phone and use their iPhone in Italy strictly for WiFi when and where available.  If you have an AT&T phone other than the iPhone, AT&T will give you the unlock code and therefore, you can put in an Italian SIM card such as the Uno Mobile SIM offered by Cellular Abroad. All incoming calls are free and calls to the US or within Italy are just fractions of the rates charged by AT&T.

We also recommend using an Italian MiFi solution when traveling in Italy. You can even use a Voip calling on your Smartphone or iPhone together with the Italy Mi Fi.

US Cellular

US Cellular does not offer international cell phone or data service at this time. Therefore, you will need to either rent or buy a cell phone that works in Italy.

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