European Data SIM Card

Finally. And when I say finally, I mean finally there is a European data SIM card that is worth having. Most US and Canadian providers currently do let you roam in Europe but, at a cost. Verizon currently has a plan for example that for $10 a day (actually more like $12 if you add the taxes) you can use your cell phone overseas as if you were in the United States. While this is not a terrible plan, if your trip is for a few weeks, it can add up. In addition, all it takes is just one person to send you one text and that text just cost you $10. Plus, if you want to use another device, such as an iPad, you would have to sign up for another line. And of course, there are still plenty of providers who still do not offer any roaming solutions plus others who are just too expensive to use.

A better approach is to put in a pay as you go SIM data card into your phone or tablet that was specifically designed for travelers heading to Europe. This SIM card gives users 12GB of data at 4G speeds. 12GB is virtually more than 99% of all travelers can use in a month. You can easily check the usage online. This option is a great options but it implies that you have an unlocked phone (meaning, your carrier allows you to put in a different carrier’s SIM card) or, that your iPad actually has a slot for a SIM card.

If your phone is locked to a carrier or your tablet does not have a slot for the SIM card, here is another solution – which is also a fantastic solution if you are traveling in a group.

If you are traveling with a group or even another family member (and provided you are with Verizon), it would cost each person about $12 per day. So, a family of three for a 2 week trip would pay over $500 with Verizon. For less than half of that, a family or group of up to ten people can simultaneously rent a mobile hotspot. The one caveat is that while 12GB is still a sizable amount, that does not mean that someone in your group should be downloading the last episode of their favorite TV show.

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Tips for Mobile and internet Access for Travelers to Italy

Smartphones have become useful companions for tourists wanting to snap pictures, take videos, use Google Maps, Skype, purchase train and museum tickets and more. However, since not all data plans are created equal, your smartphone can turn your dream vacation into a cell phone bill nightmare without proper planning.

Parli Italiano?

Most travelers to Italy of course cannot speak Italian and, even those that can, typically do not want to eat into their vacation time by having to hunt down a cell phone store or to figure out what cellular options they need for their trip. Most travel experts, such as Rick Steves, recommend you prepare yourself prior to departure and get an Italian cellular plan or Wi Fi plan before you go. For those reading this the same day you plan to travel, here is a short but quick Italian lesson for you: “sim card” in Italy is a “carta sim”, and a cell phone is called “cellulare.” If you already have an Italian SIM card and just need to add call credit, go to a tab and ask for a “ricarica.” Be sure to tell them who the provider is, otherwise, it is like going to a magazine stand and saying, “I need a magazine.”

What’s the best plan for your trip?

That is a great question and, like most great questions, there is no simple answer. The answer is, “it depends on what you need.” Some travelers need to stay in touch with their friends or the owners of their apartment. Some travelers need to stay in touch with their office back home and some travelers just need data service so they can use Google Maps. Others need a combination of all of this to one degree or another. The good news is that Cellular Abroad offers solutions for all of this and more. While it can be confusing, Cellular Abroad has been providing service to travelers since 2002 and are experts in finding the best solution for your personal needs. Therefore, if you are confused or stuck, just call us or chat with us online.

Some Typical Scenarios

Again, many travelers have unique needs and situations (I will be traveling to Italy and need to use data so I can check my emails on my phone but I will also be going to other countries for the weekends) so, while we cannot possibly address all of the possible scenarios, here are several of the top ones.

1. I am traveling to Italy and just need an emergency phone.

The solution is to either get a SIM card for your phone – if it is unlocked – or to rent or buy a cell phone for your trip. The decision whether to rent or buy depends on the length of the trip. If it is short, you should rent. Otherwise, you can buy an Italian from Cellular Abroad if your trip is a month or more.

2. We are traveling with a group and we all need a solution. In this case, what usually is most cost effective is to rent a wireless hotspot. That way, anyone can connect to the internet regardless of the device they are using. While this service is limited to data, nowadays, there are many apps that allow you to place a call.

3. I have a Verizon cell phone. Verizon told me that it is unlocked. What should I do?

This is easy, just get a SIM card for your phone. That way, you can continue to use your iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy but instead of paying Verizon’s roaming fees, with an Italian SIM card you get more features (like an Italian number and a US number if you want), better service and lower rates than roaming with Verizon.

4. I just need to be able to use my iPad but I want to watch videos and not worry about huge bills.

We also offer data only services. If you only have one device, just rent a data SIM card instead of renting a mobile hotspot.

5. We are shooting a documentary and need to send our footage back for editing in the United States.

OK, this is not a likely scenario…but we just had to throw in this example to demonstrate that here too we have a solution. You want data? We got data, and plenty of it. In fact, we can provide you 100GB of LTE data or even more if you need.

Still confused about what you need to do for your trip? You are not alone as there are plenty of other scenarios for cellular and data service that travelers need. Feel free to browse our site or to contact us. Cellular Abroad can safely say that there is no other company in the United States, including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or others that can offer the wide array of services at low prices that we can.

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Using Your Phone in Cuba

There is a lot of confusion regarding the possibility of using one’s cell phone in Cuba. Indeed, up until 2015, the answer was easy as you couldn’t use your phone, period. Now, some US providers actually allow you to use your phone in Cuba. Verizon was the first provider to allow roaming. However, and as this CNN article mentions,

“The service isn’t cheap: Voice calls will cost a pricey $2.99 a minute, data will set you back $2.05 per megabyte and texts will be charged at hefty international rates.

Sprint’s rates are slightly lower yet still very expensive while T-Mobile and AT&T currently do not offer service.

There are two big problems with using your cell phone in Cuba. The first is that the Cubans cannot call a US phone number. Therefore, if your hotel or a friend wants to call you and you have a US phone number, you are out of luck. The second is that there is no really good way to make sure that people do not call you unnecessarily. What I mean by this is that any non-important phone call will go through and whether you want to or not, you will have to pay for the call. If you turn off the phone, besides defeating the use for having a phone to begin with for the most part, you will still pay for the calls going into your voicemail.

A good alternative is to use the National Geographic Travel SIM or the Travel Phone. The service provides two phone numbers, a US number and a UK number. The US number is a new one that you can give out to whomever you actually WANT to reach you (or, if you want everyone to call you, you can simply forward your current number to the new number). The UK number is the one that you will want to give to the Cubans so they can call you.

The FCC has a good article about cellular communication as well. Besides mentioning Cellular Abroad, they also mention renting a local Cuban SIM card in Cuba through Cubacel. There is no mention of the rates but they are surely very good – at least to call within Cuba. You probably cannot call back to the US however. Additionally, you need to fill out a lot of paperwork to get the SIM card and, when you are done with your trip, you need to go back to the store and return it. Probably not the way that most people want to spend their time in Cuba.

In sum, you now can use a cell phone in Cuba. It may not be your cell phone but if you need cellular and data connectivity during your trip, it is possible and legal to do. Now that the easy part is done, the hard part is finding an easy and legal way to Cuba to begin with.

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Spain Mi Fi Hotspot

Cellular Abroad is happy to announce the launching of the new “unlimited” Spain Mi Fi Hotspot. As a disclaimer, please note that there isn’t really “true” unlimited service in the wireless industry as wireless providers have the right to either terminate one’s service for excesses use or to place “caps” on the usage. Typically the disclaimer is in small print at the very end but Cellular Abroad prefers to indicate that the Spain data service does have a limit from the get go. Having said that, the service we offer for Spain caps out at 10GB which is enough for the vast majority of leisure travelers. Non leisure travelers, such as a production company shooting footage in Spain and needing to send it somewhere in digital format, will typically require higher amounts of data.

What is a Mobile Wireless Hotspot?

Most of us know what a wireless hotspot is but as a recap, it is basically the Wi Fi service that you get at libraries (remember those?) or at Starbucks. You can log on with your computer, phone, tablet or any Wi Fi enabled device. While the price is right there may be limitations such as there is no where to sit down, it doesn’t always work or is not fast enough, it is not secure (so forget about online banking) and, it is seldom convenient. A mobile wireless hotspot creates a Wi Fi signal, similar to what you will find at a Starbucks, but it is portable. This is extremely convenient for people who don’t want to seek out a Starbucks or who need a secure connection.

What does my trip to Spain have to do with this?

A lot as you will find out if you keep reading this post. Similar to what is available in the United States in terms of a mobile wireless hotspot, Cellular Abroad offers the same type of solution for travelers to Spain. The Spain Mi Fi Hotspot Rental offers 10GB of high speed data. The service allows up to 8 users to log on simultaneously to a personal hotspot. The only “caveat” is that users have to be within 30 feet (less if there are obstructions such as a wall) and of course, they will need to have the password, otherwise strangers can log on and use your hotspot.

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Unlimited Free International Data

T-Mobile, Sprint as well as other carriers all claim it; free unlimited international data. This is a very compelling statement and the vast majority of travelers don’t question it. The problem with this claim, while in theory true, in practice, it is not what we signed up for. For example, most of us have been fooled by that “all you can eat” shrimp or oyster deal in Las Vegas but the fact of the matter is, after a couple of bites, you won’t want any more. Unlimited data is much the same. Sure, it is unlimited but, in T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s case and like the shrimp in Las Vegas, it something that very few can stomach. Their version of free international data is at 2G speeds, which is virtually useless for anything except for checking emails, and even that may be frustrating (especially if you are loading images).

Another similar practice is to misconstrue the true meaning of unlimited. While unlimited to you and most everyone else means, “without limits,” in the wireless industry it clearly does not. The wireless industry has something called Fair Usage. Fair usage means that there is indeed a cap and typically, once that cap is reached the data will either stop or slow down. This is very typical for any provider, including international data providers and hotspot rental companies to do. Typically, they will offer 300 or so megabytes of data at 3G or 4G speeds and once that maximum is reached, the service stops or slows down to 2G. Having said this, that may be enough data for the end user – but it also may not be enough. Regardless, the industry typically does a poor job of explaining this thoroughly.

Conclusion, next time you are offered free data or unlimited data, make sure you find out exactly what they are offering.

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New Unlimited Calling Plan for Travelers to Australia


Cell phone users in the United States have grown accustomed to being able to use the phones without concern for how many calls, text messages and, in most cases, data usage they will consume. They know that they pay X amount to Verizon, AT&T or however the carrier may be and that’s it. However, traveling outside of the US is another story. Roaming with your US carrier can be prohibitively expensive. Sure, they offer packages for calls and data but it still is expensive and you have to be extremely vigilant about exceeding the package lest you get hit by unreasonably high overages. While we use our phones pretty much in a carefree fashion back home, when we go on vacation, having to be on top of your cell phone usage is just an added stress that many travelers don’t need. Now, at least for travelers who need a cellular plan for Australia, things have changed.

We now offer a solution for Australia that offers unlimited calls and texts within Australia and unlimited calls back to the United States and Canada. In addition, the plan comes with  2GB of data at 3G speeds. While 2GB is not unlimited, it is more than enough data for most people.

So how do you get this service to work on your device and will it work on your device? That is a good question. So good that it requires a drawn out answer.

If your current cell phone is unlocked (most aren’t) AND globally compatible (most are), you can just buy an Australian SIM card before you leave and put it in your phone. Check with your carrier to see if your device is unlocked or if they can unlock if for you (note: iPhone 5 phones from Verizon are now always unlocked). Also, there are 3 sizes of SIM cards, standard, micro and nano so make sure you get the right size for your device. Why are there 3 SIM card sizes? Well, not to be cynical but a good possibility is that the carriers are trying to throw just another curve ball at travelers who want to get local SIM cards for their travels. It is unlikely that they are trying to make the the SIM card size smaller so that they can add more components to the inside of the devices they sell as the differences between standard, nano and micro SIMs is literally measurable in millimeters.

if you discover that your phone is locked or for some reason you just don’t want to have to deal with swapping out the SIM card, you can also rent or buy a cell phone before you leave. A lot of people like having an inexpensive cell phone regardless of whether or not their cell phone would work with a local SIM. One advantage is that you don’t have to worry about your $700 iPhone being stolen or you being targeted as a “rich American.” This is a bit less relevant for Australia but if you were traveling to a developing country and your phone is worth a year’s salary, you might want to cheapen yourself down a bit to local standards. Nowadays, you can even get a cell phone with internet capabilities for less than $100. My recommendation to travelers, and one that I do myself, is to travel anyway with 2 phones. There is nothing worse than having an issue with a cell phone and being miles away from a cell phone store when you are overseas. A little bit of redundancy while traveling never hurt anybody.

In sum, when most people travel, they want to have the best experience at the lowest price. The Lebara SIM card for Australia is a perfect solution for anyone going to Australia needing a reliable and affordable plan for calling and data.

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Stand Up Paddling in Italy

This year, I decided to throw a twist into my annual 4 week long sojourn back to the old country. At home in California, I go stand up paddling as often as I can. if you are not familiar with this activity, essentially, you are standing up on a giant inflatable paddle board and using a paddle to get around. It’s similar to a kayak but you are standing up and, in my opinion, a lot more fun and much easier on the back. My wife wanted to see Venice since she hasn’t bee there in a while. Hence, I figured, “what better way to see Venice than with a stand up paddle board?” And since I was going through the effort of hauling a paddle board to Italy (inflatable so not that much of a challenge), I figured I might as well hit up a few other spots during the trip.


The obvious question was, “can one actually do that? Can I paddle in the Venice Canals without being cited by the Venetian Polizia or mowed down by a power boat?” So, I started researching this online and luckily, I came across someone who actually gives tours in Venice on a stand up paddle. Her name is Eliana Argine and several years ago she mixed her passion of stand up paddling with her other passion – not to mention her day job – which is giving walking tours of Venice, and now she does stand up paddle tours. I contacted her several months ago and made an appointment for a tour. I booked a BandB as close to the meeting point that I could find, which is an old Venetian rowing club, and when I showed up, she gave me a t-shirt, explained a few of the basic rules – like slow down when going through an intersection – and off we went. She ended up taking me on a two hour tour in canals that I can safely say that very few tourist have ever seen. Many of the canals are tiny and, unless you have a very small boat, you will never see these canals. A gondola ride typically lasts 10-15 minutes and they are too long to easily maneuver around the tight turns in the narrow canals. To make a long story short, if you have ever done stand up paddling and want to experience Venice in a unique and fun way, contact Eliana. Her website is


As I had done with Venice, I went online to research the possibility of supping in Rome. This time I came up empty handed. So I tried the old fashioned way and just asked around to people I know in Rome. The first 4 or 5 people weren’t very encouraging. I got responses ranging from, “you can’t do that” to “it’s too dirty and dangerous” to “sei pazzo” (“you must be crazy”). Never one to easily give up, I did a little scouting and checked out various points along the Tiber. Hmmm…didn’t look like there was too much current. There were a few good spots to safely get in and out of the river and, it didn’t even smell bad. So, I was confident I could physically do it without being washed out to sea but I wasn’t 100% confident I wouldn’t get stopped by the Roman Polizia. Finally, I asked a friend of mine who does stand up paddling at the beach in Rome and he told me about a friend of his who happens to live on the Tiber in a boat. He should know if it’s legal or not. Marco, the guy with the house boat, not only assured me that it was legal but he would let me use his boat as a launching pad. Plus, he would follow me down in his speedboat and, to top it off, he wanted me to come to a party he was having on the deck of his houseboat.

The following day I met Marco and, next thing I knew, I was heading down the Tiber full speed ahead – which is only about 5 miles an hour on a paddle board. I passed Castel Sant’Angelo, passed Saint Peter’s and got all the way to Isola Tiberina. In all about 2 miles down the river and then 2 miles back. Maybe it was because this was unchartered territory for a paddle board – as far as I know – or maybe it was because this is the city where I was born or maybe it was just because, well, Rome is…Rome but for whatever reason, this was one of the most thrilling things I have ever done. Apparently, I was not the only one impressed by this whole ordeal as the guy with the houseboat started talking about starting up stand up paddle tours on the Tiber. We’ll see…


Next on my trip was Sicily. I go to Sicily every year and have been stand up paddling there for the last several years. This is a completely different experience than paddling in Rome or Venice. First and foremost, here you do want to get wet. Second, your engagement is mostly with what is directly under you as you can see the reefs, sea urchins and the fish in the crystal clear water. The one similarity is that you get to go to places where swimmers typically don’t go. The first time I went out on a stand up board in Sicily a fishing boat came up to me to check me out. Apparently, one of the crew members initially told the captain that he just spotted Jesus Christ walking on water so they had a good laugh when they got closer up and saw me (although they still weren’t clear about what they were looking at. Again, if you like to stand up paddle and love beautiful beaches, Sicily is certain a place that you should consider. There are pockets of Sicily that are still virtually undiscovered by tourists and literally cost about 1/3rd of what you would expect to pay in Rome or Venice.

Summing It Up

I think that most people reading this post would think that this sounds like a good idea but it’s either too difficult. The fact of the matter is that stand up paddling is probably just slightly more difficult than kayaking. I wouldn’t recommend for people to go on the Tiber or in the Venice canals if they have never done it before but I think that for most people, after a couple of hours of practice, they are proficient enough to go on the Venice Canals. Rome probably entails a slightly higher degree of expertise but, depending on your weight and the size of the board, I think that even most beginners wouldn’t have much of a problem. Still, without a proper infrastructure, most people may want to skip Rome and maybe opt for the Arno in Florence where they do have excursions or our new friend Eliana in Venice. Again, her website is

Hopefully, this post encourages you to do what I did this summer and will surely do again next year!

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My Experience Getting an Italian Data SIM Card

Every year I go to Italy and the last few years, I have simply put one of the TIM data SIM cards into my iPad from Cellular Abroad, the company that I founded well over 10 years ago. This time, I asked someone in our company that is in another department to set up my iPad, someone who has a different job description than setting up SIM cards (I didn’t want to bother the tech department as it was a very busy day). Low and behold, when I arrived in Italy, the iPad wasn’t recognizing the SIM. Apparently, it was cut incorrectly. I went to the TIM store and, after waiting in line for a while, they told me that I needed a new SIM card. I could get a replacement but I had to have the serial number of the SIM, which I didn’t have. Had I had it, they could have given me a replacement for a small fee. Since I didn’t have it, I just said I would buy a new SIM. They asked for my codice fiscale, which is like a social security number. Anyone can get this online. It can be generated for free in 10 seconds by going to They asked for a document so I gave them my driver’s license but unfortunately, they needed a passport, which I didn’t have with me.
Moral of the story, yes, you can certainly get a data SIM card directly in Italy but it is a bit of a hassle to do so, despite the fact that I speak Italian like an Italian. And this is why we have so many customers that purchase an Italian data SIM card from Cellular Abroad.


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Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) Customer Service number

Virtually every day we get phone calls from TIM customers asking us if we know the phone number for Telecom Italia Mobile. We do! So, in an effort to save everyone’s time…here it is.

If you are calling from Europe, dial +393399119 (the + sign means 00). If you are calling TIM from the United States or Canada, dial 011 39 3399119119. By the way, if you check the TIM website, the number they give is without the extra 119 but, from our experience, that doesn’t work.In addition, if you have credit on your SIM card, you can usually dial 119 from your handset to reach TIM customer service. “Usually” because if you don’t have coverage, you can’t. Please note that these are not toll free calls from outside of Europe.

Please note that they will probably not speak English and they will definitely ask you to confirm your identification and TIM SIM card phone number. Please note that since we, Cellular Abroad, is not TIM, we have no information regarding your TIM account. If, however, you have a TIM data SIM card that you rented from Cellular Abroad, since they are registered directly to us, we can help.

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What is the Best Data or Voice Plan for Travelers?

Just recently, I was told by a prominent travel writer that he was working on an article regarding what the best international data and voice service is for travelers. He also said that he had just 1200 characters of space in which to write his article. We both agreed that condensing a good answer into just 1200 characters was a very ambitious, if not impossible feat. Having said that, I am not going to attempt to do this either as it is like trying to say where the best vacation spot in the world is, which for me is probably the Amalfi Coast because I love the food, the sun and the beauty but, if you don’t like pasta, burn badly and are blind, then you are not going to agree with me. OK, I admit, this is an improbable scenario but the point is, there is NO SUCH THING as a definitive “best” data or voice plan for the international traveler. Having said that, there are a few solutions that will address the needs of 80-90% of all travelers. First, in order to show my point, here is an example of a traveler whose needs ARE fairly unique – me.

I travel to Italy every year for usually 4-5 weeks. If I could, I would not bring half of what I bring with me for my communication needs but since I need to keep in touch with Cellular Abroad, I don’t have that luxury. So, here is my personal arsenal. In the US I have a Blackberry with T-Mobile. T-Mobile offers unlimited data in Italy. The problem is that the data speed is only 2G which is too slow to do anything but check and send emails. This works great for my emails but since I don’t want to pay the $0.20 per minute (plus tax) for the calls, I forward my calls from my US phone to my Italian cell phone through a service we provide. That costs me $19 for 6 hours of calls or about $0.06 per minute. I need to Skype and I want to browse the internet so I can read news and watch videos so i take my iPad with me and I put in an Italian data SIM card. This gives me unlimited data. If I need to make a phone call to the US, I typically use Skype on my iPad for 2 1/2 cents per minute or I will use my Italian cell phone for about $15 cents per minute. So, for about $250 I am able to email, call and browse the web as much as I need to which is usually about 2 hours a day, for my entire trip. If I did not have these solutions, there is no way that I could take such an extended trip to Italy every year. Again, not everyone needs to stay in touch as much as I do so here are a couple more solutions that are more suitable for the vast majority of travelers.

National Geographic Travel Phone

The most economical solution for travelers who just need an emergency phone for their yearly trip is to buy the National Geographic Travel Phone. Many US and Canadians phone DO work overseas but, even if you do not intend to make many phone calls, anyone who has that number can call you. Yes, you can turn the phone off but that kind of defeats the purpose of having an emergency phone. The Nat Geo phone allows you go have a new number but also to keep your existing phone number. Having a new number that you can give to select individuals is not a bad idea.

Country Specific Solutions

If you are traveling only to one country and/or need data, using a local solution (i.e., using a SIM card for that country) is the way to go. Many travel writers advocate this solution. They say to go overseas and buy one locally. Those that know that you can buy them before you leave will tell you to go to Cellular Abroad or elsewhere (there are very few companies that carry local solutions) in order to save the hassle of trying to locate on there. I will also add that some countries do not even allow you to buy them locally and, in any event, if you don’t know the language and if you want something as soon as you land, buying one before is the way to go. Also, why would you even want to wait to see what is available overseas when you can get one before your departure?

Use your Own Cell Phone

This is what I call the Rich Man’s Solution. The great thing about this is that you don’t have to do anything. The bad thing is that it is expensive and also, oftentimes, it is not clear what you are getting. A great example is the “free international data” offering from T-Mobile and now Sprint too has joined the band wagon. The problem with this is that it is 2G and the problem with 2G is that most people reading this won’t understand what, “the problem with this is that it is 2G” even means. To make it plain and simple, 2G is too slow to do anything but send emails and use apps such as Twitter or Whatsapp. We get a lot of feedback from customers complaining about their frustration with going overseas and planning to have free data when instead they couldn’t even use their phone to Skype or browse the internet or use Google Maps and by that time it was too late to do anything about it.

Another problem with using your own phone is that anyone and everyone who has your number will be able to reach you. If you are a business traveler, you probably want that to happen. If you are on vacation, you are probably trying to get away from everything and do not want that.

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