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What is an Italian SIM Card?

A SIM card, Italian or otherwise, is a small chip that fits into unlocked GSM phones giving you a number and service. SIM stands for “Subscriber Identity Module” which basically means that all of the services from the provider are imbedded directly on the card. As long as your phone is unlocked and has the 900/1800 GSM bands (ask your current provider), you can use an Italian SIM card with your phone. 

Uno Mobile, the service provider Cellular Abroad offers, utilizes the Vodafone network in Italy. As the service is pay as you go, there are no contracts to sign, bills to pay and you are always in control of your expenditures.
 

Why buy an Italian SIM Card?

There are several reasons why a traveler would want to purchase an Italian SIM card but the main reasons are that it is the most reliable and least expensive way to stay in touch by cellular phone while in Italy. Using an Italian SIM card means that there is absolutely no roaming involved. While roaming (home carriers using other carriers’ network for service) has vastly improved during the course of the last several years, it is still not an exact science.  Besides the quality of the service, the rates are also the least expensive available. Uno Mobile, the carrier that Cellular Abroad recommends, has provisioned their SIM cards specifically with the North American tourist in mind and the rates calling back to the US or Canada are about 30% more attractive than the closest competitor. Furthermore, the SIM cards are set up so that all the menus (checking your balance, voicemail and so forth) are already in English. This is one of the few cases where the least expensive option happens also to be the best.

Another reason to purchase an Italian SIM card is to have an Italian number. Business travelers, students and tourists all benefit from having a local number while in Italy. Business travelers who are trying to establish a presence or credibility in Italy often prefer to have an Italian number to give to their clients and business partners. Students, who are often in Italy for a few months at a time, will inevitably meet other students and budget minded cell phone users. To give a US or other foreign phone number to a local in Italy means that they will have to pay 2 or 3 times more to make the call. Even travelers who are only going to Italy for a week or two can benefit from having a local phone number. In fact, many airlines, restaurants and hotels and particularly bed and breakfasts’, restrict calls to international phone numbers. Another reason that many tourists can appreciate is that while on vacation, they want to be left alone except for real emergencies. When and if someone’s US or Canadian phone actually does work overseas, besides the cost, anyone and everyone that has your number can call you. Imagine receiving a “courtesy call” from your bank at 3 in the morning at over $1 a minute?  What Cellular Abroad recommends is to leave your new Italian phone number on your voice mail. That way, people will still be able to reach you if necessary and there is no cost to you.  

Another important reason to purchase a SIM card for Italy is to be able to stay in control of the costs. There is nothing worse than coming home from a great trip in Italy to an unexpected cell phone bill! With an Italian SIM card, you add credit as needed. It is similar to the gas in your car – if and when you need gas, you buy it. Cellular Abroad has simplified “filling up” your SIM card with call credit through our 7 days/week top up service. We sell recharge vouchers in 15 Euro denominations (you can but as many as you need) and we can give you the 10 digit PIN code directly over the phone so that you immediately have call credit. Also, while you can call us with your cell phone, we also have an Italian toll free number that you can use from any landline in Italy. 

In sum, it is inexpensive, convenient and reliable to make cell phone calls with an Italian SIM card. Coverage is typically much better than it is in the US and the quality of the call is also clearer than what we are used to in North America.

Please keep in mind that while Uno Mobile SIM cards are available in Italy, these particular SIM cards with the rates and English menu are a Cellular Abroad exclusive.

Can I buy just a SIM card? (requirements and compatibility)

Your current phone may be compatible for use in Italy. Whereas a couple of years ago, there were very few phones that worked in North America as well as Europe, many of the newer phones on today’s markets, particularly the more expensive phones, will work in Italy. The basic requirements are that your phone is unlocked and has the 900 and 1800 GSM frequencies. If your phone has a SIM card, that means that it is using the GSM service. In the US, T-Mobile and AT&T use the GSM technology. Still, if you have an older AT&T phone, you might be on their older technology. In any event, in order to determine if your phone does have the 900 and (you need both) 1800 GSM standards, either check you original instruction guide for the specs or call your carrier and ask. If you don’t know what model phone you have, your best bet is to bring it to a cell phone store and have them determine if your phone has the proper networks to function in Italy.

Even if your phone is GSM and has the 900/1800 networks, it will need to be unlocked in order to be able to accept a different SIM card. If you bought your phone from a major US or Canadian provider, 9 out of 10 it is locked. That means that your phone has been blocked from accepting different SIM cards other than the current providers. The reason they do this is that they would prefer that you used “their” phone with their services, including, paying the expensive roaming fees. The good news is that they will provide you with the unlock code in order to use other SIMs with your phone. Our viewpoint is that since the phone is yours, you should be able to use whatever SIM card you want! Imagine only being able to use Microsoft branded software on your Microsoft computer.  

Once you have the unlock code, all you need to do is to enter the proper sequence onto the handset. The only way to know for sure if your phone is locked or unlocked is to put a SIM card that is different from the current one into your handset. If it is locked it will say, “enter subsidy code” or similar. If it is not locked, it will not say anything and will search for the network (which it may or may not find, depending on if your SIM has been activated or not). 

Therefore, please ascertain if your phone has the 900/1800 GSM bands and, if it is locked, ask your provider for the unlock code. If your phone isn’t compatible with overseas networks, you may consider either renting or buying a cell phone – we have both options available. 

Adding call credit

Cellular Abroad has made it extremely easy for you to add call credit to your Italian cell phone rental, purchase or SIM card (you are actually adding it to your SIM card in all circumstances). As this is a pay as you go system, you will need to stay on top of your call balance to ensure that you have enough credit to make an outgoing call. Checking your balance is free and easy. There are two ways to do so; you can either call 435002 and hear your balance (in English) or you can send a text message as per our instructions. Also, when you credit drops down below 3 Euros, you will hear a beep every time you make a call.  Even if you have no credit, you can still receive calls.

There are essentially two ways to add talk time. You can go into a tabacchi store (where they sell cigarettes and stamps) in Italy or, you can call Cellular Abroad 7 days/week and request a $29 recharge voucher. We will give you the 10 digit pin number over the phone and you can enter it for immediate call credit. Each recharge voucher gives you 83 minutes of talk time within Italy, or 43 minutes of international talk time. You can purchase just one or as many as you like. We will use the credit card we have on file (quickest way) or another credit card if you prefer. This is easily the more convenient of the two options. We also have a toll free number that works from most landlines in Italy. This number is specifically for our customers to add more talk time to their account. 

If you would like to purchase talk time before your trip, you can do so as well. We will automatically add one $29 recharge voucher to your account for any Italy rental phone. Additionally, for any purchase or rental, you can order as much talk time as you like and we will send you the physical vouchers. At your request, we can also add the talk time to your account immediately on your behalf so you don’t have to wait to do so once in Italy.  

If you have purchased a SIM card or cell phone for Italy and would like to keep it active for your next trip, we can add talk time at any point. Please keep in mind that, in order to keep your phone number activated and your SIM card alive, credit must be added at least once a year. This is a good option for travelers to Italy who go to Italy once a year yet want to retain their phone number. 

Again, the easiest way to add talk time is to call Cellular Abroad at any time, even from Italy, and to request a recharge voucher(s). Please note that we cannot refund our customers for call credit so order no more than what you think you will use.

Roaming

 
While you can roam with your Uno Mobile Italy SIM, there are a few things to consider. First, for those who need clarification on roaming, this implies going outside of the network carrier’s infrastructure and on to another carrier’s network. This can only occur outside of Italy (or within very immediate proximity of the border) so for all practical purposes, you roaming means using your service outside of Italy.

The first thing to consider is the cost. Within Italy, all calls are 0.18 Euros to Italian numbers and 0.35 Euros to International numbers and you get unlimited free incoming calls. Outside of Italy, the rates are a bit more complicated as it depends on where you. As rates are extremely high outside of Europe, we will not even address those rates. Within Europe, incoming calls are 0.28 Euros a minute and outgoing calls within Europe are 0.49 Euro cents per minute. Calls to the US and back are 1.50 Euros per minute. Our recommendation is IF you are going to use the service outside of Italy, and particularly if you are going to communicate with the US or Canada, have people call you back whenever possible. Better yet, text. SMS messages are free to receive and from 0.30 to 0.50 Euros per text depending on the country. 

While Cellular Abroad does not sell or rent our Italy SIM products and services for use outside of Italy and we cannot support the services, many people do roam with them for short periods of time. For example, if your travel plans are predominantly within Italy but you will or may venture to Switzerland or France for day or weekend trips, roaming is a feasible solution. You may, however, want to stock up a bit on call credit as the calls will cost more than within Italy.

Extending your SIM life

Many of our customers are frequent travelers to Italy and have friends and family that they communicate with on a regular basis while in Italy. It is extremely convenient having the same phone number every time you go back so that you don’t have to communicate your new contact information time and time again. In fact, we have customers who live between North America and Italy and have a North American cell phone number and an Italian cell phone number printed on their business cards. Some of our customers, while perhaps only traveling once a year or less to Italy, still appreciate the convenience of being able to retain the same phone number for when they do go back.

In order to keep your SIM card active and therefore, retain your Italian phone number, one must only add talk time once a year. Even if you are in North America, you can check when was the last time you added call credit to your account (as long as you are in an area with GSM coverage). Simply turn on your phone, scroll through the menu to “call credit”, press send and it will tell you your balance and the last time you added credit to your account. If you need to extend your service life by another year, simply order a Uno Mobile voucher from Cellular Abroad. You can add the talk time yourself or we can add it for you.

Tips


Cellular Abroad has compiled a list of travel tips associated with your Italian cell phone rental or purchase. Some of these have been passed on by our customers and some are based on our personal experience. A few of these tips may seem obvious but others may be less obvious and can prove to be invaluable resources. Please feel free to comment on our tips or to add more based on your own travels. 

Leave your new Italian phone number on your current cell phone

Before you depart, you may want to leave your new Italian cell phone number on your current cell phone’s voicemail. Remember to mention the proper dialing procedure to call to Italy, including the country code (011-39-phone number). Another option is to forward your home number to your Italian one. However, Cellular Abroad does not recommend this approach as the costs to forward calls from cell phones are high.

 
Enter phone number into speed dial 
You may safely enter phone numbers onto your phone from the US or Canada. Please remember that from Italy, to call North America, the dialing sequence is 001, followed by the area code, then the phone number (ex. 001-212-555-1212).

Get non 800 numbers 
You may need to call back home to 800 numbers (ex. Credit card companies to pay your bill or report losses, etc.). There is nothing more aggravating than calling a toll free number from abroad to resolve an issue and not having that number work from overseas. In fact, the majority of 800 numbers do not work internationally. The ones that do by the way are not toll free from overseas so you might as well get a non toll free number.

This is quite a common issue and we highly recommend that this step becomes part of your trip planning procedure. 

Call credit card company and let them know you are traveling

Another aggravation, and a common one at that, is for your US or Canada based credit card to stop working while overseas. Imagine attempting to pay for your meal at that French Bistro only to find out that your credit card use has been temporarily restricted due to your own “suspicious” use pattern. It very much makes sense to let your credit card company’s customer service know that you will be using the card overseas so they do not think that it is being used fraudulently. Also, it is useful to give them your Italian cell phone number just in case they need to reach you.

 
Give your Italian number to airline carriers and hotels 
One tip that we have received is based upon a travel nightmare. A well known Italian airline (without mentioning any names), lost but then found a traveler’s luggage. The traveler had given them a US cell phone number that worked in Italy. However, due to restrictions, this particular airline carrier could not contact the customer until well into his trip. The moral of the story is, make sure that all parties that you will be doing business with in Italy that may need to contact you have your new phone number.

Don’t pack your phone in your suitcase 
Speaking of lost luggage, we do not recommend that you pack your phone in your suitcase. If it gets lost or stolen, that means that you will be without cellular communication for the length of the trip.

Don’t forget your charger in your hotel 
This may seem obvious but it happens more than you know. One trick is to wrap the cord around something that you know you will not forget, like a book or a shoe. This may sound like strange advice but it is effective.

Italy SIM card FAQs

What is a PIN/PUK code? 
The PIN code is a security code to prevent unwanted users from accessing and making calls with your cell phone. The default code is 1111. Cellular Abroad usually disables the PIN for rentals and phone purchases but for Italy SIM only purchases, we do not (as not to disrupt the packaging). Therefore, for SIM only purchases, you will be prompted for the PIN. This feature can be disabled or you can change the PIN to another code. Be sure not to enter the code on to your handset erroneously as the third wrong attempt will block the SIM. To unblock it requires getting the PUK (phone unlock key) from Uno Mobile. This requires contacting Uno Mobile directly and there is usually a 48 hour turn around time. Our recommendation, don’t let this occur in the first place! 
 
Can I keep my US phone number ?
You cannot retain your current US phone number. Every SIM card has a unique phone number associated with it. Your Italian SIM card will come with an Italian cell phone number.

What area code does my Italy SIM have?
Unlike North America, most countries do not associate cities to phone numbers. Phone numbers have their own unique area codes that differentiate them from land lines. Therefore, there is no such thing as a Rome or Milan based cell phone number.

Is the SIM card in English? 
All the menu prompts (voicemail, checking/adding your credit) are in English by default. If for any reason you need to change your default language into Italian, this is possible simply by following the prompts. 

How do I add call time? 
The easiest and quickest way to add talk time is to call Cellular Abroad 7 days/week . We will give you a pin code or codes for you to enter onto the handset. This will give you immediate talk time. You may also purchase talk time locally in Italy by going to a tabacchi 

Is there voicemail?
Yes, there is voicemail and the prompts are in English.

Can I send emails? 
At this time, you cannot send emails. You can, however, send and receive text messages.

Is there GPRS? 
There is no GPRS available as of this time. 

Can I roam outside of Italy?
You can roam outside of Italy but the rates differ from using the service within Italy. Cellular Abroad does not sell this product for use outside of Italy and, while we cannot guarantee the services, since it is covered by the Vodafone network, quality and coverage is excellent outside of Italy as well.  

How much are phone calls? 
Phone calls are free to receive and are 0.18 Euros to call within Italy and 0.35 to call outside of Italy. 

Can I use my US/Canada phone? 
If your phone is unlocked and a GSM phone with the 900 and 1800 bands, you will be able to use your phone. Simply purchase an Italian SIM card and insert it in your phone. Chances are, your handset also has a multi voltage power supply. You will, however, need a plug adapter for the outlet

How good is the coverage? 
Uno Mobile coverage is excellent. They run on the Vodafone network, which covers the vast majority of the country, including, of course, Sicily and Sardinia. Please note that there is no such thing as 100% coverage. Even in the center of Rome you may not always get coverage, particularly if you are indoors where the walls are thick. If you are staying in a remote location, say for example, a villa in Tuscany or Sicily, ask the agent or owner if there is coverage through the Vodafone network in that precise 

What happens if I run out of credit? 
If you run out of call credit, you can still receive calls (while in Italy) since all incoming calls are free. You can call Cellular Abroad 7 days/week to get more talk time. We also have an Italian toll free number that works from most landlines (some hotels will charge you even for toll free calls and toll free numbers usually do not work from Italian payphones). Please note that you can check your credit at any time from the handset and your phone will alert you before you make any call when there is less than 3 Euros on your balance.

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