Using a Cell Phone While Visiting Italy


When I first visited Italy I didn’t understand the ins and outs of using phones while traveling. I thought that you needed to purchase an expensive plan from your cell phone provider. While traveling, I quickly discovered how hard it could be to operate Italian pay phones and to find internet call centers. Luckily, there are several inexpensive options for using cell phones to make calls within Europe.

Here is a guide to help you use a cell phone in Italy.

cell phoneThe cheapest and easiest way is to buy a SIM card. If you own an unlocked cell phone, then you can simply purchase a SIM card in Italy, put it in your phone, and make calls for the same rates as Italian citizens. A SIM card is a tiny chip that slides into your phone. It contains a unique phone number and as many minutes of call time as you choose to purchase. Provided that your phone is unlocked, a SIM card is compatible with most if not all cell phones.
You may wonder, what is a locked cell phone? Some United States service provides sell locked phones in order to keep their customers loyal. In short, it means that your phone will not work if you replace the original SIM card with a SIM card from another provider. If your phone is locked, it might be easily unlocked. A quick online search may tell you how to do so.

A SIM card, like a calling card, can be purchased with any number of minutes that you choose (a ten-euro card should give you more than enough minutes for a two week trip). Simply slide the card into your regular cell phone and you are ready to call hotels, rental car agencies, restaurants, and friends located in Europe.
In Italy, SIM cards can be purchased in “tabacchi” stores, which are small convenience stores that specialize in tobacco products. Strangely, though SIM cards are produced by all of Italy’s major phone companies, the companies do not sell the cards within their stores. So, if you see a Vodaphone store, don’t go inside looking for a SIM card. Fortunately, tabacchi stores can be found on almost every corner in Italy.
Another way to call people in Europe is to purchase a pay-as-you go cell phone. The phone itself usually costs Cell phones in Italybetween forty and seventy euro and includes five-to-ten euro worth of call time. This is the method that I first used to call within Europe, and though it works fine, the original price of the cell phone can be avoided by using your own cell phone and purchasing a SIM card.

Unlike SIM cards, pay-as-you go cell phones can be purchased at the official stores of cell phone service providers. The major phone companies are TIM, Vodaphone, and Wind. The three companies are very similar and have competing sales and promotions regularly that may or may not be worth investigating depending on your circumstances. If you are flying into Rome or Milan and want to purchase a pay-as-you go cell phone, the airport and central train stations have official stores inside of them.
Note: If you leave Italy for another European country, your Italy-purchased SIM card will suddenly become as foreign as a United States-purchased SIM card. Because you will be charged roaming fees, it is best to buy new SIM cards in each country you visit.

Written by Mattie Bamman for

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