Cell Phone Options: Rent? Buy? Take your own? What is the best solution

Cell Phone Options for Italy
What is the best solution?

10% discount for all In Italy Online customers!
Just mention InItaly10 when you contact Cellular Abroad.

I have been writing articles on cell phone service in Italy since 1998 and although it certainly is now easier and more affordable for a traveler to Italy to get cellular service, the increased options can add to the confusion. Many carriers such as Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon in the US and Rogers in Canada do offer some type of service to Italy. Although cell phone service in Italy is available through these carriers, only about half of the handsets in today's market actually work. Those that do work in Italy through these carriers do so at a premium. Fortunately, there are other much more affordable options.

Most people want to know if there cell phone will work in Italy and if so, how much will it cost. The information below is intended to give you valuable insight on these and other questions.

Can I use my current cell phone in Italy?

Currently, about 50% of all US and Canadian phones, DO in fact work in Italy. Your phone needs to have the proper GSM network in order to work in Italy. Think of it in terms of this analogy – radios usually have AM as well as FM frequencies. Image trying to tune into an FM radio station with an old transistor radio that only operates on AM frequencies: it would be impossible. Similarly, your handset needs to be able to operate on the 900 as well as the 1800 MHz cellular frequencies in order to work in Italy or other parts of Italy. No North American provider uses those frequencies for service here but some of the phones they provide are intended for international use and indeed do have these frequencies. Regardless of what the customer service rep at Verizon, Sprint et al may tell you, you should check that your phone has the 900 and 1800 MHz frequencies – also called bands or networks. This information is available in your user guide or you can search for the specs online.

My phone works in Italy. How much will it cost?

If the good news is that your cell phone works in Italy, the bad news is that the rates through your carrier are high. T-Mobile's, Verizon's and AT&T's international rates vary from $0.99-$1.29 a minute plus tax - so add another 15-20%. This is for incoming AND outgoing calls. Unless you are going for a very short trip or truly will only be using the phone for emergencies, you might want to consider another much more affordable solution, which is to purchase an Italian SIM card. Besides the unlimited FREE incoming calls from anywhere in the world, outgoing rates are just a fraction of those of a North American provider. As in the US and Canada, there are different cellular carriers in Italy. The coverage is all similar but the rates can vary quite a bit. Cellular Abroad, Los Angeles based international cellular experts, has partnered with a division of Vodafone, an Italian carrier, to create the Uno Mobile SIM card designed specifically for the US and Canadian tourist going to Italy. The main features of this Italian SIM card are that there are special low rates back to the US and Canada, 24/7 English speaking toll free customer service, the service is in English (voicemail, etc.) and very user friendly and the SIM is already activated and ready to use (Note: this is the only SIM card for Italy that does NOT require the user to fax or email a copy of their passport).

10% discount for all In Italy Online customers!
Just mention InItaly10 when you contact Cellular Abroad.

My phone doesn't work in Italy. What are my options?

Most T-Mobile and AT&T phones will work in Italy. Most Verizon and Sprint phones do not work in Italy.

If you have determined that your cell phone doesn't work in Italy, you have two other options. You can rent a cell phone or you can purchase a cell phone. Cell phone rentals are available at most airports as well as online. Bar none, renting a phone at the airport is the most expensive way to have a phone and should really only be done as a last alternative. If you are renting a car, they may offer cell phone rental services but again, the phone is free and the calling rates are very high. Always ask for the per-minute rate as well as minimums and what happens if the phone gets lost, stolen or damaged. A lot of companies charge as much as $500 as a security deposit – which you stand to lose if something happens to the phone.

Otherwise, you can rent a cell phone online. There are many choices. Cellular Abroad's solution is the most cost effective that I have seen. They are the company behind the National Geographic Travel Phone and have a high Better Business Bureau rating. Now their service is even better, because all In Italy Online customers receive a 10% discount on all products just by mentioning InItaly10 when they contact Cellular Abroad. Here is the most effective way to take advantage of the cellular service they offer.

First, consider if you should rent or buy a cell phone. If you do not travel often and your trip will last one month or less, it generally makes sense to rent a cell phone. If your trip is more than a month or you travel overseas once a year or more, buying a phone makes sense. You can buy an Italian SIM/phone package and next year, if you go to another country, you can simply pop out the SIM and put a different SIM card in. Or, if you travel to multiple countries, the National Geographic SIM card works in over 200 countries. A common question is about the technology and will it become obsolete if you buy the phone. It seems like a new phone with new features comes out every day, but the basic system, GSM, will be available for years. An analogy is that a car you buy today will still work in 5 years but it surely won't have the same features and add-ons that future cars will have. Most people primarily care about being able to make and receive phone calls and less about the quality of the phone's camera or other features so the answer is yes, it will work for future trips. In any event, the service is exactly the same.

What are the rates in Italy with Uno Mobile?

As incoming rates are free, try to take advantage of this feature by having people in the US call you back whenever possible. To save even more money, have them use a calling card to call you. There are scores of online companies that sell calling cards to Italy and Skype works as well. I would not necessarily recommend getting the cheapest solution, as often times the call quality is not that good or the lines are often tied up. Regarding the outgoing calls, if you dial straight out, calls will be 0.35 Euros to the US and, as of now, 0.18 within Italy but please go to https://www.cellularabroad.com/italyRcell.php for the latest rates. To save even more money, get an Italian calling card with a toll free number and use it with the service. You can pick them up in most magazine stores or internet cafés in Italy. Unique to this service, the toll free call is free. Usually, as occurs in the US and Canada, even toll free calls consume your talk time. As long as it is an Italian toll free number that you are calling, it will not deduct the talk time. Therefore, if you utilize this tactic, it will cost you about $0.10 to call back to the US and even less to call locally. Italy cell phone rental and purchase rates may vary so be sure to go to www.cellularabroad.com for the latest offers, and don't forget to mention InItaly10 to get your special discounted rates!

Traveling to multiple destinations

While the above information applies outside of Italy, we do not recommend it unless you will only be taking quick side trips, say to France or Switzerland for a few days at a time. The reason is that the rates change and you do not get free incoming calls, so if you run out of talk time, you cannot use the service. As with the Italian solutions, you can get a stand alone SIM, purchase a phone/SIM package or rent a phone.

Currently, there are few "roaming" solutions market but, the vast majority work extremely poorly – if at all - and are not user-friendly. One exception is the National Geographic International SIM Card. The service is considered the best on the market and there is a 24/7 toll free number – from the handset - associated with it. In terms of value, the main benefit is the free incoming calls in over 60 countries. Again, if you are a frequent traveler and already have an international cell phone, all you need to do is to purchase the stand alone SIM card. If you don't have a cell phone that works abroad, you can either rent or purchase a phone/SIM combination solution. Frequent travelers will usually purchase a phone package while infrequent travelers often prefer to rent. Again, the main benefit of this service, besides having one number anywhere you travel overseas, is the unlimited free incoming calls that you can receive in most countries. You can take advantage of that by leaving your new international number on your usual US voicemail. In theory, you can be on the phone hours per day without paying a dime.

Read testimonials from Cellular Abroad clients.

I hope that this helps resolve some of the confusion involved with cellular service in Italy. Feel free to contact info@cellularabroad.com if you have any questions about cellular service in Italy or other countries, and don't forget to mention InItaly10 so you'll be eligible for special discounted rates.