FAQ about GSM Mobile Phones and SIM Cards Abroad
Will my phone work in Italy (and if so, how much is it)?
Most Italian cell phones carriers use the GSM platform for cellular service. Unlike in the US, where the two GSM carriers (T-Mobile and AT&T) use 850 and/or 1900 MHz frequencies, the three main Italian carriers, TIM, Vodaphone and WIND use 900 and/or 1800 MHz. Therefore, even if your US based cell phone operates on the GSM standard, unless it has the 900 and 1800 frequencies, it will not work. Check your phones information manual or call your provider to make sure that your phone does have the correct bands.
The other carriers, including Verizon and Sprint/Nextel, do not use GSM in the US. However, they do offer a select number of hybrid phones that are functional in Italy. Again, either call your carrier or check the specs to find out if your phone will work overseas.
If your phone does work overseas, call your provider and make sure that it is activated.
Call rates are about $1 a minute in and out.Can I buy just an Italian prepaid SIM card?
Assuming that your current cell phone is GSM and that it does have the proper GSM frequencies, while it may work in Italy, chances are it will only work with your current provider. The reason is that US carriers frequently "lock" their cell phones meaning that they will only work with their service. The reason they do this is simple; if you use their phone on another carrierâ€™s service, they do not make any money. However, unless you are a new subscriber, the carrier will unlock your cell phone. Simply call them up, give them the IMEI number located under the battery of the phone and they will generally give you the unlock code for free (also known as the subsidy code) within 24 hours.
Is it legal to unlock phones?
Yes it is. However, it is also legal for carriers to deny you access to the unlock code so in essence, they dictate the policies. Still, you can unlock almost any phone through third party vendors.
Should I buy or rent a phone?
If you are in the market for renting a phone for Italy, depending on the length of the trip, you should investigate whether it makes sense for you to but a cell phone and Italy SIM card package. Many people are not aware of the option of buying the service or assume that it is more expensive than renting. The cut off is usually around 1 month meaning that if you are going to Italy for a month or less, it will certainly be less expensive to rent a phone. However, if you are in Italy say for 2-3 months for a study abroad program, you should buy a solution. In fact, you can probably recoup most of your investment by selling the phone to the next group of arriving students.
What happens if I run out of talk time?
Much like the gas in your car, if you run out of talk time, you will not be able to utilize the service â€“ at least for making calls. Since incoming calls are always free, you will still be able to receive. Having said this, it is very easy to ensure that you do not run out of talk time. At any point, you can check your remaining available credit and add more talk time by going to a magazine stand, gas station or convenience store.
How do I check my call credit?
While this varies from carrier to carrier, the basic approaches are the same. You can either call a number and select the option for your current available credit through the automated system or, you can go to "SIM Services" on the SIM card and select the option for viewing your credit and send a text message requesting a balance update. Please note that unless you have a Uno Mobile SIM through Cellular Abroad, all prompts will be in Italian.
Can I keep my regular number?
One of the characteristics of a SIM card is that it possesses its own unique phone number. Therefore, an Italian SIM card will inherently have an Italian phone number. There is no way around this. You can forward your US based phone number to your Italian one but you will be paying the forwarding fee from your regular provider. A better approach is to simply leave a message on your voicemail instructing people to call your new number.
How do I add talk time?
Adding talk time is very simple. Literally 90% of Italians have pay as you go service as in Italy, and, since the cell phone to human being ratio is greater than 1:1, that means there are quite a few cell phones and therefore, quite a few people adding talk time to their accounts. Virtually any magazine stand, gas station, supermarket or tobacco outlet sells "ricariche" or recharge vouchers. There are two versions of a recharge vouchers, the scratch off version (which is becoming increasingly rare) and the print out version. They each have a recharge code that must be typed into the handset. Once typed in, you will immediately get the call credit that you purchased. Recharge vouchers come in denominations of 5 Euro to 100 Euro depending on the carrier.
How much is it for people to call me?
Rates to call Italy vary from carrier to carrier as well as from plan to plan. However, one thing for sure is that if someone simply picks up their home or work phone without having any type of plan set up, they will be paying high premiums. In order to save money, you should either use a calling card or an internet based service such as Skype. Another point to remember is that rates differ depending if you call a landline or a cell phone with cell phone calls being more expensive. Therefore, if you are shopping around and trying to determine what it costs to call to an Italian cell phone, make sure that you mention this detail as usually, the low advertised rates pertain only to calls to landlines.
How much is data?
Data charges vary depending on the provider. While data does not come cheap it is certainly less expensive than roaming with a US carrier. Still, for rates, please visit a cell phone store in Italy as the offers are constantly evolving.
Will my SIM card work out of Italy?
Your SIM card will roam outside of Italy. However, roaming is roaming no matter how you slice it and the whole point of using an Italian service provider is to avoid roaming fees. Still, if you are going from Italy to Switzerland for the weekend and will need your phone there, it will work. You will pay, depending on the provider, approximately 0.50 Euro cents per minute.