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Landing in a foreign country brings tons of excitement but also a variety of challenges. If you’re headed to Italy for the first time and aren’t sure about your cell phone situation, you’re in the right place because we are here to help you learn how to use your cellphone in Italy.
So you’ve learned a few handy Italian phrases, practiced your coffee order, and scheduled your itinerary — but now you’re wondering if your cell phone will work. Will you be able to make and receive phone calls? And what about internet access?
Before you spend unnecessary money or land up involuntarily off the grid, here’s a handy guide on using cell phones when you visit Italy. From the best SIM cards to whether or not you should just stick to WiFi while traveling, find all the answers to the “Will my phone work in Italy?” question right here.
Options Available for Using Your Cell Phone in Italy
The good news? There are a few different ways to stay connected while you travel to Italy. You can use your own phone, buy an Italian cell phone with an Italian number, or strictly set yourself up with Wi-Fi.
Below is a breakdown of each option and the pros and cons.
Use The International Plan from Your Mobile Phone Provider
The first and most convenient option is using an international roaming plan on your own cell phone. This is something every mobile provider can add to your current mobile service. With this plan, you can continue using your mobile phone with your regular phone number without worrying about high roaming charges.
When you visit another country and use your cell phone, you’re connecting to two separate mobile networks: your local network back home and the coverage network of the destination you are in. International roaming plans are agreements between both networks to allow you to use your phone without paying separately for using their bandwidth.
While these packages used to be quite confusing, they are much more simplified today. It wasn’t too long ago that you would have had to guess how many minutes you’d be using on making calls, predict how many text messages you’d send, and pick a predetermined amount of data (no flexibility).
Luckily, these days, you can find an international package from nearly every mobile services provider that charges you a flat fee per day, allowing you to use your phone the same way you usually do.
Other options include choosing a straightforward data plan that does not have minutes or texts. These give you uncapped data at a set price per day. And if you’re concerned about being unable to call or text someone when using this plan, simply install Whatsapp, which uses your data to allow you to do both.
Pros of using an international roaming plan:
- Easy to access. Simply call your mobile carrier, ask them about their available packages, and choose the one that fits your needs and budget. Tell them about your planned travel dates, and you’re good to go.
- Convenient and can be set up in a matter of minutes from the comfort of your home.
Cons of using an international roaming package:
- If you’re using a lot of data, and your carrier does not offer unlimited data, then you will be paying a small fortune.
- The data speeds on these plans are sometimes not great, and carriers promise 4G/LTE, while the reality is closer to 3G.
Who is this best for? If you’re not planning on using a lot of data or making numerous phone calls a day, then you should choose an international plan.
- Stick to your hotel’s free WiFi so you don’t eat away at your data.
- Pay close attention to the costs for calls made and texts sent vs calls and texts received. These are sometimes different.
- Check the local call and text rates for Italy as most carriers take where you’re traveling into account.
- If you leave your phone in airplane mode, you might still be charged for that time. Read the fine print of your international package to find out the specifics of this.
- Every single call you make abroad, even to other people in the same country, will count as international calls and will be charged as such.
Get An eSIM
Your second option for using cell phones in Italy is to get an eSIM (or digital SIM card) when you arrive. This is almost identical to the standard SIM card you already use.
The only difference is that an eSIM doesn’t need any storage on your device in order to operate since it is entirely digital. That said, an eSIM does need a virtual SIM slot allocated in your phone’s software, and typically, you’ll need two to install one on your device successfully.
Additionally, an eSIM in a different country will require your phone to be unlocked. Your phone’s regional limitations have been removed, and it can use software and tech from other countries.
This eSIM card gets downloaded onto your phone. Then it connects to its native local network, allowing you to use apps like Google Maps and WhatsApp for navigation and communication.
You’ll find that many mobile carriers offer these eSIMs – such as Airalo, which is above and beyond the best for connectivity in Italy.
After installing the eSIM, you’ll have immediate data usage based on the plan you sign up for, which can be a weekly data pack or even a monthly plan if you’re traveling for an extended period. Thankfully, these plans are inexpensive compared to international plans for roaming.
Pros of an eSIM:
- Easy to get and install. These digital SIM cards can be downloaded onto your mobile phone in a few seconds, and the installation is exceptionally straightforward.
- Using an eSIM is cost-effective; plans start from as little as €4 for a week of unlimited data. (Note: Prices are subject to change).
Cons of an eSIM:
- The biggest drawback is that you’ll need an unlocked phone, which means that your device is unlocked of any regional restrictions placed on it by your carrier. The criteria for this is different for each carrier.
- Your mobile device will need a minimum of two eSIM ports. Although these are virtual cards, your phone will still need some software allocation for it. Older cell phones won’t be compatible.
Who is it best for? eSIM cards are an excellent option for travelers with the latest (or as close as possible) phone models and are tech-savvy.
Buy a Local SIM
Coming in third place is a local Italian SIM card, which you can purchase when you arrive in Italy and swap it out with your original SIM. Keep in mind that you’ll also need your phone to be unlocked for this to work. Alternatively, you can buy a separate Italian cell phone alongside the Italian SIM card.
Getting a local SIM involves finding the nearest TIM Mobile, Vodafone, or Wind Mobile store and buying a new SIM card. Pick a plan that fits your needs, and ask the store assistants to guide you through the setup process (chances are, they’ll do it for you anyway).
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of having to top up your minutes or data during your trip, the ideal choice would be a prepaid SIM card. These work in Italy and, based on the provider you choose, some other EU countries as well.
Remember that you’ll have an Italian number if you go this route. You’ll need to inform your friends and family if they want to call you while you’re in Italy.
Pros of buying a local SIM:
- Similarly to an eSIM, getting a local SIM card for your non-Italian cell phone is easy and quick. They are also inexpensive and widely available.
- Using a local SIM means you’re guaranteed that your phone will work in Italy.
Cons of buying a local SIM:
- You’ll need an unlocked cell phone, or you’ll have to buy a local cell phone. Again, this can be tricky as unlocking your phone is done at the discretion of your mobile provider.
- If you use any two-step authorization codes for banking, etc., you will not be able to get them using your new Italian phone number.
Who is it best for? This is the best choice if you’re comfortable swapping out your SIM card for a new one or have a separate cell phone with which to use the local SIM.
Use a Portable WiFi Device
Finally, you can opt for a portable WiFi device (or pocket WiFi) that will give you easy internet access. These nifty little devices require only a data plan to work, which means you can buy it when you land, turn it on, and you’re ready to go.
When it comes to these WiFi devices, they are often available to rent or to buy. The option you choose here will depend on your personal needs and budget.
You can purchase one of these devices before or after you’ve landed or pick one up as a rental device when you’re already in Italy. The latter option will most likely cost you a bit more money, though.
If buying is too costly, you can rent a device from mobile stores in Italy, such as TIM Mobile or Vodafone. This is often the most popular option as it doesn’t require you to spend much money on the device itself. You’ll pay a rental price for the period you’ll be traveling. This also means you won’t have to pay much attention to how much data you’ll be using as you’ve already paid for the service.
In Europe, this is more widely known as “Travelers WiFi”, and you shouldn’t be shocked when you see prices starting at €70 for a week’s worth of usage. Keep in mind that if you’ve bought the device, you’ll need to ensure enough data to last your trip. However, if you’re splitting the costs between a group of people, it can be cost-effective.
On the other hand, should you rent one of these portable WiFi devices, you generally don’t have to buy more data. Renting is an excellent option because you’ll probably not use it a lot, and you can purchase large data packages once off and then never again during a trip.
Pros of using a portable WiFi device:
- Numerous people can share the connectivity, which is ideal for traveling with friends or family.
Cons of using a portable WiFi device:
- It’s a costly option if you’re using a lot of data. While using apps like Google Maps or messaging apps won’t take up much, you should expect to pay a hefty price if you’re streaming.
- You won’t have access to any two-step verification codes sent to your local SIM
- Making or receiving phone calls using a portable device is impossible.
Who is it best for? If you’re traveling with a large group or heading on vacation with the family, this is a great solution, particularly if you don’t want to spend too much on separate data packages.
Final Thoughts – Using Your Cell Phone in Italy
It’s never been easier to stay connected as you travel than it is now, and with this guide, you have all the information you need to do so. The best option for you, though, will depend on several factors.
International roaming plans are a great choice thanks to their convenience, while eSIMs offer even more ease of access and far cheaper rates. Or you could go old-school and get a new prepaid card in Italy and swap out your local one. Finally, there are portable devices that make the best solution for collective use instead of individual usage.
All you need to do is match your needs (and wants) with the option that best fits, and you should have no trouble.