As a regular Italy traveler, I’ve tried out a variety of options for using a cell phone in Italy as well as staying connected via email, including purchasing a cell phone in Italy (it was lost during a move) and paying big bucks to use my iPhone in Italy for calls and email (but the calls are $1 per minute and just checking email a few times a day can result in hundreds of dollars of charges even if you’re careful).
On my most recent trip to Italy I decided to test out the cell phone and data solutions from Cellular Abroad.
I opted to buy an Italian cell phone (really a GSM phone with an Italian SIM card) through the company (there is also an Italian cell phone rental option) for my calls while in Italy. For checking email on my iPhone and using my laptop almost any time, anywhere, I also rented an Italy MiFi device, providing mobile Wi-Fi access nearly everywhere and UNLIMITED DATA (iPhone users, you know how important this is) for one price to use with up to five devices.
The results were impressive:
+ cell phone instructions, prompts, live customer service were all in English
+ cell phone charges (initial credit was $26 for 28 international or 112 local minutes) were reasonable especially when reloading at a location in Italy (€0.35/min for to U.S. & Canada and €0.09/min outgoing in Italy) and incoming calls as well as voicemail were free
+ minutes could be added to the cell phone before I left the U.S., by contacting Cellular Abroad from Italy, texting a code on the phone or by purchasing a voucher (option with best rates) in Carrefour, GB stores, Lottomatica (bars and cafes) and in the Sisal shops
+ my Italian contacts (hotels, guides, etc.) appreciated that I had an Italian number rather than an American number and were more likely to call it
+ the MiFi allowed me to use my iPhone for surfing, roaming, posting photos as much as I wanted without worrying about data usage
+ the MiFi meant I didn’t need to pay for wireless anywhere or go through a hotel front desk to set up access
My Experience with Italian Cell Phone Purchase/Rental from Cellular Abroad
- Cell phone arrived at my home via UPS and was ready-to-go with minutes already on the phone.
- The instructions were in English and the prompts on the phone itself were in English. (Big advantage over purchasing a cell phone in Italy.)
- I had access to technical help and customer service from Cellular Abroad 7 days a week, in English, via phone and email. (Another advantage over purchasing a cell phone in Italy.)
- Incoming calls and texts were free.
- Voicemail calls were free (have you ever checked your iPhone voicemail from abroad and later realized it cost $1 per minute just to check your messages?).
- I could add minutes to the cell phone before I left, by contacting customer service, texting a code on the phone or by purchasing a voucher in Carrefour, GB stores, Lottomatica (bars and cafes) and in the Sisal shops.
- Those who travel to Italy frequently can buy an Italian cell phone, as I did, and have a permanent Italian phone number. A purchase also makes sense if you are staying a month or more. Those who don’t visit frequently can just rent an Italian cell phone (via a pre-paid UPS label) when they return.
- The GSM phone I purchased can be used all over, so I will use it for European trips that include other countries besides Italy.
- You might be able to purchase a cell phone in Italy for a lower price. But again, a purchase doesn’t work for everyone and you don’t get the support in English.
- Rentals start at $29 for a week and $49 for two weeks PLUS you must pay $26 for initial credit on the phone that gives you approximately 28 international or 112 local minutes.
- The purchase price of a GSM phone with Italian SIM card starts at $109 PLUS you must pay $26 for initial credit on the phone that gives you approximately 28 international or 112 local minutes.
- Adding minutes via Cellular Abroad costs $26 for approximately 28 international or 112 local minutes.
- If you purchase a recharge voucher at a location in Italy, the per-minute price is less and you pay €0.35/min for outgoing calls to U.S. & Canada and €0.09/min outgoing in Italy.
My Experience with MiFi (Mobile Hotspot) Rental from Cellular Abroad
- Holy cow! Just by carrying the MiFi device (a bit smaller than a cell phone) along in my purse, I could set my iPhone to Wi-Fi (paying no data charges to my home carrier AT&T) and surf the Web, access my email (and not worry about the size of files someone was sending me), post photos to Twitter/Facebook WITHOUT ANY EXTRA DATA CHARGES.
- One MiFi supports up to five devices, so for example, you can be using your iPhone while your son is using an iPad and your wife is using a laptop. This makes the MiFi a good wireless solution when you rent a villa or apartment in Italy.
- Didn’t need to pay for Wi-Fi access at any hotels or spend time getting hotel’s passwords, etc.
- MiFi coverage is pretty good — it worked well everywhere I went — in the countryside and cities. (I actually owned a MiFi for about a year in the U.S. and found the reception spotty; that’s why I gave it up.) Cellular Abroad’s Harrison says, “In general the coverage is better in Italy — its not as spacious as the US — Italy has had the GSM system for a long time. A lot of people don’t have landlines — all in all, the network is better.”
- The charge on the MiFi lasts about four hours. However, when you’re out touring for an entire day and want to bring your smart phone, iPad, laptop, etc. and use it a lot, you will need to bring the plug to charge the MiFi.
- Harrison warns that the MiFi doesn’t work in every single remote corner of Italy, including small areas of the Tuscan countryside. Basically, if you’re in a place that won’t get a cell phone signal, the MiFi won’t work.
Rental for a week is $140, for two weeks is $168. This can be about the equivalent of data charges for iPhone (if you don’t go over your data limit) BUT you get unlimited data and can use up to five devices at one time.
— Kathy McCabe