Using a Cell Phone in Italy

Sign Up for an International Plan

Do not forget to do this. If you get on an airplane, land in Italy, and turn on your cell phone without an international plan, it will be expensive. All major US cell phone carriers offer international plans that have become very reasonably priced in the past few years. Call your carrier and get the details. Make sure your plan includes talk, text, and data. The last time I traveled to Italy, I simply paid $10 / day and I could use my phone the same as I use it in the US. Different carriers have different plans, but using cell phones in Italy is no longer as expensive as it once was.

Learn how to dial phone numbers using the + sign

Chances are if you’ve never needed to make a phone call from Europe, you’ve never used the + sign on your phone’s keypad. Using cell phones in Italy requires it. Here’s why:

  • Every single call you make from Italy will be an international call. Even a phone call from your US phone number to another US phone number, in Italy, will be an international call.
  • Therefore, every number you dial will need to have a country code in front of it. The country code for Italy is 39. The country code for the US and Canada is 1.
  • Every international call must begin with the + sign. Dialing 011 to make an international call (as you do when making international calls from the US) will not work from Italy.
  • When calling or texting fellow travelers, you may need to update phone numbers in your phone book. Every phone number must have a + sign and a country code in front of it. For example, if you wanted to call Taylored Tours: in the US (dialing from a US number), you could just dial 970-335-8670. From Italy, you would need to dial +1 970-335-8670.
  • The + sign can be found by holding down the zero on the phone keypad.

Install WhatsApp

Italians don’t like text messages because they are charged for each message. Instead, they use WhatsApp, which uses a very small amount of data.

If text messages are included in your international plan, by all means, text each other. However, when you need to text Italians (tour guides or drivers for example), they will appreciate it if you use WhatsApp instead.

Remember that smartphones are attractive to thieves

During your Italy trip, you should ideally take out your phone, use it, and put it away. Don’t leave it sitting on the table at an outdoor cafe if someone walking by could grab it. Don’t carry it in a shallow pocket, especially in train stations or crowded areas.

Keep your eye on it and treat it as a valuable item. Store it inside your bag, in a zipped pocket. Cell phones get stolen in Italy all the time, and rarely get recovered.

Don’t expect fast and reliable Wi-Fi at hotels (even five-star hotels).

It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a luxury hotel or a budget B&B – Wi-Fi can be slow or unreliable. If you absolutely can’t live without your WiFi while in Italy, I would recommend getting a MiFi device.

Sometimes, using cell phones in Italy can be frustrating. Just expect this, and if you get great Wi-Fi, consider it a bonus.

Take advantage of the features and apps of your smartphone on your trip.

  • Install Skype on your phone and use that to make international phone calls. Skype uses data rather than talk minutes, which are more expensive.
  • Activate the instant translation functionality in Google Translate. You’ll then be able to point your phone’s camera at any written word for instant translation. This is the single most useful thing you can set up on your phone before you go.
  • Use Google Maps to navigate (but also have a paper map). Hooray! Google maps works in Italy (although not perfectly in Venice). Also, before you go, download offline maps of cities and towns you’ll be visiting so you use less data.
  • Download free Italy audio tours of main sights from Rick Steves.

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