Getting Getting Connected in Italy In Italy Was So Easy and Cheap
Wifi is an essential requirement when we travel. While I am generally “unavailable” for any work connectivity, my personal needs are much greater – to stay in touch with our children, to travel plan and to connect to my social networks to talk about our travel.
In past trips, we have chosen to put our phones on “airplane” mode and live with only free wifi – usually at our hotels but sometimes when we find it when travelling about. That being said, using free wifi can increase your vulnerability to cyber security threats so we are always careful when choosing a network to connect with. We have not bought cheap disposable phones and have lived without any mobile telephone service. I must admit that this had left us feeling a bit cutoff, especially if there was an emergency.
During our recent US west coast trip we bought a hotspot device (Virgin Mobile) and found it was great to have connectivity everywhere we were. We wanted to do a similar thing for our 10 weeks in Italy. David did a bit of research in advance but we waited until we hit Verona to select and activate a service. We would not want to wait too long for getting connected in Italy.
Arriving at 11pm and needing to call our hotel to get a shuttle, we immediately wished we had an active phone. The one pay phone we found did not accept cash and not one of our 3 Canadian credit cards were accepted. After creating an account (and giving out way too much personal info) to get free airport wifi (an odd European practice we had seen), we tried Skype on 3 different devices and could never get a call to go through. Finally exhausted and frustrated, we paid the 16€ for the 2 minute cab ride to our airport hotel.
We headed out the next morning to find the TIM store (the main Italian phone service) but enroute we got detoured by a Trony electronics store (Italian version of ‘BestBuy’). Since they had a broad cell phone offering and a clerk that spoke pretty good English, we started here. Their pay as you go cell service was through WIND Mobile. Veronica walked us through the options and then we went to the TIM store to compare. After being ignored for 5 minutes and finding little self service info, we went back to Trony and Veronica.
We knew we wanted phone service for both of us and some hotspot wifi capability for our 10 weeks in Italy. Making one phone decision was easy – 20€ to buy a simple phone and another 25€ got us a SIM, activation and 2 months phone service (6€ for 250 minutes per month).
For hotspot data we had two options. Unfortunately, our recently purchased Virgin Mobile hotspot would not work anywhere but in the US. A portable wifi device started at about 50€ and 200€ would get you full 4g service. You would then need a SIM, activation and a data plan. Option 2 was to put a SIM in my iPhone and add both phone and data to this (my iPhone 5S is unlocked). While I questioned whether I wanted to use my phone, in the end this seemed the much cheaper route. The cost for my iPhone:
SIM card 10€
Phone 6€ (per month, 250 minutes)
Internet 14€ (per month, 6gB for the phone and as a hotspot)
Activation 1€ (one time)
Paying 35€ upfront left us with a 4€ credit (which we would use – see below)
A few points about the cost of getting connected in Italy:
- For the simple phone coverage – It is a true pay as you go account, so you simply don’t add any more € when you are finished. If you add money within one year, your SIM is still active and you can add € for more phone coverage.
- For the iPhone plan – We were told you must call and cancel when you are done but as above, your SIM is good for one year. We stopped in 3 different WIND stores to ask about the need to cancel and either we were misunderstood because the clerk didn’t fully understand the English question or we really didn’t have to cancel.
- WIND never had my credit info (credit card or PayPal). My first purchase was through a reseller and I used WIND cards to top up my balance (see below). This ensured that even if I didn’t properly cancel my service, there was no way to continue to charge me. This might screw me up if I tried to use the same SIM (to be determined on next trip).
- In the end I contacted WIND Italy by Twitter the day I left Italy. They looked up my account and gave me the instructions for cancelling both the voice and data on my iPhone. Grazie !!
- The plan we got did not include SMS – text messages were charged at 0.15€ per message. It is a good idea to put enough €€ on your phone to cover occasional text messages if you don’t take a text plan. A couple of times (for cab and tour confirmation) we needed to text while in Italy. We got hit with bigger costs when we had airplane problems on our connecting flight home and I needed to text from Munich. But the original 4€ I had put on the plan covered all text needs.
- iPhone iMessages are treated as SMS messages so if you are off wifi, don’t assume that iMessages is using your data time. This will also cost you for SMS!
A few tips about activation and deactivation for WIND Italy coverage:
- The simple phone we bought was active almost immediately and available to make calls.
- My iPhone is unlocked so it was no problem with swapping out the SIM. My biggest challenge was to find a paperclip to pop the SIM!
- For my iPhone, I was told to wait for an hour. I put the SIM in my iPhone and entered the 4 digit PIN that was hidden on the SIM card holder (scratch off). My phone service was now active but there was no internet despite all my cellular and hotspot buttons being on. Wind sent at least 6 text messages that all seemed to suggest I had been activated. Everything online was in Italian and despite trying to translate each line, it was not helpful. The next day we finally went back to the Trony store for help. It seems that to actually get Internet you needed to set the APN for the “Cellular Data Network” to “internet.wind” for “cellular” and for “hotspot”. We were then sent outside to test it. Eventually I got both data to my iPhone and through the hotspot.
- WIND Italy through Twitter was able to help me figure out how to deactivate my iPhone coverage with two simple text messages to “4033”:
- “6 GB NO” (to deactivate my 6GB data plan) and
“NOI TUTTI NO ” (to deactivate my phone plan)
You will get a text message back confirming the deactivations.
Note: the text above represent the plans I took. If you look at the WIND app,
you can substitute (e.g. 4GB)
- “6 GB NO” (to deactivate my 6GB data plan) and
WIND site and WIND app:
- You can log onto the wind.it site to see your account. Your user ID is your cell phone number (without the 39 Italy country code). The first time you register they text you the password (a long numerical code) that is then used to log onto the user section of their web site or to their app. Make sure you keep this password somewhere!
- My Canadian iTunes Store downloaded the local Wind app that I could not use with my Italy service.
- I finally found a link on the wind.it site that let me download the “MyWind” app for Italy
- With the web site and the App you can see the plan you signed up for, add € to at the plan, see your usage and your balance. Looking at the balance keeps track of the miscellaneous text charges and the monthly contract deductions.
- The main App screen when you load shows what % of data is remaining.
- I was able to manage my WIND account from both my iPhone and iPad.
Things To Note If Getting Connected in Italy:
- If you let your iPhone run totally out of battery, not only will you have to enter your phone password for Apple but you also need to unlock the SIM again. Make sure you have kept your PIN on your phone or with you. If you need to look on the phone for the PIN, you can skip the SIM PIN (and lose cellular service) but if you power down the phone, you will be asked again for the PIN when it powers back on (note – I took a pic of the SIM card with the PIN to have it with me in case)
- Having the hotspot on adds a significant drain in your battery. You should travel with power cord or extra battery charging capability if you plan yo use the hotspot a lot.
Recharging Your WIND Italy Plan:
- You can use a credit card or PayPal with either the wind.it online site or the WIND App to add money to your account. As noted above, I did not want WIND retaining any info so I did not go this way. I did the same thing with my Virgin Mobile pay as you go hotspot!
- I found an online site (www.rechargemysim.de) that allowed you to add money to all Italian service providers (WIND, TIM, Vodaphone) with a credit card debit card or PayPal but this had a 3.90€ service charge.
- The easiest and safest way I found was to buy prepaid WIND cards (at any Tabacchi store – look for the “T”).
- To recharge on your phone, while in Italy:
- – Dial “4242”
– Select menu item “1” and then “1” again
– Note: although some sites said I would get an English prompt, I only ever got Italian
– Enter the phone card PIN (scratch the 16 digit number off the card)
– You should get an immediate text saying the amount was recharged to your phone
– In a few minutes, you can verify your new balance with the App
- – Dial “4242”
WIND Coverage in Italy:
Overall, cell phone service was good throughout the full 10 weeks of travel we did in Italy (even in some more remote areas)
- 3G with data (phone shows “E” when no data service is available) was a bit less available but most of the time I could get data on my phone
- Service and signal strength was generally was much worse inside buildings (not sure if the thick old walls were the issue?)
- Was pleasantly surprised to find that I got cell and data service on most of the train corridors we travelled – this allowed me to work while we transited between locations
- Hotspot connectivity was a little more flake
- Only seemed to work if the cell service with data was really strong
- My Apple devices seemed to connect most of the time with little issue
- Note: if I had trouble I just added hotspot wifi details manually and was good to go
- David’s Samsung phone seemed to have more trouble connecting – easier if I had.
already connected first
- Occasionally iPhone tried to limit to 1 connection (phone supports 5) but this was
weak signal problem
Overall, I was delighted to have phone and data services while travelling for 10 weeks in Italy. The cost of getting connected in Italy is SO MUCH cheaper than Canada! The WIND service met all my needs. The Twitter support to answer my final questions about deactivation was very welcome!
Please note that all instructions in this post are based on experience in Sept/Oct 2014! All errors are mine. Any changes are wind.it . This is not meant to be a WIND advertisement and I got nothing for free – but it worked and I am happy to share with others!
Any other tips on getting connected in Italy or Europe?