Italy for a week, what about my iPhone?
April 8, 2013 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out how to use my iPhone while in Italy for a week in May!

Spouse and I going to Italy for a week in May (I know, not long, but it is what it is). We both have iPhones and never used them overseas. What do we need to know? Do we need some kind of special calling plan? Our carrier here is AT&T. I am in IT sysadmin so as much as I'd love to leave the damn thing behind for a week it doesn't seem likely. I don't know that either of us will be calling back to the states much, or at all, but would like to be able to should the need arise without paying a fortune. Spouse does not want to take any phone at all! We're hoofing it most of the time so I'm not taking a laptop/iPad or any other electronic junk. Thank you MeFi'ers!
posted by dukes909 to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My husband does this every time we go abroad. Log into your AT&T account, go to plan add-ons, and add the international features you want. There's data, text, calling, etc. You can do this for one month (I don't think you can for just a week).
posted by Specklet at 7:02 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did this in Italy with an ATT iPhone last summer. Here's my recollection:

For voice, you have two choices. 1) Call and add an international package to your plan. It costs something like $5 a month, and will be prorated for the amount of time in the month you have it--i.e., activate it for two weeks, you'll pay $2.50. Remember to turn it off when you come back. If you activate the plan, calls home will be expensive, but not crazy expensive (say, $0.40 a minute, but I'm just making that up).

If you DON'T get a plan, you save the $5, but any calls you make home will be crazy expensive--say, $1.50 per minute (again, making that up). I went without a plan to Bulgaria once and ended up with two, two-minute phone calls that cost me $25 or something.

My recollection is that you get charged as soon as the phone starts to ring, so keep the phone in airplane mode if you don't want accidental charges. You can have the phone in airplane mode and still use WiFi, but you have to turn WiFi back on to do this.

If you want data, you get charged by the full month, if I recall. You can't turn it off and get a refund. But I think you can get a pro-rated first month or something. I signed up for my departure date (say, 6/30) and got a fat extra charge for June, even though I really only wanted it for my arrival date onwards (7/1). This was my mistake; don't make it yours.

I think the data plan was like $50 for 300 megabytes or something. Turn OFF data roaming, and only turn it on when you actually want to roam. Otherwise, you'll burn through the data.

It was much easier and, in the end, cheaper, that I had feared before I made the arrangements. ATT will walk you through all the details; they were very patient.

Just be sure you use the right start dates and turn off the services you don't need when you come back.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:06 AM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I bought a prepaid SIM from TIM. I wrote down the Italian word for 'rechargeable' (which I now can't remember), went to a TIM store with my passport and left with a new SIM for about 20E. It worked perfectly with my unlocked iPhone. I recharged it once because I ran out of data. A good option if you can unlock your phone. You can prebuy them before you leave, but they cost more.
posted by kjs4 at 7:06 AM on April 8, 2013

I was there for three weeks though. For one week I'd be tempted to avoid the hassle and just use texts and email for the rest (if you stay somewhere with Wifi). At least from an Australian phone texts aren't too expensive.
posted by kjs4 at 7:10 AM on April 8, 2013

AT&T often won't automatically add international roaming on their plans. You should be able to add it online or by calling 611. The base roaming rates are not cheap. They'll sell you buckets of minutes at a discount but still expensive.

In the countries I've travelled to I've found caller ID works and so if I don't recognize the number I'll let it go to voicemail. With data roaming turned off visual voicemail doesn't work so you have to call in and enter your code. Of find a wifi hotspot and it should download to your phone. Also note that in most places I've been if I receive a call and don't answer I'll get charged for one minute. I've found I don't get charged for incoming SMS in countries where the caller pays but I do get charged for outbound SMS and mms in either direction.

The data roaming is obscenely overpriced so leave that off and only use Wifi. Boingo has plan that lets you use paid hotspots for a huge discount over what you have to pay locally. Some places in Germany and Italy had rates like 10€ for 2 hours but it was in my $6/month Boingo plan.
posted by birdherder at 7:11 AM on April 8, 2013

I travel with my iPhone a lot, and emails are important to my business. I usually get a data plan but not a calling plan. If someone calls my iPhone when I'm traveling, I don't answer and let them leave a voice mail. Then, when I'm in a wifi zone, I listen to the voice mail and if necessary call back with Skype.

So here's what I'd suggest.

1. Get an international data plan. For me, 50 MB would easily be enough for a week of checking email.

2. For outgoing calls, consider installing the Skype app and buying some credits. Then, whenever you're on wifi, you can call from the phone. (You can use Skype to call regular phones.)

3. When your plane lands, completely turn off the iPhone if it's not off already, then turn it on again. It will look for the data carrier that works with your ATT data plan. You might also get a text message confirming that your data plan is in operation.

4. Immediately go into Settings --> General --> Use --> Mobile network --> Reset statistics (the actual terms might be different; I'm translating from my Spanish iPhone). This will reset your mobile data stats to 0.

5. Turn off everything that might use data without your knowledge (automatic email checking, etc.). It's simplest to just put the phone on Airplane mode, although then you won't know if someone is trying to call. If you want to know about phone calls, you could dig a little deeper in the Settings menu to turn off data roaming.

6. As you use your phone, check your data usage to make sure you don't go over the amount you bought.

7. When you get back, contact AT&T and cancel the international data plan. If the data package you bought is for a full month, you might wait until that month is up; I'm not sure how that works these days, because I have a different carrier now.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by ceiba at 8:15 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

The best part about a smartphone for traveling is maps for navigating and Wikipedia for reading about where you are. Maps are a huge data drain. I have bought prepaid SIMs for 3 day trips, let alone a whole week. They're pretty cheap in Europe for data and for me are well worth it. I recommend getting your phone unlocked and finding a decent pay as you go SIM in Italy.

The best alternative, I think, is to go in the other direction. Turn off cellular completely and use your phone as an iPod Touch, and don't worry about roaming.

If work needs to reach you so urgently as to require you to be always on, as opposed to just checking in next time you get wifi, they should cover the costs
posted by Salamandrous at 5:34 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I checked with AT&T and the Europe Travel 30 plan is NOT pro-rated. You pay for the entire month whether you use it or not ($30). Sort of sucks but it is what it is.
posted by dukes909 at 9:20 AM on April 9, 2013

If you have completed your contract with AT&T, you can go to them and have them unlock your phone. You can then buy prepaid SIM cards, as salamandrous suggested.

When I travelled, I used my phone as an iPod touch, and only used the Internet when wifi was available. It worked well enough, but I would definitely have benefitted from having data.
posted by bluloo at 7:09 AM on April 10, 2013

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