I will be traveling to Italy in January from my base in New York. Since this is my first time taking a Verizon phone overseas, I have spent some time researching the Verizon web site to prepare myself for a journey with minimal problems.
You’ll find my resulting notes below. This research might be helpful for others who are planning an overseas trip. Even if it is not to Italy, you may want to answer the same questions for your destination country.
If you spot any errors, please post corrections.
I have a Blackberry Storm 2 which is one of Verizon’s global phones. That means the hardware (the installed SIM card) is already programmed for international use.
Here is Verizon’s website with information on using a global phone while traveling internationally:
Verizon also has created a useful Trip Planner here:
Those web pages provide the following information about travel to Italy:
Before leaving the U.S.
1) A few days before departure, call Verizon and have them activate your SIM card for “international voice roaming” as well as “international data roaming” if you plan to use the phone to access data. This can be done by calling Verizon customer service at 800-922-0204 or *611
EDIT: Arrange for the SIM card activation to begin a few days before you depart. That way you can call Verizon before you leave and make sure they have actually activated the card.
2) Dial *228, press SEND, and select option 2 to update your roaming capabilities.
3) To save some money on voice calls, sign up for the GSM voice value plan (see details below.)
EDIT: Arrange for the GSM voice value plan to begin a few days before you depart. This will allow you to call Verizon before you leave and make sure the plan has actually been initiated.
The GSM Standard Roaming Per Minute Rate is $1.29. This is charged whether you are making or receiving a call.
If you sign up for the GSM Value Plan, at $4.99 per month, the Roaming Per Minute Rate is $0.99. Verizon’s site says this is “the ideal plan if you plan to talk more than 30 minutes a day.” But it would seem to offer a substantial discount at lesser usage. A Verizon representative suggested calling to set up this service three to five days before departure. Initiation can be future-dated.
How to dial voice calls:
When in Italy, here is how to call a US number. I’ll use the 212 area code for the example: Dial the Italy country exit code , then the US country code , then the familiar 10-digit area code and number. On landline phones the format for calling a number in the US 212 area code would be this:
00 1 212 XXX XXXX
On a cell phone, pressing the * or 0 key while you are in GSM mode is supposed to automatically insert the country exit code, which for Italy is 00. So you would use the following format:
+ 1 212 XXX XXXX
If you call out of your address book while in GSM Mode, you usually do not need to add the exit code and country code to the number; they are added automatically.
To call an Italian number while in Italy:
Dial the plus sign, then the country code, then the local number with area code.
To call another country while in Italy:
Dial the plus sign, country code, international number.
To reach the toll-free customer service in Italy:
Dial the plus sign, then 1, then 908-559-4899 [ EDIT: Then you may enter the PIN number which is on the Global Support Card you received with your phone. ]
People in the US can call you by using your usual 10-digit number. They do not have to dial the US exit code (which is 011) or the Italy country code (which is 39). The person from the US is not charged anything extra; that person is just calling a regular US phone that happens to be overseas.
To get voicemail while in Italy:
To pick up your voice mail, call your own cell number using the “Call to US” instructions above. (The format would be + 1 212 XXX XXXX). Then you interrupt your voice mail greeting and enter your password when prompted.
You can send text messages to a cell phone in the U.S. by just dialing the regular 10-digit phone number (do not dial Italy exit code or US country code). Your fee for sending a text message is 50 cents per message, whether or not you sign up for the GSM Value Plan. You can attach a picture to a text message at no extra charge.
Someone using Verizon here in the U.S. can send you a text message in Italy by using your regular 10-digit number. (It is not necessary for them to start with the 011 US exit code and the Italy country code). You can receive text messages for five cents each. Receiving a picture attached to a text message costs 25 cents.
Data usage by the phone:
Using the cell phone for data access (email, web surfing, audio and video downloads from the Internet) is extremely expensive under the “pay per use” plan which will apply if you do not sign up for a discount data plan. The “pay per use” fee is $20.48 per MB. (Note that text messages are not considered data, and are charged at a separate rate. See the information previously in this document.)
Here is Verizon’s page that describes the global data rates:
For an idea of how data access charges might add up at such rates, consider Verizon’s chart of typical usages. The figures below were taken from the following Verizon page:
Email (text only) = 10 KB
Typical Web Page Lookup = 1.5 MB (This can add up fast).
Audio Streaming = 40 MB/hr
Lo-Res Video Streaming = 200 MB/hr
Hi-Res Video Streaming = 400 MB/hr
Digital Photo download/upload (Hi-Res) = 1 MB
1 MB = 1,024 KB
1 GB = 1,024 MB
To make the data charges manageable you can call the Global Services department and sign up for Verizon’s Global Data Plan. The cheapest of such Global Data plans costs $30 per month. That gives 50MB of data connectivity, then you can access additional data for $5.12 per MB. All numbers are pro-rated for the time you are in the country.
Important: Avoid surprise data charges. If you are not going to use your phone for data, go to “Mobile Network Options” and turning off “Data Services While Roaming.” You could also turn off “Data Services” itself.
[ The above information refers only to data usage over your cell phone. Some people also use Verizon’s “Broadband Connect” service, which provides for data usage on a laptop. This requires either that the laptop contains an internal Internet modem, or the user engages in “tethering,” which involves attaching the cell phone to the laptop with a cord. (I do the latter while I am in the US.) To use that service overseas you would need to sign up for yet another package from Verizon. Verizon’s page says: “Data used as a tethered modem or mobile hotspot requires its own global data allowance separate from your smart phone data allowance.” (Since I will only be in overseas a week, I have not looked into the charges for this service.) ]
Rather than use the phone for data access or tethering, use public wi-fi which is available in many hotels, coffee shops, and public areas.
When arriving in Italy
Make sure your phone’s network settings are set to “Global.”
You will receive a text message tell your how to use your phone for international calls. The phone will show that it is using the “Vodafone” network.
[ Edits: ] You can call the U.S.-based Verizon support while you are in Italy. Use the above instructions for calling a US number. Dial:
+ 1 908-559-4899 (This is air time and toll free).
EDIT: If you are using a payphone to call that number, a global staff person will call you back to save you additional expenses.
If your cell phone is lost or damaged, you can call the country specific access number, (for Italy it is 800-90-5825). Wait for tone, then enter the calling card number and PIN on the front of your Verizon Wireless Global Support card (which came with your cell phone.)
1) You cannot call 800 numbers from overseas. So get alternative numbers from your phone, credit card companies, and others. Also, calling will not work.
[ EDIT: It may be that some 800 numbers will work while you are in Italy, but they are not free. I am not sure about this. ]
2) Italy uses the GSM Dual Band voice network, and the same for its data network.
3) The “Network Technology” setting should be set to “Global.” The phone may fall back to EDGE or GPRS if 3G is not available in a location. The phone should automatically adjust if that happens.
4) When making an international call to any European phone number that begins with a zero, omit the zero — unless you are calling Italy. For example, to call the UK number 01606 54321 from France, you’d dial +44 1606 54321. + is the international prefix, 44 is the country code, then the number with the leading zero omitted. Italy is the lone exception — if you need to call there don’t drop the leading zero.
[ End ]
Message was edited by: writer_sam, after his trip overseas.
GREAT post, Sam. We are going to Tuscany in mid February and I have been worried about how my Droid Bionic is going to work. A couple of years ago we were in France and England and I had a Blackberry tour which was wonderful. I can only hope this Droid is as good.
Thanks so much for placing all this information in one spot. You'd think Verizon would do it, but I think they sort of enjoy sticking it to a traveler who OBVIOUSLY doesn't know the roaming charges are mounting up. Last January I was told by a Verizon customer service person that my present plan would work fine in the Bahamas. I was thrilled! Got there and used my phone - sparingly. Then, got a call from Verizon that I had used $500 in roaming charges. I was furious!!!! (to say the least).
Makes one quite leery of believing anything they say.
Very glad the post is useful. I am happy to say that my BB Storm 2 worked flawlessly during the trip, which was to Venice. (Didn't drop my phone in the canal once.) Texting worked great, keeping me in touch with friends back home. I have included some additional information in my original post, with the word "EDIT" in various places, based on my experiences. I imagine your Droid will work fine. I am upgrading as well, probably moving to the BB Torch 9850. Enjoy your trip to Tuscany.
Yes, excellent post. Precisely the info I was looking for as we're heading to Italy on April 29th. Looks like I'll just use WiFi at the hotels. The Droid X doesn't have a removal SIM to make it GSM anyway.
Roaming Charges Overseas and Wi-Fi
As it happens, I will be traveling once again to Italy. This time it's Rome and I have upgraded to a BB Torch 9850. Here are some additional notes, this time about the conflict in settings between the need to limit data roaming charges and the desire to use Wi-Fi. The notes below will be especially useful for those using Blackberries, although others may find the information a good template for their own prudent research.
While roaming overseas I want to be able to make and receive voice calls, but I want to avoid incurring charges for data communication through Verizon's mobile network. Those data communication charges can result from the use of the phone for email communications, web site browsing, and apps that might access data in the background without my knowledge. Such charges can be exorbitant.
At the same time, I want to be able to use the phone to access the Internet via Wi-Fi for such activities as emailing and web surfing, which use data.
Those two interests can conflict when it comes to setting a phone’s networks and connections. I called Verizon for some insight. Here are the settings suggested by the representative.
While you are not in a Wi-Fi area, use the following settings. These will allow you to make and receive voice calls and text messages, but you will not be able to access the Internet for web browsing or email:
1) “Mobile network:” ON. [ This will allow you to make and receive voice phone calls and send and receive text messages over the mobile network. ]
2) “Data services:” OFF. [ Arguably, this could be left ON as long as the next entry, “Data while roaming,” is set to OFF. That’s because any data attempting to move through the mobile network while overseas would be in a “roaming” state, so the next entry should stop it from being processed. However, the representative tells me that some customers have reported being hit with data charges while overseas when they left their “Data services” set to ON. Therefore the representative suggests setting this to OFF. ]
3) “Data while roaming:” OFF [ This will keep your mobile network from processing any data while you are overseas. ]
The above settings are appropriate if you want to just use your phone for voice and text messages. If you also want to take advantage of Wi-Fi, read on.
While you are in a Wi-Fi area and you want to use Wi-Fi, switch to the following settings. These will allow you to receive and send emails over Wi-Fi and browse the web, but you will not be able to use your phone to make or receive voice calls or communicate with text messages:
1) “Mobile Network:” OFF [ This will keep your mobile network from processing data so you will not be hit with exorbitant data roaming charges. ]
2) “Data services:” ON [ This will allow the phone to process data communications through Wi-Fi]
3) “Data while roaming:” OFF [ This is an extra security measure to assure the phone does not process data communications through its mobile network while in a “roaming” location. Arguably, this could be left ON, since your “Mobile Network” setting is OFF and thus should not process any data. However, the representative told me that some customers have reported data usage charges when “data while roaming” was left ON. So turn it OFF. ]
Additional notes: Procedures for making the above settings may vary by device. On my BB Torch I take the following path: For “Mobile Network” tap the Blackberry symbol in the upper right hand corner of the screen. For the other settings tap “Options,” then “Networks and Connections,” then “Mobile Network” or “Wi-Fi” Network. You can leave the “Wi-Fi” checkbox ON at all times.
Text messages, in contrast with emails, do not incur data charges. During my last trip to Italy, texting proved to be a great way to communicate with friends back in the USA. I did not attempt to use Wi-Fi at all.
Hope this helps. One alternative to the above is to sign up for a global data plan from Verizon. Yet roaming charges even under those plans can add up quickly.
On a related note, the rep told me that it can take up to 48 hours for Verizon to recognize data usage. (Apparently has to do with the fact that overseas carriers are slow in reporting. Same goes for smaller domestic carriers when stateside.) So if you make a mistake in settings, you really can't find out something is wrong before incurring an expensive delay.
Hope the above helps.
While I was in Rome I did a little testing on a matter that intrigued me: When in Italy, how does one dial another person who also has a US-based cell phone and is also in Italy?
Here is the result of my experiment:
Start with the exit code of the country you are in (Since I was in Italy, the exit code is 00). The reason for this is that your phone is connecting to a cell phone network in that country rather than in the US.
Then dial the country code for the US (which is 1)
Then dial the familiar 10-digit number.
So this worked:
00 1 303 xxx xxxx
+1 303 xxx xxxx
Hope the above helped.
Okay, I have done traveling for a while. Time to enjoy a hot dog and a cup of genuine Caffe Americano.
Hi Sam: This is a most helpful post and I thank you for navigating through the labyrinth of information that can be very frustrating for us mere mortals. I'm going to Italy next month and meeting up with friends from the U.S. To send them a text message, would I follow the same procedure you cited for placing a voice call to friends who are also traveling in Italy? That is, do I need to use the country code? Thanks
Good question. Texting worked great for me while I was in Italy. All I did was select the person from the address book on the phone, then activate the pop-up menu and select the texting option. I am not sure whether the phone used the country codes or not. My guess is that texting works exactly like voice calling, but you could experiment.
Thanks so much for all your helpful information. We'll be traveling to Italy this summer and I was hoping to get a jump start on how to use our phones. You basically answered every question I had! Thanks again!!