I have used an Italian SIM card in France for voice calls and found that it's just about as cheap as a French card (since France has such comparatively high phone rates). Also, the Italian cards don't expire as fast as most of the French ones -- and it's cheaper to use an Italian card in Italy than a French one.
The main problem I had was that I couldn't easily recharge the TIM card from France, since TIM would not accept a US credit card and of course you can't buy the Italian recharge cards in French stores.
I think I recall hearing that Vodaphone would accept US credit cards -- just noting that this might be a good choice for a provider to use throughout Europe. Do you have any other suggestions, Tony?
Roz, Frankly I have not figured this out. Even if Europe drops roaming fees for voice, text and IP so we theoretically can use ONE SIM for France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, etc.; we still need to RELOAD that SIM. Why these telephone carriers won't take a US credit card is beyond me. I'm willing to go in to a dealer ONE TIME to swipe my card so they have a copy of it. Buying a SIM every time you land on an airport is just too inconvenient.
However, I know for a fact that for some Asia cellphones, it is possible to top off the card here in the USA. And, since inbound SMS text messaging is free over there, then they take their phones everywhere and roam and still get inbound text for free.
Europe has a lot of immigrant workers that move around. Maybe they have the answer. If I find out anything worthwhile, I'll post it here.
But the prepaid SIM cards expire after a certain time if you don't use it, correct? We need to keep it alive for a long time. Is it possible to buy a couple of recharge cards, take the phone to USA and while roaming here in the USA enter the codes from the recharge card by SMS text? Will the TIM (or other) prepaid SIM roam in the USA automatically? Has anyone tried this?
Why these telephone carriers won't take a US credit card is beyond me
By the way, the reason the European carriers won't take a US credit card is (I think) the same reason why the US cards don't work in the automatic machines in Europe -- our cards do not have the chip and PIN technology that is standard in Europe.
Actually, it doesn't really make sense, does it, that you would need the PIN online -- but maybe the website wants you to input the PIN as well.
Why these telephone carriers won't take a US credit card is beyond me
My best bet is that French credit cards are BANK CARDS. Their Visa or Eurocard (Master Card) are primarily connected to their bank account. That means that it is not a credit card as we North Americans know it. AndI know what I am talking about as I have a French bank account with a Vis Gold card. If I was a French resident (I'm Canadian), I would have the choice of paying the whole monthly bill at the end of the month. But I am not a resident, so my purchases are debited from my account immediately. I used to have a pay-as-you-go French SIM card with SFR and I had to use my French Visa to recharge it online. I switched to a regular account as I am going to France more and more. But I had to bring proof of residency (bank statement) and a canceled cheque to switch account. In North America we have bank cards (debit cards) AND credit cards (with close to extortion interest rates). We love carrying cards around, we usually have more than one credit card PLUS store cards like Macy's. In Europe they have one card and that's a bank card. Period.
(1) We simply get a TIM Prepaid SIM and activate it in Italy (using our Quad Band phones). According to TIM: Your TIM Card phone number is active for 12 months as of your first phone call or most recent recharge, and for an additional month to receive phone calls only. Remember To keep your TIM Card always active you need to recharge it at least once every 13 months. After this period of time, your TIM Card will be disabled and any remaining credit eliminated. So, we do not throwaway when we leave Italy.
(2) We buy a couple of RICARIcards and take them back with us to the USA. According to TIM: Your TIM Card can be recharged as many times as you want During its period of validity, your TIM Card can be recharged by the amount you prefer: RicariCard is the only card that offers a recharge amount of 5 euro (VAT included), including telephone traffic for 4 euro (VAT included). Thus, the recharging fee for this card amounts to 1 euro (VAT included). The recharge amount adds up to any remaining telephone credit. Each recharge extends the validity of your TIM Card for a further 12 months (plus an additional month to receive calls only). Ok so if I don't go back to Italy within 12-13 months, I use the EUR5 RicariCard to recharge EUR4 (I lose EUR1 just to recharge) before the 12th month. This will keep my SIM card active another 12 months.
(3) For as long as the TIM SIM card is in a cellphone connected to a network that has roaming agreements with TIM, we should be able to use SMS Text and the RicariCard to recharge our TIM SIM. Easy Roaming is automatically activated! Easy Roaming, the international roaming service for rechargeable prepaid TIM GSM cell phones, is automatically activated free of charge: this way you can receive and place calls while abroad without having them billed to a credit card. According to TIM: Abroad with TIM Thanks to the Easy Roaming service, calling from abroad is even easier than before: you are automatically enabled to make phone calls and the cost of any calls made or received and SMS messages sent will be charged to your TIM Card. So, even when you are abroad you can always check how much you are spending! Moreover, with TIM you can benefit from all the In Europe advantages. So remember to always put some spare RicariCards in your suitcase, before leaving! In this way, even when you are abroad you can always recharge your TIM Card. On the other hand, if you wish to talk freely without facing the risk of running out of credit, you can choose to charge phone calls made abroad directly to your accepted credit card or to activate the automatic recharging option that most suits your needs.
Ok we know the our US Credit Cards won't work, so that option is not available to us. But the RicariCards will work (supposedly). Note it is clear on their site that the credit card MUST BE ISSUED IN ITALY! Credit Card: By authorizing debiting of calling charges to a credit card issued in Italy by Visa, Mastercard, Diners, and American Express, you can make calls in Complete Roaming mode in those countries with which TIM has made Roaming Agreements, and thus not worry about recharging your prepaid cellular phone card when you are abroad.
(4) Now suppose I go to France and take my TIM SIM with me. I use the phone and need to recharge. I still cannot use my US credit card so I need a bunch of RicariCards to take with me to France. Easy Roaming for Prepaid TIM GSM: Now, calling from abroad with your Rechargeable TIM GSM without a credit card is getting easier and easier. Thanks to the Easy Roaming service, when you're abroad, not only can you receive calls by debiting the charges directly to your TIMCard, you can also use Tourist Roaming and Complete Roaming to make calls with Easy Roaming
Ok so my AT&T Phone shows TIM while roaming in Italy so I'm going to assume there is reciprocity between AT&T and TIM. If I use my TIM SIM in the USA I expect to see AT&T in the phone. Bottom line, buy those RicariCards so you don't have to throw away the SIM card if you do not go back to Italy every year. Remember, the assumption here is that we take the TIM SIM card with us to use in other EUROPEAN countries also since roaming charges will eventually disappear or be capped.
Wow no more looking for SIM card shops in airports! Plus, we keep the same phone number in Europe. Note: Do not answer the phone while roaming in the USA, that will quickly eat up your TIM balance.
The only thing you have to be aware of is that the Ricaricard itself will expire after a certain time. The card has a use-before-this-date printed on it. However, the expiration date only applies to using the card, not to the time it adds to your phone.
So, for example, if the Ricaricard has an expiration date of Jan 2011, you can recharge your SIM in Jan 2011, and your TIM phone number will be good until Feb 2012 (if I recall correctly, you actually get 13 months).
My point is just that you can't load up with Ricaricards and expect to use them indefinitely. You have to get new ones every so often.
Or you might be able to get a Vodaphone SIM card, set up an online account, and recharge it online, since it apparently will take US credit cards.
I used an Orange card once which I borrowed from someone. Here is a topic about buying a SIM card in France. The problem with most prepaid French cards (including Orange) is that they expire after a month if you don't use them. It seems that currently just about the only way to get a card that will last more than a month is via the E. Leclerc stores.
I did buy one of the Leclerc cards the last time we were in France (Oct-Nov 2010), and it worked fine. However, I think it would still be cheaper in Italy to use an Italian card.
The advantage to the Leclerc card is that it won't expire for a year, except that it does cost 1.50 euro a month to keep it active. Also, I have not used any data plans in France. I don't think the Leclerc card comes with a data option. In my experience, Italy is really the best in that regard.
So bottom line -- if you can figure a way to keep your Italian card recharged, and if the data roaming charges are capped, I think an Italian card is the way to go.
Caveat: I really don't know about any countries except Italy and France, since those are the only places we've traveled since cell phones became ubiquitous.
Roz, I had a long talk with my brother who does projects in the Mobile Money industry. He explained it to be quite clearly...
In the rest of the world, a vast majority of cellphone users prefer pre-paid (unlike here where most of us are billed monthly). So cellphone companies have devised ways to recharge or "Top Up" accounts. Aside from scratch-off PIN cards (i.e. RicariCards), most of the international GSM networks have connected the cellphone's "wallet" to bank accounts and other mobile wallets as well. Therefore by simply texting codes, one can refill their pre-paid accounts from (debiting) their back account. Or, one can transfer money from one wallet to another - I can transfer my minutes to your cellphone. The whole concept of mobile money has made recharging AND THE TRANSFER OF MONEY VIA A CELLPHONE much easier.
He told me that in Asia and Africa, a lot more bill payments(especially utilities) and money transfers (from overseas workers to their families) are being done by mobile money. In some Asian countries, the bank sends a text message of your balance as soon as a deposit is made to your account. In essence, the cellphone has now become a "bank account" since people can have savings balances in the mobile wallets. (Note: I believe my brother works on a Mobile Money for the Unbanked project funded by Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation).
Also, VISA in Europe will now use Near Field Communication (NFC) technology on microSDHC cards. The SIM card or the SDHC card can be linked to one's bank account or credit card, and all one needs to do is place the phone near a NFC scanner/receiver to pay for bills. This latter feature is moot to us since all we really want to do is transfer money to our mobile's wallet. Unfortunately, rich European cell operators care more for mobile payments via Near Field Com. rather that expanding different sources of money transfers to the phone's wallet.
He told me he has given up on finding an All-European prepaid SIM solution because just like us he travels a lot and simply makes his AT&T phone roam (and comes home to pay hundreds of dollars). He is now writing a iPhone App on Mobile Money for Asia and told me absolutely no European carrier cares about it. The saga continues ...
SIM cards in France expire 6 months after the period of validity of the recharge. The higher the recharge the longer it lasts. For instance SFR has recharges of 35 euros that are valid for 2 months. So the 6 months period starts as soon as the recharge expires. When I was using prepaids I knew I had to refill not later than 8 months after the initial charge in order to keep my number and my SIM card operational. I was told to buy a refill card before going back home, except that Canadian carriers don't have agreements with French carriers so it was no use. I have read tham US carriers have agreements with French carriers, so my guess is that you can buy a recharge card before going back to the US and activate it the latest possible.
I bought a Wind SIM last May, which was very reasonable for data.
I had some credit left and I was hoping to recharge it online, went to the trouble of setting up an account on Wind.it.
Sounds like I won't be able to do it from the US and as it turns out, Wind is discontinuing its Mega Ore plans anyways.
Yeah it's hit and miss whether you can use US credit cards on trenitalia's web site too. Someone mentioned that it would work with temporary card numbers.
And you can't use Velolib in Paris with US cards either.
Well Google is going to sell the Nexus S phone with NFC chip and Apple is said to be working on NFC as well.
Hopefully everyone can use one global standard for that and we don't have to worry about having chipped credit cards (and it's too bad the chipped cards never caught on in the US, because I believe merchants won't pay for new card readers which can authenticate the chipped cards).
Posts: 712 | Location: West Coast | Registered: 17 April 2008
It always surprises me when people refer to the merchants not willing to pay for getting the "chip & pin" card readers. I have a reader at my accounting firm and we are not charge when we get new readers. I've had mine changed twice since we have the "chip & pin" cards in Canada and was never charged in excess of my monthly usual charges. I always guessed it should be the same in the USA. Am I right?
Tep deal doesn't seem too bad. That Wifi device is a Huawei E585 from "3" mobile carrier in the UK.
I know because I bought one of them on eBay for about $120. Essentially, you can put any SIM and it will turn it into a Wifi spot.
For my 2-week Sicily trip, which is winding down now, I purchased a TIM SIM along with an unlimited plan for 39 Euro complete at FCO in between flight to PMO.
So I've been using it throughout my trip, both when I'm out and about during the day to use my iPhone (Maps is obviously handy but used Google Translate as well) as well as back at the hotel to connect my MacBook Pro, an iPad I borrowed and the iPhone.
I'm now in Taormina and Residence Circe, right on Corso Umberto. They said their Wifi was out so I'm using the TIM connection through the Mifi device.
Tep price is certainly competitive, with the rental of the device, meaning you don't have to pay upfront. But if they just rent the SIM only, they might not offer as good a price as the prepaid data offers in Italy.
Where Tep and iPhoneTrip, a similar service, makes sense is if you're visiting more than one country on a trip. Or visiting a country like France where the prepaid data offers aren't as competitive as they are in Italy, the UK and Germany.
Also, I'm finding that when you stay at these smaller hotels in Italy, Wifi is not always reliable. So it's been very useful to have an option.
Posts: 712 | Location: West Coast | Registered: 17 April 2008
If anyone is considering using TEP to rent a smartphone, especially for France, don't do it!
I just sent the smartphone back to them before my trip even begins with a request for my money back.
1. They advertise Skype-based calling with Skype rates. At least for France, it turns out that Skype doesn't work on their cell phones, so very high rates apply. They informed me at the last minute that France had blocked voip, but I see they're still advertising Skype availability for France on their website.
2.The local # they promised for France turns out to be an Italian number.
3. They sent me a wall charger for the UK without an adapter for France and suggested I carry a laptop with me to charge the phone. Whether or not I will have a laptop with me, I consider this a ridiculous requirement.
4. Their website promises that all I have to do is drop the phone in their prepaid envelope and post it when I get home. The envelope they sent would only work from France, and their emailed instructions to me say not to use it but to mail the phone from a post office IN FRANCE with proof that I sent it. Since I'm leaving on a Sunday, that means I'd have to return the phone on Friday and spend my last two days without any phone.
I don't think these guys are necessarily dishonest, maybe just completely unprepared to deal with customers outside the UK, but I'd certainly never deal with them again.
I just wanted to add to this discussion because apparently there is a distinction between renting a smartphone from TEP, as Chris did, and renting a TEP wi-fi device to use with a smartphone (and/or iPad or computer) you already own. I was just reading a local blog from someone who had a great experience using the TEP wi-fi device: Napaman.com. Since you are using your own phone, there is no problem getting Skype to work. This person was very happy with TEP, which cost $10 a day for unlimited access. Not really cheap, but maybe a simple way to be sure of getting Internet access on every device you travel with, whether or not you can find wi-fi.