Wondering whether you can use your iPhone in Rome? If you have an iPhone 4S or later, you can. And it doesn’t matter who your home service provider is. You also don’t have to worry about the alphabet soup of wireless phone tech… CDMA, GSM, etc.
To make it work, you have two options. You can use your home service provider’s global service plan. Or, you purchase a SIM card in Rome. Wireless service providers’ global plans can often be costly, so it’s usually significantly cheaper to go with the SIM card option. To purchase a local SIM card, all you have to do is follow two steps.
The first step to getting your Italian SIM is to call up your wireless service provider before you leave home — Verizon Wireless in my case (this company is one of the largest mobile providers in the U.S., but this post applies to all iPhones generation 4S and later). Tell them you will be traveling abroad and that you need your phone unlocked. Have each phone you want unlocked with you when you call them. Verizon might need you to find an i.d. number within the phone’s settings while you’re on the phone with them. As long as you’ve had each phone at least 30 days, they won’t raise a fuss. Remember, you’re the phone’s owner, even if your provider subsidized the price a bit, so they’re obligated to unlock your phone.
The second step is done when you get to Italy.* Take your phone and photo identification to any mobile phone store. TIM, Wind, and Vodafone are the three largest wireless service providers in Italy. Near us, I use the Vodafone store on Via del Tritone, but there are many mobile phone stores near the apartment and throughout Rome. Tell them you want a SIM card. They will take care of you.
What you’ll get is a SIM card and some credit loaded on it. If you think you’ll use the phone lightly, say just for emergencies, or aren’t sure how much you’ll use the phone, just ask for the minimum possible euros to be loaded. 20 euros would be reasonable for a week’s light use. They will give you a number to check your balance by phone or text at no cost, so you’ll be able to track your usage. If you need to add some credit to your SIM, each chain has plenty of stores around the city.
If you have money left on the SIM at the end of your trip, pay a visit to the store and get your unused credit paid back. I haven’t done this personally (since I keep using mine on return trips), but I hear it’s easy to do.
For guests of The Spanish Steps Apartment, you’ll also have access to our land-line phone to receive incoming calls from home, and you can use a calling card to call home. We also provide our guests with free wi-fi and a laptop computer, so you can email and use Skype to keep in touch as well.
* I recommend ignoring the stores you find at the airport when you arrive. You don’t get the same service guarantee that the big three’s large number of stores would provide. If you have a problem with the service, it’s harder to find a related store in the city. In case you think it will help with cashing out unused credit upon departure, bear in mind that if you’re leaving from Fiumicino for the U.S., you won’t leave from the same terminal where you arrived.