Techie Abroad: Pre-paid SIM card in Italy is a pain if you don’t speak Italian

BlackBerry Z10 - mappingBlackBerry Z10 - mappingBlackBerry Z10 - mappingBlackBerry Z10 - mapping

Whilst I have no proof or research to quote from, I am pretty sure that Italians must rank up there as some of the most friendly people in the world. Learn a couple of words or phrases in Italian, and they are very happy to assist you with anything. So my experience with Vodafone has come as a surprise as I spend days trying to get my very expensive pre-paid SIM card to work.

Here is my tale of sorrow and some lessons learnt:

Day 1 – When I arrived in Italy, the plan was to hire a car and use my Blackberry Z10 phone’s maps to navigate around. Why pay the rental company extra 120 euros for a GPS? For my mobile phone plan to work, I would need a SIM with data loaded on it. Contrary to various forums, at the Venice airport there are no cell phone outlets. The nearest Vodafone outlet is at a shopping mall about 15 minutes from the airport in a place called Marconi. At the Vodafone shop, the sales person spoke a little English and explained that in Italy you can not make your cell phone device a hot spot so if I wanted to have my tablet connected too I would need a specific SIM for that. I landed up purchasing a SIM for my phone for 7 euros that gives my 500 minutes on calls, 500 SMS and 2GB data. I also purchased a Tablet SIM for 25 euros that give me 5GB of data. Plus had to pay for the SIMs too which all totalled 40 euros.  At a rough calculation of R13 to the euro that works out at around R520 ! <gulp> still cheaper than hiring a GPS and I would have my devices connected to the net which is what us techies need.

So now we ready to hit the road, I piled the family into the rented car and I fired up my Z10 Navigation. It routes me to my destination without too much trouble. Navigating the autostrada (highway) is straight forward and the BlackBerry’s excellent mapping keep you on the right track.  What I also like about the BlackBerry maps is that they give you the traffic information on route  as well as announce the street name that you need to turn onto. This means that I could keep my eyes on the road and verify that the street is correct instead of looking down as the device looking for the street name. If you know how the Italians drive, you know that you need to keep both eye on the road at all times to avoid the thousands of scooters.

So far so good.

Day 2 – About to leave a waterpark to head back to the hotel and my phone has no data available and I get a message in Italian that I can only assume means I am out of data. That is not possible as I have had the SIM for less than 24 hours. Luckily I have my Galaxy Note 8 so was going to use that to navigate back to my hotel. When I switch that on, I get the same SMS saying I have no more data. There is no way I used 5GB of data in 24 hours on a tablet that only has Google Maps as well as 2GB of data on my BlackBerry!

I call Customer Services only to realise that apparently Vodafone has not heard of the English language. There is simply no way to change the menu options on the IVR into English. There is no way to tell the system that you don’t speak Italian and need to have your SMS sent to you in English (or any other language).  I spent very frustrating hours trying to speak to any human operator to help me solve my no-data problem. However, no matter what number I called, no matter what I pressed 1 for this and 2 for that, I could not get to speak to an operator. I even tried just pressing 0 or 9 hoping  but that did not work either. Looking online for solutions only resulted in more frustration.  The Vodafone in Italy speaks Italian only.

I found their Twitter handle and sent them a messages asking for help. I received a Tweet back saying that someone will call me back in two days time….eh… this is how I am navigating Italy. No data is a real issue and two days time just seems way too long to wait.

Vodafone Twitter message

Day 3 – I still cant find anyone or any online article to assist, so I attempt to  convince the kids that we are heading to a new shopping centre as part of our Italian road trip but they could see right through me and counter with ice-scream request after I find a Vodafone store. At the Vodafone shop, after explaining my problem, I initially got that “you must have used your data” look but when I showed the sales assistant the various SMS, she agreed that it is indeed not possible. After repeatedly calling their own internal call centre, she eventually got a hold of someone who tried the oldest trick in the book: “switch off and on again in a hour”…as I can’t argue in Italian, I did just that and amazingly it did not work. No kidding. I then went back to the shop and then they told me to update my setting to a new APN. When I did it, the tablet data came flying back. I was told maybe I changed it? The old APN settings were: mobile.Vodafone.it the new APN settings are: web.omnitel.it  – not even close enough for me to guess those.

So now I have the tablet working but my Z10 data is still not. They can’t help me with this issue as the 7 euros promotion was so popular they are only taking support queries via their Forums. In Italian. Problem. Did I mention Non-Parle Italiano ? (I dont speak Italian)

Day 4 – I now don’t trust this data service at all. Sometime it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In order not to get stuck somewhere in the Italian countryside, I need a plan B that can both get me to the destination and at the same time save my data cost. I devices to save Data costs, what I can do is set up the entire destination on Google Maps from point A to B whilst using the hotel WiFi. As long as I don’t get lost, the system keeps tracking my movement on the road with or without data. Obviously if I take the wrong turn, it will not reroute me without data.  The other backup idea is that  when I am in the hotel I use the WiFi  to set up my route and then I take a screen shot of the direction of where I am going to. In the event that the data stops, I can navigate with the direction screen shot.

Screenshot - Google MapScreenshot - Google Map

Now I fully accept that the entire world doesn’t speak English. I fully understand that when you visit a foreign country they have their way of doing things. But this is Vodafone after all – one of the world’s leading cellular provider. Surely I am not the first non-Italian to have issues? Surely they can route calls to India or London or some other country for English speaking people to get support? In my travels, I have found that in South Africa, in the Netherlands, in the USA, in Israel you have a language options when you call customer service. Once you select English, then all the menus and operators speak English.

What is very frustrating is that not only did I pay R520 for some connectivity I can sometime use, I am now in a position where I am not getting anywhere with Vodafone and have to make a decision to start this all over again with another company. And spend another R520 just to get online.

ps. I am still waiting for that English speaking customer services person from Vodafone to call me…

Galaxy Note 8 used as GPS

6 Comments

  1. I have the same problem like you now, jsut got a SIM card, 500 mins with anyone, 500 SMS and 1GB data, and i run out of credit after talking about 3 minutes on the phone. Amazing the service is not in enlglish, the local operators don’t talk english and they are not friendly either…and after all is such a tourist populated country…I would say stupid aoverall, and I would not recommend anyone to come into Itally for vacation, country is nice, people are shit.

  2. Hi, Thank you for posting this. I am currently dealing with almost the same situation. Vodaphone in Italy is a disaster and should be avoided at all costs by travellers. Did you ever get things sorted out? A refund? An explanation?

  3. Thanks for posting this experience. I just moved to Rome and signed up with vodafone about a week ago. Not more than 3 days into having a sim card from them, I got a text saying my 1 gb of data was all used up. Impossible, I thought, and went to the nearest vodafone store. When I got there, the utterly rude and horrifically mannered girl who worked there immediately started speaking to me in an aggressive manner, pretty much yelling at me that there is nothing she can do, other than sell me more data. And I speak Italian, by the way, this was not in English. If this is the best they can do, it’s pathetic, and they give Italy a bad name. I wish I never got involved with this company. All they do is try to sell you useless promotions that have zero transparency.

  4. I purchased a 30 euro italian sim with 300 mins of calls within italy and to my home Australia plus 2 gb and 5 gb bonus for 30 days. Now I have no credit after a few days and cannot find out how to check my balance using the imformation given to me at the Vodaphone shop in Milan Centrale rail station one week ago. I have hardly used data or telephone. How to talk this out with a English Operator? Any body help?
    Mike

  5. Sadly, I’m so happy to find this post and comments! I am experiencing the exact same thing that others have described. I’m in Rome for a few months and bought a SIM card for my unlocked iPhone through Vodafone. 500 talk minutes and 3GB for 10 euro. The sales person made it sound so easy and obvious. 2 days later I get a text saying that I have 1cent in credit and that I need to ‘recharge’. First of all, I made ZERO calls. I used google maps and skype to make 2 phone calls. The people at two different Vodafone stores weren’t very helpful – interacting with you as if you were dimwitted. I can’t check my minutes or data. No other language options, and ended up paying another 10 euros even though this plan is supposed to last me a month… Travelers: DO NOT GO WITH VODAFONE. Many people say how friendly Italians are, but unfortunately it seems those Italians don’t work in the stores. Not sure what company to get a new SIM card from..

Add your comment