American in Italy / expat / italy / tips / Uncategorized

How not to get a phone plan in Italy

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more like “nope, no phone for you unless you can get the Pope to co-sign”

So rarely do I use my blog as a tool to rant about what I don’t like about Italy but this was just such a frustrating experience that I had to share with you all so that hopefully you don’t waste your own time doing the same as me.

If you are a fan of my blog’s facebook page you probably know that I have been in the market for a new phone for some time now. Since a lot of my work has recently because much more social media focused and I am often out and about – having a great phone is essential to what I do and at 28 years old, I think I deserve it. Two years ago I sauntered into the seventh circle of hell – the vodafone store on via martelli and got a blackberry curve (yes I wince when I say this). It actually was a pretty big deal for someone who before only used her phone to send texts and call, you know, when people still called one another. Though I wouldn’t say that Vodafone is my favorite hangout – at the very least the process of merging a pay-per minute plan to a phone contract similar to the one we have in the states with the phone itself included wasn’t as painful as I had imagined. Getting a phone plan in Italy isn’t that hard after all!

And then I tried change to Tre Italia or 3 Italia – which when you often try to google.. automates to ‘Trenitalia’ the site for the national train in Italy.

T-man has been with them for over two years and was pretty pleased even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with the two-year phone contract concept that we love in the states. He got an Iphone4 that sometimes replaces me as a girlfriend. I have never met anyone who enjoyed watching videos on youtube as much as he does, or online shops more than me - lets hope he doesn’t read this post ;). Anyway, while it wasn’t easy for him to get on the phone plan with 3 (they outsource their financing to a company called Compass). Anyway, he was ultimately successful and they bill him via his bank account which is becoming the norm in Italy for those looking to not ‘top up’ anymore.

While being warned years ago to be wary of getting a phone plan that bills directly to your bank account in Italy, I actually was happy with my plan and didn’t make rookie  mistakes like using the phone abroad. I turn my roaming option off and connect to WIFI wherever I can, if an emergency arises I could take roaming off long enough to make a call. Simple, never got overcharged or scammed and I checked my bank account every month to ensure that.

So when I finally collected all of my necessary documents together (which I liken to getting ready for a questura visit), I was confident that I would have no problem fitting the criteria for a phone plan at 3 Italia. I have a partita iva, can prove I make a decent amount of money every month, have always paid my vodafone contract on time and am legal  in Italy for some time now. Perfect right?

Nope! Instead what happened was me and t-man spending over an hour and a half signing document after document (they also have an option to pay via credit card which wouldn’t work because I don’t have a credit card in Italy) after which the guy working at the store tells me Compass, their financing company has approved me. Awesome! We just have to return the next day to pick up the phone and he has already went ahead and changed my number to their service. So the next day, I go to work and t-man surprises with a nice phone case (more like he is paranoid that I will drop the phone and has decided to get protection) and head to the store excited. Than of course someone had to tell me that Santa does not exist, which in my world means him telling us that they have annulled the contract and requested a co-signer (tman) since my partita iva hasn’t been open long enough to pass their standards. Um ok. 

he had the right idea

T-man graciously offered to co-sign (I felt 16 again) and we spend at least another hour or so  killing many trees and again filling out never-ending forms. I chalk it off to them being extra fiscally careful since yes, it was a great deal and they want to make sure I don’t run off with last year’s Iphone prize. Finally the guy runs everything through the system which than blocks itself and he has to call the Compass customer service number. Of course no-one answers because it’s 5:30pm at night which is way past when anyone at the financing company should have to work, silly me. This means we have to wait yet another day to get my phone and complete this nightmare. So the next day (this is slowly becoming like Bill Murray’s Groundhog day) we wait for the guy to call us which he of course doesn’t until 5pm with news that sorry, they have denied our application even with a co-signer from an existing paying customer.

Wtf?

At this point obviously I am not happy and want answers. The guy tells me they are just very strict and the process is difficult and why don’t I just apply for a credit card? No thanks. It’s not his fault, this I know but still, I just wasted 2 and a half days. Also what boggles my mind is why I was approved the first day with no problems?

3 Italia did want to leave a final parting gift to remind of the fun experience – ie: the mess of having to change my number back from 3  which they changed the first day when my contract was approved. As crappy as the prices for Vodafone Italia are — at the very least the process of getting a phone plan was much, much easier in comparison, no credit card required and I doubt WIND would suck this bad. And guys remember, we are talking about a two-year phone plan for an Iphone 4s. Not even an Iphone 5,  nor am I planning to move anytime soon. I would expect this kind of details if I attempted to get a mortgage for a house, not a phone.

By the way, this is not the first clue that something is wrong with Tre Italia. We purchased their ‘web cube’ a year or two ago when we moved houses which was not a great experience. Not only was it not-unlimited like the claim on their advertising but it was super slow, chaotic at best and they charged us for three extra months when we had already cancelled service and changed to telecom’s internet. Lesson learned,  I should have known better even then but thought maybe in 2013 service might have improved in this competitive world of phone plans in Italy. Somewhere out in the dark night, an evil elf working for 3 Italia is laughing in his grappa.

 I apologize for the long rant but when I started this blog I promised myself I would be honest in my experiences and share them all – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Now it’s your turn? Have you ever had any crazy red-tape phone issues in Italy? Or am I the unluckiest person in Firenze? I want to hear from you.

25 thoughts on “How not to get a phone plan in Italy

  1. First, lemme say “awwwwww…..” – that sounds like a terrible experience!!! Next, lemme say that you give us plenty of joy and good recommendations – you’ve “earned” the space on your own blog to vent once in a while!!! Finally, I don’t have a similar experience because I have a cheap vodafone pay-as-you-go plan, but I am having a problem there I don’t know how to solve… when I first signed up I picked “my country” at 6 euros/month as one of the features. I soon realized calling on skype was the way to go, so cancelled that feature. However, almost every month vodafone reactivates it and forces me to go back and de-activate it. A couple of times I apparently missed my window of opportunity and was charged the 6 euros for a service I cancelled within a day. Is there no law/no way to make then cancel it for good unless I ask for it back?!?!?! Thanks!

    • thank you! Hmmm I remember when i used to have the ‘pay as you go plan’ often there would be shady ‘opt out’ features that honestly to me felt illegal. I would walk down to your nearest store and ask them about it and threaten to change carriers if this continues.

      • Thanks. Funny, back in the States I was/am(?) a lawyer, this kinda stuff was no problem; here not only do I not know the rules of the game, but my Italian isn’t great for high-level negotiations/complaining – but I’ll give it a shot!

    • In the service plan it’s written there’s an auto-renewal at 6 euros every 3 months. Did you get this resolved? As GGinItaly said, maybe it’s best to go to a Vodafone point and ask them to do it, also with the ‘threat’ to switch providers. Hope you get/got it sorted! I use Poste Mobile (not so chic, lol) pay-as-you go and love it. I hardly spend money since every ricarica doubles and I hardly use my phone aside from calling or texting clients, since my BF and I have unlimited calls+texts too. I also use Skype more even with friends here in FI. lol

      • Thanks for then info about the plan and the advice. I haven’t gone yet – guess I’m getting up the courage. The one thing is, when I was a lawyer I always stuck to the idea that you never threaten anything (like a lawsuit, or changing your phone plan), if you have no intention to follow through with it…. Maybe I’ll just go into vodafone and ask nicely….

      • They should be able to do it at the Vodafone center, or at least tell you why it wasn’t working on your end. (Kind of like when I had to go to a Punto Enel to clear up 6 months of issues from name-transfer)

    • Vodafone is a company that steals whatever they can from you. Don’t ever sign up for an ‘abbonamento’ with them that requires you giving them your credit card. I did that and over the next two months they withdrew 2 x 400 Euro from my account claiming that I had used my phone as a hotspot to power up a computer. I am a very light user who only checks emails and Facebook on the go. Now it’s my word against theirs and I’m losing. I’ve since then changed to Wind which functions ok. My husband got cheated too and two other friends have gotten extra bills that they weren’t supposed to get, some very high, like an exktra 80 Euro a month for internet use that was supposed to be included in a 50 Euro a month plan. Go figure! I’d change to Wind if I were you. But at least they cheating you out of some money is peanuts at the moment as they don’t have your credit card on file. Don’t EVER give it to them!

      • they do not have my credit card but rather take money from my bank account – called a bonifico. I actually had a contract from Vodafone for two years and they never overcharged me once, go figure! Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t look at my bills like a hawk!!!!

  2. Ugh, that sounds like a complete nightmare! Reading all this has convinced me to stick with pay-as-you-go no matter what, even if it is annoying to run out of credits on the account at inconvenient times.

    • I hear ya! I actually prefer a phone plan in the sense that I have never been overcharged and I always found it annoying to ‘top up’. But this is keeping in mind with the fact that I only did so after 4 years of living in Italy. 3 Italia is the only carrier that breaks your balls to this extreme because they are also the cheapest. Hence the precautions but its ridiculous. I know I will just end up going with Vodafone and sucking up the higher prices but at least knowing that the phone will A. work and B. coverage is quite good. oh well, lesson learn – ask the pope as a cosigner if you want a contract with 3!

  3. Hi Georgette – I had 3 for over a year then had to switch to TIM, only to switch back to 3 (you know there is that promotion if you switch from a different carrier to 3) and recently did the abbonamento TOP 400 with the iphone 4s as well – with my boyfriends credit card, which was easy enough since everything is under his name. So far no billing errors etc, but we also got the webcube (5 euro more a month) which is VERY slow so we still use the chiavetta most of the time)

    Anyway I’m sorry for your experience, however I really don’t think its you being unlucky – its just the way the cookie crumbles here in Italy (which I’m sure you are aware of!)

    Good luck and hope you have a better weekend! Lmk if you want a drinking partner or exchange horror stories ;)

    • I always up for a drink partner ;-). I am going to go to the bank on Monday and get a credit card so I can get this mess over with but I will going to vodafone since I decided I need a pain free process and I need good coverage (tre switches to TIM when there is no signal but not the internet just the phone signal so that isn’t really useful). I just was used to having things be a little easier since I am a resident now and was just shocked at how many times I had to visit this store. How can a normal person work if they have to spend so much free time doing this red-tape fiascos! Thankfully tman is a huge help and great at distracting me lol. have a great weekend and thanks for stopping by!!!!!

  4. Well real life isn’t a fairy tale anywhere ;) And that’s just because you were not there when we had to deal with SIP (the ancient Telecom Italia) and you didn’t have to deal with all the mess of the supercharged internet calls (12 euros per minute)… my mum received a bill of 500 Euros from Telecom IT because of the famous agencies taking over your landline connection… She had to get a lawyer but in the meanwhile she was cut off from any phone connection in an area with no mobile reception.. During the time I lived in Italy, I went from TIM, to vodafone, to 3, back to vodafone… Always top-up sim cards, because you can do it at a bancomat and I NEVER wanted any phone provider messing up with my bank account. I was right, despite the first phone contract I had was opened in Edinburgh in 2011… but you’ve no idea what O2 did, I got overcharged 52 pounds for texts!! So I had to cancel their direct debit and in June this year I’ll cancel the contract. Honestly I got the phone+contract thinking it was the best issue for me too. EVER again!!! I’ll buy an Iphone and put a top up sim card in it. At least I didn’t spend 600 pounds in two years, plus charges. Concerning phone providers, I’ve no idea how it works in USA but in Europe… ‘tutto il mondo è paese” ;)
    x

    • to be honest, I have had a phone plan since I was 18 and never ever had an issue in the USA with getting overcharged or with vodafone here but i was really careful when abroad, never activated roaming etc. I am sorry for your experience! Living in Italy for such a long time I have had my fair share of ‘reality’ though the good absolutely outweighs the bad :). In any case I look at this experience as a sort of ‘warm up’ for my upcoming permesso renewal. read, set…..go! haha

  5. Blegh! I got a pay as you go plan for my iPhone. I already had the phone (got it a couple years ago in the US through AT&T), so just needed the sim card. We picked one up from Media World at Gigli a couple months ago & it’s through 3. No problems thus far, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Only problem I’ve had was that the signal is not so great in some spots near Signa.

    • Yeah I think if you are dependent on tre for a decent internet signal and you are not in the city, you would run into problems. I have heard that TIM has the best coverage/signal followed by vodafone but I could be wrong!

  6. I guess I’m glad in retrospect that I always stuck with a pay-as-you-go phone in Italy! When I first got it (my first week in the country, when my Italian was still literally just Spanish with an Italian accent) they didn’t even ask me for ID or anything to get it. The weird thing about Italian red tape for me is that some things are so ridiculously easy, and then others have mysterious, unintelligible processes…. like why do you go to the post office to pay your bollette? I hope you sort it out soon!

    • you are spot on, some things are so super easy it’s scary and then what you expect to be easy ends up being a long ordeal (like this) – I have so often felt that on many occasions.. you have no idea! You actually can pay your bollette at any tabacchi, you just need your customer number and amount and you can pay online via your bank account but most italians I know don’t trust that option and prefer a paper record ;-).

    • Honestly, I wanted a credit card in order to build some credit in Italy or in case I needed to rent a car in the future. I didn’t want to spend over 700 euros in one go via cash but in the end it worked out, I got a samsung galaxy s3 from Vodafone! love it!!

      • Hello…. My wife daughter and I arrived here from the states the1st of October for a two month stay. We learned our American phones do not have a sim card that can be changed out (galaxy s3 with sprint… only carrier with an s3 where the sim card is actually built in and can’t be changed). Anyway, we have our U.S. numbers forwarded to skype numbers and this is great as long as we are on a wifi connection. Our issue is we need a simple way to converse with each other locally. I found 40€ phones at a tim shop and they said I could buy them and they set me up on pay as you go service. I found cheap 20€ phones at a local supermarket… not purchased yet. I was told I could buy these and then buy pay as you go service. Is this true? If so, do I just take the cheap phone to a tim office and have them do it? Am I better off spending the extra € at the tim shop for the more expensive phone? Thanks for your help…. I’m not sure I made any sense but, can’t imagine asking the same questions in very poor italian all the while asking the clerk to repeat themselves over and over again more slowly!

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