Cinque Terre Insider

American expat insight into Italy's fabulous "Five Lands"

It amazes me how technology has made our lives (and traveling!) so much easier. Now that we can use our mobile phones and access data just about anywhere in the world, unlimited information is at our fingertips.

If you’re planning to come to Italy with your smartphone in hand, here are three apps you’ll want to download before setting foot on the plane:

WhatsApp

This is my number 1, MVP app (seriously, I use it a gazillion times a day and it would be tough to live without it). WhatsApp allows you to text, voice message, send images, call or video call anyone else in the world with the same app for free (but you will need to use data or be connected to WiFi). The best part about WhatsApp is that it doesn’t matter if the person you are contacting uses iOS or Android as it works for all smartphones. It has some great features (I love how I can see when messages were delivered and viewed so I have no doubt that they arrived).

So why should you download WhatsApp before coming to Italy? It’s the most popular social app in Europe and most everyone has it. WhatsApp makes it easy to connect with AirBnB hosts (or other alternative accommodation hosts) and even some restaurants have their numbers linked with WhatsApp so it makes booking a table so much easier. Not to mention, keeping up with family and friends back home is a snap (you can even create group chats so you can save time and avoid sending messages and photos individually).

TrenItalia

This is the official TrenItalia app (which is free to download) where you can check train times and buy tickets with just a few finger taps! Say goodbye to long lines at the ticket counter and the not-so-user-friendly kiosks as you breeze straight to the platform (woot woot!). I have my account set up so that payment is fast tracked through my PayPal account, making buying tickets even quicker and easier. Once you purchase your tickets, you’ll be given a QR code to show to the controller on the train (there’s no need to print). You can add your tickets to your virtual wallet or simply screenshot them so they are saved to your photo roll. There is a caveat; the app is good, but not perfect. It has happened to me a time or two that the app was down and I had to queue up for tickets the old-fashioned way.

TIP: You’ll need to know your Italian codice fiscale to create an account. This is a personal tax ID number that’s created with your name, gender, date and place of birth. Don’t worry, it’s not a secret code like an American social security number. You can calculate your Italian codice fiscale here. Keep in mind that if you were born in the USA you’ll need to write it in Italian: Stati Uniti.

Word to the wise: Depending on your mobile phone provider, you might not have access to data at the Manarola train station in the Cinque Terre (I have TIM and I don’t). What does that mean? Either you’ll need to think ahead (and buy your tickets before you head to the Manarola train station), line up to buy paper tickets or run back through the tunnel to the village where you’ll have reception and can use the app.

SayHi

*Close runner up: GoogleTranslate

Gone are the days when traveling with a pocket dictionary or phrase book was obligatory. Say ciao to SayHi Translate, a free app that will be your new BFF while in Italy (there are tons of other languages available, too). I’ve tested the app in Italian in direct comparison with Google Translate and SayHi seems to offer more accurate translations (of course, no automatic translator is going to be flawless). I love that you can choose to either type or speak to the app and you can control factors like voice speed. There is a tiny bit of a learning curve, so get familiar with the app and the different toggles and settings before you are vis-a-vis with an Italian. One drawback is that you’ll need to be online (either via WiFi or data) to use this app.

Google Translate has its own free app and while I find the app itself more intuitive than SayHi’s, the quality of the translations isn’t as precise. I do like that you can use a limited portion of this app offline as well (but you’ll need to download your language of interest) and the option to take a photo of a sign or printed text to translate is nifty and cool (you’ll need to be online for this option).

For the sake of clarity, it’s important to note that I am in no way paid to endorse any of the above apps. I’m just offering honest advice and opinions from Cinque Terre Insider.

Happy travels and ciao for now,

Amy

Photo credit: Nicole O’Neil Photography

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10 thoughts on “Three free apps to download before coming to Italy

  1. This is great Amy–I will pass it along to our guests. One FYI, the Trenitalia app (love this App) can’t be downloaded unless you have an EU phone or Italian ITunes account. I’ve learned this when trying to get it for our guests outside of Europe.
    Having WhatsApp is almost essential and makes communication so easy!
    We love the App Speak + Translate–I will also try the ones you’ve recommended.
    Thanks as always for all your good information!
    Paula

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow! Thanks for this valuable feedback, Paula! Why am I not surprised that TrenItalia has dropped the ball on this? 🤦‍♀️ I will definitely modify my post to mention this. Crossing my fingers that TrenItalia fixes this hiccup (but I’m not holding my breath).

      Un bacione!
      Amy

      Like

      1. I know, such a shame as it is a great App

        Like

      2. Ciao Paula!

        I just had a friend in the US check and it’s now also available in the other app stores! 💃🏽💃🏽💃🏽 Woot woot!

        x
        Amy

        Like

      3. What great news! Thanks for sharing.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. John Lee says:

    I’ve downloaded the Trenitalia app just now and it looks great. Only problem is you need an Italian tax code to register so it looks like I’ll need to purchase tickets as a guest each time and reenter data unless you know of a workaround.

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    1. Ciao John!

      It’s easy to formulate your Italian tax code (it’s based on your full name, date and place of birth). Try a website that calculates it for you, like this one: https://www.professionegiustizia.it/calcoli/calcolo_codice_fiscale_estero
      FYI: USA is Stati Uniti d’America in Italian. 🙂

      Hope that helps!
      Amy

      Like

  3. ehovorka says:

    Hi Amy,
    I’m trying to add our already purchased tickets to the Trenitalia app and I can’t find the MAIL number. I already have the PNR number. Any suggestions? Thanks!

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    1. Ciao!

      I’ve never heard of a MAIL number? If you’ve already purchased tickets I’d just add them to your mobile wallet (I add all of the tickets I buy on the app there so they can be accessed even without data). 🙂

      Amy

      Like

  4. ehovorka says:

    That’s a great idea! Thanks! For some reason I can’t get my QR to scan.

    Like

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