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Getting online in Italian cities isn't difficult: public Internet stations and Internet cafés, some open 24 hours, are common, and many bars and cafes have Wi-Fi available (sometimes for a small fee). Prices differ from place to place, so check out a few spots to find the best deal. This isn't always readily apparent: a place might appear to have higher rates, but if it belongs to a chain, it might not charge you an initial flat fee again when you visit a branch in another city.
Although there is no official map of Italian hot spots, you can check www.hotspots.com for locations in Tuscany and Umbria. Some hotels have in-room modem lines, but, as with phones, using the hotel's line is relatively expensive. Always check modem rates before plugging in.
You may need an adapter for your computer for the European-style plugs. If you are traveling with a laptop, carry a spare battery and an adapter. Never plug your computer into any socket before asking about surge protection. IBM sells a tiny modem tester that plugs into a telephone jack to check whether the line is safe to use.
Cybercafes. This Web site lists more than 4,000 Internet cafés worldwide. www.cybercafes.com.
Telephone service in Tuscany and Umbria is efficient. Cell phones, however, are widely used by Italians, resulting in a decrease in the number of public pay phones. Calling from a hotel landline phone is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones.
The country code for Italy is 39. Area codes for major cities are as follows: Florence, 055; Perugia, 075; Pisa, 050; Siena, 0577. For example, a call from New York City to Florence would be dialed as 011 + 39 + 055 + phone number.
When dialing an Italian number from abroad, do not drop the initial 0 from the local area code.
Calling Within Italy
For all calls within Italy—local and long distance—you must dial the regional area code (prefisso), which begins with a 0, such as 055 for Florence. If you are calling from a public phone, you must deposit a coin or use a calling card to get a dial tone. Some of the newer public phones don't accept coins. Local calling cards are available at newsstands or tobacco shops. Rates on landline phones vary during the day; it's less expensive to call within Italy during nonworking hours (before 9 am and after 7 or 8 pm).
Calling Outside Italy
The country code for the United States is 1, so from most phones in Italy you will dial 001 + area code + phone number. To place international telephone calls and collect calls via an English-speaking operator-assisted service, dial 170 (only available on landline phones) or an international carrier's long-distance access code, or use an international prepaid calling card.
You can also place a direct call to the United States using your U.S. phone calling-card number, through which you automatically reach a U.S. operator and thereby avoid all language difficulties.
AT&T USADirect (800/172-444.)
MCI Worldwide Access (800/905-825.)
Sprint Express (800/172-405.)
Prepaid carte telefoniche (calling cards) for intra-country calls are prevalent throughout Italy and more convenient than coins. You buy the card (values vary) at post offices, tobacconists, most newsstands, and bars. Tear off the corner of the card and insert it in the slot on a public pay phone. When you dial, its value appears in the window. After you hang up, the card is returned so you can use it until its value runs out.
International phone cards offer good value, allowing you to call Europe and the United States for less than 20 European cents a minute during peak hours. Follow the directions on the back of the card. These will include revealing the identification number on the card and calling an "800" number or other free number. If you wish to use this card at a public phone you may need a local calling card to activate the public phone. If you are using your hotel phone, the call should be charged as any other "800" number call.
If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies from what's used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. And overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It's almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).
If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You'll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive, you could also simply buy a new cell phone in your destination, as the initial cost will be offset over time.
If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell-phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.
The cost of cell phones is dropping, and you can purchase a cell phone with a prepaid calling card (no monthly service plan) in Italy for around €35. Inexpensive cell phones are dual band and will not allow you to call the United States, but using an international calling card and the cell phone solves that problem in a very inexpensive manner. Most medium to large towns in Tuscany and Umbria (Florence, Siena, Lucca, Pisa, and Perugia) have stores dedicated to selling cell phones. You will need to present your passport to purchase the SIM card that goes with the phone.
Rental cell phones are available in cities and large towns. Most rental contracts require a refundable deposit that covers the cost of the cell phone (€75-€125) and then the purchase of a monthly service plan that is automatically charged to your credit card. Frequently, rental cell phones will be triple band and allow you to call the United States. Be sure to check the rate schedule before you rent a cell phone and commence calling to prevent a nasty surprise when you receive your credit-card bill two or three months later.
Beware of cell-phone (and PDA) thieves. Keep your phone or PDA in a secure pocket or purse. Do not lay it on the bar when you stop for an espresso. Do not zip it into the outside pocket of your backpack in crowded cities. Do not leave it in your hotel room. If you are using a phone with a monthly service plan, notify your provider immediately if it is lost or stolen.
Cellular Abroad. This company rents and sells GMS phones and sells SIM cards that work in many countries. 800/287-5072. www.cellularabroad.com.
Mobal. Rent mobiles and buy GSM phones (starting at $49) that will operate in 140 countries from Mobal. Per-call rates vary throughout the world. www.mobalrental.com.
Planet Fone. Cell phones are available for rent through Planet Fone, but the per-minute rates are expensive. 888/988-4777. www.planetfone.com.
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