Getting online in Italian cities isn't difficult: public Internet stations and Internet cafés, some open 24 hours, are common. Prices differ from place to place, so spend some time to find the best deal. Chains like Internet Train can be handy if you're moving about the country, as you can simply prepay your time, and then use the nearest location to connect without staff intervention. You can even use your own laptop if you prefer.
Wi-Fi hot spots can be found in lodgings from high-end hotels to B&Bs, major airports and train stations, cafés, and shopping centers, but are rarely free. Broadband and Wi-Fi connections are becoming increasingly common in lodgings, including smaller hotels and B&Bs. 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 a plug adapter for your computer for the European-style electric socket (a converter will likely not be necessary). If you're 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.
Provincia Wi-Fi. For use with Italian cell phones only, this service offers the ability to surf the internet free (for now) with a daily limit of 300MB of total traffic. Users must register online at any hotspot. 06/4040 9434. www.provincia.roma.it/percorsitematici/innovazione-tecnologica/.
The good news is that you can now make a direct-dial telephone call from virtually any point on Earth. The bad news? You can't always do so cheaply. Calling from a hotel is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. Calling cards can keep costs to a minimum, but only if you purchase them locally. And then there are mobile phones; as expensive as mobile phone calls can be, they're still usually a much cheaper option than calling from your hotel. With a little effort, you can manage to reduce the call expense, though.
Call Italy from Abroad
When calling Italy from North America, dial 011 (which gets you an international line), followed by Italy's country code, 39, and the phone number, including any leading 0. Note that Italian cell numbers have 10 digits and always begin with a 3; Italian landline numbers will contain from 4 to 10 digits, and will always begin with a 0. So for example, when calling Rome, whose numbers begin with 06, you dial 011 + 39 + 06 + phone number; for a cell phone, dial 011 + 39 + cell number.
Calling Within Italy
With the advent of mobile phones, public pay phones are becoming increasingly scarce, although they can be found at train and subway stations, main post offices, and in some bars. In rural areas, town squares usually have a pay phone. Pay phones require a scheda telefonica (phone card).
For all calls within Italy, whether local or long-distance, you'll dial the entire phone number that starts with 0, or 3 for cell phone numbers. Rates from landlines vary according to the time of day; it's cheaper to call before 9 am and after 7 or 8 pm; calling a cell phone will cost significantly more. Italy uses the prefix "800" for toll-free or numero verde (green) numbers.
Making International Calls
Because of the high rates charged by most hotels for long-distance and international calls, you're better off making such calls from public phones or your mobile phone, using an international calling card. If you prefer to use the hotel phone to make an international call, you can still save money by using an international calling card.
Although not advised because of the exorbitant cost, you can place international calls or collect calls through an operator by dialing 170. Rates to the United States are lowest on Sunday around the clock and between 10 pm and 8 am (Italian time) on weekdays and Saturday. You can also place a direct call to the United States using your U.S. phone calling-card number. You automatically reach a U.S. operator and thereby avoid all language difficulties.
The country code for the United States and Canada is 1 (dial 00 + 1 + area code and number).
AT&T Direct (800/172-444.)
MCI WorldPhone (800/90-5825.)
Sprint International Access (800/172-405.)
Prepaid schede telefoniche (phone cards) are available throughout Italy and are best for calls within the country. Cards in different denominations are sold at post offices, newsstands, tobacco shops, and some bars. When using with pay phones, tear off the corner of the card and insert it into the phone's slot. When you dial, the card's value appears in a display window. After you hang up, the card is returned (so don't walk off without it).
International calling cards are different; you call a toll-free number from any phone, entering the code found on the back of the card followed by the destination number. The best card for calling North America and elsewhere in Europe is the Europa card, which comes in two denominations, €5 for 180 minutes and €10 for 360 minutes, available at tobacco shops. Just ask for a card for calling the United States (or the country you prefer).
If you have a multiband phone (Europe and North America use different calling frequencies) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), you can probably use your own phone and provider 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 low set fee (often less than 15¢).
To further reduce calling expenses, consider buying an Italian SIM card (making sure your service provider first unlocks your phone for use with a different SIM) and a prepaid service plan once at your destination. You then have a local number and can make calls at local rates (which also means you pay only for calls made, not received).
If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones (ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you) or buy an unlocked, multiband phone online; 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; you can purchase a dual band (Europe only) cell phone with a prepaid call credit (no monthly service plan) in Italy for less than €40, then top off the credit as you go if necessary. This plan will not allow you to call the United States, but using an international calling card with the cell phone solves that problem in an inexpensive manner. Most medium to large towns have stores dedicated to selling cell phones. The purchase of a multiband phone means it'll also function once you return home, European phones aren't "locked" to their provider's SIM (which is also why they cost more). You'll need to present your passport to purchase any SIM card.
Rental cell phones are available online prior to departure and in Italy in cities and larger towns. Many Internet cafés offer them, but shop around for the best deal. Most rental contracts require a refundable deposit that covers the cost of the cell phone (€75-€150) and then set up a monthly service plan that's automatically charged to your credit card. Frequently, rental cell phones will be triple band with a plan that allows you to call North America. Be sure to check the rate schedule to avoid a nasty surprise when you receive your credit-card bill two or three months later. Often the prepaid option will be the more cost-effective one.
Beware of cell phone (and PDA) thieves. Keep your phone or PDA in a secure pocket or purse. Don't lay it on the bar when you stop for an espresso. Don't zip it into the outside pocket of your backpack in crowded cities. Don't leave it in your hotel room. Notify your provider immediately if it's lost or stolen; providers can block your SIM and give you a new one, copying the original's contents.
Cellular Abroad. This is a good source for SIM cards that work in many countries; travel-friendly phones can also be purchased or rented. 800/287-5072. www.cellularabroad.com.
Mobal. GSM phones that will operate in 190 countries are available for purchase (starting at $49) and rent. Per-call rates in Italy are $1.25 per minute; sending a text costs $.80. 888/888-9162; 212/785-5800 Support. www.mobal.com.
Planet Fone. Rental cell phones, with per-minute rates costing $.99-$1.98, are available. 888/988-4777. www.planetfone.com.
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