Photo by Flickr user Time Stands Still
Even though cell phones are so ubiquitous in Italy that even the most elegant, old-fashioned grandmother has four in different colors to match every outfit, it can still be difficult, if not expensive to stay in touch with the U.S. while you’re in Italy if you don’t plan ahead.
Using Your Own Phone Plan in Italy
It’s typically relatively economical to send and receive text messages while you’re in Italy, but calls—even receiving calls that you don’t answer—can be several dollars per minute.
One member of the Italian Concierge team uses T-Mobile in the U.S., which has recently begun to offer free data and text messaging abroad. By installing the Skype app, which works over a data signal as well as Wi-Fi, she is able to make and receive calls in Italy for free!
If your phone has Wi-Fi calling, you may be able to do something similar without an app, but check the terms of your contract first. Some phones use regular minutes (and thus pricing) when Wi-Fi calling is used.
Buying an Italian Sim
Renting a phone in Italy can often be an expensive proposition (you can try Cellular Abroad if you’re interested), so bringing a phone from home and inserting an Italian SIM card is a far easier way to connect. Before you leave though, you must make sure that your phone is unlocked and able to use quad band, the service throughout Europe.
Head to one of the ubiquitous cellphone stores (Tim, Wind, and Vodafone are the most common) in major train stations, squares, and avenues and ask for a sim card. You’ll need to show your passport and the set-up can take 10 or 15 minutes, but the Italian Concierge can also set this up for you before you arrive. If you plan to make a lot of international calls, rather than just receive (which is free), ask for a card with a good international rate.
Using Italian Phones When You Find Them
Many hotels have room phone from which you can use a calling card or that you can have someone from the U.S. call you on.
Phone cards are very easy to come by in Italy. Any newsstand or tabaccheria (the same places you buy bus tickets), sells phone cards with great rates to the U.S.
To call from an Italian phone to the U.S., first dial 001. To call an Italian phone from a U.S. number, dial 011+39+ the number.