Getting online in Italian cities isn't difficult: public Internet stations and Internet cafés, some open 24 hours, are fairly common, and Wi-Fi is widely available. Most hotels have Wi-Fi and/or a computer for guests to use. Many business-oriented hotels also offer in-room broadband, though some (ironically, often the more expensive ones) charge for broadband and Wi-Fi access. Note that chargers and power supplies may need plug adapters to fit European-style electric sockets (a converter probably won't be necessary).
Italy is also looking to improve city Wi-Fi access; Rome and Venice are continuing to develop and expand services, some free for now, some at a daily or weekly rate for temporary access.
Paid and free Wi-Fi hot spots can be found in major airports and train stations, and shopping centers; they're most likely be free in bars or cafés that want your business.
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/.
With the advent of mobile phones, public pay phones are becoming increasingly scarce in Italy, but 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. These require a scheda telefonica.
Calling Italy from Abroad
When telephoning Italy from North America, dial 011 (to get 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 always begin with a 0. So, for example, when calling Rome, where local numbers start with 06, dial 011 + 39 + 06 + phone number; for a cell phone, dial 011 + 39 + cell number.
Calling Within Italy
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, depending on the calling plan. Italy uses the prefix "800" for toll-free or numero verde (green) numbers.
Making International Calls
Rates to the United States and Canada are lowest on Sunday around the clock and between 10 pm and 8 am (Italian time) on weekdays and Saturday. The country code for the U.S. and Canada is 1 (dial 00 + 1 + area code and number).
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 and/or 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.
Prepaid schede telefoniche (phone cards) are available throughout Italy for use in pay phones. Cards in different denominations are sold at post offices, newsstands, tobacco shops, and some bars. Before the first use, break off the corner of the card; then, to make a call, insert it into the phone's slot and dial. The card's credit will be displayed in the window as you chat. After you hang up, be sure not to walk off without retrieving the card.
International calling cards are different; you call a toll-free number from any phone, entering the access code found on the back of the card followed by the destination number. With calling cards offered by AT&T, MCI, and Sprint, instructions and operator assistance are in English, avoiding language difficulties, and the charges appear on your phone bill. A reliable prepaid card for calling North America and elsewhere in Europe is the TIM Welcome card, which comes in two denominations, €5 for 500 minutes and €10 for 1,000 minutes and is available at tobacco shops and newsstands. When purchasing, specify your calling destination (the United States, or the country you prefer).
AT&T Direct (800/172–444. www.att.com.)
MCI WorldPhone (800/90–5825.)
Sprint International Access (800/172–405.)
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. But roaming fees can be steep—99¢ a minute is considered quite low—and overseas you'll normally pay toll charges for incoming calls, too.
If you're carrying a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, investigate apps and services such as Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp, which offer free or low-cost calling and texting services.
To keep calling expenses to a minimum, consider purchasing an Italian SIM card—these can be purchased for as little as €5, depending on the provider (make sure your home service provider first unlocks your phone for use with a different SIM) and choose a prepaid service plan, topping off the credit as you go. You then have a local number and can make calls at local rates (about €.15 per minute, and only for ones made, not received), or send text messages for a reasonable fee (12¢ per message or less). Have the service provider enable international calling; use an international calling card with your cell for even more savings.
If you're a frequent international traveler, save your old mobile phone (ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you) or buy an unlocked, multiband phone online. Use it 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 in Italy with a prepaid calling credit for as little as €40. Alternatively, you can buy a multiband phone that will also function in North America (European phones aren't "locked" to their provider's SIM, which is why they cost more). That means you can use it with your own service provider once you return home. You'll find dedicated cell phone stores in all but the smallest towns. Service providers include TIM, Tre, Vodafone, and Wind; stop by a multivendor shop to compare offers, or check their websites. Note that you'll need to present your passport to purchase any SIM card.
Rental cell phones are available online prior to departure and in Italy's cities and larger towns. Many Internet cafés offer them as well. 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. You should check the rate schedule, however, to avoid a nasty surprise on your credit-card bill two or three months later. Often the local purchase with a prepaid plan will be the more cost-effective one.
Beware of cell phone (and PDA) thieves. Use your device's security code option. 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 disable your SIM and give you a new one, copying the original's number and 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 $29) 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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