About Italy - Phone Matters

Avoiding Italian phone fiascos and tips for calling Italy and other Italian phone considerations like using la scheda.
Calling Italy from the United States
Calling WITHIN Italy
Calling the United States from Italy
Cell Phones
Calling Italy from the United States

In order to call Italy from the United States, you must dial the following sequence:

011 (to indicate an international call)
39 (Italy country code)

Then, you must either:
1.   Dial the city code (prefisso) along with the local number you are trying to reach if
the number is NOT a cellular number.   The local number will usually be a 6 or 7 or 8 digit number, although it can sometimes be 4 or 5 digits.  


2.   Dial the cellular number, usually beginning in 3??? Etc (note that city codes don't apply when calling a cellular number)

Make sure you are signed up (through your long-distance carrier) for an international plan that allows you to call Italy.  Usually the fee is about $3 per month.   Otherwise, you will pay approximately $3 per minute to place your call.   Classic example of highway robbery. 

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Calling WITHIN Italy

Example of Italian payphone. Image courtesy of www.187.itThe best way to place a call within Italy is to purchase a scheda telefonica (or carta telefonica ) or a (disposable) telephone card from the telephone company.   They can be purchased from any of the tobacco shops (tabacchi) indicated by a white T in a black background.   You can also find them at the post office, or in train stations. They are usually sold in increments of € 5 Euros.   The cards are a thin plastic.   First you must tear off the little strip in the top corner of the card to prep it for use.   Then you insert the card in the phone (see image at left), and proceed to make your call.   The balance remaining on the card will decrease accordingly depending on whether you are calling long-distance, and or course, the length of the call.

You can also use Euro coinage to place a call, but it is a major hassle.   Some phones, although rare, do not accept the scheda.   Beware that there are still public phones around that used the old Lira coins that were never converted to accepting the new Euro currency.   These public phones tend to be very old and orange in color.   Many of them are still functional - in the sense that they can still receive phone calls.  

Another tip for italian phone considerations is to avoid calling from the hotel phone.   As in the United States, they will add surcharges on calls originating from the hotel.  

Toll Free Dialing (Numero Verde)
Similar to our 800 / 866 numbers, etc., a numero verde, (literally a green, or "go" number) is a toll-free number valid within the country of Italy.   Most telephone booths will require the use of the scheda to initiate the call, even though it is toll-free.   Unlike the United States, sometimes you can not tell if a number is a toll-free number, other than the green numero verde indication.   Often times, the number will start with 0800, but not always.  

For emergencies, dial 113 (similar to 911 that's used in the States)

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Calling the United States from Italy

To call the United States from Italy, you can also use the scheda (see above) to place your call.   However, the rate will not be advantageous.  Your best bet is to secure a calling card prior to your arrival. 

You can then dial an access code from anywhere in Italy (a toll-free number, or numero verde) that will connect you.   The menu of options is in English and it's relatively easy to place your call.  Common access codes are:

ATT Direct (800-172-444)
MCI (800-90-5825)
Sprint (800-172-405)

There will then be instructions on how to place your call.

If you are using a scheda at the payphone, you will need to dial 001-(Area Code)-Phone Number.

Or, you can purchase an international prepaid calling card.   The rates are pretty decent if you plan on making a fair amount of calling. 

If you don't want to place a call from your hotel, most of the main post offices in town will have public phone booths that are private and more quiet than using an outside phone booth.

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Cell Phones

Cell phone usage in Italy has become very common due to the fact that it is often less expensive than using the traditional land-lines.   Cell phone usage in Italy is even more prevalent than the United States and Canada.   Cell phones in Italy (and Europe) operate on a different system than what we use here in North America.   . 

Your current cell phone may work in Italy particularly if you are with a carrier that uses the GSM system. Check with your carrier to make sure your phone has both the 900 and 1800 megahertz bands. However, even if it does, you may want to consider purchasing an Italian SIM card in order to avoid paying high roaming rates. Cellular Abroad offers an Italian SIM card from Uno Mobile, designed specifically for tourists and less expensive and easier to use than those available in Italy. The service is in English and purchasing one before your trip is a convenient way to have affordable cellular service from the moment you step off the plane. If you prefer, you can also purchase an Italian SIM in Italy but be prepared to hand them your passport. Also, the information will be in Italian and the rates are higher than with Uno Mobile. The largest Italian carriers are TIM and Vodafone (Uno Mobile actually=2) uses the Vodafone network).

If your cell phone will not work in Italy, you can rent or purchase a phone from Cellular Abroad. If you are a frequent traveler, it generally makes sense to purchase a handset. A GSM handset will work in over 200 countries with the appropriate SIM card. If you travel abroad less than once a year, it makes sense to rent a phone. Please visit www.cellularabroad.com for more information.

AutoEurope will also let you rent one.   At the time of this writing, they had a special where they would waive the rental fee on the phone if you purchase a weekly car rental.   You would, of course, pay for any cell phone usage.   Check with them to see if they are still offering this promotion.

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