I’ve updated my 2017 tips and advice on phones and communication in Italy.
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The easiest way to keep in touch with those back home is through multiple device options. Pretty much everywhere you will go is wired, and Wi-Fi access is ubiquitous in most places. You can use Wi-Fi to connect to the internet on any of your devices, or you can search out cafes, bars and restaurants. I travel with a MiFi which essentially makes me my own hot spot and keeps my access secure.
For those traveling without a device, most hotels and accommodations will have a public shared computer. Internet cafes are not as popular as they were a few years ago as their need has been diminished.
Phone calls are possible in several different ways. You can call home at any pay phone (these are slowly becoming extinct) or the phone at your accommodation by purchasing an international calling card, found at most convenience stores. I always buy either a 5 or 10-euro card instead of the more expensive cards because you can get a dud occasionally, and these aren’t refundable. There are two numbers on the card. The first takes you to an operator (or recorded voice) that will ask you to enter the code, which is the second number. If you have ever used a calling card in the States, these work the exact same way. You will then be able to dial your number. From your destination country to the US, you will dial 00 then 1 then your number with area code. For example, to call my phone from abroad, I would dial 00 1 406 570 9393.
Purchasing International Plan for Your Phone
The use of cell phones abroad has increased dramatically since I started traveling. If you want to bring your cell phone with you, you have a couple of options. The first is to purchase an international phone plan with your carrier. These plans vary based on the carrier and type of plan you want. Some plans even include texting and data to get online, while others limit communication to phone calls. Call your carrier or go in to your local store to earn more about these options. This is often a great choice for travelers who don’t anticipate calling home often, but want to the ability when needed.
The second option is to essentially replace your carrier while abroad with a carrier in the country to which you are traveling. This is done by the use of “SIM” cards, or small, removable computer chips inside your phone. First, call your carrier, and request that your phone be “unlocked”. This simply means that you are able to use your phone with another carrier. Some carriers have policies on “unlocking” your phone, which is why you need to call to ensure it can be done. Unfortunately, many carriers will not allow the phone to be unlocked if you are in the middle of a contract. Second, purchase a SIM card in your destination country or through a company like Cellular Abroad. If you can’t figure out how to remove the SIM card from your phone, ask the person selling the SIM cards. Usually, there are SIM card shops in airports, but ask your accommodation for the closest shop if you have trouble locating one. After inserting the new SIM card, you will be connected to a carrier in your destination country, and you will have a new telephone number for as long as you keep your new SIM card in your phone. There are several plan options, but they are all significantly cheaper than plans in the States.
Prepaid International Phones
Your third option is prepaid phones, which can be purchased in your destination country but tend to come with quite a few restrictions. If your phone carrier has refused to unlock your phone, this is your next best option.
MiFi for Travel in Italy
MiFi units are a great fourth option most benefical for those that need to be highly connected during their trip. This device is small and secure, making you the hot spot and allowing unlimited access at all times. Several companies rent these units, my favorite being Cellular Abroad. While this is more expensive, it is extremely handy for travelers needing access that is secure and fast.
My personal suggestion would be to ‘un-plug’ while on vacation, or just have your phone for emergencies. You will likely be able to connect to Wi-Fi from most places, and you can use that internet connection to keep in touch with those back home.
And then there is mail. But be forewarned, you will likely beat your postcards home!
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