Local pay phones in Italy require prepaid telephone cards, called a carta or scheda telefonica, which you can buy at a tobacconist (tabacchi, marked by a sign with a white T on a black background), bar, or newsstand. The local Telecom card is available for 3€ and 5€: the duration depends on the place you are calling (within Italy or abroad), but they only last sufficient time for relatively brief calls and are valid for 1 month from the first time you use them. The card has a perforated corner that you need to tear off before inserting it into the phone slot.
To make international calls you need to purchase an international prepaid card, which varies depending on which country you will be calling the most. The cards are sold at tobacconists and some bars and newsstands. They usually allow from 200 to 700 minutes call time for 5€. You need to scratch the back to reveal the secret code and dial it after the access code indicated on the card; then dial the number you want to call.
More convenient but not necessarily cheaper is to have: (1) your own calling card linked to your home phone, or (2) a prepaid calling card that you pay monthly by credit card; both are good options. Some calling cards offer a toll-free access number in Italy, while others do not; the first kind is obviously more convenient. When calling from a public phone booth, you sometimes need to put in money or a carta telefonica just to obtain the dial tone, even if you are using a prepaid card; you may be charged only for a local call or not at all. Check with your calling-card provider before leaving on your trip.
You can also make collect calls directly by calling the operator or through a telephone provider in your country. For AT&T, dial tel. 800-1724444; for MCI, dial tel. 800-905825; and for Sprint, dial tel. 800-172405 or 800-172406.
Remember that calling from a hotel is convenient but usually very expensive.
To call Italy:
1. Dial the international access code: 011 from the U.S.; 00 from the U.K., Ireland, and New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia.
2. Dial the country code for Italy: 39.
3. Dial the local area code and then the number. Telephone numbers in Italy can have any number of digits depending on the location and the type of telephone line, which can be very confusing to foreigners. The amount of numbers can range from five (for special switchboards of hospitals and other public services, such as the railroad info line of Trenitalia, tel. 892021 for example) to a maximum of 10 (for some land lines and all cellular lines). Telephone numbers always include the area code, which can have two or three digits. Area codes begin with 0, for land lines, or 3, for cellular lines; and you always need to dial the 0.
To make international calls: To make international calls from Italy, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next, dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 00-1-202-588-7800.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 1240.
For operator assistance: Dial tel. 170; the service is available only from 7am to midnight.
Toll-free numbers: Numbers beginning with 800 or 888 within Italy are toll-free, but calling a 1-800 number in the States from Italy is not toll-free: It costs the same as an overseas call.
If you have a dual-band or triband GSM phone, it will work in Italy and all over Europe. The bandwidth used in Europe for GSM phones is 900-1800 hertz. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account. Unfortunately, charges can be high -- anywhere from $1 to $5 per minute.
You can enjoy much cheaper rates by renting or buying an Italian SIM card. You might need to have your phone unlocked by your provider at home so that it will function with any SIM card and network. You can buy an Italian prepaid SIM card, called scheda pre-pagata, in mobile phone shops, which exist in most towns throughout Italy. Major networks that have excellent local coverage in the region are Telecom Italia (TIM), Vodafone, Wind, and H3G. The SIM is encoded with the phone number that will be yours for the time of your stay. The scheda pre-pagata costs 25€, 50€, 80€, 100€, or 150€.
The other option is to rent a phone with the bandwidth used in Europe and a local SIM card. A number of companies offer mobile phones for rent, and you may also be able to add a phone to your car rental.
North Americans can rent a mobile before leaving home from Context Travel (www.contexttravel.com). The company will ship the phone to you in the U.S. 10 days before your departure (you'll then ship it back to them in Philadelphia). You can also have a phone shipped to you in Italy. Incoming calls are free.
Other useful resources are InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) or RoadPost (tel. 905/272-5665; www.roadpost.com). InTouch will also, for free, advise you on whether your existing phone will work overseas; simply call tel. 703/222-7161 between 9am and 4pm EST, or go to http://intouchglobal.com/travel.htm.
Internet & Wi-Fi
An increasing number of hotels and resorts in the region are becoming "hotspots" that offer free high-speed Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. If you are planning to carry your laptop, check www.jiwire.com and their Wi-Fi Finder, the world's largest directory of public wireless hotspots.
For dial-up access, most medium- and upper-range hotels in the region offer dataports in the room unless they offer Wi-Fi.
Note: Italy uses 220V electricity and round-pronged plugs. Always bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests. Most phone plugs in hotels and private homes throughout Italy have been upgraded to the standard phone jack used on computers, but some of the old ones with three round prongs are still in use. You can easily buy an adaptor at any local hardware store if your hotel doesn't have one for you.
If you are not planning to bring your laptop, a number of hotels in the area offer Internet access for their clients, usually free of charge, or they'll know how to direct you to the closest paying Internet point in town: You'll find one everywhere but the most remote location. For a directory of cybercafes in the region check www.cybercaptive.com and www.cybercafe.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.