Phones in Italy
Using public phones and payphones in Italy, important numbers, and using calling cards to phone home
Do not use your hotel phone. Ever. Not even to make local calls; not even to call your home operator for a calling card or collect call.
At best, the hotel will charge you the same rate as a pay phone. More often, they will charge you a premium rate. They will even charge you to make what, at a payphone, would be a free call to an operator or calling card number.
Payphones are becoming an endangered species in Italy (as elsewhere) thanks to the meteoric rise of cellphone usage. In fact, it's been years since I even used a payphone in Italy.
Still, Italian public phones can come in handy—especially if you don't want to bother with renting or buying a cheap Italian cellphone or getting your own mobile phone to work over there.
After all, vacations should be about getting away from it all, not being reachable 24/7, so perhaps all you want is the info necessary to make a quick call or two to check in and make the folks back home jealous of your adventures (though sending an e-mail from an internet cafe works, too).
How Italian pay phones work
12 - National directory
176 - International directoryLocal calls in Italy cost €0.10 (about 12¢).
There are two types of public pay phones in Italy: those that take both coins and phonecards, and those that take only phonecards (carta telefonica or scheda telefonica). Many also take credit cards. (I don't think there are any coin-only ones left.)
- Useful Italian
Phone card - carta telefonica (KAR-tah teh-leh-FOAN-ee-kah)
Phone card - scheda telefonica (SKAY-dah teh-leh-FOAN-ee-kah)You can buy these prepaid phonecards at any tabacchi (tobacconists), most newsstands, and some bars in several denominations from €1 to €8.
- Break off the corner before inserting it.
- A digital display tracks how much money is left on the card as you talk.
- Don’t forget to take the card with you when you leave!
As for how to dial (international prefixes, city codes, etc.), that's a bit more complicated and is fully explained on a separate page. In brief:
Emergency numbers in Italy
For general emergencies of all sorts, just dial 112.
112 - Carabinieri (national police)
113 - Local police
118 - Ambulance
115 - Fire
116 - Roadside assistance from A.C.I. (like AAA; expect to pay for any service)
117 - Finance police (if you've been cheated)To make any call within Italy—whether to a restaurant down the street to make a reservation, or to a B&B in a different city to book a room—simply dial the entire number as shown, including any initial zero and any digits put before a forward slash ("/") in the printed number (such as "06/123-4567").
I point all that out because, years ago, there were times when you dropped the zero and times when you didn't dial the digits before the slash (they're what used to be called "city codes"). This is no longer the case. All of Italy now practices the equivalent of America's "plus-ten" dialing. » more
Country codes U.S./CAN: 1
NZ: 64To make a call from Italy to another country, follow the instructions on the phonecard, or (to dial direct), dial the international prefix 00, then the country code (see box on right), area code, and number. » more
To call Italy from another country, dial your country's international prefix, then the full Italian phone number, starting with Italy's country code of 39. » more
How to pay for calls home from Italy—Making international calls
To call internationally (i.e. to call home from Italy), you have five options:
- Use Skype
- Use a cellphone
- Use an Italian international phonecard
- Call collect
- Use a calling card issued by an American phone company
Need to send or receive a fax?
I don't know why people bother with faxes in the age of e-mail, but sometimes you just have to send a fax—a few hotels still insist upon it to confirm bookings.
Your hotel will most likely be able to send or receive faxes for you, sometimes at inflated prices, sometimes at cost. Otherwise, most cartoleria (stationery stores), copista or fotocopie (photocopy shops), and some tabacchi (tobacconists) offer fax services.Which to use?
Skype is by far the cheapest (it can even bee free), but you do have to either visit a cybercafe or have a laptop or smartphone and data access or WiFi.
A mobile phone is by far the easiest, but can be pricey (especially if you use your own phone from home and not a rented worlphone or cell phone purchased in Italy—at which point it becomes among the more reasonble methods).
Of the traditional methods (using payphones), Italian international phonecards are easiest but priciest per-minute.
Calling collect is pretty easy, too, and about the same price (though, of course, whomever you're calling is paying for it!).
Calling cards attached to a home phone service or credit card take a bit more time to set up (you have to sign up first, and commit to at least one month of a plan), but usually offer the cheapest per-minute rates of these three methods—though often coupled with a monthly fee.
Research all; choose the one that best fits your needs.
Just going to make a few calls? Go with the Italian card or calling collect.
Planning to phone home a ton? Get a local smartphone and combine that with Skype (or, alternately, use calling cards. Here are the details.
- Phone home - Calling card and collect call access numbers in Italy
To use your calling card (or call collect), dial:
AT&T - 800-172-444
Telestial - 800-985-675
Callingcards.com - 800-874-804 (cheaper from local numbers)
MCI/Verizon - 800-905-825
Net2Phone - 800-783-125
Sprint - 800-172-405
Bell Canada - 800-172-213
BT - 800-172-441
Telstra Telecard- 800-172-610 Telstra Phoneaway - 800-172-614
Optus - 800-172-611
FOR NEW ZEALANDERS
Telecom - 800-172-641
International phone card. Works just like the regular Italian phonecards (see above), only optimized for international calls—and available in larger denominations do you can talk longer.
Just go into any tabacchi (tobacconist) and say you want una scheda telefonica internazionale (OO-nah SKAY-dah teh-leh-FOAN-ee-kah een-tehr-nat-zee-yo-NAH-leh) for the country you are trying to call.
He will offer you cards costing varying amounts, each good for a certain number of minutes. Go to any payphone and follow the instructions printed on the card.
- Call collect. For operator-assisted international calls (in English), you can either dial the Italian service toll-free at tel. 170.
Note, however, that you’ll get better rates by calling a home operator—any operator for your home country works; you don't have to be a subscriber to their service back home (numbers are listed in the box on the right).
- Use a calling card. A calling card is kind of like a credit card for making phone calls. Some are pre-paid (generally, you can add more online as you travel); some are billed to your home after the fact.
You get a calling card from any long distance provider (price-compare them all at www.speedypin.com
), though others have gotten into the game—like Telestial and Callingcards.com—and are usually cheaper.
It doesn't have to be the company you use for your home phone's service, though you can often get a good deal and decent rates from them if you bundle the whole deal.
[If you do use your home phone provider, make sure you switch to whatever calling plan allows for cheap transatlantic calls (frequently, there's some sort of military plan, aimed at our overseas soldiers but often available to anyone who asks, that will secure the cheapest rates), even if only for the month in which you'll be traveling.]
To use a calling card (or to get a cheaper rate on collect calls), just insert a phonecard or €0.10 coin—it’ll be refunded at the end of your call—and dial the local number for your service (see box on the right).
(Also, I realize the names are a bit confusing. A calling card is different from the Italian phonecards discussed above that you need to make a payphone work)
In an emergency (or if you have tons of money to burn), you can always just dial direct. To dial direct internationally from Italy, dial 00, then the country code, the area code, and the number.
Again, make international calls from a public phone if possible because hotels charge ridiculously inflated rates for direct dial—but take along plenty of schede to feed the phone.
Using cellphones in Italy
There's a whole separate page devoted to using cellphones in Italy (including how to get an Italian mobile phone to save time, money, and hassle).
Tips & links
Useful links & resources
PHONES & INTERNET
Cellphone/Smart Phone/Sat phone rentals: Cellularabroad.com, Mobal.com
WiFi portable hotspot rentals: Cellularabroad.com
WiFi hotspot finders:Wififreespot.com
Calling cards: Speedypin.com
Phrase books: Barnesandnoble.com
Online translators: translate.google.com
Electronic translators: Magellans.com
Translator apps: World Nomads
, 24/7 Tutor
, Lonely Planet
, Odyssey Translator
Language learning: Barnesandnoble.com
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