How to use your cell phone in Italy (Yes, It Can)

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Did you bring your cell phone to Italy with you? Great. It’s great. Now what?

Let’s first clear up some misunderstandings about Italian phones: Most cell phones should work. Yes, even American phones. Check to make sure your phone is compatible with GSM 900 or GSM 1800 frequencies.

This is the trick. If you don’t have an international plan with your provider, it could be quite expensive to make phone calls to Italy. To get cheaper calls abroad, make sure to call your provider.

An Italian SIM card is another option, and it will likely be cheaper. This allows you to have your own Italian number. You will be charged domestic rates for calling Italian numbers. Your provider back home does not have any responsibility. Even though most people will say, “Wait! I’m on vacation!” We are confident that it can be very useful. You’ll be grateful you have that Italian number, whether you need it to make restaurant reservations, locate museum hours, or check your Google Maps (which you will invariably want in Rome) or if you are running late for an amazing walking trip and want the company to know.

To install a new SIM, your cell phone must be “unlocked”. However, most American cell phones are unlocked. You can check by opening the back of the phone to see if the chip is there. It is much easier than you think to buy a SIM card. Simply walk into any mobile phone shop – Vodafone, Wind, and TIM are the most well-known – and ask for a SIM Card. Keep in mind that you are looking for a pre-paid card and not a subscription card. The majority of Americans have telephone plans that bill them monthly. In Europe, however, they charge their cards with minutes, texts, and data every now and again to top up the account when it runs dry. A SIM card can be purchased for as low as 5 Euros, which will give you 5 euros worth in calls, texts, or data. You should always bring proof of identity with you to Italy. Remember, even if you are not from the EU, you must have a passport with you when you travel to Italy.

You can “top up” your credit at any time during your stay by simply walking into a tabaccaio or other supermarkets and ATMs. Three things are required: 1. ask for a ricarica, 2.) Tell the clerk the name of the cell phone provider. Tell the clerk how much you would like to spend.

You can also buy an Italian phone. A phone with 10 euros credit can be purchased for as low as 30 euro. This way you don’t need to worry about unlocking the phone or changing SIM cards. You can also switch the SIM card to use the same phone if you travel anywhere in Europe, Africa or the Middle East. We recommend getting your own SIM card or Italian phone number if you’re in Italy for more than five days.

What if you don’t have a SIM card or don’t wish to? Then you will need to call a non-Italian phone number from your U.S. cellphone. Here’s how it would work:

To call an Italian number from the U.S., or any other non Italian cell phone:

  • Dial +. Your phone will “know” to replace the + with the international access code you need to dial from the U.S.A to another country. Every cell phone has a +-button. It’s often the same button as either the 0 or *. You can access it by holding the * or the 0 button, or double-tapping the one you prefer.
  • Dial 39. This is Italy’s country code.
  • Enter the remainder of the number. Add the first 0. You can include the first 0.

You can dial +39 0123456789 from any U.S. phone if someone gives you a card stating their Italian number 0123456789. Did you get it?

An Italian phone can be used to call the U.S. and other non-Italian numbers.

Here’s how to make a call to the United States from an Italian SIM card.

  • Dial 00. This is Italy’s international access number. You can dial + if you are dialing from an Italian phone or a phone with an Italian SIM, and you don’t need an access code.
  • To call the U.S. dial 1, the U.S. code. For calls to another country dial the code of that country (61 for Australia, 44 in England, 00 Canada).
  • Enter the rest of the number.
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