How to stay connected in Italy
Internet access - WiFi
By law all public-access internet points must keep records of web sites viewed by customers, and even the customer’s ID: expect to be refused access if you don’t provide identification. Hotels providing Internet access are not required to record IDs if the connection is provided in the guest’s room, although if the connection is offered in the main public hall then IDs are required.
Publicly available wireless access without user identification is illegal, so open Wi-Fi hotspots (like the ones you might expect to find in a mall or cafée) all have some form of (generally one-time) registration.
Certain internet activities are illegal. Beside the obvious (child pornography, trading in illegal products like drugs and weapons), copyright infringement is technically illegal even if no profit is made. However enforcement of copyright laws against P2P users is lax and cease&desist letters from providers are unheard of, unless using a University’s WiFi. Certain websites (mostly related to online gambling and copyrighted material) have been blocked in Italy following court rulings.
The mobile phone market developed in Italy long before than in the U.S. or other countries (as early as 1993), so reception is guaranteed in the whole of the country, including far off the coast, the tallest mountains, and the smallest villages. 3G or HDSPA internet connectivity is available from all major Italian carriers. Beware though that internet plans are generally much more expensive than in other European countries.
Also, contracts often contain little-publicized usage limitations, e.g. a plan that is advertised as 3 GB per month but actually has a daily limit of 100 MB.
Retailers will often fail to mention these limitations and quite often are themselves ignorant that they exist, so it is advisable to double check on the carrier’s website.
Also keep in mind that, generally speaking, internet plans only include connectivity when under a specific carrier’s coverage. When roaming, internet costs can be very high. Coverage of major carriers is widespread, but it would be wise to check whether your carrier covers your area.
Both the fixed and mobile phone systems are available throughout Italy.
Telephone numbers of the fixed system used to have separate prefixes (area codes) and a local number. In the 1990s the numbers were unified and nowadays, when calling Italian phones you must always dial the full number. For example you start numbers for Rome with 06 even if you are calling from Rome. All land line numbers start with 0. Mobile numbers start with 3. Numbers starting with 89 are high-fee services. If you don’t know somebody’s phone number you can dial a variety of recently established phone services, the most used being 1240, 892424, 892892, but most of them have high fees.
To call abroad from Italy you have to dial 00 + country code + local part where the syntax of the local part depends on the country called.
To call Italy from abroad you have to dial international prefix + 39 + local part. Note that, unlike calls to most countries, you should not skip the starting zero of the local part if you are calling an Italian land line.
In case of emergency call the appropriate number from the list below. Such calls are usually free and calls to 112, 113, 115, 118 can be made from payphones for free without the need of inserting coins. 112 (standard emergency number in GSM specification) can be dialed in any case for free from any mobile phone (even if your credit is empty or if you are in an area covered by a different operator)
112 Carabinieri emergency number – general emergency.
113 Police emergency number – general emergency.
114 Blue Phone emergency number – children-related emergency (especially various forms of violence).
115 Fire Brigade emergency number.
117 Guardia di Finanza – for customs, commercial and tax issues.
118 Health emergency number – use this if you need an ambulance, otherwise ask for the local Guardia Medica number and they’ll send you a doctor.
1515 State Forestry Department.
1518 Traffic Information.
1530 Coast Guard.
803116 A.C.I. (Italian Automobile Club)This provides assistance if your car breaks down (if you have a rented car then call the number they provide), This is a service provided to subscribers to ACI or to other Automobile Clubs associated to ARC Europe. If you’re not associated to any of them you’ll be asked to pay a fee (approx. €80).
Always carry with you a note about the address and the number of your embassy.
If you are in an emergency and do not know who to call dial 112 or 113 (out of major towns, better to call 113 for English-speaking operators).
Payphones in Italy are no longer available, cellphones have put them long out of business, and you will only find a few remaining in train stations and airports. Additionally, some of those payphones work with coins only, some with phone cards only and just a very few with both coins and phone cards. Only a limited number of payphones (in main airports) directly accept credit cards. Many companies are shifting their customer service numbers to fixed-rate number (prefix 199). These numbers are at the local rate, no matter where are you calling from.
According to national regulations, hotels cannot apply a surcharge on calls made from hotels (as the switchboard service should be already included as a service paid in the room cost) but, to be sure, check it before you use.
Calls between landlines are charged at either the local rate or the national rate depending on the originating and destination area codes; if both are the same then the call will be local rate. Note that local calls are not free.
Italians use mobile phones extensively, some might say excessively. The main networks are TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile, part of Telecom Italia, formerly state controlled), Vodafone, Wind, and 3 (only UMTS cellphones).
Best advice is to buy a prepaid SIM card (from €10 upwards) and a cheap mobile phone (€19 upwards) to put it in (if you don’t have a cellphone already that you can use). It will be much more practical.
Cellphones from Korea, Japan and North America will not work in Italy unless they are Tri-band.
Nearly all of Italy has GSM, GPRS and UMTS/HDSPA coverage. You need to provide a valid form of identification, such as a passport or other official identity, to be able to purchase a SIM card. Unless you already have one, you will also be required to obtain a Codice Fiscale (a tax number) – or the vendor may generate one for you from your form of identification. Subscription-based mobile telephony accounts are subject to a government tax, to which prepaid SIM cards are not subject. Sometimes hotels have mobile phones for customer to borrow or rent.
Call costs vary greatly depending on when, where, from and where to. Each provider offers an array of complex tariffs and it is near impossible to make reliable cost estimates. The cost of calls differs considerably if you call a fixed-line phone or a mobile phone. Usually there is a difference in cost even for incoming calls from abroad. If you can choose, calling the other party’s land line could be even 40% cheaper than mobile.
If at all possible wait until you leave Italy before posting postcards, greetings cards and other items to friends and family back home. The Italian post is notorious for being slow, expensive and unreliable. In border towns and cities near the borders with France, Switzerland, Austria and Switzerland it may be best to cross the border to post – postcards from Slovenia to Britain can take just 2 days compared with over a week when posted across the border in Trieste, Italy.
Postboxes are red and can be found very easily.
Post Offices can be found in every town and most villages – look for the PT symbol. When entering the post office you will usually have to take a ticket and wait for your number to appear on the screen when it’s your turn. There will be different tickets for different services but for posting a parcel look for the yellow symbol with the icon of an envelope. Most post offices close at around 1pm or 2pm and only a central post office in most towns will re-open in the late afternoon.
Written by The Travel Valet
Photo courtesy of Fototeca ENIT