Making local phone calls in Italy

Rather than build on some older thread, I will ask a new question. My need to make phone calls during my upcoming month in Italy will be limited to a few calls in Italy -- reservations, local inquiries, reaching fellow travelers I want to meet up with, etc. My current cell phone at home (NOT a smart phone)will not work in Italy, although one option is to upgrade it for modest cost and then just use it, but at a roaming charge of US$1.59 per minute. That's high per minute, but still not too much if I make say 15 calls of 2 minutes each, over a month. Does anyone know of other better solutions that would not create significant hassles or take a lot of time to arrange? Rented phones? Phone cards? Just use pay phones with coins? Phones in the small hotels I will stay in, if they have phones in the rooms or otherwise available? Thanks for any guidance.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17779 posts

Larry, A few of the simplest and easiest solutions would be to: a.) Buy an inexpensive, basic phone when you arrive in Italy. You shouldn't have any trouble finding Cell shops, as there are many. TIM is one of the largest networks so they may be more prevalent. You may need to register with your Passport and have a Codice Fiscale, but one of the others will have to confirm that. b.) Buy an inexpensive, basic phone from one of the travel phone firms such as Roam Simple, Cellular Abroad, Telestial, Mobal, EuroBuzz, One SIM or Max Roam. Many of these use U.K. based numbers, but work all over Europe and the rates are good. Many use post-paid billing (calls charged to a credit card), so no worries about topping up. c.) Buy a quad-band, unlocked GSM phone from E-Bay and use it either with a SIM purchased locally or with a SIM purchased from one of the travel phone firms mentioned above. Whichever option you choose, you'll need a Plug Adaptor to connect the Charger. The style of Adaptor needed will differ depending on whether you purchased the phone in Europe or on this side of the pond. If you're planning on travelling back to Europe again, retain the phone for future trips. Happy travels!

Posted by Carol
Martinez, CA, USA
521 posts

We used option c. We bought a used unlocked quad-band phone in 2011 and before leaving on our trip we bought a SIM card and tried it out to be sure the phone actually worked. When we arrived at our destination we bought a SIM card for that country and switched them. We have used our phone in 4 countries and when we're home I use it as an emergency phone. We also have the phone cards but it's a real hassle to dial all those numbers. We carry them with us just in case.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

If you really are only going to make about 30 minutes of calls, I agree that it's definitely easiest to stay with your home phone, and it may not cost any more than other options. Sure, if you buy a phone in Italy the per-minute charges will be much lower, but the cost of a basic phone will be about 25 euros, so that will eat up some of the savings, and will take some time and hassle to buy and set up. If your "dumbphone" is from AT&T or T-Mobile and is quad band, you may be able to get it unlocked for free if you've had it long enough (check with your carrier). If so, then you can just take it to Italy and buy a SIM there. This will indeed be cheaper than using your US account. It still takes some time to do and requires a Codice Fiscal (details at the bottom of this link):

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

Option c in Ken's list is what I would do. Buy a cheap unlocked GSM quad band phone online (using e-bay, or Once you land in Italy you can buy an Italian SIM card at any cell phone store (Vodafone, TIM, Wind are the major providers). There is no contract. The SIM card comes with a preloaded amount (usually 15 or 20 euro) which you reload after you use (to reload go to any Tobacconist store with a Big T sign and they'll reload it for you at any amount you wish). The cost of a local call will be just pennies per minute and even calling the US will cost less than 50 cents/minute. If someone from the US calls you at that Italian number you will pay nothing, because receiving calls in Italian cell phones is totally free to the receiver. You might think that you'll make just a few phone calls using your American phone, but before you know it, you'll be calling the US, or someone will be calling you from home (either way the $1.59/min roaming charges apply). Also when you call a number in Italy, using your US phone, you will incur more than just roaming charges of $1.59/min. You will also incur long distance international charges. Calling a number in Italy with a US phone, even if you are in Italy, is equivalent to calling an Italian number from the US. So your 1 min. call to an Italian number will probably cost close to $3 or $4 per minute, once roaming and long distance charges are added.