My partner and I are going to Italy in May. We want to be able to reach each other if we split up during the day to do different things. We don't anticipate having to make calls to anyone else this way, figuring we can use the hotel phone or the internet to keep in touch with others. Does anyone have experience with using walkie-talkies v. cell phones in Italy?
Walkie talkies purchased in the US are illegal to use overseas, because their frequencies are different. Cell phones will work well if you have GSM phones, but the cost of calling across the city on a U-S phone may be expensive...check with your cell phone company.
Rick (in one of his books) suggests considering the option of buying cheap cell phones in Italy. Just one option.
Norm, is right. US walkie-talkies are illegal to use in Europe because they use the same frequency as emergency services. I would imagine cell phones would work better because you will not be limited to distance as you would with w-t. If you text each other messages the fees should be low.
William is right...the PMR446 walkie talkies are legal in Europe, since they operate on European frequencies, but you'd have to purchase them there, and they can be more expensive than the cheaper walkie-talkies you'll find here (which are illegal over there :)). I've also found that, despite their claims, their ranges aren't anywhere near the maximum claimed. My experience has been it's best to use an unlocked tri- or quad-band GSM phone (I've purchased 2 on Ebay in the past) so I can use it in North America and Europe. I use local SIMS when travelling to Italy or Spain, but if I'm going more places, I use a card issued by united-mobile.com. That gives me a UK number and cheap rates between countries, and back to North America...so I don't get whacked by roaming charges. Others swear by their U.S. provider's overseas service.
PMR446 walkie talkies are legal in Europe. PMR446 and FRS(used in US) walkie talkies, although they may look identical, operate on different frequencies. FRS radios as stated previously are not legal in Europe as the frequencies on which FRS operates are assigned for other uses in Europe.
On our trip in October, the five of us had five cell phones all purchased here (as it is cheaper) and used Italian SIM cards purchased there. PM me for more information but I suggest you read my guideline "Getting a Cell Phone for Use in Europe" on this site at http://www.ricksteves.com/graffiti/graffiti134.html. I put step by step instructions for finding phones and SIM cards.
It was wonderful to be able to communicate not only with each other but with hotels while on the train and even a quick call home.
Michael, one comment regarding the walkie-talkies. As the others have stated, using some models in Europe will clearly be illegal as the frequencies are different and may interfere with emergency service or other users. However a more important technical issue is the limited range mentioned in a previous post. The range stated for FRS (or other) walkie-talkies is listed for optimum conditions with a clear "line of sight". If these are used in a city with buildings and other obstructions, the range will be sharply reduced!
It would help to know whether you presently have Cell phones, and if so which carrier. If you're using T-Mobile or AT&T quad-band phones on a contract plan, your best bet is roam with your existing phones. Rather than using voice calls to keep in touch, use text as it's much cheaper (and I believe only the sender of the message pays).
If you could provide some further info, it would help.
FWIW, we have Virgin Mobile, which I think is through Sprint.
Michael, thanks for the additional information. Unfortunately, Virgin Mobile (Sprint) cell phones use technology called CDMA, which is not compatible with the GSM system used in Europe (and much of the rest of the world).
IMHO, cell phones using text would be the best method to keep in touch. You have a few options:
1.) Buy a couple of unlocked quad-band GSM phones off E-Bay (caveat emptor, of course). You could either use "travel" SIM's from a firm such as Cellular Abroad or buy a couple of PAYG SIM's when you arrive in Italy.
2.) Buy a couple of inexpensive PAYG cell phones when you arrive in Italy. These will come with an Italian SIM and rates. I don't believe it's possible for non-residents to purchase a contract plan, so PAYG is the only option.
3.) Buy a couple of PAYG quad-band GSM phones from either AT&T or T-Mobile in your area. Tell them that you want them unlocked. If that's a problem, it's fairly easy to unlock phones using sources on the net.
You should probably buy cheap pre-paid phones once you arrive. You will likely be glad you did when you first hear that clean, continuous reception. There is good advice to be found here, but you will not get better advice than this: First find a tobacco shop with a pleasant and helpful attendant. Then ask to buy a phone-card specifically designed and sold to be used through the cell you just bought. They exist, you only have to ask. You will use your cell phone as if it were a small, featherweight and portable pay-phone. The result is you won't be useing or paying for any minutes purchased from the phone company. It will work between two people in any European country, and you don't have to be in the same country. I just came back from a trip where we used one ten dollar card for two weeks, talking multiple times a day. Most of that time we were in different countries. Josh.
About how much can we expect to pay for "cheap" phones? What would be the best place to get them?
I purchased a phone from TIM for 39 euro with a SIM card and 5 euro talk time. I assume Vodephone and Wind would have similar deals.
A SIM card from TIM will cost you 10 euro with 5 euro talk time. See http://www.privati.tim.it/template/temp_ling/tim_main_ling1_eng/0,,71_2_,00.html for locations of TIM stores.
Incoming calls are free. This phone will not work in North America but will work in most of the rest of the world.
I think I'm going to go with the ebay option, considering that it looks like you can get basic unlocked phones there for about $20-30, compared to 40 Euros in Italy.
Thanks for the suggestions.
Michael, as you've decided to go with the E-Bay option, be sure that the phones are quad band models. Also, check the Chargers to ensure these are compatible for "world" operation.
Regarding your question about the Italian SIM cards, this will include a local phone number. You might research the TIM (or other) web sites before you go, as you will likely be offered the choice of several PAYG plans. Be sure to ask what methods are available for top-up.
If you're just going to be in Italy, the costs should be quite reasonable (especially if you use text most of the time). However, if you travel to other countries, the roaming rates can add up. Also, anyone calling you from home will be paying long distance.
Here's a probably stupid followup question: When I get the Italian SIM card, does it come with an assigned Italian phone number? I assume it would have to. If not, how do I get a phone number?
T-mobile offers international roaming for free. Each call runs about 1$ a minute.
ATT is offers it as well but you have to sign up for 6 months (last I checked) 20$/month.
SIM cards come with a phone number. They will tell you the number when you buy it and it is printed on the card. The first thing to do is program your number in each others' phones.
WARNING: It took 24 hours for our SIM cards to become active after purchasing them. It was kind of a bummer but after that it was wonderful.
John, thanks so much for that warning. That would never have occurred to me.