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While you can visit most museums and tourist attractions in Italy without a reservation, there are a few that you will want to book in advance to avoid long waits and some where reservations are mandatory.
If you purchase tickets online you must be careful to avoid scams and resellers, which may charge you much more than the official site. This is the case with two sites called “uffizi.com” and “uffizi.org” which look very official but are not—the official site is uffizi.it and for tickets they will redirect you to B-ticket.
The following is a list of some important Italian museums and cultural sites. If you decide to visit the ones in the “most popular” section, purchase your ticket in advance at the suggested website.
Most popular museums:
- Borghese Gallery, Rome. Online tickets: http://www.galleriaborghese.it/en/home_en/borghese-gallery-and-museum
- Cappella degli Scrovegni (Giotto Frescoes), Padua. Online tickets (must be purchased at least 24 hours in advance): http://cappelladegliscrovegni.vivaticket.it/?Language=ENG
- Cenacolo (Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper), Milan. Online tickets: http://www.vivaticket.it/index.php?nvpg[evento]&id_show=63954&idt=744
- Colosseum, Rome. Online tickets: http://www.coopculture.it/en/colosseo-e-shop.cfm
- Leaning Tower of Pisa. Online tickets (not earlier than 20 days in advance): http://www.opapisa.it/en/
- Uffizi, Florence. Online tickets: http://www.b-ticket.com/b-ticket/uffizi/info_venue.aspx
- Vatican Museums, Rome. Online ticket: http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do?action=booking&codiceLivelloVisita=9&step=1
- Piero della Francesca’s frescoes, Arezzo.
- Basilica papale e Sacro convento di San Francesco d’Assisi, Assisi.
- Santa Giulia Museum Complex, Brescia.
- Museo Schifanoia, Ferrara.
- Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence.
- Museo nazionale del Bargello, Florence.
- Palazzo Ducale, Mantua.
- Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan.
- Museo del Novecento (Museum of the 20th Century), Milan.
- Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan.
- Triennale, Milan.
- Galleria Estense, Modena. [Do not buy tickets from “galleriaestense.org”]
- Museo Ferrari, Maranello (Modena).
- Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.
- National Archeological Museum, Naples.
- Archeological site of Pompeii, Pompeii (Naples).
- National Gallery, Parma.
- Certosa di Pavia, Pavia.
- National Gallery of Umbria, Perugia.
- La Galleria Nazionale, Roma.
- MAXXI (National Museum of XXI Century Arts), Rome.
- National Gallery of Ancient Art (Palazzo Barberini), Rome.
- National Museum of Musical Instruments, Rome.
- Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli (Rome).
- MART (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art), Rovereto.
- Pinacoteca nazionale, Siena.
- Museo egizio, Turin.
- Palazzo Ducale di Urbino, National Gallery of Marche, Urbino.
- La Biennale di Venezia, Venice.
- Doge’s Palace, Venice.
- Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice.
- Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.
Pickpockets and bag-snatchers operate in most cities, especially in Rome and Naples but including Milan and even Siena, most often in crowded places, stations, buses, or trains. Never put anything valuable in a back pocket or a backpack. On buses and on the subway, it is safer to stand well away from the door if you can’t find a seat; thieves may try to grab something near the door as the train or bus is approaching a stop, and then jump off. The person bumping you may be distracting you so an accomplice can reach into your purse or pocket and remove your wallet, jewelry and other items without you noticing. Someone may block the door on the Metro, so that someone else can snatch something as you’re trying to push past. They are very good at what they do, and you may not realize you’ve been the victim of a crime until you reach for your money hours later. It’s better to miss your stop than to lose your wallet, but usually you will still have time to get off even if you back up first and then exit when the way has been cleared.
Reduce the chances of such petty theft by wearing a money belt under your clothing. Otherwise, men should carry their wallets in their front (not back) pockets, while women should use purses that zipper and have multiple zipped compartments inside. Wear bags or cameras slung across your body to make it harder to snatch them. If possible, carry a security purse with slash-proof straps and wear thief-foiling clothing. When sitting at a café or restaurant, especially outside, don’t simply leave your bag on the ground next to you.
Carry only one credit card and just enough cash for the day. Leave your passport, money, and other important documents in your room, possibly hidden or in a safe. However, you should always carry at least a photocopy of the main page of your passport, because in Italy, as in most of Europe, people are required to show ID on request.
Italy is not a dangerous country. You should feel perfectly safe even in big cities, even at night. But play it safe. Stick to populated streets after dark, and know where the bad neighborhoods are. Women need to take certain precautions and avoid walking alone in dark streets or choosing empty train compartments, especially at night. They should also be prepared for more than their fair share of unwanted attention, including getting complimented, whistled at, pinched, prodded, or propositioned. Eye-to-eye contact is the norm in Italy’s daily flirtatious interplay. However, you’ll probably be physically safer in Italy than you are in most American cities. Stride confidently and purposefully down the street, ignore any comments, catcalls, and whistles, refuse to engage the harassers in so much as eye contact, and firmly fend off all courtiers. If you find yourself molested on a city bus or other crowded place, tell the transgressor firmly “no!,” “alt!,” or “stop!”
Some swindlers hang around by the ticket machines in subway and train stations pushing their assistance to tourists. Just refuse the demand and walk away. What they are trying to do is deprive you of a euro for help that is not wanted or needed.
Probably the biggest safety risk in Italy is traffic. Be careful crossing streets in the congested city centers: it’s safer to cross with other people. Keep your eyes peeled for reckless scooters. Even if you cross at zebra crossings, you will find that some Italians will not slow down, although they will try to veer around you. If there is a pedestrian traffic light, you still need to look both ways to be sure it’s safe to cross. Watch your step when walking out as street maintenance can leave a little to be desired. Pot holes, broken slabs and uneven paving are reasonably common.
In Italy, simple medicines like aspirin and cold remedies are sold only in pharmacies—and even in pharmacies, they are kept behind a counter: you’ll have to ask the pharmacist if you want something. It helps if you write down the generic name of the medicine, as the brand name may vary from one country to another. If you have an empty container containing the name of the active ingredient, show that to the pharmacist. Antibiotics need a doctor’s prescription. The price of medications like aspirin is not higher in Italy than in the United States—however, a little first aid kit, with band-aids, aspirin, and an antiseptic cleanser is always good to have on hand.
Global Support Services
Harvard Global Support Services (GSS) offers an array of useful information to guide you both as you prepare for your trip and throughout the summer. We strongly encourage you to look through these online resources, which include:
- A student travel checklist
- Tips for traveling with medication
- Banking tips
- Things to know about visa and passports
- Mobile phone options
- Keeping your data safe
- Common scams to avoid while traveling
Milan has an extensive internal transport network which includes the subway (metropolitana), the tram and bus network, and the suburban railway.
For information on routes, schedules, and fares, go to the ATM website or use their online trip planner.
Click here for a map of the subway and suburban lines. Click here for a map of bus and subway lines in the city center.
At your arrival in Milan we will help you obtain an ATM student monthly pass (“abbonamento urbano mensile”) and we will pay for it. A passport and a passport-size photo are required: if you didn’t bring one photo with you there are photo booths in some subway stations.
Please remember that if you don’t have with you your monthly pass you must purchase ticket. A single urban ticket costs €1.50 and it is valid for 90 minutes. You must validate your unused ticket by stamping it in a machine, either when you enter the metro through the gates or when you board the bus (you will find a machine with a slot for the ticket upon entry). Always travel with a validated ticket. There is also a one-day ticket (€4.50, valid for 24 hours after stamping). If you carry a large piece of luggage you have to purchase a luggage ticket (€1.50).
Siena is a small city. You certainly won’t need a travel card. If you have to take a bus (for example from the train station to the Refugio) purchase the ticket before boarding and stamp it in the machine when you board the bus. It costs €1.20. Click here to download a map of bus routes. For more information visit the Sienamobilità website.
If you want to take a cab in Milan or other Italian cities, make sure to only use official taxis. These taxis are often white, but they can sometimes be yellow or other colors. They can also be recognized by the “TAXI” sign on their roof and the license number that is clearly displayed on the sides of the taxi, at the back and on the inside. Official taxis will also have a meter to measure and display the fare rate. You will have a better chance of being charged a reasonable fare by using official taxis.
Passengers arriving at airports and train stations are often the ideal targets for unlicensed taxi drivers trying to find business. It is not recommended to accept offers from these drivers. Their taxis may not be metered, and you may be overcharged. Official taxi drivers remain by their cars at the taxi stand and do not seek business in the arrival halls.
Taxi fares vary depending on the final destination, the amount of luggage loaded, the time of travel, and the number of passengers using the taxi. There is usually an extra charge for each suitcase loaded into the boot, and an extra charge after the third or fourth passenger. Taxi fares are more expensive at night, and on Sundays and public holidays.
Keep in mind that if you call a taxi, the meter starts running from where the taxi leaves to come and fetch you, and not from your collection point. You may decide to take advantage of fixed taxi rates based on departure point and destination (usually to or from the airport), which can be found on a table in the back of the taxi. If you do decide to do this, make sure you tell the taxi driver at the beginning of your ride and not at the end that you’d like to pay the fixed rate.
In Italy you can tip your cab driver, but it isn’t expected nor is it common. Feel free to tip if they are extra helpful, they will appreciate it.
The traditional Italian meal consists of antipasto (appetizer), primo (generally a pasta or rice dish), secondo (usually some kind of meat or fish dish) with contorno (side dish), followed by a dessert, fruit, or cheese plate. Even when eating in a restaurant, however, it is generally acceptable to choose two items or, increasingly, just one.
Other alternatives include pizzerie (pizza places), paninoteche (sandwich shops), or self-service (cafeteria-style service). For a quick and cheap lunch you can also buy pizza al taglio, a very popular type of pizza baked in large rectangular trays and generally sold in rectangular slices by weight.
Another convenient place for eating is the rosticceria or tavola calda: they are basically “slow food” takeaway services where the food on sale is restaurant quality, though the price is much lower. You can find a variety of dishes, both cold and hot, ranging from roasted meats and pasta to vegetables and salads.
Supermarkets often have a special section selling a range of freshly cooked food, which can include pastas, meat, vegetables and local specialties. (For more information about buying groceries in an Italian supermarkets check out this article).
In addition, small cafés usually have sandwiches for sale. When eating or drinking in a café, it is customary to order at the cash register and then take the receipt to a clerk behind the counter. If you wish to eat at a table, take a seat and then order, as the price for sitting at a table and standing at the bar or counter is different.
Restaurants near tourist locations and in city centers tend to be more expensive. Traveling off the beaten path can save money. Look for restaurants that are full of locals; it usually means the food is good and the price is right.
You don’t have to speak Italian to eat well in Italy, you just have to be curious. Do a little research before you leave to find out what dishes a city or region is famous for, and you’ll eat your way to understanding the culture. And always go into a restaurant with a sense of adventure–waiters love telling customers what’s good.
Please understand that Olive Garden is not Italian food. If you like Olive Garden, that’s fine; just don’t compare it to the food you’ll get in Italy.
When dining out, an additional fee (coperto) will be added onto the bill. This is a cover charge generally listed on the menu, and it replaces a tip. A small tip would be a nice gesture but is not required. In bars, Italians often leave change as a tip, maybe only 10 cents.
While tipping is not expected, neither is attentive service. If you have special requests for your waiter (water with ice, free water from the tap refilled throughout the meal, lots of extra free bread, or special food requests), you may consider leaving a few euros tip.
As with dining out, other services such as taxis and hairdressers build tips into the price.
The legal drinking age in Italy is 18, but it’s illegal for anyone to be in a state of intoxication. Moreover, drunkenness is viewed poorly. While wine is enjoyed with meals, it is meant to accent the taste of the food, and people limit themselves to one or two glasses.
Store hours and shopping customs
Outside of big cities centers like Milan or tourist cities like Florence, most stores are only open from approximately 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Some stores may be closed on Monday morning or sometimes for the entire day, while grocery stores generally close on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Restaurants often close on either Monday or Tuesday. Except in tourist areas, stores are generally closed on Sundays. Store hours usually are posted.
It is inappropriate in most stores to touch or handle merchandise as people do in the U.S. Watch other Italians, and be sure to ask a salesperson before handling or trying on an item. A receipt must be given upon the purchase of a product or service, and it is the customer’s responsibility to keep it for the first 100 meters after leaving the premises: otherwise, you may be fined.
The euro is Italy’s currency. The seven euro notes come in denominations of €200, €100, €50, €20, €10, and €5. The eight euro coins are in denominations of €2 and €1 and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cents.
For the latest rates, check out www.xe.com.
Although their usage is quickly increasing, credit cards are not as widely accepted as in the U.S., so you should not count on using them for grocery shopping and paying for day-to-day expenses in general. MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted, followed by American Express. Credit card companies often charge a transaction fee for purchases made abroad.
Banks in Italy are open Monday through Friday, usually from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., although opening and closing hours vary slightly from bank to bank. There are automatic teller machines (ATMs) in many convenient locations that are accessible 24 hours a day. Cirrus and Plus are widely recognized in Europe.
Ask your American bank if they have a partner institution in Italy (many of them have one), so that you can withdraw cash from a ATMs without paying a fee.
Taxes and refunds
A value-added tax of around 20%, known as IVA (Imposta di Valore Aggiunto), is slapped onto just about everything in Italy. However the price that is posted already includes IVA. If you are not an E.U. resident and spend more than €155 on a single purchase, you can claim a refund when you leave. The refund only applies to purchases from retail outlets that display a ‘tax free for tourists’ sign, or something to that effect. You have to complete a form at the point of sale, and then have it stamped by Italian customs as you leave. At major airports, you can then receive an immediate cash refund; otherwise, the amount will be refunded to your credit card. For information, pick up a pamphlet from participating stores.
Be aware that electricity in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, comes out of the wall socket at 220 volts alternating at a 50 cycles per second. In the US, electricity comes out of the wall socket at 110 volts, alternating at 60 cycles per second. Not only the voltages and frequencies, but the sockets themselves are different. Most laptops, tablets, smartphones, and battery chargers are able to use any voltage between 100 and 240, as long as it’s AC voltage alternating at 50 or 60 hertz. In such cases the only thing that you will need is a cheap plug adapter, that is, an interface between the American flat-pronged plug and Italy’s two (or three) round-prong socket. One like the one on the right.
Please understand that an adapter allows you to plug your electrical device into the Italian wall socket, but it does not convert the electricity to the American 110 volts. If your appliance is designed to run only on 110-120 volts you will need a more heavy and expensive power converter or transformer to safely step the voltage down from 220 to 110. You can check the back of the device or the “power brick” for the electrical input specifications. If your device only runs on 110-120 volts, it is more practical not to bring it to Italy. If by mistake you plug a 110 volt device into a 220 volt circuit it will most likely burn out or its fuse will blow.
There are two official Italian sales periods (“saldi” in Italian) each year—winter and summer—when every shop has what can amount to clearance sales for 6-8 weeks. Summer sales traditionally begin in Milan on the first Saturday on July.
A couple of links of useful articles for those of you who want to post their pictures on facebook or other social media:
IF YOU NEED AN ITALIAN VISA, PLEASE READ CAREFULLY ALL THIS PAGE.
Be sure that you have a current and valid passport (valid for at least three months after the last day of the program and your departure from Italy).
Students with a U.S. or E.U. passport will not need to obtain a visa for their stay in Italy. Some international students (depending on nationality) may need to obtain a visa though.
To find out if you need a visa to enter Italy, you can consult the visa database of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Click on the question “Do you need a visa?” and then complete the fields for nationality, residence, duration of stay (“up to 90 days”) and reason for visit (“Tourism”). This will take you to a page with information on whether you need a visa to enter Italy and information on the application requirements. Please note, this information is not exhaustive and is intended as guidance only.
If you need an Italian visa, you are responsible for gathering all documentation and going to your regional Italian Consulate to obtain the visa. As you are not going to enroll in an Italian institution and trips and visits represent a significant part of the program, you should apply for a tourist visa (“short stay”) (not for a student visa or for a “long stay” visa).
The Consulate General of Italy in Boston provides visas to permanent residents of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, including Harvard students and students enrolled in colleges and universities in those states, provided that their American F1 student visas expire at least three months after the last day of the program and their departure from Italy. If your American visa expires less than three months after the last day of the program, you should renew your American visa or go to the Italian Consulate in your home country in order to obtain an Italian visa there.
The Italian Consulate in Boston is located on the 17th floor of the Federal Reserve Bank Building, 600 Atlantic Avenue, tel. 617-722-9201/02/03. The closest T stop is South Station.
Visa applications are accepted only by appointment: click here to book an appointment.
If you need to apply for a visa please do not delay: although it usually takes less than a month to get a visa, sometimes it can be a lengthy process. Click this link for more information about the documents that you need to bring to the Consulate.
1) You are required to download, print, and fill out a Schengen Visa application (Short Stay). Bring it to the Consulate but sign it only when asked by the consular officer. Click here to fill out and download the form. See below for a few information on how to fill out the form.
2) You must pay a visa fee. The visa fee is payable by money order only. Make the money order or cashier check payable to: Consulate General of Italy. Please click here for the exact amount of the fee.
3) Bring to the Consulate your passport, American visa, and form I-20. Bring also a photocopy of the three documents.
4) Bring also your round-trip ticket or proof of your reservation (point 4 in the Consulate’s list). Please understand that you cannot change the departure date after applying for the visa.
5) As you will be required to show “proof of lodging” (point 5) and proof of enrollment in the program, contact both Prof. Erspamer and the Harvard Summer School <email@example.com> for a letter. You will need to specify the names and addresses of your residences in Milan and Siena (find them here).
6) As “proof of economic means of support” (point 6) you must submit three most recent bank statements from a US banking institution or an official letter from your American bank.
7) As “documentation of socio-professional standing” (point 7) you must provide an enrollment certificate to Harvard University or to your college.
8) You must also submit proof of health insurance (point 8) with a minimum coverage of $50,000 (€ 30,000) for emergency hospital expenses. Your policy must include coverage for “medical evacuation and repatriation of remains.” Contact your health insurance provider to request that document.
9) You need also to provide proof of residence in the U.S., for example your green card or an F1 Visa. Either of them must be valid for at least three months after the last day of the program and your departure from Italy.
10) You must bring with you a recent passport-size photo (1″3/8×1″3/4 or 3.5×4.5 cm) on white background, full face and front view.
11) Citizens of Pakistan and Afghanistan need to provide full names of mother and father and it must result from a birth certificate or Consular declaration.
A few suggestions on how to fill out the Schengen visa application form. Please note that if you are not a Harvard student and your are not a resident of Massachusetts, some answers should be different.
- In the page Home address:
– Residence permit or equivalent: it’s your American F1 student visa.
– Applicant’s home address: your address at Harvard or in the Boston area.
- Page Travel information:
– Main purpose of the journey: Study.
– Other purpose(s): leave it blank.
– Number of entries required: any answer. However, if you plan to go on a trip to the UK or to another country that is not part of the EU or the Schengen area, you must ask for multiple entries; please understand that you might need a visa also to enter that country.
- Page Sponsor:
– Inviting type: leave it blank.
– The applicant’s travel and subsistence expenses are charged: Other.
– Means of support: Means autonomous.
- Page References EU, EEA or CH citizens: leave it blank.
All around Italy dial 113 for the police (also ambulance and fire).
In case of a medical emergency, dial 118. Ask a passerby to call for you if you don’t have a cell phone; in Italian, 118 is “centodiciotto” (pronounced CHEN-toh dee-CHOH-toh). If you call out this number when there are people nearby, someone will surely make the call for you. This is not a generalized emergency number like 911 in the United States so don’t call it in case of a crime or a fire, unless someone is injured.
Again, the numbers to memorize and call in a real emergency are 113 and 118.
Contact Harvard Travel Assist (HTA) at 001-617-998-0000. They can assist you, direct you, and have you verify on the phone the nature of the emergency with a doctor. You may call any day, any time (24/7). Give them your name, affiliation (Harvard Summer program in Milan and Siena), and phone number, and ask them to call you back. You may also email HTA at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. This method may result in a longer response time, as this is the non-emergency email, but if the student sends along the information on how to connect back to them, HTA will make every effort to do so.
In case of any problem also call Prof. Erspamer (345-591-3290), Amelia (TBA), or Corrado (TBA).
In Milan the closest hospital to the Residence Pola is the Ospedale Niguarda, tel. 02-6444-1 (a little more than two miles from the Residence). The closest hospital to IULM (only half a mile) is the Ospedale San Paolo, tel. 02-81-841.
If you need a doctor, a dentist, a psychologist, or a chiropractor, the following medical centers will be able to assist you in English (please check their sites for office hours and locations):
– American International Medical Center, tel. 02-5831-9808
– International Health Center, tel. 02-7634-0720
– Milan Medical Center, tel. 02-4399-0401.
A list of English speaking physicians and dentists available for private consultation in Milan is provided by the U.S. Consulate in Milan.
For emergencies or specialized needs, the general hospital in Siena is the Ospedale Santa Maria alle Scotte, tel. 0577-585-111. It’s just outside the city center, behind the railway station.
If you need a doctor in Siena, a medical office conveniently located is the Studio Medico Siena Centro in via di Pantaneto 105 (open Monday to Friday, 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM). Otherwise this is a list of family doctors that you can call. Not all of them speak English.
A list of medical facilities and English speaking doctors available for private consultation in Florence and Tuscany is provided by the U.S. Consulate in Florence.
Always carry with you the Harvard Travel Assist card.
From Milan, high-speed trains (Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca) allow for day trips to many cities in Northern Italy. You can get to Venice in two and a half hours, to Padua and Vicenza in two hours, to Genoa and Verona in an hour and a half, and to Turin, Parma, or Bologna in one hour. And if you purchase your Freccia ticket well in advance you may pay for some round trips as little as €38 (economy and super economy tickets) or even €18 for closer destinations. Getting to Rome is more expensive (€58 to €78 for the round trip) but the fastest trains take three hours to get you there.
If booking online, be sure to choose as your point of departure and destination two stations where the Freccia makes a stop: if you have to change trains and take a local or regional train as well, the online program may not offer the economy and super-economy fares. Just purchase the tickets for the local and regional trains separately, preferably at a train station when you’re already in Italy.
Local and regional trains are slower and cheap, and they can take you to beautiful places like Bergamo, Cremona, Lake Como, Mantova, Stresa (Lake Maggiore). All Italian regional and local train tickets must be validated immediately before you board your train, by putting them into the small green or yellow machines at the entrance to every platform. There’s a heavy fine if you don’t—up to €200. You do not need to validate Frecciarossa, Frecciargento or Frecciabianca tickets (and some InterCity tickets) as these are only valid on a specific date and train. In case the stamping machine does not work, go to the ticket office or inform the ticket collector while boarding the train. Please note that tickets must be validated shortly before your departure as from the moment of validation they have a validity of a few hours.
Please do not board a train without a ticket. Purchasing the ticket on the train would require a surcharge of €50.
To plan a trip and to purchase tickets online, go the Trenitalia website. Please note that tickets for local and regional trains cannot be purchased earlier than a week before your trip. There is no need for reservations to board those trains and no discounted fares are available, so it’s better to purchase the tickets at the point of departure.
You can also find high speed trains at good prices on the Italo website. Most Italo trains leaving Milan depart from the Milano Porta Garibaldi station and not Milano Centrale.
Another cheap way to travel in Italy (and Europe) is by bus, with low cost companies like FlixBus.
From Siena, it is possible to take a regional train to Florence and several small towns in the area, but the bus lines are much more extensive and cheaper. Some buses leave from the train station, which is a bit of a walk from the city center, but many buses, including the ones that run to Florence or San Gimignano, depart from Piazza Gramsci, which is a short walk from Piazza del Campo, right in the center of town. See the Tiemme website for schedules. Buses to Florence are faster than trains, provided you take the “rapida” instead of “ordinario.” Click here for the schedule of buses from Siena to Florence and return.
Check also the sites of Sena, Sienamobilità, Busitalia, and FlixBus. With FlixBus you can get to Rome in less than three hours and for a cost of €24 for the round trip.
Click here for more detailed information about train travel in Italy.
The standard mobile-phone network in Italy and Europe is called GSM. A few American companies (for example AT&T and T-Mobile) use GSM technology; others, including Verizon and Sprint, use a different system, called CDMA, which is not compatible with Italian networks. If you want to use a Verizon or Sprint phone abroad, you must be sure that it is a global phone with GSM capabilities and that your account has been set up with international eligibility.
Within the GSM network, different regions operate on different bands. The United States uses two bands, and Italy and most of Europe use two other bands. Only a GSM phone that’s tri-band or quad-band would then work both in Italy and in the U.S. The most popular smartphones all work internationally, including the Apple iPhone series, the Samsung Galaxy series, and the Google Nexus phones.
American companies offer international plans to travelers. Check with your company to see the cost of the plans and the charge per minute. They used to be be costly but prices have been decreasing.
Prepaid plans with data are relatively cheap in Italy. The most popular and reliable Italian mobile-phone companies are TIM, Vodafone, and Wind. If you go on line you’ll mostly likely find only their regular plans, which require a contract and a monthly payment. But in their stores and in many other stores you’ll be able get a prepaid SIM card (a removable chip that slides into the phone), which will remain active as long as you have credit on it—and if you mostly use it to receive calls instead of making them, you won’t need to recharge it during your stay in Italy. Please note that not all plans automatically include text messaging.
Please check with your company to see if your phone brand and model would work with an Italian prepaid SIM card. Most American phones are electronically locked so that one cannot switch SIM cards. But it’s possible to get your phone unlocked (call your company), allowing you to replace the original SIM card with a local Italian SIM. Please note that in most cases the unlocking must be done while in the United States. If necessary you can purchase a GSM unlocked phone or smartphone at Trony, Euronics, Media World (there is one store in Stazione Centrale), or several smaller shops in Milan.
A smartphone is also useful for your course’s final project, which consists of an introduction and a slideshow of photographs that you took during your stay in Italy.
Please be aware that calls from Italy to US toll-free numbers may not route, depending on the originating carrier. (In my experience, they never go through). If they do route, then the caller would need to pay international dialing charges, just like for any other call to a US local phone number. If you expect to be calling your bank or another company or institution, ask them to provide an alternate US local number for international calls.