Subject: Re: Calling Cards
Hi Tiffany,

I'm going to suggest a slightly more expensive alternative, but one which is infinitely more convenient if you're going to be in Europe a while.

A couple of years ago, while in Italy, I bought an inexpensive cell phone at one of the ubiquitous phone stores. For the most part in Europe there are no contracts for lengthy service plans, so you just buy the phone and it comes with a calling chip good for a certain number of minutes. When that chip runs out, you simply buy another chip, anywhere, from any telecommunications company store, and replenish your minutes. With a phone like this, you are not tied to service from one provider, or even to service in a specific country.

I found that in most cases I could travel from country to country and a chip I bought in Italy or France say, would work in most countries in central Europe. The minutes get burned up a little faster that way, since there is a roaming premium, but it was worth the convenience. Alternatively, since the chips are standardized across Europe, you could buy a new chip for each country you visit, but I don't really think that's necessary. Replace them when they are used up.

Cost is certainly higher than a phone card, but convenience and the ability to call from a car or a train or other odd location is certainly worth something. The phone I bought cost about 50 euro. I have bought chips for as little as 20 euro (which lasted me about a week with pretty intense usage, including a couple of calls back to the States.)

I still have the phone and have lent it to friends going to Europe, who have used it in this manner. As soon as they arrive, they just buy a fresh chip and off they go. But, finally, IF you currently have a GSM phone here in the U.S., it should operate off the same type of chip available in Europe, so you might be able to take your existing cell phone with you, sans your U.S. provider's chip, and have a European chip inserted once you arrive. I just did this successfully last week in Spain.

Joel, in Chicago