Some “getting ready” advice

photo credit:  Jill HackettIf you can pack up your house (or sublet it, or swap houses with an Italian family), the finances of the dream become suddenly much more within reach.  Since mortgage, or rent, is not due in the US, then you have these expenses to apply to your adventure.  Also, you can suspend your home phone and your US cell phone (if it does not have GSM 800/1900 global frequencies – more on this later).  And your utilities can either be suspended or covered by your sublettors.


There are several practicalities, however, that are worth knowing ahead of time.   


Household insurance


If you choose the “put everything you own in storage” option, your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy may no longer cover your items in storage.  You must have a valid US mortgage or lease agreement to keep household insurance.  There are a few insurance companies that cover items in storage:  Tenant One for example.  And failure to notify your insurance company of a change in occupancy may invalidate your policy and possibly future insurability, I was told.


Health insurance


Call your agency and check their policy.  It varies.  Many require you to pay for any medical events aboard out of pocket, and reimburse—with proper paperwork—upon your return, and possibly at a lower percentage rate than for US claims.  So, you may be covered, but understand your financial vulnerabilities and plan accordingly.


Check around for medical travel insurance plans.  For instance, American Express offers an excellent Medical Travel Protection plan, covering you for the first 45 days of any trip, including medical evacuation if necessary—and you need not be an American Express cardholder to purchase the policy.


For travelers applying for an extended VISA, the Italian consultate in the US may require you to sign an affidavite promising to purchase health insurance in Italy, which is equivalent to the insurance offered by Assitalia.   You can purchase this when you arrive in Italy.  More about this at


Staying in touch


Phone cards are the cheapest and easiest way.  A website that has particularly low rates for traveling is .  They offer a “virtual” phone card—your number and PIN are assigned to you online, and you print out the instructions.


For traveling in Italy alone, I strongly recommend getting an unlocked GSM phone BEFORE you leave the states.  Buy one with 800/1900 GSM for Italy.  You can purchase them from eBay, or from Simon Cells (, which gave me excellent service.  Then, when you are in Italy, find a Vodaphone or Omni Tel store and buy a SIMS chip for  about 5 Euro, and – you have your own Italian cell phone!


If you are only going for a week or two, renting a phone may be overall cheaper, but for the longer explorations, buy your own phone.


You can add minutes as you use them (“top up”) by buying more time at a Tabac shop in 10 Euro increments.  Calls to your phone are free, and on Vodaphone, calls within Italy are charged currently at 19 cents per minute, and to call the US is 50 cents a minute.


The refurbed Sony Ericsson phone I purchased from doubles as an alarm clock and stop watch as well.  If you are going for a remote adventure, buy the car recharger—it will serve you well.


Computers and electronics


If you are taking your computer with you to Italy (as I have) you will want an Italian surge protector.  I brought my dependable US surge protector multi-plug with me, and it blew the house circuits twice with quiet an accompanying soundtrack.  When I finally found the local internet place (20 minute drive), I purchased a Kraun “Multipresa 5 posizini” with “protezione da impulse di rete” (aka surge protection).  It s 8,90 Euros, and worth the piece of mind!  Kraun’s website is, and it is model number KR.C5.


You’ll want to bring at least two US-to-Italian plug adapters with you, that takes our 2 prong and fits it to their 2 prong, or our grounded three prong to their grounded 3 prong plug.  These are available at Radio Shacks and most places where travel items are sold.


One place tried to sell me a $40 transformer for the computer, which was heavy, and was not for Italy current.  Most places in Italy have 110V, so an adapter (not a transformer) should serve well enough.  And many laptops also have a built-in surge protector.  However, good to be extra safe, and not fry your hard drive.


I’m in the countryside, where the surges (da impulse di rete) varies, so the surge protector helps.  Several folks showed me that my computer has a built in surge variance allowance, which is true.  But I’d rather replace an 8 Euro plug set than an $1000 laptop any day.




If you are near a city, you should have no problem staying connected.  Many hotels offer “internet service” but they may not mean free Wi-Fi the way we enjoy it in the states.


You purchase a prepaid card from Telecom Italia at a Tabac shop (5 Euros for 5 hours), to use the one or few machines in a lobby or café area.  [See] Or if your own computer has Wi-Fi capability, you can log in once you purchase your Telecom card and get a username and password.


Some hotels offer a network plug in your room, but you need your own dial up Internet Service Provider (ISP) to take advantage of that connection.  AOL does have access numbers in Italy.


Vodafone sells an adapter that plugs into your laptop, and connects to the internet using cellular technogy.  Currently the adapter (here) sells for around 150 to 200 Euros–if you have an UNLOCKED adapter from the US, you can just buy the SIM chip from Vodafone.  Then ask for a _no_contract_ month at a time accocunt.  For 30 Eruos you buy 100 hours of internet time, and can connect anywhere in Italy.

More towns have ADSL lines, which, for longer stays, is definitely worth the investment.  You can then use VoIP technology to “phone home.”


You may wish to set up a web email address, such as hotmail or yahoo, which are free services.  They are somewhat easier to access than smaller internet services email applications.



You will need temporary homes for your pets, your car, your valuables (if you are putting everything in storage).


Get your pets’ shots up to date, arm the pet sitter with their records, medicine, a gift certificate to the local pet store for food, and a note and notice to your veterinarian that they are permitted to obtain medical services in your absence for your pet.


You can take dogs and cats into Italy, with no quarantine time at this time.  Dogs must be micro chipped at least 30 days before leaving the country, and recent rabies shots verified.  See the Italian immigration website for current details.  Some US states also have their own procedures—for instance, in Maine, the veterinarians must have your pet’s international papers cleared and signed by the State Veterinarian.  Allow an extra week for that procedure.


Check with your rental agency about their policy on pets, before you show up with your dog.  And check about screens in the rental property, if you are considering traveling with a cat.  Agencies that rent to Brits or British landlords are often quite welcoming of pets, while other potential landlords may be more hesitant or, in some cases, refuse.


And there is a practical consideration for you and your pet.  It is hard on the animals to fly, and their presence, as comforting as it is, can make museum hopping and touring more complex.  In the Tuscan heat, you do NOT want to leave a pet in the car.




Check with your bank to see what kind of an automatic billpayer application they offer.  Either use this, or pre-pay any accounts so your credit stays in tact while you adventure.  Also, call all of your credit cards, and ask what their surcharge is for using the cards overseas.  My cards ranged from 1 to 3% surcharge.  When you have determined which cards you will be using, call them and notify them of the dates that you will be using the card and in what countries.  This will avert difficulties for you, and they make a note on your account.


AAA has a VISA travel card, which you can pre-load with money.  This is useful if you are traveling with another person and sharing expenses.  You can both pre-load the card, and pay lodging, etc. with the card.  Have someone back in the US able to reload the card for you both, should you need it.

You may need to wire your payment to your landlord ahead of time.  Many banks now have online wire services.  Allow a week to 10 days for the money to be credited to your recipient’s account.

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