Tips to Help Find Safe Housing

One of the posts I have had the most response to on this blog is about gypsy markings in neighborhoods. Many people worry about their safety and the safety of their children while in Italy. I firmly believe that Italy is probably safer than many areas in the U.S. The vast majority of people living in this community have no problem with safety or crime. I don’t want to freak out anyone. Moving to a new country is scary, but Italy is not a scary place. These tips are meant to help keep everyone safe not scare them into sleeplessness.

To help you find a house that is safe and secure, I have compiled a house hunting tip list.

Here are some things to look for in no particular order:

In the town or village:

  • Are there gypsy encampments around the outskirts of town?
  • Are local police visible in the community?
  • Do a lot Americans live in the community?

As you drive into a town, you may see a group of RV’s, vans and tents in an abandoned lot.  Most likely this is a gypsy camp. Gypsies tend to just set up their camps where they can. I have seen several on the outskirts of Vicenza. Some of these camps are more or less permanent. Some camps come and go depending on the time of year and activities in town.

When you look at a house, you probably won’t be there long enough to see the local police. If you want information on local police, ask the interpreter where the local police station is. In my town, I see a police car out and about almost every day.

Living in a community with large numbers of Americans in it is a mixed bag. Having Americans nearby can make life easier, because you will have more support and someone who shares your language and background. Unfortunately, criminals who think Americans are all rich may target communities with larger populations of Americans.

In the neighborhood:

  • Does the neighborhood seem well cared for? Are the hedges trimmed back?
  • Is there graffiti on the walls of buildings or fences?
  • Are there sidewalks?
  • Can you see people outside working in their yards?
  • Are there street lights nearby?

Common sense goes a long way when looking at houses. If there are empty houses and overgrown yards in the area, you may want to keep looking even if the house is beautiful. Notice any graffiti nearby. Check and see if there are street lights outside the rental. Are the neighbors outside? Bright lights and lots of people around tend to discourage criminals who want it to be easy to steal.

At the rental house:

  • Do the doors and windows have secure locks?
  • Are there scrapes or pry marks around the windows or doors?
  • Does the yard have a secure fence and locking gate?
  • Are there lights at each entry, including doors and the garage?
  • Is it okay to install an alarm if one is not already present?

Check the doors and windows. Scrape marks or pry marks around windows or doors may be evidence of a past break-in at a house, just be aware of this fact. If the locks don’t work well or seem flimsy and you love the rest of the house, ask to have them replaced before signing a lease. Same thing goes for the gate. Lights are a good thing at the entries to a house. Bright lights are good things for safety. If there is not light near a door, it would be worth your time to see if the landlord will put one in for you.  I know people with and without alarms here. If  you could not sleep without an alarm, then ask if you can install one.

These tips came from talking with other people here in the Vicenza area. I am sure I have missed some obvious points, so please add your tips in the comment section! I love comments! : )


New Poll! Your Biggest Challenge in Moving to Italy

Help me to figure out the best topics for new posts here. To give the most helpful information, I am asking readers to let me know what was or is making their PCS harder.

Share the most challenging part of your PCS to Italy. Here’s the poll:


Should I Bring My SUV to Italy?

A worry for folks moving to Italy is the POV, more commonly known as the family car.

I have discussed in other posts that driving in Italy is different. The roads are narrower and more winding. The drivers are more aggressive. Parking is at a premium in many places. This fact brings up some questions.

Should I bring my SUV/truck/mini-van?

Is it easy to buy a car once I am in Italy?

These are all common questions when families are getting ready to PCS.  I think everyone has different priorities for their situation. There is no right or wrong answer.  Here are some considerations will help you make your decision.

Driving Abilities

I have horrible depth perception. I can’t parallel park into a tight space and am nervous if I squeeze through tight spaces when driving. That being said, I would not bring a large vehicle such as a Suburban or a full-size truck to Italy. I know I see many people driving full-sized trucks and large SUV’s.

If you are confident in your driving abilities and don’t necessarily mind searching to find a parking space, it may be okay to bring a larger vehicle with you to Italy. If you plan on living in downtown Vicenza, just remember the parking spaces are not geared toward larger vehicles.

Family Size

If you have more than two kids, you may want to have a larger vehicle. If your family can’t fit in a regular full-sized car, parking problems become irrelevant. Smaller SUVs and mini vans seem to work out well here. Sometimes the parking spaces are a bit tight, but definitely not too small. I have seen a large family on post with a full-sized van that seems to make it work.

Value of Vehicle

If you are a person who has a very valuable vehicle or someone who is extremely upset at door dings, Italy might punish you. Because of the tight parking spaces and the general disregard of vehicles, small scratches, dents and door dings are common. I would not bring a very expensive new vehicle here. That being said, I have seen a Cadillac Escalade driving around on post. If you are a “car person”, it might be  worth the risk.

Purchasing a Car Here

If you are interested, many used cars are available at different times. Check out the MWR Marketplace on the Vicenza MWR Website for a listing of used cars. Used cars are a good bet for those wanting a second vehicle. Registering cars you buy here is much the same as you register a car that you bring to Italy with you. New car sales located near the main gate is always an option if you are in the market for a new car.

Think about these points. Whether you ship one or two vehicles or buy a car when you arrive, every person must take a course and test to receive a SETAF driver’s license.  Unless you ship your vehicle many months before your move, there will be plenty of time to prepare for the test before your car actually arrives.


Cell Phones in Italy

Will my cell phone work in Italy?

This is a question I have received numerous times from people preparing to PCS to Caserma Ederle.

The answer is… it depends.

What kind of cell phone do you have? In the United States, most cell phones work on a different frequency than in Europe. If you have a typical American cell phone, it likely will not work in Italy. However, certain phones will work in Italy, but you will have to change the SIM card.

A Short Lesson on Cell Phone Frequency

In the United States, cell phones operate on a variety of frequencies determined by the cell phone carrier. These frequencies are all over the place, which is why you can not use any phone for any carrier. In Europe and Asia, the cell phones use GSM (Global System for Mobile communication). This means that the frequency of cell phones are much more consistent.  In Europe, cell phones typically operate on the 900-1800 band.

How do I know if MY cell phone will work?

If you have a dual or quad band cell phone, your phone will work in Italy. You will have to purchase a SIM card, which is pretty easy to do. Typically, AT&T and T-Mobile phones will work in Italy.  If you have a Verizon or Sprint phone, you are likely out of luck. Check your manual or bother ask the local customer service rep from your cellular phone carrier to find out if your phone is dual or quad band. Your phone must be unlocked to use it in Europe. Usually your carrier will help you unlock it if they know you are heading overseas. There are websites that can give you the information if your cell phone carrier is less than helpful.

Can I use my current cell carrier?

Some cell phone carriers in the United States do have international plans. I found these plans  excessively expensive and most had features I did not want. It may work for your family, though. Make sure you check it out.

Where can I get a cell phone once I am in Italy?

Go to the PX and visit the phone center there. Some of the staff speak better English than others, but overall they will understand what you need. I chose a very basic plan, because I don’t have a smart phone. I am happy with my WIND basic pay-as-I-go package for my cell phone, but other packages and carriers are available if you choose them.

Italian Cell Phone Carriers

As in the United States, you can choose from a variety of cell phone companies. The three big carriers are WIND, TIM and Vodaphone. The phone center at the PX can help you with any of these carriers. I have been told that Vodaphone does have English-speaking customer service reps, in case this is important to you.

No matter which phone or carrier you select, cell phone service in Italy is good. I have never had a problem with my phone. Once  you arrive, get a phone as soon as possible. It will make coordinating your housing search much easier!


Electrical Appliances, Should I Bring Them to Italy?

European electrical plug

I recently received a note from someone asking what sort of things to bring with them to Italy. I know that I wondered the same thing when I moved. I am pretty sure everyone who has not lived outside the United States has had the same thoughts. I decided to share what I know and what I think about the topic.

Voltage in Italy Verses Voltage in the United States

Many countries electrical systems differ. These differences stem way back to when Edison invented the light bulb. After doing a little research, I decided to forgo any further explanation. (If you are really interested, Bright Hub has a pretty basic article on the subject.)

Most of Europe operates on 220 to 240 Volts.  The United States, Canada and most countries in Central America use 110 Volts.

Why Voltage Matters

In the United States, all appliances are wired to use 110 Volts of electricity. If you try to use appliances on higher voltages, they will likely short out, spark or catch fire. Even if an appliance initially appears to work using only an adapter plug, it will not last long if the voltages is too high. Once your appliance has shorted out, it won’t be repairable.

How Do I Know If An Appliance is Dual Voltage?

Many electronics are dual voltage. If you have the manual on an appliance, read it. Prior to moving to Italy, I ignored the section mentioning voltage, because it meant nothing to me.  If you have tossed the manual, you can still find the voltage information. Every electrical appliance has a line on it somewhere that will tell you the voltage.

My camera battery chargers are an example of dual voltage electronics. The charger has printed information on the back of it that states “Input: 100-240V” and a bunch of other stuff. This means it will work in the U.S. and in Italy.  Sometimes it is hard to find this information. Look on the back, bottom or on the appliance plug.

A Note About Dual Voltage Appliances

Just because an appliance will work in Italy, it does not mean it will work the same. My hair dryer and flat-iron are both dual voltage. Unfortunately, they only work on the highest setting. I am not able to adjust the temperature on either one of them. I just use them anyway, because I did not use the temperature settings much. Just know that surprises happen!

Adapters are not the same thing as converters. Don’t get the two confused or you will end up frying your electrical stuff.  An expatriate website goes into great detail here about the difference.

Electrical Adapters

Plug styles are different in many countries. The American 2-Prong plug-in does not fit anything here. Even something is dual-voltage, you can’t plug it in, because of the plug-in. You will need adapters to put on the plug so it fits the European-style plug-in. If you use an appliance that is not dual-voltage, you can put an adapter on and plug it in, but the voltage will likely ruin it.

Voltage Converters

A converter is a device that actually changes the voltage from 220 volts to 110 volts. You can plug the converter into an electrical outlet and then plug your stuff into it. Everything works fine then. Make sure you get a converter large enough to handle the electrical wattage your appliance uses. If you are plugging in a DS Game System to charge, a small one (like the travel ones for less than 50 watts) will work. However, if you need a converter for your television, you will need to get one that can handle several hundred watts.

Don’t use clocks with voltage converters, because they will not work correctly. Trust me on this one!

Although the topic of watts and volts seems confusing, it is pretty easy to adapt to once you arrive in Italy.  One last word to you, go to the thrift shop to buy adapters and save yourself a few dollars! You will use tons of them!


Making Phone Calls, A Quick Reference

Using the phone in Vicenza, Italy

When I first arrived, I had no idea of how to make a phone call. Calling from cell phone to cell phone was the same, but nothing else made sense. I thought I would make a post to talk about the different ways to dial here in Vicenza.

DSN to DSN

If you are on post and calling another number on post, you can just dial the DSN number. The prefix 634 plus the last four digits. For example, if I am at the clinic and am dialing Vicenza Elementary School, I dial 634-7710.

Cell Phone or Home Phone to Caserma Ederle

If I am calling anyone on post from my cell phone or home telephone, I dial 0444-71 plus the last four digits. Unless I am calling the clinic, in which case I dial 0444-61 plus the last four digits. The last four digits mirror the last four digits of the DSN number. So to call VES from my (local) cell phone, I dial 0444-71-7710.

Another Country from Italian Cell Phone or Home Phone

To call any other country, make sure you use the proper country code. The only numbers I have used are for Germany or the United States. To dial a number in the United States, use the country code 011. An example would be 011-555-555-1212. To call Germany, I use the country code 049. If you are calling a different country, there is a handy tool to look-up country codes (with the time it is there) here.  If you have a Vonage or other VoIP phones with an American number, you will dial it like an international call.

Cell Phone to Cell Phone

As I mentioned before, dialing another cell phone is the same as it is anywhere. Just dial the ten digits, same as in the United States.  555-555-1212. Pretty simple, even for me!

Calling Italy from America

If someone wants to call you in Italy, they will need to dial 011-39-0444 plus six digit number. To use my previous example of Vicenza Elementary, the number would be dialed 011-39-0444-71-7710.

Hope this helps! Happy calling.


Moving Tips for those about to PCS – A Roundup

moving box

I’ve thought a lot about how hard it is to move. Even though I have only been here a year, we are already gathering junk that will have to go somewhere in two years.  Moving is right at the bottom of my list of things I like or want to do. For those families who are career military, moving is second nature and many spouses have moving down to an art form. For me and I am sure for others…moving just stinks.

Because I am not so great at the whole move thing, I am sharing a round-up of posts I have found around the internet.

Anyone else have any great tips on moving?