Nothing beats the convenience of having a mobile phone or cellphone in Croatia, a statement that millions of Croatians would agree with. Many companies handling sporting activities like diving, windsurfing or kayaking are practically unreachable on fixed lines and if you'll be staying in private accommodation you'll be nearly unreachable on a fixed line as you will not have a telephone in private accommodation.
If you are staying in private accommodation a cell phone is not a convenience; it's a necessity. First, you can confirm the time of arrival with your host. Second, you can arrange for the host to meet you and show you your apartment or room. Third, if you run into trouble of any kind you can call your host for advice or help.
Croatia is on the GSM 900/1800 frequency which means that some older American cellphones are not compatible. Americans travelling in Croatia need to equip themselves with a GSM 900/1800 phone before leaving or upon arrival. Newer cellphones are completely compatible.
You can buy a complete cell phone package from one of the two providers below that will include the mobile phone, SIM card, phone number etc. There are a number of promotional packages and a bewildering array of possibilities but the lowest rate is currently about 185 Kn (about $35). Naturally, you can only buy these packages in Croatia and this solution is only practical if you will not be visiting other countries as your phone number will be in Croatia. Also note, that the instructions will be in Croatian.
There are several local cellphone networks in Croatia, including A1 (091) and T-mobile (098) which are the largest. Each has excellent coverage that includes about 98% of the country. Cheaper services include Tele2 and Tomato. Each company sells SIM cards, mobile phones and prepaid packages that include the cellphone and SIM card. Where are their stores? Oh, just about EVERYWHERE as Croatians are as addicted to their phones as anyone else. The stores are open long hours and you'll always find someone on the young staff who speaks fluent English.
In most cases, it's not necessary to buy a new cellphone though. Paying for roaming or a local SIM card is a more practical solution.
If you do have a GSM phone you can use it in Croatia1) if you set it up for international roaming. This is an expensive way to make and receive calls as you pay two companies: your home cellphone company and the local Croatian network. If you do choose international roaming, you may need to set it up before you leave home. Check your user's manual for how to select a local network.
2) if you buy a SIM card in Croatia and your phone is unlocked. This is the cheapest alternative. Each of the local cellphone networks above provides a start-up package that includes a SIM card, phone number, user manual etc. For about $10 you can get 200 minutes of local calls and a data connection of 10GB which is more than enough for web surfing, maps and music especially since WiFi is ubiquitous. See more on WiFi access.
You can also buy an international SIM card online and hit the ground running. Try PrePaid Europe which will send you a SIM card that includes 12G of data and 3000 minutes of calls and texts for 30 days.
Croatia has a "caller pays" system. You do not pay to receive local calls on your cellphone unless you receive calls from abroad. If you call a mobile phone in Croatia from a fixed line the charge runs from about 0.50 to 1.50Kn per minute depending on the network and the time of day.
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