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 simple American cellphones are not compatible. Americans travelling in Croatia need to equip themselves with a GSM 900/1800 phone before leaving or upon arrival. Most smartphones fit the bill.
I recommend buying a kit that includes simple phone with a prepaid international SIM card. Take a look at this quad-band phone with an international SIM that includes $5 credit from Telestial. At only $24.99 from Amazon, it's a steal!
If you have a GSM compatible phone and it's unlocked, Telestial will sell you a SIM card that works in 190 countries for only US$9.99 including a $5.00 credit. Buy now.
You can also rent a GSM 900/1800 phone before you leave. Many companies provide this service now and they even deliver the phone to you before you leave but watch out for the hidden extras. In most circumstances you would do better buying a GSM phone that you can use on your next trip.
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 Vipnet (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.
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.
or2) 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 25Kn. Cheap! For about 35 Kn you can get 1000 minutes of talk time and a data connection of 1 giga but WiFi access has become so ubiquitous that it's usually not necessary. See more on WiFi access.
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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