Q:

Can I use a U.S.-bought two-way radio in Italy?

Is it legal to use U.S.-bought family /general mobile radios in Italy for staying in touch with people from our party? Do I need a special Italian license? If so, how do I get one? Howard Phoenix, Arizona

Jul 27, 2006
Outside
Outside Magazine
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A:

The short answer is: No, it’s not legal to use a U.S.-purchased FRS (Family Radio Service) or GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) in Europe. That’s because European nations have allocated their radio frequencies in a way that’s different from the United States. For instance, the radio bands used by FRS here are used by emergency services workers in England. Similar conflicts can be found elsewhere on the European continent.

Europe does have its own radio system that’s analogous to our FRS and GMRS. It’s called the PMR system, for personal mobile radio. PMR446 is the full designation. It’s similar to our FRS system in that no license is required. And it’s legal across most of Europe, including Italy.

One option is to simply purchase a pair or more of those radios when you get to Europe. The cost is about 30 Euros ($60) for a pair from manufacturers such as Cobra (www.cobra.com).

Like FRS, PMR446 is designed to have a maximum range of about two miles. That’s line-of-sight, under ideal conditions. Actual range is apt to be much, much less. If one member of your party is on one side of the Duomo in Florence, and you’re on the other, you might not to be able to communicate because the structure will simply block the transmission. So I’m not sure how practical they’d be.

Alternatively, check with your wireless phone carrier to see what it costs to get phones that would work in Europe. All wireless phones in Europe use the same GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) frequencies. Here in the U.S., some phones also use GSM, but they’re still not compatible. So you’ll need a so-called “unlocked" wireless phone, and a SIM card (subscriber identity module) compatible with European systems. You can buy a “quad-band" phone that works both here and there. Motorola (www.motorola.com) has a good selection of quad-band phones, but what you pay can range from nothing to a couple hundred bucks depending on contracts, etc.

The advantage of a wireless phone is that you have unlimited range. You’re in Sienna, your wife is in Rome (how that happened, you’ll have to explain later), and you can get in touch.

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