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How to get a SIM card in Italy
Coming to Italy and staying awhile? I’ve written this guide on how to get a SIM card in Italy just for you! As always, feel free to reach out with questions and I’ll do my best to help you out.
Do I need to get a SIM card in Italy?
If you’re going to be in Italy for longer than a week, I highly recommend getting a SIM card so that you’re not spending money on roaming charges. Remember, any money saved on your phone bill is more money for PIZZA.
It’s also a really good idea to get a local SIM card if you’re going to be traveling to other European countries, because you’ll be able to use your talk, text and a certain amount of data while traveling!
Will my phone work in Italy?
I studied in Rome in 2005, and as part of my fees for the program, we were given a cell phone. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I literally had Derek Zoolander’s phone. It was about two inches by two inches, and I had to use it like a walkie-talkie.
We didn’t have internet in the apartments I lived in either, so that was pretty much my only way of getting in touch with my family. I called them, what one might consider inappropriately often the first month or so that I was here (usually crying), and my first phone bill was exorbitant. After that, I would ring them twice and hang up, and they’d call me back with a calling card that was much, much cheaper.
Luckily, it’s now the future, and you can just bring your phone from home and get a SIM card here, no Zoolander antics or calling cards necessary.
Digression: if you are new in Italy and struggling, check out my post on dealing with culture shock and please accept this a virtual hug from me. Hold on, it will get better!
Unlocking and compatibility
If you’ve already made the smart decision to get a local SIM card in Italy rather than paying for an international plan or roaming fees while you’re here, you’re going to have to make sure your phone will work.
The vast majority of phones are unlocked these days (this wasn’t always the case – when I got my first smart phone in 2014, I had a hell of a time confirming that it was usable overseas. When I called Verizon to ask if my phone was unlocked, I was told “WE DON’T DO THAT IN AMERICA.” Luckily, the person I spoke to was wrong, in addition to being a moron).
All iPhones from 7 onwards, and other models made within the last five years should work just fine. If you have an older phone or aren’t sure when it was made, contact the company just to be sure.
Where can I buy a SIM card in Italy?
You can buy a SIM card at airports in Italy, but some sources report that they’re more expensive there than they are if you buy them in a shop. There might be different offers available in-store, too.
There are four major carriers: Iliad, Vodafone, TIM, and WindTre. In cities, there will be multiple places to buy a SIM card. I’ve covered some basic pricing info below, so once you’ve decided which company to go with, you can search for the closest “punto vendita” to you.
I always buy my SIM cards from the actual shop, rather than an outlet that sells them. That way, if there are any issues, you can speak to someone who actually works for the company, rather than someone who is just authorized to sell SIM cards.
If you need to use your phone urgently but want to avoid possibly getting ripped off at the airport, check the train station. At the Stazione Termini in Rome for example, all four companies have shops/stands where you can buy and activate a SIM card.
What do I need to buy a SIM card in Italy?
To buy a SIM card in Italy, you will need to bring your passport. If you happen to have a codice fiscale (a tax identification number), you will have to supply that as well. If you don’t have a codice fiscale, they may generate one for you.
Note that they will probably make and keep a photocopy of your passport.
How much does a SIM card cost in Italy?
When you buy a SIM card, you’ll pay for the card itself as well as credit. You may also have to pay an activation fee.
When you go to set up your phone, explain how long you’ll be in Italy for, and the person in the shop should be able to point you in the direction of the best plan for you.
There are sometimes specific deals for travelers. For example, a few years ago, a friend who was traveling in Italy and Europe bought a SIM with 30GB/month, which was just what he needed to get around.
Make sure you’re getting a SIM card “senza abbonamento”, that is, one without a monthly contract. Yes, you’ll pay a monthly fee, but when you leave Italy or Europe, you’ll just stop topping it up, and you won’t owe anything. You want a plan that is “pre-pagato” (pre-paid) or “ricaricabile” (rechargeable).
Something I find frustrating about dealing with telecomm companies in Italy is the lack of transparency surrounding prices. You’ll see in this section that I couldn’t find certain costs on the different companies’ websites, and I’ve shared a crazy story below about the hidden fees that can come with having an Italian SIM card (don’t worry, I’ve told you how to avoid them, too!)
Offers are always changing, so the plans and prices described below are meant to be indicative.
What are the major phone companies in Italy?
Like I said above, there are four major phone/telecomm companies in Italy: TIM, WindTre, Vodafone and Iliad.
150 GB of data, unlimited talk and text for €9.99/month, plus an activation fee of €9.99. I was unable to find how much the actual SIM card costs at Iliad.
With this deal, the “unlimited talk and text” applies to phone numbers in Italy and Europe, as well as 60 other countries. Make sure your home country is on the list!
It also comes with 10GB of data roaming for Europe.
With WINDTRE, I have a phone plan that comes with 300 minutes within Italy, 200 minutes for calling the US, and 10 GB of data. I pay €11 euros a month for all of this.
At the time of writing, WINDTRE was featuring a deal with 50 GB, unlimited talk and 200 text messages for €12.99/month.
They were also featuring a deal for people under 30 for €9.99/month, which includes 100GB and unlimited talking and texting.
Details regarding whether the talk and text is unlimited for countries outside of Italy or how much roaming data is included were not readily available on the WINDTRE website, nor were activation fees or the actual cost of the SIM card itself. If you’re going to be traveling outside of Italy, ask how many GB you’ll get.
There was a deal for people under 25 when I was researching this post, which came in at €9.99/month and included 100GB with 20GB of roaming data in Europe, as well as unlimited talk and text.
The other plan that’s a pretty good price is €14.99/month for 50 GB and unlimited talk and text. Again, check and see if the “unlimited” part applies to other countries, and ask how much roaming data is included.
Like some of the other companies, Vodafone has an “under 25” promo, which costs €9.99/month with a €6.99 activation fee. With this plan, you get 100 GB, unlimited talk and text in Italy and unlimited talk in the EU. I couldn’t find any info on how much roaming data is included on this one either.
Vodafone also has a plan for €14.99/month (the €6.99 activation fee applies) that’s 50GB/month, with the same unlimited talk and text in Italy and talk in Europe as the plan above.
Note: A friend of mine who was a Vodafone customer had to pay an additional fee to hotspot. this was awhile ago, but double check just to be safe!
Which company has the best deal on SIM cards?
Based on the prices at the time of writing, Iliad had the most affordable SIM card deal at €9.99/month. They also had the terms written out plainly, which I like.
Which company has the best service in Italy?
According to a report issued annually, WINTRE and Iliad have the largest network (Iliad is a newcomer and therefore mostly utilizes WINDTRE’s network, so that’s no surprise), but TIM has the best 5G service, and Vodafone has the best overall user experience.
I use WINDTre and have had TIM in the past, and have never had any major issues with coverage with either one. Customer service on the other hand, is a different story…
How do I top up my Italian SIM card?
There are a few ways to top up your SIM card, the easiest of which is downloading the app of whatever company you go with and putting credit on using a credit or debit card. If you’re going to be here for a long time, you can also set up a direct debit so that you’re always topped up. I wouldn’t do this because of a bad experience I had with my credit being eaten up (see “Money-saving Pro tip #2” below).
Note that if you forget to top up your account, you won’t be able to use your services, but they’ll be restored once your credit registers (it may take a few minutes).
You can also put credit on your phone in-store or anywhere that says “ricariche telefoniche” – this will usually be a tabaccheria.
Roaming in Europe
Unlike American carriers that charge an arm and a leg for roaming, within the EU, you have a certain amount of talk, text and data roaming included. Make sure to ask just how much when you go to buy your SIM card.
If you’re going to use your phone as a hot spot, make sure you get a SIM with lots of data and that you’ll be able to hotspot. Some companies may charge.
Pro money-saving tip #1: Download WhatsApp
If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, are with a group of friends, or are going to be communicating frequently with locals, you’re going to want to download WhatsApp, which is an app that allows you to text and call other WhatsApp users all over the world using data or on Wifi. It’s ubiquitous in Europe – save yourself having to spend on texts and calls and download it. Tell your friends and family at home to get it too, so you can easily be in touch with them on your travels!
Pro money-saving tip #2: How to save a huge amount of money when setting up your SIM card
I had a ROTTEN experience with one of the major cell phone companies here (hint: it rhymes with RIM), and I want to help you avoid the same situation. I’ll try to explain it as clearly as possible, but bear with me, because it’s confusing!
So, like I said above, when you sign up for a plan that you have to top up, you will put a certain amount of credit on your account each month to be able to use your services.
In addition to the services you actually want to use (i.e. talk, text and data), phone companies offer “servizi a contenuto” which are also known as “servizi a sovrapprezzo” “servizi premium” or “servizi a valore aggiunto” (value-added or premium services). The idea is that you can use your phone credit to purchase apps, pay for parking, buy bus tickets, and other things like that. Sounds convenient, right?
What they don’t tell you is that other “services,” like subscriptions to TV streaming platforms or online games can access your credit too, and that sometimes, as I was told during a massive argument with a representative of said phone company, “the consent [to subscribe to these services] can sometimes be involuntary.”
If you are as confused as I was (and also aware of the definition of the word consent), allow me to explain.
As I was told, this means that you can be, for example, scrolling through an article and close out of an annoying pop-up, and closing out of it will serve as your “consent” to one of these services. You can be looking through a photo gallery of celebs at a red carpet event, and clicking on one of the images in it can count as your “consent” to one of these services.
What happened to me was that apparently, I was enrolled in one of these “services” simply because I had read an article or closed out of a pop-up on my phone.
It’s true that I was informed. I got a text message that said “CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve been enrolled in SexyStreaming Porno. Click here for details and deactivation.” Unfortunately, I assumed it was spam, so I said “HA” and ignored it.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I realized that this “service” had slowly eaten up 100 euros of my credit. 100 EUROS!
Once I discovered what was going on, I immediately deactivated it with a text message and went to the store. Here’s where it gets even more interesting – the woman I spoke with told me that they could not issue me a refund because I cancelled the service via text rather than calling.
Needless to say, I was absolutely fuming, as were two other people in the store with me that day, who were there for EXACTLY THE SAME REASON. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who was hoodwinked into a streaming service, although it is perhaps slightly more embarrassing that mine was PORN.
After visiting a few more locations and the above-mentioned screaming match with someone at the company’s customer service line, in which I told her that if they didn’t refund me I would switch to another company and to which she replied “You’re being very childish” (!!!!!!!!), I hauled my culo to WINDTRE, got 2 free gigs because a friend who was already with them sent me a promo (he got 2 free gigs too), and I told them to BLOCK ALL PREMIUM SERVICES IMMEDIATELY, which they did.
So, the short version of this story is that whatever company you go with, you should tell them when you sign up that you want to block these services, unless you want to be able to use your credit to buy things like apps and bus tickets. I say it’s too risky. You can always buy apps with your credit card, and the need for public transportation tickets, especially in Rome, is dwindling drastically, thanks to the new Tap and Go machines on buses, trams and the metro.
If your Italian isn’t great and the clerk you deal with doesn’t speak English, tell them this:
“Vorrei bloccare tutti i servizi a valore aggiunto.” (vo-RAY blocc-ARE TU-tee i ser-VI-tsee a va-LO-re a-JUN-toe.)
If you can’t pronounce it, write the sentence down and show it to them. If you don’t have a pen, call me and I’ll tell them for you.
Can you tell this whole thing really grinds my gears? Anyway, I just want to make sure you don’t lose 100 euro like I did. To me, it’s completely ridiculous that credit can be utilized for services that aren’t explicitly the ones you signed up for, but that’s the way things are.
Quick list for getting a SIM card in Italy:
- Make sure your phone is unlocked and usable overseas before you leave home.
- Bring your passport when you go to set up your phone.
- Verify that you’re signing up for a rechargeable SIM “senza abbonamento”.
- Make sure that you can hot spot without an additional fee.
- Download WhatsApp to avoid having to pay extra for text messages and calls.
- If you learn any Italian during your stay, may it be this phrase: “Vorrei bloccare tutti i servizi a valore aggiunto/sovvrapprezzo.”
Can I get an eSIM for Italy?
Yes, you can also opt for an eSIM in Italy. I don’t have any personal experience with this, so I’m not sure if it’s a good option for travelers, or if you can set them up in English. In any case, I’ve laid out the options below for information.
As with the SIM card information above, verify the details of the plan they offer so that you can be sure you can hotspot, have enough data, and use some of the data if you’re planning to travel elsewhere in Europe.
To get an eSIM through WINDTRE, you have to go to a store. They’ll give you a QR code to scan that will guide you through the steps of setting it up. With an eSIM, you can only access pre-paid plans, which is perfect – you won’t have to worry about signing up for anything long term and dealing with recurring fees.
Vodafone’s eSIM also needs to be set up through a QR code; however, there’s a catch – pre-paid eSIMs can only be recharged eleven times, and then they expire. If you want to use an eSIM for more than a year, you’ll have to sign up for an “abbonamento”.
TIM appears to have the same deal as WINDTRE and Vodafone – go to the shop and get a QR code to set up your new eSIM.
Spusu offers the option of setting up your eSIM completely online, which, if you need internet as soon as you land, might be a good option. Unfortunately, their website is only in Italian and German, so unless you know either of the two, it’s probably not the best idea.
Holafly might offer the easiest and best eSIM for travelers in Italy who don’t speak Italian and who need service from the minute they land. You can set it up online, and the website is in English. Check it out for details and pricing.
I hope you found this guide to buying a SIM card in Italy useful!
Questions? Horror stories to share? Reach out in the comments!