How to buy a SIM card in Italy

When traveling to Italy, like in any other foreign country, it is essential to invest in a working SIM and cellular plan.

Without one, it’s easy to find oneself lost among unfamiliar streets that seem to twist and turn every which way.

A working cellphone is also important to have, if you find yourself in an emergency situation or simply in need of help with a translations.

Whatever the situation may be, three main Italian carriers offer reasonable plans that will assist you in your travels – and adhere to your budget. Depending on the carrier you chose, there will be varying options for cellular plans. 

It is strongly recommended that you make your purchase as soon as you get to Italy in the nearest phone carrier store. 

Italy has three main cellphone carriers that are used by Italians and tourists, alike: TIM, Vodafone Italy and Wind.

TIM

Ph: Robson90 / Shutterstock.com

TIM is the largest cellphone carrier in Italy, which makes it one of the most dependable. Italians and tourists alike heavily rely on TIM because it has the best internet connection in Italy. This connection reaches as far as the Italian countryside, making it reliable and resourceful.

How much does Tim cost and best plans

TIM Tourist SIM

  • Data: 15 GB of 46 Internet
  • Free Chat: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat
  • Calls: 200 minutes in Italy and abroad
  • Validity: Valid for 30 days
  • Cost: USD $22.45

If your travels extend beyond Italy to other European countries, TIM offers the ability to enable the TIM Viaggio Pass that will allow an uninterrupted transition from Italy to any other country.

  • TIM Viaggio Pass
  • Data: 10 GB of 4G internet
  • Calls: 500 minutes (250 minutes to make calls, 250 minutes to receive calls)
  • Texting: 500 SMS
  • Validity: Valid for 30 days, this period begins once you make your first phone call, send your first text message or connect to the Internet
  • Cost: USD $22.45

Vodafone

Ph: kailim / Shutterstock.com

Vodafone Italy is also widely used. However, it comes in second to TIM, as the most popular service, because the range doesn’t stretch as far. With all this being said, Vodafone does offer a wider range on plans and services that can adhere to most budgets.

How much does Vodafone cost and best plans

Vodafone Holiday

  • Data: 2 GB of 4G internet
  • Calls: 300 minutes to Italian numbers and to your home country
  • Texting: 300 SMS to Italian number and to your home country
  • Validity: 4 weeks, after this period the plan will automatically renew, even if you don’t have credit on the SIM card. To stop automatic renewal, call 42071 for free
  • Cost: USD $33.70

Vodafone also offers the Red Plan, which can be pricier, but it is very popular in Italy, among other countries. 

Red Maxi – 8 GB 

  • Data: 8 GB of mobile data
  • Calls: Unlimited
  • Texting: Unlimited
  • Cost: USD $54.98

Red Maxi – 4 GB

  • Data: 4 GB of mobile data
  • Calls: Unlimited
  • Texting: Unlimited
  • Cost: USD $43.76

WindTre

Since 2017, Wind has been on the rise, when it merged with another phone company called Tre. Together, the merged companies (WindTre) aim to expand their offered services and better the quality of these services.

How much does Wind cost and best plans

All Inclusive Unlimited 

  • Data: 5 GB of mobile data
  • Calls: 500 minutes
  • Texting: 500 SMS
  • Cost: USD $13.48 

All Digital

  • Data: 5 GB of mobile data
  • Calls: 500 local minutes
  • Texting: Unlimited local SMS
  • Cost: USD $11.23

Other Carriers

Iliad

There are many other cellphone carriers to choose from, and within these companies, there are several data plans. Probably your best option is Iliad. This operstor offers fixed and mobile telephony services, prepaid phone cards and internet access providing and hosting services. Beware though as the network might be limited.  

How to purchase your SIM card

However, despite the cellphone carrier and SIM card that you decide on, there is only one universal way to purchase and obtain your new service.

First and foremost, you need to make sure that your phone is unlocked and not tied to your home country’s carrier. Without an unlocked phone, it will be nearly impossible to use an Italian SIM card. If you find yourself in a situation, in which your phone is not unlocked and cannot be unlocked, most Italian cellular companies offer plans that bundle the purchases of a phone and a SIM card, together.

Whether you are purchasing a new phone or using your unlocked phone, all SIM card purchases must be made in person. Buying a SIM card in advanced isn’t easy because you must show identification for a SIM card purchase. For United States Citizens, it is important to bring your passport with you to the carrier’s physical store.

Required documents

Purchasing an Italian SIM card also requires the customer to have a codice fiscale or an Italian fiscal ID. Not to worry, if you do not have an Italian fiscal ID, the phone company will make one for you on the spot. This form of identification can be thought of as a United States social security number. It is connected to your name, date of birth and place of birth.

Activating your SIM card

Once you have made your in-person purchase and the SIM card has been physically installed into your phone, you may notice that you still don’t have service. This is typical and not something to fret over. Most plans will not activate until 48 hours have passed, after physical installation – not after the purchase.

How to pay for your SIM Card

In Italy, phone plans can be paid for in a variety of ways.

You can pay as you go or you can pay on a month to month basis.

Most all plans can be paid for online or via the carrier’s specific phone application. Plans can also be paid for in-person at the carrier’s store or at the local tabacchi. When paying your bill in-person, be sure to have your phone number ready. When making an in-person payment at the carrier’s store, they will know how much you owe. However, when paying at the local tabacchi, you will have to tell them how much you want to “recharge on your number.”