When I moved to Italy for six months I had a lot of questions about how to get an Italian SIM card. Using my provider from America was expensive (those roaming charges are a killer even with good data packages), and the service wasn’t great. I quickly learned that buying a SIM card in Italy is essential if you are planning a longer trip to Italy or if you are planning to move there for any length of time. Keep reading to find out how to choose the best SIM card for you.

Inserting Sim Card Into a Mobile Phone

Setting up your phone to work in Italy isn’t as easy as you might think. I’ll walk you through how to set up a local SIM card and explain some of the best prepaid SIM cards to use in Italy. This article includes everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Italy. 

What You’ll Need to Buy a SIM Card in Italy

SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module and it is necessary to have one in European countries to access your mobile data and cellular service (there are both physical SIM cards as well as e-SIM cards, but we’ll get into that later). But buying an Italy SIM card and using your phone is not as easy as you might have hoped it would be. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to just walk up to a kiosk or into a service provider’s store, grab a SIM card off the shelf, and five minutes later be surfing the web or sending text messages.

First, your phone must be unlocked and not tied to a specific carrier in your home country. To do this you will need to pay off your phone (if you still owe money to your carrier) and unlock it. It is best to do this before you arrive in Italy, but in theory you can do it from anywhere. Check out this step-by-step guide on how to unlock your phone here.

Second, you must buy the local SIM card in person. This is mainly because purchasing a SIM card in Italy usually requires a photo ID as well as a codice fiscale (Italian tax identification number). However, luckily many carriers offer tourist SIM cards that do not require this and might be a better deal for you.

If you are staying in Italy or the European Union for a long time and do not have a codice fiscale tax code — which is required for much of your life in Italy — the service provider may be able to help you register for one at the store when you purchase your prepaid SIM card.

Types of SIM Cards in Italy

Before you buy a SIM card in Italy, you need to determine what type of SIM card is best for your needs based on data usage and the best coverage in your area. To avoid any extra cost, determine how long you will be in Italy and what you need your SIM card for.

When buying a SIM card, you should also think about the best SIM card for your personal mobile data use and consider things like data packages, unlimited calls, EU roaming, international roaming, roaming allowance in general, the price of more data should you need it and whether or not you have unlimited sms. These are the most popular types of SIM cards to buy in Italy:

  1. Prepaid SIM Cards: a Prepaid SIM card is a popular choice for travelers visiting Italy and can be purchased before you go (like this one on Amazon). Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from several mobile network providers, including TIM SIM card, Vodafone SIM card, and WindTre SIM card (more on this below). A prepaid SIM card offers flexibility and control over your usage as you can top up the card with credit as needed. Prepaid SIM cards are available in various denominations from 5 euro to 500 euro depending on your needs. A prepaid SIM card usually comes with a specific data allowance for internet connection and call minutes. They are convenient and can be easily activated by inserting the SIM card into your unlocked mobile phone.
  2. Tourist SIM Cards: Specifically designed for tourists, some mobile network operators offer tourist SIM cards tailored to the needs of travelers. Some examples include the Tim Tourist SIM card and Vodafone Italy tourist SIM card. These SIM cards usually provide generous data allowance, international calling options, and additional perks such as discounted rates for popular tourist attractions. They often come in packages that are valid for a specific duration, such as one week or one month, catering to the typical duration of a tourist’s stay. It is common to have unlimited data plans with a tourist SIM card.
  3. Data Only SIM Cards: For those primarily interested in accessing data services for email, internet browsing, social media, or staying connected with apps, data SIM cards are a great option. These data SIM cards offer high-speed mobile data and internet connection without the need for voice call or text message capabilities. Data-only SIM cards are useful for travelers who rely on messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger for free calls or prefer using VoIP services for communication. Usually, you can prepay a data SIM card based on how much data you typically use, or you can buy data packages that can even include unlimited data for a specific period of time.
  4. Long-Term Contracts: If you are a resident or planning an extended stay in Italy, you may consider signing up for a long-term contract for an Italy SIM card with a mobile network operator. These contracts typically offer a variety of plans, including voice, text, and data services. You can choose from different data bundles, unlimited calls, or unlimited SMS plans. These providers, however, typically require a longer commitment and may require an Italian bank account but often come with additional benefits such as discounted rates or special promotions like free roaming or unlimited SMS.
  5. E-SIM cards: An e-SIM card does not come with a physical card and instead is a digital version that is able to identify your device virtually and provide a network connection. It is programmed remotely and only some of the newest smartphones have this capability. Usually, your original SIM car remains in place. Be sure to check that your phone and carrier allow this before choosing an e-SIM card. At the moment, Italy does not have e-sim options in the country, but there are other European carriers that do and have a roaming allowance for Italy. You can look into the following e-SIM card providers: Holafly, Airalo, Maya Mobile, and SimOptions to name a few. Look into the e-SIM card company carefully, as one downside seems to be the speed and reliability (they are often data SIM only) and this may end up being a more expensive option than simply purchasing a prepaid SIM card.

When choosing a SIM card in Italy, consider factors such as network coverage, data plans, pricing, and the duration of your stay. And, make sure to compare the offerings of different mobile operators and check their network coverage in the areas you plan to visit. Remember to ensure that your mobile device is unlocked and compatible with the chosen network operator, preferably doing so before leaving your home country and spending money to purchase a SIM card.

Cost of Buying Italian SIM Cards

When purchasing an Italy SIM card there is often an extra cost to consider beyond the physical SIM cards themselves. For example, many carriers require an activation fee on prepaid SIM cards and unlimited data plans.

Activation Fees for SIM cards

Physical SIM cards can come with an activation fee that varies depending on the network operator, such as Telecom Italia, Vodafone, WindTre, and the type of plan you choose. Generally, prepaid SIM cards tend to have lower or no activation fees as you are paying for a specific amount of service on the SIM card. Mobile data-only SIM cards also have a lower activation fee.

Postpaid SIM card plans typically have a higher activation fee compared to prepaid SIM cards. These types of plans have a higher activation fee because they typically require a longer contract and have better data plans or data bundles and unlimited calls with unlimited SMS messages.

EU Roaming Fees for SIM cards

It is also important to consider EU roaming fees for SIM cards if you are traveling to other countries within Europe and want great coverage. EU roaming is an interesting concept. Unlike traveling within the USA, traveling within the EU requires switching mobile operators between countries. In fact, European Union countries each have their own mobile network providers. This change mostly happens automatically, and when you enter another country you will get automatic messages instructing you how to use the EU roaming feature in the country you are currently in.

EU roaming fees vary by carrier, and can be quite expensive, especially for accessing data or an internet connection. If you plan on visiting other countries outside of Italy, it is important to find a provider that has low EU roaming fees, or a roaming allowance, so that you can make phone calls and access your data without too much extra cost. For more rules and regulations about EU roaming, please visit the official EU website Your Europe, which covers this topic and discusses SIM cards.

Where to Buy a SIM Card for Italy

Men placing nano SIM cards into the phone

Buy a prepaid SIM card before you travel

You can buy a prepaid SIM card before you step on the plane to Italy. The easiest way to get a European SIM card is like this one on Amazon. It includes unlimited data and coverage in several EU countries so you can avoid EU roaming fees and data roaming charges and stay connected. It is a great option for a tourist SIM card, but not great for longer travel. Make sure Italy is included in the list of countries for the card you choose.

Buying a new SIM card for Italy before you travel is an easy option for tourists and short-term travelers. But if you are traveling around Italy for longer than 2 weeks, this type of SIM card is very limiting and there is no customer service or support if you have trouble activating it.

Buy the Italy SIM card at the airport

The next easiest way to get a SIM card in Italy is right when you get off the plane. Kiosks, stores, and vendor stalls of popular mobile operators like Tim Italy and Vodafone Italy are usually right inside the larger airports and can sell you a SIM card when you land. But be forewarned that you’ll be paying extra for that ease and convenience!

Go to a network operator store

If you’re willing to wait a little longer before you get your SIM card, you can save some money and have the help of experts. In most towns, you will find dedicated stores for Tim Italy, Vodafone Italy (Vodafone SIM card), WindTre Italy, and even the post office has a counter for phone plans called Postemobile. There are also subsidiary brands associated with the larger ones such as Kena Mobile which is a subsidiary of Telecom Italy and Ho Mobile which is a subsidiary of Vodafone Italy.

More reasons to wait and go to a dedicated network operator store (for instance a Tim store), is that they may even be able to help you activate and insert your new SIM card for Italy right on the spot or clearly explain how it is done. And if you have problems getting your SIM card for Italy to work, you know where to go for help.

Tim store employees can also help you decide what the best service is for you, including data packages, unlimited calls, unlimited SMS, data-only sim, the best prepaid SIM cards, and any other features that are important to you when choosing a prepaid SIM card for Italy.

Which Cell Service Companies Work Best in Italy?

There are quite a few major cell carriers in Italy that have great coverage throughout much of the country, but in some areas of Italy it can be a struggle to get a signal, so take a look at Google Maps to see if your trip plans mean you will be staying far from big cities. If you’re planning on spending your trip staying in, near, or around the major Italian cities, then any of the carriers listed here should work fine and help you stay connected.

Keep in mind that besides the major Italian phone companies such as Vodafone Italy, TIM Italy, and WindTre there are tons of second-tier mobile services such as PosteMobile, Ho Mobile, Kena Mobile, San Marino Telecom, and Very Mobile to name a few.

The best cell phone service providers in Italy, and therefore the best sim card options to look into, include:

  • Best Overall Network Coverage: Vodafone Italy — Vodafone Italy is undoubtedly one of Italy’s biggest mobile networks with over 30 million clients. Vodafone Italy takes the cake as the best option overall and best coverage. It offers customers the best network coverage and impressive speed when using mobile data. So if you don’t want to spend time deciding between carriers, you can’t go wrong with a Vodafone SIM card and they offer a wide variety so you are sure to find a Vodafone prepaid SIM card you like. Remember that Ho Mobile is a subsidiary of Vodafone Italy, so it uses the same network and offers similar coverage.
  • Best Customer Service: WindTre — According to their website, the new WindTre network covers 99.7% of the Italian population in 4G and 96.3% in 5G, with a state-of-the-art infrastructure, making it one of the best prepaid SIM cards to consider. And the customer service from WindTre is top-notch. You can feel confident dealing with them knowing you’re getting a solid price, generous data usage included, and the best coverage when you buy a WindTre SIM card in Italy. Their downloadable app is available in English and easy to use to top up a prepaid SIM card and check your remaining credit and data.
  • Fastest Network in Italy: TIM Italy— Outpacing even Vodafone as the single largest network in Italy is TIM Italy. Its network coverage is comparable to Vodafone, with TIM Italy leading the way for 5G network speeds with an average download speed of 270.4 Mbps and an upload speed of 25.5. Given that TIM Italy’s 5G is the fastest network and covers most areas in the country, it is an excellent choice of service for domestic allowances and also for visiting other countries with low roaming charges. The TIM SIM card in Italy has a variety of options for data packages, EU roaming, adding more data, unlimited SMS, and more to help you stay connected.
  • Best Budget-Friendly Network: Iliad Italia — If you’re looking to get the best value and most bang for your buck, then consider going with Iliad Italia. The company launched its cell service and prepaid SIM cards in 2018, offering significantly lower prices than the bigger companies. When launched, Iliad’s service was much cheaper than the other companies, so other providers were forced to lower their prices to prevent losing more customers to Iliad.

Italy SIM Card FAQs

Now that you have an idea of how to buy a SIM card in Italy and how it all works, let’s take a look at a few of the most frequently asked questions regarding prepaid SIM cards for Italy.

Can I use a prepaid sim card in Italy with any phone?

Not without first unlocking the phone, and not every time. The phone has to be unlocked, meaning that it is not tied to any specific cell service provider in your home country. It also has to be a phone that accepts and uses SIM cards — not all phones use SIM cards these days. But if you have a phone that uses a SIM card and isn’t locked to its original carrier, then you should be able to buy a local SIM card in Italy and slide it into your device. 

Should I buy a long-term contract?

If you aren’t planning on being in Italy for very long, it is not recommended to buy a long-term contract even if it seems like a better data plan, has EU roaming, or includes unlimited calls. Even if you plan to stay for a few months, you should consider using a pay-by-month plan rather than agreeing to a long-term contract. These contracts can be difficult to get out of in Italy and most European countries, and you might be tied in for longer than you end up staying. Opt instead to buy a SIM card that is prepaid and possibly a SIM card like the TIM tourist sim card for which you don’t even need a tax ID number.

Is cell phone coverage good in Italy?

If you’re staying in or around the major Italian cities, then cell phone coverage should remain fairly steady throughout your trip. But as you get further away from the cities and into more rural areas, coverage can start getting pretty spotty, especially in hilly or mountainous regions. So if you know you’ll be out in the countryside more than the main cities, you might wait before buying a SIM card until you talk to the locals to see which company has the best service in that area.

How can people call my Italian phone number?

Your Italian phone number will be a 10 digit number that is written on your SIM card, so you can ask what your future number will be when buying a SIM card. When giving this number to friends and family back home, you will need to add +39 at the beginning, which is the country code for Italy. If you don’t have international calling on your SIM card for Italy or don’t want your friends and family to be charged for international calls, be sure to let people know not to call you on your new Italian SIM card number but instead to use one of the free calling and messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Telegram.

How do I make international calls with my new sim card?

To make international calls, for example to call your friend on their US cell phone, you will need to add the US country code (+1) and then the regular 10 digit number including area code. Make sure international calling is included in your prepaid SIM card plan if it offers less data than you are used to. If you have lots of mobile data but not international calling, use a free calling app such as WhatsApp, Telegram, or Facetime to stay connected. Calling other European countries is sometimes included in domestic allowances even when international calling overseas is not.

What if I lose my phone or it gets stolen?

Be sure to keep all the documentation included when buying a SIM card because it can be used to find your phone or deactivate the number if your phone is stolen. You will need to report it to the local authorities and fill out a police report.

Should I buy a new phone for my prepaid sim card in Italy?

A valid alternative to using your existing cell phone, especially if you want to be able to return to your home country and use your existing plan in the near future, is to purchase a new phone directly in Italy when you purchase the Italy SIM card. New phones cost as low as 60 euros to hundreds or thousands of euros for the newest models, with prices similar to other parts of the world. Sometimes stores like Vodafone Italy or TIM Italy offer special data packages or offers when you buy a SIM card and phone at the same time.

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