International rates on cell phone plans are incredibly expensive so you may want to consider buying a SIM card in Italy. Have a local SIM allows you to easily place calls within Italy, use data, and even take your phone between different EU countries without additional fees.
So how do you buy a SIM card in Italy? And what do you need to get started? It is all pretty straight forward but essentially:
- You must buy an Italian SIM in person
- One of the reasons you cannot easily buy a SIM card in advance is because you have to show ID. Be sure to bring your passport with you.
- You should have a codice fiscale (but if you do not, the phone company will essentially make one for you on the spot). This is an Italian fiscal ID that is tied to your name, date of birth, and place of birth. Think of it a bit like a US social security number.
- Your phone must be “unlocked” and not tied to a specific phone carrier in your home country. This is what will make it possible to use a local SIM.
- SIMs sometimes do not work instantly, so plan to wait a few hours before you can use your new phone number.
If you meet all of those requirements- can go in person, bring ID, have a codice fiscale, and own a phone that can use foreign SIMs, then I recommend buying a SIM card when you arrive. Italian phone plans are very affordable and you can select a plan that is pay-as-you-go or monthly. In the end, it can help you save money and stay connected in a country where free Wi-Fi is not very common.
The best way to buy a SIM card is to go directly to a store after you arrive in Italy. I do NOT recommend buying a SIM card at the airport. These tend to be overpriced tourist SIM cards and are not worth the money.
Almost every cell phone company in Italy will sell you a SIM for €10. If you are quoted more than this (for example, at those stands inside the baggage claim area of the airport), then I suggest you keep looking and go to one of the companies listed below.
Best Cell Phone Companies in Italy
Cell phone coverage can be spotty in rural areas of Italy. If you can going to be spending a lot of time outside of the main cities, it might be best to check with the locals to see which company has the best reception in the area. Major companies in Italy are:
- Vodafone: Large service provider in Italy and many other European countries. I use Vodafone personally and pay monthly for a set amount of minutes and GBs, which I very rarely exceed. Credit is easy to buy online or in tabacchi shops. I find it works well when I travel to other countries, as well.
- TIM: A popular cell phone provider with generally good coverage and affordable plans.
- Wind: Cell phone company working in Italy for decent coverage and good deals for monthly plans. Also offers at home telecom and internet solutions.
- Tre: Provider with mixed coverage depending on where you are located in Italy.
- Illiad: Very cheap but some say that the network is limited
How Cell Phone Plans and SIM Cards Work in Italy
I don’t recommend signing a contract for a set amount of time. These tend to be difficult to cancel and require you to send a letter by registered mail. Avoid this by refusing to give your credit card or debit card. This will ensure that you are on a pay-by-month plan. If you stop using the SIM card, you simply stop buying credit.
It IS possible to buy a SIM and get a phone plan from both Vodafone and TIM at the Rome Fiumicino Airport. To find their stands, exit baggage claim and turn right. Walk past all the drivers waiting to pick up passengers and you will see both booths on the right, across from a coffee bar.
These are both reputable companies, but the SIM cards and plans that they offer at the airport are directly aimed at tourists and you will end up paying a higher rate than locals. It will save you some hassle of dealing with the codice fiscale and it may be easier to identify the right plan but you will likely pay more. If you aren’t in a huge rush and are willing to brave the stores in the center of the city, you will definitely get a better deal outside of the airport.
Having a prepaid or pay-as-you-go SIM card in Italy does require the one additional step of buying credit. Credit, or ricarica in Italian, is sold by most companies online. I usually top up my credit to cover my monthly plan via the website and pay by PayPal or credit card.
You can also go to stores that sell ricarica (particularly Tabaccherie or newsstands, or directly to your cell phone company store). If you buy credit this way, you will almost always be required to pay in cash. Many stores can add the credit directly to your phone but others will sell you a small card with a unique code. You will have to call the number on the card to reach the automated service and input the code listed to have the credit transferred to your account.
However you buy the credit, you will always receive a text message confirming that the credit has been added to your account and informing you when it is available to use. This usually happens instantly, or within a few minutes at most.
Note that is you stop purchasing credit for your Italy SIM card, it will be canceled within 6 months. That means that you will have to go through the process of buying a new one if you take another trip in the future.
34 thoughts on “How to Buy a SIM Card in Italy”
Another great post, thank you. For two years I have purchased the TIM for Visitors which cost approximately $25 US and gave me 12 Gig data and. 150 min phone time. I purchased online from TIM site and got a email certificate which I took to a. TIM store, In Milan and Fiumicino I had fast and excellent installation with my phone up and running before I left the store. Recharging was more difficult and I had to purchase from another online source. Now I see I can do it on the TIM site.
This year I switched to T Mobile which offers unlimited data at 2G speeds and 25 cents a min calling. It can be upgraded to higher speeds for an additional charge for the length of a trip. Will let you know how this works out, you keep your original phone. Number which is a plus.
Great tip that you can buy online and then take the form in person to activate it! Definitely recommend whatsapp so that you can use 2G data for messaging and only call people when really necessary.
Waited a month until we got home to see final bills. I wanted to see if Wind would try to autobill month to month because I bought that SIM with a credit card and hand signals (me: no Italian, seller: no English). I thought better of it at the TIM vendor and paid cash there.
Verizon wss US$140
TIM was EUR30 but could send no SMS
– TIM also worked in Amsterdam after Italy. It had a few GB of international data as part of the base charge
Wind wss EUR35 – SMS worked better with it but I was charged EUR0.10 for every non Italian number I messaged.
What is the best thing to do if your phone IS locked? Buy a phone here plus get a SIM card? Do you have any recommendations?
Signed, a Prisoner of Verizon
Faith and others with a locked phone- Get it unlocked! If it is paid off, your phone company can unlock it remotely. Look for unlock instructions online for your model phone and your carrier. (E.g. “google att unlock iphone6”). It is easy and not dangerous, but could take a day to get the codes and detailed instructions back from your carrier.
If your phone is not paid off yet, buy an unlocked new LTE 4g phone for $50-$90 for your Italian Sim.
The TIM site has updated the program. Tim in Viaggio, 500 min, 500 texts 10 Gig data. Valid for 30 days. Google Chrome will give you option to translate to English. Purchase in US get you SIM at a Tim Store in Italy.
All for $25? Not bad! Sounds like plenty as long as you switch to WiFi when inside and avoid streaming movies!
Pre-smart phone days I had a local SIM for my Italian feature phone and would add credit annually via ricarica purchased at a tobacco shop (I normally visit twice a year). This worked great and Italian friends knew my local phone number. Since switching to a smart phone requiring data I’ve been getting one of the TIM for tourists plans each visit (with new number each time). These are not renewable after 30 days.
Is there any better way for someone who travels a couple of times a year, needing a data plan, and only in the country for a month or less at a time? Any option to keep the same number without paying a full monthly fee?
Hi Gail! If there are less than six months between your trips, you can get a regular plan and then simply not keep credit on the phone – that way it won’t be deducted until you add credit and start to use it again. The payment is always on the same day each month so let’s say you set it up on 15 September, use it for a month and leave until 12 January – you would have to pay for the entire month on the 12th, then it would renew on the 15th of January – requiring you to pay again.
Iliad on Lombardia works very well, with 50 gb internet only $8 eur !
Great to know! The price is amazing
We have a valid Orange SIM that we used in France a few months ago, and I can’t tell if it will work for me in Italy when we visit soon. I know Orange doesn’t really operate in Italy, but do you know if an Orange SIM would work via roaming on Italian networks?
Ciao! I believe it should work on an Italian network because of the EU roaming laws
We’re in Italy now and three of us have smartphones.
One had Verizon and turned on Verizon from the US for$10/day used. All services are the same as US – text, data, calling. $140 for 14 days …it should be the same. $$$$ option
One got TIM for EUR30 (20 for 30GB, 10 for SIM)1
One of us got Wind for EUR30 (20 for 50GB plan 10 for SIM)
So far, Wind is the winner. TIM gives no SMS at all. WIND was plug and play with SIM inserted. Verizon works but is expensive…big plus there is that your US number works in Europe and many other countries. WIND and TIM assign you a local Italian number.
One last note, the GB limits for roaming outside the Italian networks for WIND and TIM is limited. 4GB or so.
p.s. my comment above about Wind turned out to not quite be true. Wind charged EUR18 for the 1 month of 50GB of data and then there was a EUR13 credit on my account (it was supposed to be EUR10 for the sim card plus some tax to be EUR30+ for the card and service. Not sure how I ended up with a credit but checking credit card for any secondary charges and so far, so good) What was happening is that true to European practice, inbound SMS wss not dinging my credit but outbound SMS do charge against the account credit in a delayed fashion. It finally started debiting the acct credit about 12 hours after first SMS were sent.
Today (day 4) we paid EUR0.99 for 200 SMS messages and the outbound messages no longer seem to be charging. The Wind app also started registering the outbound message count a few hours after activating.
We still have not found any way to add an SMS block of messages or package to TIM. Our Tim user can get messages but TIm fails to send any. Perhaps the credit on the phone is too low? (There are some complaints about TIM canceling and/or blocking people whose account balance gets to zero)
p.p.s sorry for stringing these out.
We traveled into Rome from quite a ways outside the city. We bought the WIND and TIM in remote suburbs and speeds and availability have been fine there for 3+ days.
However, while standing in line today ..outside… WIND suddenly went to zero availability from 1130am to 1pm. Seemed like throttling to me. I’ve also noted that WIND seems to be counting more data download than my phone is showing. Hmmmm…
WIND also didnt work well inside concrete structures whereas Verizon and TIM seemed to have near full strength 4G reception. WIND lost 4G and then wouldn’t work later after it had come back around 1pm. We were indoors by that time in heavy concrete structures. Sat down to a late lunch in an underground lunch hall and zero WIND service there. This is where Verizon and TIM seemed unaffected.
Thanks so much for these amazing comparisons!
Is buying a SIM and getting it installed easy for an iPhone? When leaving Italy do you have to go back to the store to have them switch the SIM cards back?
Is your iPhone unlocked? If not, you won’t be able to use other SIM cards in it. They are very easy to take in and out yourself. If you don’t have the little tool that came with your phone, you can use an earring or a paperclip to pop it out.
Can I purchase a SIM online, before actually arriving in Italy? How?
I believe in some cases you can, but they always have to be activated in person so it makes sense to do it all at once.
What is the best sim to take back to the US in order to continue to receive texts to the Italian number. Looking for cheapest and/or that will remain active the longest.
They will all remain active based on you making the monthly payments. However, you will have to pay roaming to use SMS texts. I suggest using Whatsapp and that way you don’t need an Italian number.
False info! You dont get a Codice Fiscale just for buy a sim card….even you cant buy a sim card with a passport, only Vodafone sell sim cards for tourists, that it will work for just a limited time.
That is the entire point. If you want a NON tourist SIM card (which is much cheaper) then you do need a codice fiscale. You can pay month by month and cancel when not needed by simply not paying any more.
I have a Straight Talk phone and know it can’t be used in Italy. What should I do once I arrive in Rome?
Hi quick question! So I was studying abroad in Italy and had a prepaid Sim from Vodaphone that I paid in cash at the store each month. I am back in the U.S., and switched back to my U.S. sim card & phone number. Do I have to contact vodaphone to be done with that sim card? Or can i just not use it and they will automatically end it for me?
Ciao! If you don’t have a contract and/or automatic debit, the card will eventually be deactivated from lack of use.
Hi, I have a friend that is stranded in Rome with a portuguese Sim Vodafone card’s. She is afraid to go and purchase a card in a store. Is there any way she can get a card mailed to her?
I don’t believe so – the telecoms stores have stayed open out of necessity but she could try calling vodafone.
Hi. im living in turkey and i would like to purchase online a italian sim card and activate by phone and mail me to my adress.Anyone knows how to do that? thx you
I honestly don’t think this is possible. It has to be done in person.
Thanks for the article! Super helpful. Bookmarking for later.
I’m actually wanting to just purchase a wifi hotspot that I can use with data. Strange situation but we will be getting a house and it will be many months before it’s ready to be wired for wifi. We are in an area where TIM has good coverage, so we were thinking of using a hotspot just for data. Has anyone had experience with a Ryoko or TIM portable wifi?