How to Buy a SIM Card in Italy

TIM advertising tourist SIM cards Italy

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. 

orange booth to buy sim card in Italy
To get the best deal: avoid purchasing SIM cards inside the baggage area.

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

vodafone stand

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. 

area to buy cell phone SIM cards in Rome airport

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.

16 thoughts on “How to Buy a SIM Card in Italy

  1. Greg Speck says:

    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.

    • Natalie says:

      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.

    • Glen says:

      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.

  2. Faith says:

    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

  3. Greg Speck says:

    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.

  4. Gail says:

    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?

    • Natalie says:

      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.

  5. Glen says:

    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.

  6. Glen says:

    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.

    TIM:
    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)

  7. Glen says:

    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.

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