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.