Italy has been drawing in tourists of one sort or another for thousands of years, and it’s not hard to see why.

Long before the ‘eat’ part of Eat, Pray, Love, stomachs around the world have been dragging foodies towards the pizza, pasta and hundreds of regional dishes around the country.

From the history of ancient Rome and medieval Florence, to the romance of Venice, fashion of Milan and dozens of other reasons, it’s no surprise at all that nearly 50 million people a year choose to spend their vacation in Italy.

With Wi-fi, public or otherwise, often being slow and unreliable, it’s a good idea to pick up a local SIM card if you can. Prices are reasonably cheap, at least if you go with a reseller, and although the process isn’t as straightforward as some other countries, service and coverage are reliable once you’re actually set up.

Here’s what you need to know.



COMPANIES

  • We recommend Lycamobile for most travellers

There are four different cell networks in Italy — TIM, Vodafone, 3 and Wind — along with various resellers selling services on one or more of those networks.

Vodafone and TIM (and resellers using their networks) have the greatest coverage, with Wind and 3 trailing behind. You should be fine in any of the major centres, but if you’re heading off the well-worn tourist track, check coverage maps before buying your SIM.

I decided to go with Lycamobile, which had the cheapest prepaid rates and uses the widespread Vodafone network.

HOW

Although ultimately successful, the purchasing process was far from straightforward. As in many other European countries, Lycamobile signs seem to be everywhere, including a little store selling SIMs and topups for various providers a few minutes from my house.

After waiting for a few minutes for the owner to finish her heated argument with a customer, I asked about buying a Lycamobile SIM. Fortunately she spoke good English, despite being outside the tourist area in Verona — my Italian isn’t exactly passable.

My passport was required, and it took about ten minutes for the various photocopying and data-entry tasks to be completed before I was handed a SIM card pack and a printout to top up my credit.I returned home, inserted the new SIM and… nothing happened.

After rebooting the phone, I received a confirmation message advising my service was now active — but when I tried to add the credit as per the instructions, I received a message in Italian saying the service wasn’t available.

​In the end, I needed to return to the shop for another 15 minutes of troubleshooting, finally requiring borrowing another customer’s phone to put my SIM in and add the credit from there.

After that, I used that credit to add a data pack, entered the required APN details and was finally good to go. All in all, it took at least an hour start to finish to get everything working.

My advice would be to make sure everything is working perfectly before leaving the shop — which means taking the SIM card extraction tool with you if you need one. Just like I didn’t.

​To add the data pack, I entered: *139*1001#

APN details were in the brochure at the shop, but strangely not part of the SIM pack in Italian or English. They were:

Name: Lycamobile

APN: data.lycamobile.it

No password

COSTS

I paid €5 for a voice, text and data SIM with no credit, and €5 for a 1GB data package valid for 30 days.

It's apparently possible to get the SIM card for free in certain Italian supermarkets, but you'll likely be on your own if you need to sort out any problems. I prefer to buy mine from shops that specialise in selling them, for that reason.

Various call and SMS packages (including international) are available from €7, or you can buy an "all-in-one" package with 200 national minutes, 100 national SMS and 1GB of data for €12.

If you want data, but only need to make a few calls and texts, I'd suggest getting the data package and just adding a few extra euros of credit when you top up. Casual rates are €0.09/min to call a national landline, €0.12/min to call a national mobile, €0.12 for local SMS and €0.15 to send a text internationally.

 

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TOPPING UP

You can buy top-ups anywhere you see a Lycamobile store — which, as mentioned, seems to be about once per city block. Lycamobile has an English version of its website, including both a store locator and online top-up system if you’d prefer.

COVERAGE AND DATA SPEEDS

As expected, coverage wasn't much of a problem anywhere during my trip in northern Italy. I had full service in Venice, Verona, and Milan, and most of the countryside on the train route between them all.

Things were a little more hit and miss with data connections around Lake Como, but getting away from stone buildings always helped. Speeds weren’t blistering anywhere, but at around 5Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up, they were perfectly fine for most uses.

Italy Lycamobile 3G speed

Lycamobile 3G speed in Verona

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.
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20 Responses

  1. Sanford

    I need a sims card for my Nokia 105 and probably will only use it a few times in Italy to call the USA. I can’t find what i need online. Can you help me. I am in the USA and am going to Italy in Sept 16, 2016 for 9 days, and only have to call home a couple of times. Thanks,
    Sanford Hochman

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Hi Sanford,

      As long as the phone isn’t locked to the Israeli carrier you bought it from, you won’t have any problem in Italy. The Nokia 105 uses a so-called “mini SIM”, which is actually the largest size you’ll commonly find these days, and uses the right network frequencies for use in Italy. You don’t need anything special for it — any SIM of the right size from any Italian cell company will work.

      If you want to be sure about whether the phone is carrier-locked or not before you go, you’ll need to find someone else with a phone that uses a mini SIM (good luck, as most current smartphones use a smaller size), then put it in your phone and see if you can make/receive a call or text. If you can, you’re good to go.

      Reply
  2. Vinay

    hi i am travelling to italy spain belgium and netherland for 22 days.
    kindly suggest which sim card will be best
    i need both voice and data

    Reply
  3. VJ

    Going to Florence Italy for 1 year of University studies. I have iPhone 5s (Verizon) . I hear TIM or Vodafone will work. I need to be able to txt and call back to US at times as well as data for maps and web in Italy. Can you suggest SIM and plan for student?

    Also how hard is it to take out sim and add new one? When I go home for holiday do I just put Verizon sim back in?

    Thanks,
    VJ

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      I’d recommend Lycamobile – the prices are much cheaper for calls (including international), SMS and data than the competition, but you’re still on the Vodafone network. Ask in store or check out the brochure or website for a current package that suits your needs – they change all the time.

      Swapping the SIM just requires a paperclip or similar. You’ll drop the Verizon one back in when you return to the US.

      Reply
  4. Oana Ionela Manta

    Hi ,it is posible to get sim 3 in Sicily?What is best sim for unlimited internet in Italy (Sicily)?

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      The 3 store locator is here. Depending on exactly where you’re going in Sicily, it looks like there are plenty of places to buy 3 SIMs there.

      As far as I’m aware, no company offers unlimited mobile data plans for prepaid customers in Italy.

      Reply
  5. Adrian

    Hello, Dave!
    I am going to Rome and Milan in less than a week and I believe I have a Lycamobile card somewhere. But I bought this one in my home country (Poland), will that 5€ code (*139*1001#, right?) for data work or do I need to buy an Italian one? I only need access to the Internet and if it’s so, it seems to be the best option 🙂
    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
  6. Dino

    Hello,
    Lycamobile permit thetering în Italy ?
    Any shop in Fiumicino Aerport ?
    1Gb is max internet program or can be topped

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      I didn’t try to tether in Italy, but I know that Lycamobile tries to prevent it in several of the countries it operates in, so I wouldn’t assume it will work for you.
      The store locator I link to in the article doesn’t show any shops in Fiumicino airport.
      You can buy at least 3GB of data at once, and can top up if you need more.

      Reply
  7. Dave Pula

    I recomand DigiMobil have good coverage(tim) 10€ you have 400 min in 50 countries, usa canada, europa and more. 2 gb internet 100 sms

    Reply
  8. K

    No more Lycamobile ever again. Bought simcard for 10€ then activated data for 10€ and after 3 days of working sim suddenly stopped working. It cannot register to network. On their site there’s a tip to buy new sim and transfer number when there is such issue right…

    Reply

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