Pasta in Como

Buying a SIM Card in Italy

In Get Connected by Dave Dean36 Comments


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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.

Note: Italy is part of the European Union, which introduced new roaming regulations in June 2017. These “roam like at home” rules effectively ended roaming charges across much of Europe, meaning you’ll usually pay no more for calls, texts, and data in other EU countries than you would in the country of purchase.

There are some exceptions and limits, however, so be sure to double-check the details at time of purchase if you’re planning to use your SIM elsewhere in the region.

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

 

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Costs


It’s apparently possible to get the SIM card for free in certain Italian supermarkets and other chain stores, 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.

As a result, I paid €5 for a voice, text and data SIM with no credit, and €5 for a 1GB data package valid for 30 days. If you need more data, it’s pretty cheap — €7 for 2GB, €10 for 4GB. You can find all the data bundle options here, under the “Internet” tab.

If you need voice and text, and/or will be visiting other EU countries and want to take advantage of free roaming, look at one of the “National” bundles instead. As an example, €10 gives 600 domestic calls and texts, plus 2GB of data, valid across the EU for 30 days.

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.

 

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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.

Italy has been drawing in tourists for thousands of years. If you're one of them and need to stay connected while there, it's an inexpensive process.
About the Author

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

    1. Author

      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.

    1. Author

      I included a link to the store locator above, so maybe pick which train station you’re going to and check the locator.

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

    1. Author

      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.

  5. 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!

    1. Author

      It needs to be an Italian one, unfortunately, otherwise you’ll be roaming with Lycamobile Poland.

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

    1. Author

      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.

  7. 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

    1. Author

      Yup, since they moved from the 3 network to Tim this year, they’re worth a look.

  8. 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…

    1. Author

      I don’t know, sorry. Since it’s prepaid and you’re not entering into a legal contract, it doesn’t seem like it’d be a big issue, but there may be other rules that apply.

  9. I want to buy a SIM card in Italy only for phone calls and text – no data – does this make a difference in the price? Do you know if there is a Vodafone shop at Fiumicino airport and which terminal?

  10. Hi, I’m moving to Italy in a month. Which prepaid sim card should I go for? What I need is more than 2-3GB of internet and around 50-100 minutes to call and maybe some text. I will be glad if you could help David. Thanks!

    1. Author

      Take a look at Lycamobile’s rates here. There’s a 15 euro package that may meet your needs. If you’d like to use a different company, all the major ones have their rates available online for you to check.

  11. Dave-
    I suggest updating this post/series. As of June 2017 cell roaming in the EU no longer incurs charges if you have an EU SIM.

    If someone is planning a multi-country “grand tour” they could buy one SIM for the entire trip.

    Also https://www.ezetop.com/ is a great way to top up almost every pre-paid SIM world-wide so you don’t have to remember the specific codes, locations, or websites for the providers.

    http://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/consumers/telecoms-internet/mobile-roaming-costs/index_en.htm

    Also https://www.ezetop.com/ is a great way to top up almost every pre-paid SIM world-wide so you don’t have to remember the specific codes, locations, or websites for the providers.

    Extract from europa.eu
    The EU “roam like at home” rules mean that when you use your mobile phone while travelling outside your home country in any EU country you don’t have to pay any additional roaming charges. You benefit from these rules when calling (to mobile and fixed phones), sending text messages (SMS) and using data services while abroad. These rules also apply when receiving calls or texts while roaming even if the person you are calling is using a different service provider.

    You pay exactly the same price for using these services when travelling in the EU as you would if you were at home. In practice, your operator simply charges or takes your roaming consumption from the volumes in your domestic mobile tariff plan / bundle.

    If you had a contract with a mobile operator which includes roaming services it automatically became “a roam like at home” contract. The default option for all new mobile contracts with roaming services is “roam like at home”.

    1. Author

      Hi CJ,

      Thanks for this. I wrote a post at the time of the changes that outlines all the details, but yeah, it’s worth linking to it for SIM card articles about EU countries, so I’ll go through and do that.

      One thing I would say, though, is that things aren’t quite as rosy for travelers as that extract might suggest. I go into more detail in the roaming article, but in short, providers aren’t under any obligation to offer non-EU residents free roaming, although in practice it’s typically not worth their time to try to differentiate. Also, despite the regulations, not every package (data in particular) has free roaming activated. It’s always important to double-check at time of purchase whether the particular package you’re buying will roam for free across the EU if that’s something you need, and whether it has any restrictions (data limits, etc) in doing so.

  12. Hi Dave. My wife and I are from Canada. We are travelling to Italy then taking a freighter around the eastern Mediterranean then around to Ireland, the U.K., Sweden, Denmark and Belguim. We will be about 10 days in Italy and the same in the UK at the end.
    Should we just buy a “National plan” in Italy’s? Will this give us data and roaming throughout the EU?
    Our freighter will be predominantly in EU countries as well.
    Thanks.

    1. Author

      Hi John,

      Check out the comment above yours, and the EU roaming article linked there and at the start of this post, for more details on roaming within the EU.

      As long as the plan you purchase includes roaming (most, but not all, do), and the provider isn’t being difficult about selling it to non-EU residents (it’s legal, but rare, to do so), you’ll be fine with an Italian SIM and call/text/data package in EU and EEC countries, as long as you’re within range of a land-based cell tower.

  13. Hi Dave,
    I am travelling to Italy for 5 weeks at the end of April ( a week in Spain first, but will use my Australian sim for those few days).

    I have read all your info carefully and also checked out the Lycamobile website, but as with most telcos worldwide, they don’t always tell the whole story.
    I am fairly sure this is the one I will go with. I don’t really need data as most places Im staying have free wifi and I have managed without data on past trips.

    My main question is regarding coverage. I am travelling south to Sicily and north are far as Milan. I will also be visiting Rome, Florence, Naples, Cortona and Bologna.

    I will also need to make a few calls home to Australia, can I do that with a national plan?

    Will I get coverage as far south as Sicily? You only mention more northerly cities in your info, which, by the way, is great!!
    Thanks for the comprehensive information you provide here.
    Ciao!

    Im a mature aged female travelling solo for most of the time, so any advice you can give is grateful received.

    1. Author

      Lycamobile uses the Vodafone network, which definitely has coverage in all the cities you mention, and much of the countryside as well. Take a look at this 2G/3G coverage map for details if you want to check somewhere specific on your route — that covers voice and text service as well. According to that map, at least, Sicily seems to have reasonable service.

      You’ll be able to make calls back to Australia with any plan, at extra cost. This page has the international rates — it looks like Australia is a relatively-reasonable 1 euro cent per minute to landlines, 5c per minute to mobiles, plus an 18c connection fee. You’ll just need to add enough extra credit at time of purchase for your expected usage.

  14. Hi, We’ll be traveling in Puglia. I want to check coverage in that area. with different companies. How can I check coverage? Thank you, Nancy

  15. Just got back to the U.S. after 3 fantastic weeks in Italy. I took your suggestion and gave Lycamobile a try. Just wanted to share my experience…

    TL:DR Version:
    Getting up and running was slightly confusing and frustrating, due to a combination flaky vendors and my own mistakes/inexperience. Once I was up and running, I had solid coverage all over Italy. I would not hesitate to use Lycamobile again on a future trip.

    Details:
    Across the street from Termini train station in Rome, there was a shop pushing Lycamobile hard, handing out brochures and touting “free SIMs”. Right then, I didn’t have time to deal with it, but took a brochure to get acquainted with the available plans. I decided to put off getting the SIM until I arrived in Florence a couple of days later, where I would have more free time.

    In Florence, I used the online store locator to find vendors that carried Lycamobile SIMs and supported balance recharges. Several places on their list were either closed, out of stock, or unable to help (“Can you come back this afternoon when my husband is here?”). It’s Italy – you have to take things in stride.

    Finally I found a store that had the SIM. They charged me 20 Euro for the SIM with 5 Euro of balance, claiming an “activation fee” and some other nonsense. I think I got ripped off, but at least I had my SIM. Then the clerk informed me their store doesn’t do balance recharges anymore – I would have to find yet another store to add sufficient balance to purchase my desired plan. Ugh.

    Finally I found a store that sold balance recharges. These come in the form of scratch-off cards with a PIN, sold in 5 Euro increments. I purchased 10 Euro worth of cards, which combined with the existing 5 Euro balance on the SIM, would allow me to purchase the 12 Euro “Italy White” plan. (30 days, 5GB data with EU roaming, unlimited minutes and SMS).

    So here’s where the user error comes in: The instructions on the recharge card say to dial “*131*PIN#” to add the balance to the SIM. I interpreted this to mean “*131*” and then the PIN number. Wrong. I should have dialed, “*131* then the PIN, and then the POUND SIGN. Duh.

    I should have been suspicious when I didn’t receive any confirmation messages after dialing. So I assumed I now had 15 Euro of balance (wrong). I dialed the code to enable the “Italy White” plan (*139*10018#), entered the APN stuff, and enabled cellular data on my phone.

    I had great service for about half a day, then no internet. Eventually, I figured out that I had not properly added the 10 Euro balance, and had not activated my desired data plan, so I was blowing through mobile data at the “a la carte” rate, and quickly used up the SIM’s original 5 Euro balance.

    Finally, I figured out my pound sign mistake and successfully added the 10 Euro credit (fortunately I hadn’t tossed out the scratch cards). Since 10 Euros was no longer enough for the “Italy White” plan, and I didn’t have time to shop for more recharge cards, I opted for the 6 Euro, 1GB “Italy Blue” plan (activation code *131*10010#), and then used the remaining balance to purchase an additional 1 GB for 3 Euro (activation code *139*10011#). On each recharge, and the activation of the data plan, I was prompted to confirm my choice, which had not happened before.

    Fortunately, the 2GB of data got me through 3 weeks of travel with no problem.

    Again, coverage was solid throughout the entire trip. I still had service during a layover in Frankfurt on the way home, so their promised EU data roaming appears to work.

    All in all, I paid 30 Euros for the SIM card and 2GB of data and unlimited minutes and SMS. If I hadn’t screwed up the recharge, I could have gotten 6GB for that price (12 Euro for the 5GB Italy White plan, plus an additional 1GB for the remaining 3 Euro of the total 15 Euro credit). Now that I have the SIM, if I remained in Italy for a longer time, subsequent months would only cost 12 Euro.

    Anyway, Lycamobile is a solid choice if you don’t require much hand-holding, which is exactly what I was looking for. My frustrations were not completely unexpected, and overall this was a good learning experience. In contrast, my wife purchased her SIM from a TIM store in Rome, where they did everything for her, but where’s the fun in that?

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