How to get a SIM card in Italy
This article is designed for those who want an Italian SIM card and intend on being in Italy for at least a few weeks. It’s not designed for those passing through for a few nights, or those interested in Prepaid SIM Cards. If you’re a student, expat, digital nomad, or planning on retiring in Italy, this is for you! If you need a list of prepaid SIM cards for your trip to Italy, check out The Broke Backpacker’s write-up of good prepaid SIM cards to use while on the road.
Why would I get a SIM card in Italy?
Great question! When prepaid SIM cards already exist in Italy, why get a more robust SIM card provided by one of Italy’s telecommunication carriers?
For the same reason you would get a SIM card when living in at home. Yes, you can get a prepaid one and top it off every month, but chances are, the benefits of having a non-prepaid outweigh the cons.
(In this article, I refer to the SIM cards as prepaid and non-prepaid. However, most (if not all) of Italy’s carriers don’t have the same “plan” structure that most American carriers have. It’s all “pay as you go” where you pay on the first of the month and you’re good to go until the end of the month. If you don’t pay, the service ends. If you pay again, the service begins.
Most of the prepaid SIM cards at the airport are incredibly expensive for what you get. If you are just arriving, wait until you’re in town to find a store for a carrier.)
In Italy, the main benefit to having a non-prepaid card is the usage. For instance, WindTre, one of Italy’s carries, offers a prepaid “Tourist Plan” for $15. This will give you 20 GB of data, 100 minutes in Italy, 100 minutes abroad, and 13.7 GB in participating EU countries if you decide to leave Italy.
I also use WindTre. For $11 a month, I get unlimited data usage and minutes in the EU and Italy.
So, if you live in Italy, or are planning on living in Italy whether as a digital nomad, retiree, or worker, a SIM card can be a powerful tool. It’s also a great tool to have if you’ve been accepted for a long-term house sit.
Plus, with my unlimited data, I can tether my laptop to my phone and I save on not having an internet bill.
What about texting?
Texting is weird here, at least to my perception. Most of Europe, and so most of Italy, uses WhatsApp to communicate. Texting, calling, etc. is all done through WhatsApp. Most phone plans adjust for this and don’t offer texts or calls. Instead, they offer generous data usage fees.
How do I buy a SIM card in Italy?
You will have to go to the store to purchase a SIM card because you need to bring a photo ID.
You will also need a codice fiscale. If you don’t have one, you can read my article here. Basically, it’s a tax code that’s free to get, you just have to go to the office.
TIM, Vodafone, and WindTre are three of the biggest phone service providers in the country. You can also go online and look at their “serviced areas.” If you’re in a city, all three will work. But there are some towns and villages that are only serviced by one or the other provider due to the remoteness of the location.
Once you’ve chosen a provider, go to their store, and ask them about their SIM card options. There are usually a number of “plans” but they all function the same way. Pay then play.
There is also a small sign-up or activation fee, usually around $30 but sometimes only $10.
How to active a SIM card.
If the clerk at the phone carrier store is a professional, and I haven’t encountered one who isn’t, they’ll do all the work for you. Put in the SIM card, call the activation number, and set up any PINs that might be required.
Sometimes activation is immediate, and other times it takes up to 48 hours. It depends on the provider.
For this SIM to work, you must have an “Unlocked” phone. It’s much more common these days to have an unlocked phone than it used to be, but just in case, check with your home carrier.
How do I recharge my SIM card?
Rectangle a SIM card in Italy is incredibly easy, and can be done in a number of ways.
- If you have an Italian bank account or PostePay card, you can set up automatic payments. Sometimes a carrier will offer a deal if you do set up automatic payments and drop your monthly cost by one or two euros.
- Almost every tabacchi can recharge a SIM card. All you have to do is gone in, ask to recharge your phone, and give them the number and provider. They’ll ask you how much you want to pay and within minutes the SIM card will be recharged. This is a great option if you prefer to pay cash.
- Giftcard-style cards that are available in most grocery store checkout lanes. You buy the card, scratch off the hidden strip to expose the number, and follow the instructions.
- Of course, you can also go into any store belonging to your carrier and recharge it there.
As part of the EU, all Italian SIM cards have free roaming within the EU. If you are living in Italy and want to do a little traveling, you don’t have to worry about getting a new SIM card wherever you go. You’re covered!