Data plans for travelling with your smartphone or iPad to Italy

If you travel with an unlocked smartphone (and you should), you really don’t want to access the Web overseas via your home mobile network. Not unless you can afford the second mortgage payments that data roaming requires, anyway.

For visitors to Italy, buying a local SIM card with internet access is as simple as 1-2-3:

1) Find a cellphone shop. All you need to do is find the tourist office or a friendly local and ask: “Sto cercando un negozio [INSERT NETWORK NAME… SEE BELOW]…?” Italians talk on their mobiles all day every day, and anywhere with more than about 100 inhabitants has a phone shop. Euronics superstores sell all the networks under one roof.

2) Remember your passport, or driving licence, or similar official ID. As well as cash or credit card, they are going to ask you for “un documento,” which they will photocopy. This is required by Italian law. If they also request a “codice fiscale” (a tax number), just tell them “sono un(a) turista.” Visitors don’t need one to buy a mobile phone.

3) Choose your network and tariff. If you’re only here temporarily, you want “una scheda ricaricabile, anche per navigare in Internet sul mio smartphone” (“a pay-as-you-go [PAYG] SIM that also connects to the Internet via my smartphone”). Make sure that you also register for a prepaid data option, as paying-as-you-browse for data is very expensive (for EU residents, not much cheaper than connecting via roaming).

As of August 2011, these are the best network-by-network deals on data in Italy:

[Update: the plans and prices as of May 2013 are here.]

TIM: the PAYG SIM card costs €10, which includes €5 of credit towards calls and data. The option “TIM PER SMARTPHONE” costs €2 a week for up to 250 MB of data. To activate it if you already have a TIM SIM, just text TIMSMART ON to 40916. This way avoids any “activation” charges that a shop might try to foist on you. It stays activated, automatically debiting your PAYG balance, until you deactivate it by calling TIM customer services on 119.

Vodafone: as with TIM, the PAYG SIM card costs €10, which includes €5 of credit. The data option “Mobile Internet” costs €3 per week for 250 MB… but the first week is free. You do the math. As with TIM, it renews automatically until you disconnect or run out of credit.

Wind: like TIM and Vodafone, a “SIM ricaricabile” costs €10, with €5 credit included. Wind’s “Internet No Stop Daily” option costs nothing to activate, and debits your PAYG credit €1 on every day that you connect to the Web. There’s a fair use limit, of 50 MB, and you pay nothing if you don’t use the Web on any day. Alternatively, “Internet No Stop” costs €5 to activate (free until September 4th, 2011) plus €9 for a month of traffic up to 1 GB.

3: Known as “Tre” in Italy, 3 charges more for SIM cards, so it only really makes sense for longer stays and/or heavy users. A 3 PAYG SIM card costs €30, which breaks down as €7 for the SIM and €23 credit preloaded on it. Thirty days of data, with a 3 GB limit and a daily ceiling of 100 MB, costs just €5. Note that, in my experience, you’re more likely to have connection problems with 3 in rural areas. Cities should be fine, but if you’re lodging in the sticks, ask locally about network reception.

iPad travellers: As with smartphones, seek out a “SIM per iPad ricaricabile.” A Vodafone microSIM costs €10, which includes €5 of credit. You then have the option of paying to connect daily (€2 “al giorno” only when you use the Web; fair-use limit) or prepay for a month (€9 “al mese” for 1 GB). 3 microSIMs again are more expensive, but €5 buys you 3 GB of data which—and this is the really good bit—you can also use back home if your home country has a 3 network. Currently, that’s Australia, Austria, Denmark, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Ireland, and Sweden all covered by their free option called “all’estero come a casa.” I’ll leave it up to you to calculate if it’s worth packing an Italian 3 microSIM to carry home with your souvenirs and novelty grappa.

This post took lots of time to research, and I’m very happy to share my knowledge here for free. I hope it saves you a bundle. If you’d like to drop a few coins in the box to say thanks, I’d be very grateful; just click the button:

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83 Comments

  1. Fred May 14, 2013 at 3:39 am #

    Hi,

    First I want to thank you for the amazing article, very informative.

    I have a quick question please. I will be travelling to Milan for one week next month and I don’t speak Italian or know my way around, so I will be relying on Google maps and translator a lot and therefore I require a lot of internet access, my question is : which network do you recommend for 3G access ? I don’t require any call credit during my stay.

    Thanks in advance,

    Fred.

  2. Donald Strachan May 14, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    Hi Lynn

    Unfortunately, no other SIM will work in a locked phone, so you can’t buy a mobile data package. However, you will find hotspots around the place. Not as common as back home, but WiFi is there and usually free, especially in the cities. (Note: strict anti terrorism laws mean that a WiFi provider will need to see photo ID before letting you surf on their system.)

    An alternative suggestion would be to buy a cheap unlocked MiFi, but I guess you don’t have time to trawl eBay so close to departure.

    Remember to switch off mobile data in the phone settings too! Enjoy.

  3. Donald Strachan May 16, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    Hi Fred

    I’ve always had the most success coverage-wise with TIM and Vodafone. For data only (no voice), TIM is slightly better (“TIM per smartphone”). The all-in plans with Voda are better (voice plus SMS plus data). I’ve just posted the latest 2013 info here:

    http://www.donaldstrachan.com/archive/2013/05/3g-data-plans-for-taking-your-smartphone-to-italy/

  4. Glenn June 11, 2013 at 3:09 am #

    I am a Verizon customer with an unlocked Samsung galaxy S3. I am looking for a data and voice plan for 1 month in Italy. Which Sim card would be best and cheapest?

  5. Donald Strachan June 11, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    Does it have an unlocked slot for a GSM SIM?

  6. giusy June 14, 2013 at 2:41 am #

    Hi! I have a samsung galaxy s3 ill be going to italy end of june would you be able to tell me if my phone will work there and If so which sim card do you recommend tim vodafone or wind? Thank you

  7. Zach June 15, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    Hi Donald, I’m going to be travelling to Italy with an iPhone 5. I’m interested in the TIM PAYG sim card for data roaming. Can I check if the PAYG sim card is a nano sim card? Otherwise how do i get a suitable nano sim card for data roaming? Thanks!

  8. Donald Strachan June 15, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Hi Zach
    Nano SIMs are available. Just say when you buy.
    Have a great trip.

  9. Donald Strachan June 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Giusy: is it unlocked? If so, these are the latest recommended plans:

    http://www.donaldstrachan.com/archive/2013/05/3g-data-plans-for-taking-your-smartphone-to-italy/

  10. Christian June 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Hi Donald,
    I’m Canadian and using my “Canadian” iPad with a French Orange SIM, in France. Nice data package and pay-as-you-go. I cannot find information on their website about roaming in Italy, my next destination in a week or so. Do you have any up to date information? Thanks!

  11. Mimi June 18, 2013 at 12:37 am #

    Hi Donald,

    If I’m planning on living in Milan for a year, Tre would be the best plan? What is the best option for a long term visitor?

  12. Donald Strachan June 20, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    Hi Christian
    Intra-EU roaming rates are capped by European Union regulations. Here:

    http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/roaming/tariffs/index_en.htm

    There’s another small cut in voice and SMS due to come into effect July 1; slightly larger cut in data rates. But paying as you use for data is still expensive… you need to contact the French network to find out about prepaid bundles. I don’t know them for France.

  13. daniel June 22, 2013 at 12:08 am #

    Awesome info compilation Donald. Thanks! Will definitely be using my ipad in Italy soon…

  14. paula June 22, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    i have a 3g iphone that is locked , im travelling to italy in few days will my phone work over there even if its locked?? im thinking of buying a tim sim once i arrive there thanxx

  15. Donald Strachan June 22, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Hi Paula
    Unfortunately it will only work with your home network if the phone is locked. It won’t work with another SIM in it.

  16. David Christy July 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    Hi Donald,

    Clearly you have really resarched this 🙂 I live on a yacht and spend my life travelling around the Mediteranean. We are going to Italy in Mid August and will be there for six months at least. I use my Internet connection for work on an unlocked mifi and can easily use two or three hundred meg a day. Last time I was there I used WIND which was OK but I ended up juggling loads of sims since the PAYG setup is for the €9 for 1GB on a month, and as far as I knew last time you could not just top it up again with another €9 and reset that within the month, you needed to start again with another one.

    In Spain I use Movistar which is great because they charge €2.30 a day for unlimited (there must be a fair use policy but I have never hit it and we often stream UK TV in the evenings). I know this sounds a lot at around €100 a month, but as I use it for work that is actually a bargain

    Do you know if any of the Italian providers have a similar daily system?

  17. Donald Strachan July 7, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    David – yes, that can be done. I’m on a small screen at the moment, but will check it out for you this evening.

    Nice life!

  18. Donald Strachan July 7, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Hi again David:

    yes, with e.g. Voda Internet Fly you can just keep renewing when it runs out:

    http://eshop.vodafone.it/sim-e-microsim/piani-per-navigare/dati-ricaricabile/internet-fly-ricaricabile?refcatid=43&only_plan

    7 Gb per month… which you can renew whenever you run out, even if that’s before the month is up.

    Note, in general, I would go for SIMs designed to work with an internet key (chiavetta) or MiFi. The regular phone SIMs *sometimes* don’t tether. I have tethered with TIM (on a regular TIM per smartphone tariff… which are also renewable whenever you like), but that’s not supposed to be possible, according to their rules.

  19. Herve August 11, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Hi, Thank you for all the work you made but I’m currently in Italy and I think I find a good data plan : 15€ for 1 month with 400 minutes and 2Gb data. I think that next months costs 10€ but nevermind, I stay there only 1 week.
    So, I got an italian phone number with it. It works very well for internet with phone and with my PC too. Currently I didn’t succeed to use skype on my phone with that sim card but it may be a matter of configuration independant from my mobile contract : I’ll post another message if I overcome to it.
    Herve

  20. Herve August 11, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    Hi (Herve again),
    I forgot a detail : my 3G data plan was with Vodafone
    regards, Herve

  21. DEEP AJWANI August 26, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    Hi Donald..travelling to Rome,Florence and Venice for 8 days…post that to Paris…any suggestions for a common SIM or plan to be bought?…or you would recommend diff sims,network providers and plans for both countries – Italy and France?…also with 8 days of stay in Italy would you recommend Vodafone with voice,sms and data (i guess 1 GB should be fine)

  22. Ruta September 21, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Hi there,

    I’m going to Sicilia and will need 3G internet. Would it be possible to buy a SIM in Trapani air port right i depart there? I will be there only one week, so which one is the best for me? Also , i have GSM modem and i’m planning to insert that SIM card into that and have WI-FI everythere and use only it. So i won’t need any messages or calls plans, only a sim with a plan (at least 1GB of internet.) So i think i need a sim like on ipad or etc? I think that TRE (3) would be the worst in my way. What are you suggesting me?

  23. Matt October 2, 2013 at 12:17 am #

    Hi Donald,

    I am going on a 2 week trip to Europe (first 10 days in Italy and next 5 in Paris). I have a Ipad with 3G which I plan to use.

    Can you recommend which provider (Tre, Tim, Vodafone, Wind) will work best in my case?

    Thanks
    Matt

  24. Sunil October 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    Hi Donald,

    I am wondering if Florence has 4G yet or I am stuck with 3G? I am planning to use my iphone 5 most probably with either Vodafone or TIM.

    Thanks

  25. Donald Strachan October 30, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    No 4g yet in Florence, I believe.

  26. Edna November 11, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Recently moved to Italy, this is super helpful – thanks for putting it together!

  27. Cheryl December 1, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    Have an iphone 5 from Verizon. told its unlocked and since it works on CDMA network it has open sim card slot. daughter will be in Rome, Italy for 4 months. needs text and data, rarely uses voice. what are options and process? can I buy card before she travels?

  28. William Ragette May 8, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    Excellent work, thank you so much. My only question is about availability of talk minutes in these various plans. Their cost etc.
    Thanks

  29. Blochin July 17, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    A tip for the best SIM-Card in Europe: in Italy you can purchase a Vodafone SIM-Card (10 €) and ask them to activate the option “Smart Passport”
    With that option, you have 500 MB per day (throtthled after 500 MB, no extra costs) for 3 Euros.
    You can install it in a MiFI, set the APN to mobile.vodafone.it (very important: a wrong APN costs lots of money, because it is not covered by the promotion) and you can go online in 47 countries for the same price.
    The country list:
    Albania, Andorra, Austria, Azores, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Island, Finland, France, French Guyana, Germany, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Greece, Guadalupe, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Monaco, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Reunion, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Turkey + USA
    If you use it in a smartphone, you also have 50 mins and 50 SMS per day.
    But: do not use tethering, otherwise it switches APN and you pay the standard tariff per MB!

  30. katemn August 14, 2014 at 10:57 pm #

    Any updates for 2014?

  31. Marion February 4, 2015 at 1:53 am #

    I am an elderly lady going to Florence for 2 1/2 weeks. I am not tech savvy, but nowadays I’m finding it is impossible to travel withot phone & internet access, so I’m trying to learn how. We will be bringing an old flip phone for my husband & a smart phone for me. We want to get have minimal calls-only capability for the flip phone & get a data package for the smartphone. My smart phone has a calling plan but no data package so I assume it is not “locked”, or is it? Any advice appreciated.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] Data plans for travelling with your smartphone or iPad to … – Hi Donald, Clearly you have really resarched this I live on a yacht and spend my life travelling around the Mediteranean. We are going to Italy in Mid August and will …… […]

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