Data plans for smartphone, iPad and tablets in Italy

Last year, I wrote a post about travelling with your smartphone or iPad in Italy. Data roaming is obviously a popular subject, because that post remains the most common point of entry for readers coming via a search engine. The advice is still solid, so you should first skip over there if you’re looking for general tips on buying an Italian SIM card in Italy.

But the pay-as-you-go (i.e. contract-free) plans and prices need updating. So, below the fold are the latest updates as of June 2012. [Note: the updated plans as of May 2013 are here.]

TIM: The “TIM per smartphone” prepaid data option for phones still costs €2.50 per week for 250 MB of traffic. TIM have also added a “TIM per smartphone MAXI” tariff, costing €5 per week for 500 MB. For iPad and tablet browsing on TIM, there’s an offer running through 19 August that doubles the traffic that comes with each of their bundles. So, Internet Start includes 2 GB of data for €9 and Internet Large has 10 GB for €19.

Vodafone Italia : Vodafone’s starter data plans for tablets are pricier. “Internet Go” costs €20 per month for 5 GB of traffic at speeds up to 14.4 Mbps. “Internet Fly” costs a little more, €25, for 7 GB at speeds up to 43.2 Mbps. Vodafone’s best prepaid smartphone plans bundle surfing the web with SMS, talk minutes, or both. For example, Smart 100+ includes 100 minutes to anyone in Italy, 100 text messages, and 500 MB of Internet per month for €20. You can find a Vodafone vendor in your destination using the store locator.

Wind: Wind offers the same data plans whether you’re browsing from a smartphone or from a tablet. For €9 per month, Internet No Stop promises “unlimited” web. However, once you hit a ceiling of 1 GB your speed drops to a very restricting 32 kbps. Still a good deal, though. If you need more traffic, €20 a month buys you Mega Unlimited, with a 10 GB ceiling.

3: Tre, as it’s known in Italy, still offers its Super Internet tariff at €5 a month for 3 GB of traffic (capped at 100 MB during any one day). The data add-on costs the same for smartphones and tablets. I have struggled with 3 coverage in rural areas in the past. However, that is very cheap compared to the rest, so if you’re going to be in a city, it may be worth a punt. Amazingly, Brits can still bring their Italian 3 SIM home and use it at the same rates when they get back. I’m going to try 3 out again when I’m in Italy this August and see how I get on. (If you have any experiences using 3 in Italy, do leave a comment below.)

Note that you’ll also need to buy the SIM and activate it, which generally costs around €5 (occasionally a little more for 3). Plus you’ll need an unlocked smartphone. But the minimal cost of unlocking most phones ought to be far outweighed by the savings you’ll make on roaming charges, despite the new EU regs.

And if you don’t have an unlocked handset, you should also consider buying one locally, especially if you’re visiting Italy from North America. You can pick up a decent Android phone for under €100. Buy it, use it, then recycle or eBay it when you get home. You’ll save a bundle.

This post took lots of time to research, and I’m more than 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 this button:

You can connect with Donald Strachan on Google+.

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74 Comments

  1. Cathy May 6, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    I’ve been looking on the TIM website for hours and I’m getting really confused..
    I’m looking for a pre paid sim that offers unlimited text, calls and internet. I can’t seem to find a pre paid sim that offers that, the one that I thought I might go with is the “all in seconds Full XL” – but that only offers 500mb per week, would I be able to put more credit so that it doesn’t get capped and then work at 32Kbps? What would you recommend? I will only be in Italy for 2 weeks but I will definitely be using internet everyday and need it to be quick.
    What are the set up charges? I’m seeing that there is one but then I read that there isn’t? Would you recommend activating the sim by calling or online (I’m assuming calling otherwise we would need to find an internet cafe; but are some of the offers only available online?) Please help, I’m leaving for Italy tomorrow..

  2. Donald Strachan May 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Hi Cathy

    As far as I know, there isn’t a TIM plan that offers quite what you are looking for. The tariff you mention only offers 100 minutes plus 100 texts included per week, not “unlimited”. However, you can add “TIM per smartphone” or “TIM per smartphone 4G” when you reach a weekly data ceiling (you will receive a text when you are getting close). Just text TIMSMART3 ON (300 MB for a week at 3G speeds) or TIMSMART4G ON (500 MB at 4G speeds…. in main cities only, though… you don’t say where you are going).

    Note, if you want your Internet fast (and you are going to a major city only), you may want to buy the “bits” separately, because that would allow you to buy internet at 4G speeds. I *think* the plan you mention is for 3G data only. So, buy Tutti a Secondi 100+100 for voice calls and SMS (100 and 100, at 6€ per week; send an SMS to 40916 with TAS100+100 ON) then the “TIM per smartphone 4G” add-on I mention above.

    Note that you will usually be charged the equivalent of a week on the tariff if you activate in a shop (7€ in this case). It’s free to do it over the phone… but you have to navigate the automated voice line (not easy) to get through to someone. Once you reach a real human being, they are very helpful, sometimes speak a little English, and will activate any tariff or option for free. It’s also free to activate by text, but not every plan can be done that way. The ones I recommend in this reply can be… which is another point in their favour.

    Remember, too, to *wait for the response text confirming that your tariff or option is active*. Otherwise you will be charged at (pricey) PAYG rates.

    Does this help?

    Also: is there a reason you rejected Vodafone? They have unlimited tariffs that are closer to what you are looking for, e.g. Vodafone UNLIMITED:

    http://eshop.vodafone.it/ricaricabili.html

    The only hitch with Voda is that the option to activate plans by text doesn’t apply. So, it’s instore or by calling 190.

  3. Cathy May 6, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    Thank you so much for getting back to me Donald! I am going to Milan!

    During that time I have done some research on Vodafone and it seems like their internet speed is faster? It says somewhere that the max speed is at 43.2Mbps, however once we reach over 1GB it drops to 1kbps. Where as with TIM the max speed is 14.4Mbps then drops to 32kbps (All these numbers are stressing me out).

    I read through the Vodafone UNLIMITED and thought that was a good option but then read this: “Incompatibility
    UNLIMITED Vodafone is incompatible with all “rechargeable voice and SMS” packages “rechargeable voice, SMS and internet” and all plans and subscription packages.” So I thought I wasn’t eligible for that plan?

    You mention that the plan I mentioned was only for 3G data; Does all plans only offer 3G internet?

    I have an iPhone 5, so your suggestion of purchasing the Tutti a Secondi 100+100 for voice calls and SMS at 6€ per week then texting the “TIM smartphone 4G add-on sounds like a winner! (That is, if Vodaphone has something better to offer?)

    You have been unbelievably helpful and I appreciate all the hard efforts you have put into your blog. I have literally been browsing online for the past 5 hours and you helped me in 5 minutes.

  4. Donald Strachan May 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    Just checking: are you travelling with a UK iPhone or a US one? And if US, which one? It matters for 4g compatibility…

    Otherwise, I agree. The TIM route is the simplest. They also offer fast 4g in Milan. Subject to having a compatible phone (one of the American iPhone 5s isn’t).

  5. Cathy May 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    I’m travelling with an Australian iPhone, would that be a problem?

    I haven’t made a pre paid sim in a long time, do I just tell them how much I want to put on the card initially? How much does the sim card cost? Also, 6€ a week for 100 minutes and 100 texts; what happens if I use it all up before the week? does it just deduct another 6€ and start a new week?

  6. Paula May 6, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    Dear Donald, thanks for all the info you shared. I’ll be in Rome and plan to travel to Amalfi with my Samsung – android 4.1.1 – and plan to buy a Vodafone prepaid SIM at the airport or at Termini. Do I need to install any app for using it ? I was told that I’ll need to do so.

  7. Donald Strachan May 6, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    Cathy: the Australian phone is the same as the UK one, so as long as it is unlocked you’ll be fine. You can top up when you buy, yes, and when plan minutes run out, you pay standard rates (calls at 12 or 16 cents a minute iirc). SIMs usually cost 10€ and come with 5€ preloaded.

    Paula: you don’t need an app. Just the SIM, an unlocked phone and credit, plus a prepaid plan if you want one.

  8. Diana May 12, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    Dear Donald. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    I have a question which I hope you can help to answer. After italy I will be travelling to barcelona and paris. So the question is, will the sim card I buy in italy work in those other 2 countries?

  9. Donald Strachan May 12, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    Hi Diana

    Yes, it will work. But you will be paying roaming rates, of course. Deals vary, but generally speaking voice and texts for light use are reasonable. Data is pricey. You’ll get a text when you switch the phone on in France or Spain with details of the rates.

    Have fun!

  10. Bill May 12, 2013 at 11:17 pm #

    Welcome back. Would you be able to respond to my questions from Apr. 4? Thanks. (Reminder: I’ll be traveling with an iPad mini WiFi + cellular)

  11. Donald May 13, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    Hi Bill

    Tutto Tablet Start is a contract plan. I’m assuming you’re just visiting? You can usually only get a contract with a local codice, bank account etc. For visiting, you want Internet Start (or Internet Large) for 3G speeds… or Internet 42.2 or 4G for ultra-fast speeds. SIMs cost 10€ with 10€ (sometimes only 5€) of credit preloaded from a TIM store.

    There’s a TIM shop on Via G. Ermini (tel. 075/8041695), which is in Santa Maria degli Angeli, the slightly humdrum modern town at the foot of the hill that rises up to Assisi (which is amazing… enjoy!).

  12. Deborah May 13, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    Hello Mr Strachan,
    Oh my goodness my head is spinning. I’m sorry to be such a tech newbie but I do not understand so much of what you are all saying. I am traveling to Italy in a few days, landing in Rome and leaving from Venice with a car rental. I have the unlock code for my t-mobile galaxy model # SGH-T769 android version 2.3.6
    While I am in Italy I would like to use it as a phone and as a GPS device. How do I do that? How much “data” do I need? what the heck is “sms”?
    Thank you in advance for any help you can give

  13. Nick May 14, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    I am purchasing a bunch of unlocked regular flip phones for my team when they go to Milan next month. Can I buy the SIM cards ahead of time and have them ready to go in the US before the land in Milan?

    What do you think is the best way because I wont be there with them but need to ensure that they all are able to make phone calls while there.

  14. shan May 16, 2013 at 4:58 am #

    Thank you for the information….it really help with someone that might not be familiar with it. I’m heading off to Europe (France, Italy, and Spain) with my family for two weeks (Most of the the time will be Italy). I don’t need voice service but just data to get onto the internet….I was thinking of taking a unlock mobile hotspot (already verified the freq. and the GSM band) and using it in Italy. My question is, can I buy SIM Card with just data or do I need to buy one for voice & data?

  15. Donald Strachan May 16, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    Yes, it’s the same plans listed in the iPad/tablet section of the updated 2013 plans post I just put up:

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

  16. Donald Strachan May 16, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    Hi Nick

    I don’t think you can, unfortunately. However, there are LOADS of phone shops in Milan. My latest post has the 2013 plan prices plus links to store locators for all the major networks. Just find the address they’ll be staying, put that in, and send them to the nearest phone store (with their passports as photo ID). Their lines will be up and running within a few hours, usually.

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

  17. Greg Pasqualini May 22, 2013 at 1:44 am #

    I am traveling to Italy. I will start in Florence. I have an iPhone 5 w AT&T in the US. Will I be able to change my sim card in Italy? Or will I have to purchase a phone there? Any recommendations where to purchase in Florence? I will have a short stay before heading north.

  18. Tom Atkinson May 22, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    Just got the WIND Mega Unlimited today 22nd May 2013. 30 EURO for the SIM with 25 EURO of credit, then it’s 12 Euro a month for 10GB, so I have 2 months before I have to worry about topping up. The shop set it up and it was activated within 1 hour. Works great with Viber and Face Time thanks for the advice.

  19. Donald Strachan May 22, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    It sounds like your phone will be locked to AT&T? In which case, no Italian SIM will work in it, I’m afraid. You’ll have to buy a new handset (eBay it when you get home).

    You’ll find online store locators in the most recent post:

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

    Put your hotel or apartment address into any of those and they will locate the nearest retailer.

    Have fun in Florence. Great city.

  20. Simon B July 14, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    Hello! I will travel to Italy from Sweden and stay there for 2 weeks. I have an unlocked galaxy s2.
    So my question is what sim card could I get? I think TIM and wind would fit me because I will only get it for the interner traffic. And do you need some sort of contract or similar and pay each week/month? Or can you just buy the sim card in a normal store, refill it and then its ready to use? And where can you buy the sim cards, can you buy them in a normal supermarket?

    Sorry for all the questions and for my bad english.

    P.S keep being awesome!

    /Simon

  21. Donald Strachan July 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    Hi Simon
    Your English is just fine… And it is easy: no contracts, no regular payments. Just buy a SIM, add €€€ credit to it, add any plans like those detailed in the various Italy pieces I have written on this site, and call/text/surf. That’s it.

    There are large “superstores” that sell SIMs. But I would just take a walk down the high street wherever you are staying. Small phone stores are everywhere, and you will generally get a better service in a smaller store, especially if (a rare event) you need some assistance after buying or something gors wrong.

    Have a good trip.

  22. Elaine Sackson July 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Hi Donald
    I will be visiting Italy for 3 weeks in September. I have an unlocked iphone4. Can I purchase only Internet usage so that I can send messages on What’s App and phone on Viber. ?
    Thank you
    Elaine

  23. Ali September 9, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    Can I use Internet on my laptop I m coming for one month in italy

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