The latest 3G data and voice plans for using your smartphone in Italy

There’s always a new deal in Italy, and prepaid phone plans change all the time. So, it’s time to update the details on my step-by-step guide to buying a smartphone SIM and pay-as-you-go plan in Italy.

The how-to instructions remain the same (see that previous post for easy-to-follow instructions): it’s simple to get connected in Italy, and much cheaper to use your smartphone (or even a regular phone) on a local network. Roaming rates for voice and text messages have come down within the EU, but that doesn’t help much if you are arriving in Italy from outside Europe. And anyway, if you want to use data, you need a local SIM and plan—wherever you are coming from, and whether you are bringing your own unlocked phone or carrying a MiFi.

Aside from the prices, the other big change since 2012 is the arrival of 4G (or LTE) data speeds. I was all over Italy last month and had a chance to test out one of the networks “in the wild”.

The best data deals on each of the main Italian networks are below the fold.

TIM

The “TIM per smartphone” option is still one of the best deals around for a visitor. It costs 3€ per week, renewed automatically each week after activation, for 300 Mb of data. If you run out before the week is up, you can renew early (you will receive a text with instructions; reply with SI and you are refilled with data). To activate TIM per smartphone, just text TIMSMART3 ON to 40916 from your TIM line. There are a couple of further options to consider: TIM per smartphone mese (1 Gb valid for up to a month for 10€; text TIMSMARTMESE ON to 40916); and TIM per smartphone 4G (500 Mb at 4G/LTE speeds valid for a week for 6€; text TIMSMART4G ON to 40916).

Note, though, that TIM 4G coverage is limited to some cities only. Most of the country is covered with 3G only (and remote areas, not even that: slow EDGE speeds are still out there).

It is free to activate any of these options, as long as you do it by text or phone. In a TIM store, they will probably charge you an activation fee (often equal to the first payment of your prepaid plan). Here is the online TIM store locator.

 

Vodafone Italia

Voda’s data-only add-on isn’t quite as generous as TIM’s: it costs 3€ per week for up to 250 Mb with the Mobile Internet option. However, Voda has fantastic all-in plans for mixing up talk, text and browsing. Vodafone UNLIMITED offers unlimited in-country Voda-to-Voda minutes (it costs a further 1€ per day for 200 minutes to anyone, debited automatically from your first call), unlimited texts and 1 Gb of data per month (at 4G/LTE speeds for no extra money, until May 31, 2013) for 11.90€.

Smart 350 is slightly better if you want to do more talking: 350 minutes to everyone, 350 texts to everyone, and 1 Gb of fast data for 9.90€ per month. Note, that’s a promotional price, and may rise after June 9, 2013. (It may not… prices on Voda’s all-in tariffs swing around a lot; check the updated tariff sheet they keep in most Vodafone stores.) Here is the Vodafone online store locator.

 

Wind

As with Voda, you get the best out of Wind with a minutes plus texts plus Internet plan. The All Inclusive plan has 120 minutes, 120 texts and 1 Gb of Internet for 7€ per month (until June 9, 2013; the regular price is 17€ per month, but after June 9 another promotion will almost certainly come onstream). To activate, text ALL SI to 4033. You can increase that data allowance to 2 Gb for an extra 2.50€ by activating the Internet No Stop add-on. Or make it 10 Gb of Internet by activating the Mega Unlimited add-on for 12€ per month (text UNLIMITED SI to 4033). Here is the Wind store locator.

 

Tre

The advice on 3/Tre remains the same: this is very much Italy’s “fourth” network. I have struggled in the past to find a signal in remote, rural areas. But if you expect to be city-tripping only, this is worth a look—mostly because the plans are straightforward and cheap. All-In Small costs 8€ per month for 120 domestic minutes, 120 texts and 1 Gb of high-speed Internet. Alternatively, don’t bother with a plan (other than the Power10 .10€/min. pay as you go rate) and add Super Internet: 5€ for up to 3Gb of Internet valid for 30 days. Here is the Tre/3 store locator.

 

iPad plans in Italy

SIMs for iPads, iPad Minis and Android tablets are available on every network. Tre’s plan is the simplest and cheapest: the Super Internet package offers 3 Gb of Internet valid for a month for 5€; Tre SIMs usually cost 7€.

Prices and plans on Vodafone and TIM vary with browsing speed (cheaper for standard 3G, pricier for HSPA+ [42.2 Mbps, in theory], priciest for 4G/LTE). TIM has the cheaper “starter” plan: Internet Start offers 2 Gb of browsing within a month for 12€ (plus  5€ activation fee). Pay a little more for Voda’s Internet Go package (20€/month) and you get 5 Gb of traffic at 3G speeds. For heavy use, TIM’s Internet 4G tariff allows up to 15 Gb of traffic in a month, at 4G/LTE speeds, for 35€. TIM and Voda SIMs usually cost 5€.

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:

You can connect with Donald Strachan on Google+.

 

 

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75 Comments

  1. unlock iphone 4 download September 22, 2013 at 8:29 am #

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  2. David October 15, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    Hi guys,

    A month or so ago I posted a question here and got a great response from Donald.
    Now we have just returned from one month in Italy and I wish to go over the success we had with TIM and their service.
    From the other responses above, it sounds like we had a *much* smoother time of it!

    TIM has a store in Milan’s central railway station. We went into the store one morning armed with out unlocked iPhone 5s. The two staff both spoke English and were perfectly helpful.
    First we needed new nano SIM cards at 10 Euro each. These come with 5 Euro credit included.
    Next we asked for the current “special” plan to be activated at 10 Euro per month. We were there for a month so only one payment of 10 Euro each was needed.
    Now the “special” varies each month and for us it was 350 hours of calls (within Italy) and 350 SMS mesages (within Italy) and 1Gb of data. As we were always together we barely used the calls and SMS but were more interested in the data.
    All of this was activated immediately at no extra charge.

    The local calls and SMS were included in that 350 so did not eat into the 5 Euro credit, but SMSs outside Italy decremented credit each time. After each SMS the remaining credit was SMS’ed back to us.

    So in a nutshell, for 20 Euro each we had a month of high-speed data and an almost limitless ability to call each other and locally. It all worked perfectly.
    The only issue is that inside the stone buildings/restaurants of Tuscany there is usually NO signal lol…

    As such I highly recommend using TIM and taking advantage of the monthly specials highlighted on their web page. Very easy and convenient.

  3. shirley November 16, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    Thank you for this post. I found it really useful and have just bought a month plan with confidence.

  4. Jake Runk November 19, 2013 at 6:37 am #

    Is tethering (using the smartphone as a wifi hotspot for connecting my laptop and tablet) allowed with these plans? Any extra charge for tethering? Thank you for any answer you can provide.

  5. John December 27, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    Donald,
    Thanks for the great info you have provided. My situation is a bit different. I do not have an iPhone at the moment and am moving from the U.S. to Rome for three years, in the spring of 2014. If I buy an iPhone 5s here (the A1457), I am confident it will work on 3G with Voda or TIM upon buying a Voda or TIM SIM. But the question is, will I get 4G/LTE, or will this only be the case if I buy the phone in Italy through the carrier? Sorry for this very down in the weeds question, but I thank you in advance for your expert advice.

  6. Søren Vind January 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    Update on 3:
    I’m staying in Pisa for three months. The prepaid (pay as you go) Power10 deal was my only option with 3 since I do not have an italian bank. However, combined with the Super Internet addon (5eur/month for 100MB data per day) it was also the best option I found, since the SIM activation cost was only 3eur.

  7. Fenny March 4, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    Hi Donald,

    Thanks for a really useful article.

    I’m hoping to spend a couple of weeks in Italy/France in May researching my family history. As I will be spending the bulk of the time in Italy, but may end up heading down into France for a few days, I’m not sure whether it would be worth buying a French SIM card, but I may need a data service while I’m there. What are the roaming charges like on the Italian SIMs?

    Living in the UK, I’m used to the roaming charges for going anywhere being pretty high and have always gone for the local SIM option. But within mainland Europe, I wondered if the charges were less painful.

    Any information would be greatly appreciated.

    Fenny

  8. Donald Strachan March 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    Hi Fenny

    Thanks for responding. If it’s only a few days, you are probably better *not* buying a French SIM. Prices for calls/texts are quite steep compared to the UK/Italy. Even on UK rates, you are often better paying roaming fees. Data is another matter, however…

    Some details here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travel-advice/9432416/The-best-local-SIM-cards-in-Europe.html

    From Italy, I’d consider going with TIM and activating this:

    http://www.tim.it/estero/tim-in-viaggio-pass

    Before you leave Italy, text TIMINVIAGGIOPASS ON to 40916. On your return, text TIMINVIAGGIOPASS OFF to the same number. Always wait for a confirmation text before assuming it is working. (Alternatively, you can go into a TIM shop and they’ll set it up for you.)

  9. Fenny March 4, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    Thanks, Donald. I’ll check these out. Looks just what I need.

  10. Kurt March 21, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    We will be leaving shortly from Italy and heading to Switzerland and will splitting our time evenly between the two. Not sure if we should get a TIM or Vodaphone SIM for Italy (arrive into Rome) and which would be better for roaming into Switzerland? 1GB of data would probably cover me for the time we will be gone, but 2GB would for sure. We are mainly using the data for email, Facebook, Instagram and some Skype as well. Using the phone for calls is secondary, but necessary to have.

    Thanks for putting all this information together, it has been helpful!

  11. Kurt April 2, 2014 at 11:55 pm #

    I thought I would post an update after our trip. In short, we ended up going with Vodafone Italy for our iPhones and 3 ITA for my iPad Mini with Retina display and had success.

    Here is how it all worked out: The day we arrived in Rome (Sunday morning), it was the same day they have their annual marathon with most of the stores in the old city closed for the event. This meant that both TIM and Vodafone stores in that area were closed. (Talking to a local there, they had suggested going with TIM for the best coverage, but we needed our SIMs sooner rather than later). Fortunately there was a Vodafone retailer open that was across from the Pantheon. We each purchased a SIM card and plan for 25 euros each (10 euros for the card and another 15 euros for a pre-paid plan offering 3GB of data, 200 texts (to another Vodafone Italy number) and 200 minutes (again to another Vodafone Italy number). This worked great for us as we mainly wanted to use our phones for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We were able to keep in touch via email for work and only needed to actually use our phones to talk in case of an emergency back to the US (so a lot of voice minutes were not necessary). I also have in my notes that we could receive incoming calls from the USA at .15 euros/min. Nothing that will break the bank if you have to talk to the family or work for a short period. We preferred to use Skype via the free Wi-Fi at all the hotels we stayed to keep in touch back home.

    Process:

    We each needed to have our passports (as required by law) and it took less than 10 minutes per person – a total of 20 minutes all together. They told us that officially to keep our phones off or turn the Cellular off for 2 hours, but that it usually only took 30 minutes. They were right. 30 minutes later we were both up and running. We paid with our non-chip regular old VISA cards for the coverage. In fact we could use these everywhere the entire trip and didn’t need any special credit cards the entire time.

    Models and coverage:

    We both had iPhone 5’s, but different models. Surprisingly, this actually made quite a big difference. My iPhone 5 (unlocked via AT&T) is the model A1428. I only had to turn off the Cellular option, pop out my AT&T SIM, put in the Vodafone SIM, turn Cellular back on and in 30 minutes I was up and running. I did not have to put in any APN information which some people have had to do in the past. My data was 3G and was fast enough for my social media needs.

    My wife’s iPhone 5 is an A1429 (Which is the CDMA version and has the GSM side unlocked already). She was able to have 4G data available to her. This actually saved battery life on her phone and wreaked havoc on mine. My battery would just drain like crazy (I had the LTE option turned off). I have a Mophie case which normally saves me, but when pulling the case off to charge it the second day we were there, it broke! More on that later. So for the exact same price as I paid – 25 euros, she had 4G and I had 3G. You can see what model of phone you have by visiting Apple’s website here which also explains that my wife’s model has 4G available on a radio frequency that is used in European countries:

    https://www.apple.com/iphone/LTE/

    We had our 3G and 4G coverage nearly everywhere. Occasionally it would drop back to Edge and I even saw GPRS a few times! It even worked great on the trains to Florence and Venice. I actually thought the voice quality when talking to my wife was far superior to AT&T back home! It sounded less compressed.

    For my iPad Mini with Retina display I wanted a data only plan. Both Vodafone and TIM didn’t offer anything as inexpensive as 3 ITA did. For 15 euros I was able to purchase 3GB of data. This was more than enough and was 3G instead of 4G or LTE. The antenna inside of the iPad Mini with Retina Display is the same as the 5s, so it could have done 4G with a different carrier, but it loaded up web pages and I was able to receive emails quickly and save a few euros in the process. I got this a day later than our Vodafone SIMs.

    Lastly, when we went to Switzerland for the latter part of our trip, the roaming charges were 3 euros/day for a 24 hour period. In that period you got 500MB of data and 50 SMS and 50 mins of calls. Again, plenty for us and it automatically starts when you switch networks. Swisscom is their partner and we each got 3G for the time we were there (Zermatt and Geneva). So no 4G for my wife while roaming. The only thing we needed to do was to top up our SIM cards by going to a Vodafone store and putting a few more euros on the cards. You could always find out how much remaining you had on your plan by calling 404 (it automatically hangs up after a second and sends you a text – it’s in Italian, but you can figure it out or put it into Google translate).

    Since my Mophie case broke (a rarity I would say. I love their products and they are replacing my Juice Pack Helium that did break. I have had multiple battery cases for their phones and would highly recommend them despite the bad luck I had. Their CS is great and they offered to ship me a replacement to Italy which I couldn’t take them up on because we were moving too much. What company does that these days? I think that speaks volumes about them.) I purchased a 6000 MAH micro USB charger that could power up my iPhone for four complete charges. It worked like a champ and I could keep my phone going all day. It cost me 59 euros and I purchased it at a train station. I tried to look on Amazon for a link, but was unable to find one. I know several people that use Anker products and are happy with them, so if you are taking iPhones, iPads, or an Android phone over there, it would be a solid investment to make.

    I hope this helps someone out!

  12. K April 3, 2014 at 2:21 am #

    Hi Donald,
    This is a very helpful post.
    By any chance, do you have any information on how long the service (1GB for a month, TIMSMARTMESE ON to 40916) activates? Any difference if activated via text vs phone? Thank you!

  13. John April 7, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    FYI of my experience: Tethering/Skype doesn’t work with Smart 200 plan from Vodafone. Just got back from 1 week in Italy. Picked up SIM from FX counter at MXP right before you exit for ground transportation. 25 Euro.

    Anybody know how to turn off your selected plan option with Vodafone? Tried calling 42070, but couldn’t decipher any option in the IVR. It’s not as simple as TIM with SMS instructions.

  14. Sarah April 15, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    I’m sorry this must be dumb to ask. But every one speak of an “unlocked” phone. I’m currently using iPhone 4 bought from Hong Kong. I don’t know whether the origin of the phone matters or not, but my friends and I are traveling from uk to Rome for few days (4-5) – you recommended TIM, but is it worth buying a plan? My usage of the phone will only be limited to Watsapping home and perhaps send a few photos (perhaps 250 Mb? Max). What should I do and whats about unlocking?

  15. Kevin Smith April 22, 2014 at 1:14 am #

    Mr. Strachan-

    Hello. My wife and I (and kids) will be heading to Rome for 9 days in June. (We also might do an overnight in Naples during that period.) We are both planning to bring our soon-to-be unlocked T-Mobile LG Optimus F6 smartphones. Based upon what I’ve read so far, we should do the following after we arrive in Rome:

    1. Find a local cell phone store (TIM or Vodafone? or other?)
    2. Buy one of their pre-paid plans that includes what we need for that 9 days, which in our case would be a couple hundred minutes, couple hundred texts, and probably 300-500 MB of data.
    3. We will pay the store the appropriate number of Euros for the plans that give us what we need.
    4. The store will give us new SIM’s. We will put the SIM’s in our phones.
    5. A short time later, we’ll have our own Italy phone number, and we will be able to use our phones just like we do when we are home in the US.

    Am I correct? And would you recommend any specific Italian carrier that would give us what we need? It seems like all the mentioned plans include enough data for us.

    Thanks!
    -Kevin Smith

  16. Donald Strachan April 24, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    Hi Kevin

    In short, yes. That is correct. Remember to take your passports to the store: they are required for ID.

    On networks etc, I almost always go with either Vodafone or TIM. Both usually have packages that match closely to what you need. The specifics change all the time, but right now TIM Start has 600 in-country minutes, 600 in-country texts, and 1 Gb for 19 euros plus a 3 euro activation charge: http://www.tim.it/tariffe/chiamate-sms-internet/tim-special-start

    A similar Voda package (SMART 200) offers 200, 200 and 1Gb for 15 euros (+3 for activation).

    SIMs usually cost 5 euros but come preloaded with 3 to 5 euros of credit (so, basically free).

    And Naples is great, by the way. If you like cities, you’l love it…

  17. Donald Strachan April 24, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    An “unlocked” phone is one that can work with SIMs from any network. If your phone was bought on contract, it may well be locked. Networks usually will unlock for free (or a nominal charge). Call whoever you are with.

    For data use, it is *always* advisable to pre-buy bundles. For your trip, this from TIM looks ideal (and affordable):

    http://www.tim.it/internet/Internet-Start

  18. Dave May 19, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Hello,
    Thanks for the informative article.
    I am trying to understand all the details, but all the mobile providers web sites are in Italian.
    What would be the best (and cheapest) mobile plan for data only?
    I see many people recommending TIM, but I do not need voice or SMS options.
    You recommended TRE All-In-small package for 8 Euro, but you have a limit of 100MB per day.
    You also recommended the Power10 + SuperInternet plan. How much credit does the Power10 SIM come with?
    If I understand correct, Power10 costs 5 Euro to activate + 5 Euro for the SuperInternet plan. So thats 10Euro + the price of the SIM minus the credit on the SIM?
    Are there other cheaper plans from other provideres?
    I also noticed that there is little information about the virtual mobile providers (UNO, Poste, Coop etc.)

  19. Ralph Fluchel June 29, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    Donald, thank you for your very useful post about using smart phones in Italy.

    I am an engineer from the US, and here Gb means gigabits and GB means gigabytes, where a byte is assumed to be 8 bits. I have a feeling your post used Gb to mean gigabyte. Is that the case?

  20. Donald Strachan June 29, 2014 at 8:21 am #

    Yes!

  21. Latin Agenda August 21, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Hello! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that
    would be okay. I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

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