Getting online on an iPad or MiFi in Italy is pretty straightforward. Most of the networks have SIMs and prepaid/pay-as-you-go (PAYG) plans travellers can use right out the box.
So, step one: walk into a phone shop (they are everywhere) and ask for “una scheda ricaricabile, per navigare in Internet sul mio tablet/iPad/MiFi” (“a prepaid SIM to surf the Internet with my tablet/iPad/MiFi”).
Remember your passport, driving licence, or similar official ID. As well as cash or credit card, they are going to request “un documento,” which they will photocopy. This is required by Italian law. If they also ask for a “codice fiscale” (a tax number), just explain “sono un(a) turista.” Visitors don’t need one to buy a mobile phone.
Italian SIMs come in every size (regular, micro- and nano-), and usually take just a few hours to start working after in-store activation.
The SIM generally costs 5€, but comes with approximately the same amount of credit pre-loaded. In essence, it’s free, or near-free, to buy a SIM card in Italy.
Data deals shift regularly. But, as of writing in March 2014, these are the best for travellers:
TIM: this network always has a good range of prepaid data packages. The basic “Internet Start” bundle costs 10€ for 2 Gb of traffic (valid for a month). With “Internet Large”, it costs 20€ for 5 Gb. Have a need for speed? You can add 5€ to make either of those bundles 4G/LTE . The biggest, fastest, maxi bundle “Internet 4G” costs 35€ for 15 Gb valid for a month. TIM’s nationwide coverage for 4G is pretty good (map here).
Vodafone: there are a couple of eye-catching tariffs for tablet, iPad and MiFi travellers. With “Internet Fly”, you get 7 Gb of traffic at 3G speeds for 20€. Like TIM, it costs 35€ for 15 Gb at 4G speeds, with Voda’s “Internet 4G” bundle. Both are valid for 30 days. Vodafone’s 4G coverage map has pretty good service in urban areas, but so far nothing in Umbria, Le Marche or Abruzzo. Out in the sticks, though, it’s usually 3G only, on either network.
I have never had any serious connection problems in populated areas with Italian networks. However, any of them can struggle in the mountains. If you are staying rural, it is a good idea to ask your host or another local which network they use.
As an alternative to a data-only SIM, elsewhere I have covered tethering your smartphone in Italy.
[Photo: yum9me on Flickr.]