Having fast and reliable mobile data while traveling around Italy is essentially required these days because much of Italian life revolves around having mobile data—you’ll need a phone to access mobile train tickets, restaurant menus, museum/event tickets, Google Maps, UBER/taxi, and much more.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about buying a SIM Card in Italy and how to buy the best Italian high-speed mobile data plan that won’t cost you a lot of money.
How To Buy An Italian SIM Card With A High-Speed Data Plan
There are two main options when it comes to buying a SIM Card for Italy:
- The Easy Way – Buy a SIM Card Before Your Travel: Buying a SIM card before you travel is a little more expensive but it’s much more convenient (and you have mobile data as soon as you arrive in Italy).
- The Cheaper Way – Buy a SIM Card In Italy: Buying an Italian SIM Card in Italy can be cheaper but it can be more of a hassle because you have to track down a SIM retailer after arrival.
- In general, it’s easier to pre-buy a prepaid data plan if you’re visiting for less than two weeks. But buying a local SIM card will be much cheaper for longer trips.
How To Buy A Prepaid Italian SIM Card Before You Travel (i.e. The Easy Way)
The easiest way to get mobile data for your phone in Italy is to prepurchase a European SIM card before you depart. There are a handful of data plans aimed at visitors/non-residents so they’re a bit more expensive than buying a SIM card in Italy, but there is zero hassle (no tracking down a mobile phone shop, no registering your SIM card, no having to deal with people who don’t speak English, etc).
You simply pop the SIM card into your phone once you’re in Italy and it will automatically connect to a local mobile data provider—the European Union banned data roaming charges so any European data plan will work in any EU country.
There are a number of different mobile data plans available at SimOptions.com (I’ve used them in the past) and they’ll ship the SIM card to you before your trip.
You’ll probably spend an extra $15-$20 over the course of a two-week trip if you buy ahead vs waiting to buy in Italy. Personally, I think the extra cost is worth the convenience.
The Best Tourist Friendly Pre-Paid SIM Cards For Italy
Here are my top SIM cards if you’re wanting a pre-purchase your SIM before arriving in Italy:
Orange Holiday Europe Prepaid SIM Card
The Orange Holiday Europe Prepaid SIM Card is probably the best all-around option for SIM cards that can be purchased abroad because it offers a lot of data for a good price—and it includes a lot of worldwide calls and text.
Additionally, Orange is one of the largest mobile companies in Europe so they have great coverage throughout most of Europe (which isn’t always the case with smaller European carriers).
- PRICE: $50
- DATA: 20GB
- CALLS: Unlimted in Europe and 1200 minutes worldwide
- TEXT: Unlimted in Europe and 1000 worldwide
- USED AS A MOBILE HOTSPOT?: Yes
- CREDIT VALID FOR: 14 Days
The Orange Holiday Europe plan is good because it gives you a lot of mobile data for a decent price but the only possible drawback is the 14-day validity period—which doesn’t matter if your trip is less than two weeks. That said, you can buy an extra 10GB of credit after the two weeks are up for around $25.
If you need less data and want to save a little money, check out the $30 Orange Holiday plan that gives you 8GB of data for 14 days.
Three UK PAYG AIO15
Three UK is another large European mobile carrier and their PAYG AIO15 plan is a good value for people who don’t need the 20GB offered by the Orange Holiday Europe plan. I like how the plan has a validity period of 30 days so it’s good for longer trips.
- PRICE: $30
- DATA: 10GB
- CALLS: Unlimted in Europe
- TEXT: Unlimted in Europe
- USED AS A MOBILE HOTSPOT?: No
- CREDIT VALID FOR: 30 Days
Note: SimOptions.com has other cards for sale but these are the best options/deals.
How To Buy SIM Card With High-Speed Data in Italy
Buying a SIM Card in Italy can be a little tricky since many mobile data plans are only available to Italian citizens because the law requires an Italian tax number for registration. Some retailers will overlook this if you’re not Italian… but not always.
There are a few data plans designed for non-residents that forego these requirements but they’re slightly more expensive—I’ll cover the different plan options later in this guide.
No matter what plan you choose, you’ll need your passport to buy a SIM card.
That said, it’s easiest to just buy the Orange Holiday Europe plan since it works in any EU country.
Where To Buy A SIM Card with a Data Plan in Italy?
- Carrier-Specific Storefronts: The major mobile carriers will have their own shops in most major cities that sell their SIM cards. Most employees should speak some English but they install SIM cards all day so they’ll be able to set you up without much communication needed.
- Third-Party Phone Shops: There are many mobile phone shops that sell a range of phone plans from multiple companies. Employees might be able to offer some help getting set up but service probably won’t be as good as carrier-specific shops.
- Newsstands, Tobacco Shops, Vending Machines, etc: You can find SIM cards in multiple smaller shops at airports, train stations, and randomly throughout most cities but don’t expect any customer service.
The Best SIM Cards and Mobile Data Plans in Italy
Let’s take a deeper dive into the various mobile data plans available in Italy. We’ll cover both “tourist” options and local options.
TIM Italy (Telecom Italia) SIM Cards and Mobile Data Plans
TIM Italy offers a €20/month “TIM Tourist” mobile data plan that gives you 15GB of data. This plan has to be activated in a TIM store and there’s a €10 activation charge. Locals pay €16/month (plus a €10 activation charge) for the lowest tier month plan.
WindTre SIM Cards and Mobile Data Plans
The WindTre Tourist Plan is €25/month (includes activation fee) and gets you 20GB of high-speed data. This plan has to be activated at a WindTre shop. Plans for locals start around €13/month (plus €10 activation).
Vodafone Italy SIM Cards and Mobile Data Plans
Vodafone sells its Dolce Vita plan that’s €24.99 per month €24.99 per month and includes 30 GB of mobile data. Plans for locals start around €13/month plus €5 activation.
Italian SIM Card and Prepaid Data Plan Basics
Here is some helpful background info on mobile data plans so you have a better idea of how mobile data service works in Italy.
You’ll Need Your Passport and Local Address (and Maybe a Codice Fiscale)
All mobile data plans require you to provide your passport information and a local address (which can be your hotel or rental apartment address).
Most plans require that you provide a Codice Fiscale—which is like an Italian Social Security Number. Obviously, visitors won’t have a number so some shops won’t sell you a SIM card but others will generate a number for you (so you might need to visit multiple shops).
Or you can buy an Orange Holiday Europe plan which doesn’t require registration.
European Union Wide Coverage
A law was recently passed in the EU which banned mobile carriers from charging roaming fees within the EU—which means you can use a SIM card you bought in Italy and use it in Italy without paying any extra fees. This is great for travelers because you can use one plan everywhere.
- Here are the countries/areas where there is no data roaming: Andorra, Azores, Aland islands, Austria, Balearic Islands, Belgium, Canary Islands, Cyprus, Corfu, Crete, the Cyclades, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faeroe Islands, Finland, France mainland, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg. Madeira, Malta. Isle of Man, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Rhodes, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom, San Marino, Sardinia, Sicily, Slovakia, Switzerland, Sweden, Vatican
Your Phone Must Be Unlocked
Some mobile carriers (mainly in the US, Australia, and New Zealand) “lock” their phones so they’ll only work on that carrier’s network—this typically applies if you have a plan that includes a free phone with a multi-year contract. You’ll need to contact your carrier and have them “unlock” your phone so it will accept a third-party SIM card.
In the US, carriers are required to unlock phones if the customer requests it but it’s rarely unlocked by default. That said, a few carriers still make customers jump through hoops to unlock their phones so don’t put this off to the last minute or you could be out of luck.
A New SIM Card Gives You A New Phone Number
Installing a new SIM card gives you a new phone number so your old number won’t work until you reinstall your original SIM card. So, if people need to reach you, you’ll need to tell people your new Italian number.
Furthermore, lots of websites and apps use two-factor authentication that’s connected to your phone number so that will no longer be an option with the new SIM installed. And if you use Uber/Lyft, you’ll need to update your new phone number in the app when you install your new SIM.
How Much Mobile Data Do You Need?
As long as you’re not streaming music/videos or uploading a ton of photos, you probably won’t use more than 3GB-6GB of mobile data a week.
If you’re spending a lot of time on social media (notably Instagram and TikTok) then you might use a bit more but if you’re just doing normal web browsing and using Google Maps then you might only use 1-2GB a week.
More Tips On Using Your Mobile Phone In Italy
I’ve written extensively about using smartphones and data plans in Europe as well as tips for buying SIM Cards For Visiting Europe but below are some more helpful tips about using your phone in Italy.
Get A Portable Battery Charger
Traveling with your phone will quickly drain your batters so I highly recommend a portable battery. I use Anker PowerCore 10000 because it’s tiny and affordable but there are multiple options.
Take Steps To Lower Your Mobile Data Usage
Data can be expensive and it’s extremely easy to unknowingly burn through a lot of data because many apps use data in the background. Facebook, email, Instagram, Snapchat… those all constantly use data throughout the day without you knowing it. That’s it’s important to know how to limit your data usage.
Use Airplane Mode And Block Data to Specific Apps
I’ll put my phone in Airplane Mode because that disables all data (but GPS still works in Airplane Mode). You can also go into the settings and disable data access to each individual app. I’ll go in and turn every off except for things like Google Maps or others that I’ll use more frequently — this way when I turn off Airplane Mode only those apps that will use data. Then I’ll turn Airplane Mode back on when I’m done.
Download Offline Maps
Google Maps lets you download entire city maps so they can be used offline. As an added bonus, GPS doesn’t use data so offline Google Maps works fairly well (but not all functionality works). Here is a good YouTube video that explains everything.
Make Calls Over WiFi
WhatsApp is an excellent app for free calling and text messages — I’ve found that many Europeans exclusively use WhatsApp to communicate (including many Airbnb hosts).
More Italy Travel Tips From The Savvy Backpacker
- Florence Travel Guide
- Milan Travel Guide & The Best Things To do in Milan
- Rome Travel Guide & The Best Things To Do in Rome
- Cinque Terre Travel Guide
- Europe Travel Packing List and The Best Travel Backpacks: Tips for packing for your trip.
- How To Choose The Right Travel Insurance: Protect yourself when you travel.
- The Best Prepaid SIM Card Data Plans For USA Travel - December 4, 2022
- Best Prepaid eSIM For Italy | Data Plan Buyer’s Guide - December 3, 2022
- Best Prepaid eSIM For France | Data Plan Buyer’s Guide - December 3, 2022
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Thanks For Reading! — James