How to Buy a SIM Card in Italy: Everything Tourists and Ex-Pats Need To Know

How to Buy a SIM Card in Italy: Everything Tourists and Ex-Pats Need To Know
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Last Updated on February 22, 2022

Whether you are traveling in Italy long-term, studying abroad, or making the big move, buying a SIM card in Italy is likely the right choice for your budget and phone coverage abroad.

There are many reasons to get a SIM card in Italy and I’m going to jump into all of them. Having been a tourist in previous years and now a local, I’ve learned a lot about using my phone with Italian SIM cards!

This easy to use guide will answer every question you have about SIM cards in Italy!

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What is a SIM Card & Why Do You Need a SIM Card in Italy

A SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card is a tiny memory card inserted into our phones that allows the phone provider to identify you as a customer and charge you. It also can store information from your phone like contacts.

There are a ton of reasons why you would want to purchase a SIM card in Italy, whether you are traveling or you’re a new expat in Italy.

  • International phone plans through your home provider are likely way more expensive than buying a local SIM card.
  • You’ll want to keep in touch with your family and friends and be able to have access to data.
  • You don’t want to be stuck in an emergency situation with a phone that doesn’t work.
  • Coverage is likely better from a local provider than your international provider.
  • You can’t rely on finding free WiFi everywhere in Italy.

Figuring out your phone plan is one of the first steps you should take as a new expat and part of the overall moving abroad checklist you should be using to ensure a smooth transition into your life abroad.


Where You Can Buy a SIM Card in Italy

Before I list where you can buy your Italian SIM card, know this: you have to buy it in person. I highly recommend not trying to buy SIM cards that get shipped to you because, legally, in order to buy a SIM card in Italy you have to present photo ID.

There are some providers that allow you to buy the SIM card online, but you would need to register it in person.

One of the most convenient places with SIM cards available to purchase in Italy as a tourist is at the airport. Don’t do it!

It’s an overpriced tourist trap.

The best way to buy a SIM card in Italy is to go directly to the store of your chosen phone provider. You can find stores in shopping malls and city centers.

Usually when I travel to Italy, I do have to end up using my international phone plan (which is 10 USD/day) for the first few days I arrive in the country.

If you’re only traveling to Italy for a short amount of time, like a week, then you may just find it’s easier to pay for the international plan than purchase a SIM card. The SIM card is still a cheaper option, but it will take up a chunk of your vacation time to go to the phone provider and wait for the SIM to be activated.

Italy’s Phone Providers with the Best SIM cards for Tourists & Locals

There are a lot of different phone providers that offer specific tourist SIM Cards in Italy. The most popular are TIM, Vodafone Italy, and WindTre. (Note that I’ve linked English versions of the websites where possible, but you may have to use Google Translate for Italian web pages.)

Tim Viaggio Pass

Dolce Vita Vodafone

WindTre Tourist Pass

If you’re going to be in Italy on vacation as a tourist, then I recommend going with one of the three main providers. They have the more detailed packages for tourists and the process is very simple to sign up with them.

If you’re living in Italy, then looking into one of the smaller providers could mean lots of savings over time. Some of the smaller providers are branches of the larger ones and run on the larger networks (aka Vodafone and ho Mobile use the same network) so your coverage and customer service are just as good.

Here are smaller providers with cheaper prices that offer good coverage as well including:


What You Need In Order to Purchase an Italian SIM Card

To get a sim card in Italy, you will need:

  1. To be at least 16 years old.
  2. A photo ID so bring your passport!
  3. A Codice Fiscale. This is a tax code to used for identification in Italy. If you’re living in Italy, you will want to sign up for your Codice Fiscale ASAP through the Agenzia dell’Entrate. If you are a tourist, the phone company will create a Codice Fiscale for you on the spot in-store while you’re purchasing your SIM card.

How Much SIM cards in Italy Cost

For tourists, there are prepaid SIM Cards in Italy that are affordable and ideal for short-term stays.

If you’re staying long-term in Italy, for example studying abroad or moving, prepaid packages may mean you overpay for a SIM card. It is likely cheaper for you to sign up for a phone plan and pay-as-you-go.

ASIM card in Italy comprises two different costs: first, an activation fee usually around the 10 euro mark, and second, a monthly or top-off payment that will differ depending on the plan you sign up for.

For example, with my ho Mobile plan, there was a 9.99 euro activation fee. The monthly phone bill price is 6.99 euro. I’ll explain more about this in the next section!

Ricarica or Recharging Your Account

In my phone provider’s app I can see I have 12 days until my plan renews, I’ve only used 7 GB of data this month and I still have 4.40 euros left of credit. This is why I recommend only topping off as little as possible – as you can see you get a lot for your money that you won’t even use!

Download your phone provider’s app to easily track how much data you have left for the month.

The “residuo” is the amount of money you have left as credit to pay for your monthly phone bill. The amount (in my case 6.99 euro) is automatically taken out of this residuo if you pay through the phone app/internet account.

If the residuo amount drops into the negative, all you have to do is “ricarica” or top-off your account with the amount of your choice.

I personally always top-off the minimum amount (5 euros) in case I ever need to stop using the SIM, I don’t have money left in the residuo.

You can also buy credit in person at places like grocery stores in Italy or “tabaccheria” but be aware you will likely need to pay for it in cash.

At checkout lanes in grocery store, you can find “ricarica alla cassa” for different phone providers, which are ways to charge credit to your account if you don’t want to do it through the phone provider’s app. You can also see that you can buy prepaid SIMs for some companies, like Iliad.

In some cases you can also choose to sign up for a pay-by-month plan rather than topping off your account. Although It’s usually a hassle to exit these contracts since you can’t just cancel them on your own. So, pay-by-month is the most flexible option.


How to Activate an Italian SIM Card

Once you’ve signed up for your SIM card it’s now time to activate it so you have a working phone!

Likely, you’ll be signing up in person and the clerk will install and activate the card for you.

You can also do it yourself by making an account with the phone provider, but this is really for particular cases. For example, when I moved to Italy, my boyfriend already had an extra SIM card for me to use but because I was not an Italian citizen (yet!) he had to add his documents and make the phone account under his name while signing me up through the app.

In order to activate an Italian SIM card, your phone must be “unlocked.” What this means is that sometimes US or foreign phone providers will lock the phone so that it can only be used with that provider. You’ll have to go to them first to make sure they unlock it for you.

The last thing to keep in mind is that your phone will not work immediately. It will take up to 48 hours for the SIM card to activate and for you to start using the data and coverage of your Italian phone plan!


Do you need to change your phone number if you switch to an Italian SIM card? Will you lose information on your phone?

Having an Italian SIM Card means you will now have an Italian phone number. Make sure to keep your original SIM card from your home provider for when your trip is over. Keep it in a safe place like your wallet or where you keep important documents like your passport.

Switching to an Italian SIM card does not mean you will lose any information on your phone. The only change I had to make on my iPhone when switching to an Italian SIM card was choosing if I wanted to update my FaceTime and WhatsApp number to be my new Italian phone number.

You can try to keep it your old phone number, but it may not work.


The PUK and the PIN: What are they and what do you do with them?

On the card from which you pop out your new SIM, there are two important 4-digit codes: the PIN and the PUK.

When using a SIM card in Italy, every time you turn off your phone and turn it back on, you will have to unlock your SIM card.

This is an extra measure of privacy and security. Enter the four digit PIN code and voila, it’s unlocked! You also have the option to change the 4-digit pin to something you can remember more easily.

I recommend holding onto that card in a safe place like your wallet so you don’t have a chance of forgetting it.

After three attempts to unlock your phone with the PIN, you’ll then only be able to unlock it with the PUK code. This is the backup code and should also be kept super secret!


Free EU Roaming

Because Italy is a part of the European Union, almost every member country in Europe has a partner phone provider with Italy’s phone providers. This means free EU roaming – just make sure to turn data roaming on in your phone settings!

This means your phone will work if you travel outside of Italy to another EU country. However, keep in mind not every country in Europe is in the EU. I traveled to Switzerland just across the Italian border and my phone didn’t work the entire trip!


Final Thoughts

Buying a SIM card in Italy is a relatively straightforward process, but there are significant differences to how Italian phone plans work in comparison to where I’m from, the United States.

The best part is that they are an inexpensive way to stay connected to home. Whether you are living in Italy or traveling the country for longer than a week, it’s a worthy process to go through in order to save money and not have to rely on free WiFi, which is still limited outside of hotels and restaurants.

I hope this post will help you navigate this confusing process and if you have any other questions, let me know in the comments below!

Save this post for reference on Pinterest!

XOXO

Michela

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16 Comments

  1. October 3, 2021 / 12:35 am

    Good information about Buy a SIM Card in Italy

    • Michela
      Author
      October 13, 2021 / 4:57 pm

      I’m glad you found it helpful! 🙂

  2. Fernando
    February 9, 2022 / 2:55 pm

    Hey, following your tips I bought an HO Mobile SIM card. I just think it is worth mentioning that I picked mine in a Edicola and I got three cards instead of just one. For each card, once acrtivated, you and your friend get 5 euros credit. So, if you are travel with someone else, it may be a great idea.

    • Michela
      Author
      February 15, 2022 / 3:37 am

      That’s great to know, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Amber
    April 10, 2022 / 5:37 pm

    THANK YOU! This was very useful.

    • Michela
      Author
      April 11, 2022 / 1:19 am

      I’m glad you found it helpful, thanks for reading! 🙂

  4. Gollie
    June 2, 2022 / 3:52 pm

    Very helpful, many thanks

    • Michela
      Author
      June 5, 2022 / 9:31 am

      No problem, happy you’ve found it useful! 🙂

  5. Mary Morrison
    June 29, 2022 / 3:32 am

    Thanks for info. I am currently in Italy, all together for five weeks. I did go to Vodafone and purchased a SIM card the day after I arrived and have an Italian number. I’m not tech savvy, so excuse me if my following question seems naive: What will happen to texts or vmail messages that people will leave on my US number, when I have the Vodafone sim card installed while I’m in Italy? For instance, I get lots of texts back home, many do not have WhatsApp or even know I’m away. They will be sending me texts. What happens to those texts and/or vmails? When I get back home, and reinsert my US sim card, what happens? Thanks in advance.

    • Michela
      Author
      June 29, 2022 / 4:15 pm

      Hi Mary,

      I hope you are enjoying your time in Italy! As for your US SIM card and phone number, you would have to reinsert the SIM into your phone to see any messages or calls that have arrived there. The texts and calls will all remain on your SIM card even while you are not using it, so it is important to store it in a safe place that you will remember!

      Once you reinsert it, if you send a text or make a call (depending on your phone plan), your phone service provider will reactivate your plan.

      So, you’ll still have all the messages you receive to your US number on your US SIM card whenever you choose to reinsert it. If you wanted to reinsert it now to let people know about your travels, you just have to be aware that you could be charged by your US phone service provider and remember your Italian SIM card pin for when you reinsert the Italian SIM. I hope that this is all clear and let me know if you have any other questions! 🙂

  6. Steve Blair
    July 13, 2022 / 9:25 am

    Michela,

    My daughter will be in Italy on a student visa. Short-term, only a few months. Do you know if this impacts the need for a codice fiscale (i.e., will she need to get one on her own, or will they treat her as a tourist and create one at the phone store)?

    Thanks!

    • Michela
      Author
      July 17, 2022 / 4:03 pm

      Hi Steve!

      When I studied abroad, I signed up for a phone plan in which they created the codice fiscale for me at the phone provider store! It basically worked as a pay-as-you-go system, so I would just recharge the account once a month to keep the plan going. I believe this will work also for your daughter.

      Now, if you want to be safe, you can easily get a codice fiscale, either before coming to Italy or upon arrival. If you want to get it before coming to Italy, you can do so through your local Italian embassy/consulate. Or, once you get to Italy, you fill out this form and submit it to the local office of the Agenzia delle Entrate.

      As I said, she should also be fine just walking into the phone store and explaining she needs a SIM card as a tourist for a couple months! I hope this information is helpful!

  7. YOEL AMIT
    August 15, 2022 / 11:03 am

    we are arriving Bari on 03/09/2022 .we need prepaid sim card for samsung galaxi 21S at least 10 GB and about 600 minutes phone calls for two weeks not expensive. can you help us with this?

    • Michela
      Author
      August 18, 2022 / 3:24 pm

      Hi Yoel!

      Based on your needs, I found a couple of options for you:

      TIM in viaggio pass: 10 GB with 500 minutes for calls and 500 texts, valid for 30 days and costs €20
      Iliad Prepaid SIM card: €7.99 per month for 80 GB of data and unlimited texts and calls, the catch is that Iliad stores are usually a bit harder to locate since it is a smaller brand

      I believe Vodafone may also have a good offer for your needs, but I couldn’t find the information on their website. Regardless, I recommend buying your SIM card in person in Bari at one of the phone providers’ stores so that they can help you install and activate the SIM card and so that you can get the best deal (the stores are always a better deal than tourist traps like the airport stands). I hope this information helps and that you have a great trip!

  8. Aarefa
    September 2, 2022 / 2:32 am

    Hi Michela,
    Thanks for the useful information! Does it always take 48 hours for tourist SIM cards of any service provider to activate? That seems like a major drawback, considering I will only be in Italy for a short time and constantly on the move. Is there no way to get a SIM card that activates immediately?

    • Michela
      Author
      September 2, 2022 / 1:46 pm

      Hi Aarefa,

      I’m glad you found the post helpful! I believe phone providers say 24-48 hours for activation, but in reality, when I did it, it was activated within less than 24 hours. I’ve even read about people having their SIM activated and ready for use within an hour of purchasing it! The best thing to do to get the SIM to be activated as quickly as possible is to get it at a phone provider store and not try to buy your own and activate it yourself. Usually, if you can go to a store and get help from a clerk to do the whole registration and activation process for you, the SIM card will be ready to use faster!

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