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Mobile phones and SIM cards in Italy

Getting a SIM card after moving to Italy helps you stay connected with loved ones abroad. Learn all the tips and tricks to choose the right network for you.

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By Martina Di Gregorio

Updated 8-1-2024

Moving to another country often entails endless planning, from buying a house or renting an apartment to opening a bank account. After moving to Italy, one of your very first tasks will probably be setting up your new mobile phone and SIM card. With seemingly endless deals on plans and devices, it can feel a bit intimidating.

Read on to find out how mobile phones and SIM cards work in Italy:

Very Mobile

Make your cell usage straightforward and green with Very Mobile. This Italian telecoms company offers a range of mobile deals and promotes sustainability through virtual SIMs, SIMs made from recycled plastic, and refurbished smartphones. For a simple, sustainable phone plan, get connected with Very.

The Italian mobile network

Italy has over 90% network coverage, although this often depends on your provider. Most of the country is covered, but rural areas can be an exception. Like other European countries, Italy uses the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) mobile network. The 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks are all available in the country, with most residents still using 4G. 

Woman smiles as she looks at her phone while walking along an Italian street
Photo: Yuliya Taba via Getty Images

In June 2019, Vodafone launched the country’s first 5G network in the Italian cities of Milan (Milano), Rome (Roma), Turin, Naples (Napoli), and Bologna. In 2022, 16.7% of network activity in urban areas is on 5G.

Wi-Fi access and speeds

According to Point Topic, 99.6% of Italian households had Wi-Fi as of June 2020. Free Wi-Fi is available at libraries, restaurants, hotels, airports, post offices (Poste Italiane), and service areas along the highway.

In 2019, the Ministry of Enterprises and Made in Italy (Rete Nazionale di accesso Gratuito in Italia) launched WiFi Italia to provide free Wi-Fi to Italian residents. As of 2022, over 10,000 free hotspots are available across the country.

Unfortunately, Italy’s Wi-Fi speed is not very high. According to the 2022 Speedtest Global Index, Italy ranked 66th in Wi-Fi download speed, behind countries like Denmark, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates. Comparing connection speed with cost, Italy ranks among the worst in Europe, paying an average of €25.34 for 47.77 Mbps (in Italian).

Can you use your own mobile phone in Italy?

With a SIM card from another European Economic Area (EEA) country, you can use your mobile phone in Italy at no extra charge. Those without a European SIM card might face extra costs and should check prices with their provider in advance.

Before you use your own device – with an Italian SIM card – first check with your current provider whether your phone is locked. In this case, you cannot simply change the SIM card. You would need to purchase a new phone in Italy to use an Italian network.

If you are visiting Italy for a short time, you can buy a pre-paid tourist SIM card. These are available from Vodafone and TIM at train stations, airports, and tobacco shops (tabaccheria).

Italian mobile phone operators

Although many operators provide SIM cards and phones in Italy, these four are the most popular:

Mobile operatorHistory and coverage
IliadThis French company was founded in Italy in 2016. It’s the fourth-largest operator and boasts the country’s lowest prices. Iliad collaborates with Wind Tre for 5G network coverage, particularly in rural areas.
TIMFormerly known as Telecom Italia S.p.A, this is the country’s leading company by revenue. Founded in 1994, TIM provides mobile coverage, Wi-Fi, streaming services, and more. It’s also been working towards the Net Zero goal for more sustainability.
VodafonePart of the British group Vodafone Group Plc, it is the second biggest company in Italy. Vodafone also placed second in terms of 5G download speeds, making it a sound choice for those who rely heavily on mobile data.
Wind TreFounded in 2016, Wind Tre covers 99.7% of the country with 4G and has the best 5G availability and reach.

Choosing the right mobile operator for your needs can be tough, especially if you have been using the same provider for years. The Facile.it comparison tool can help you find the best offer, from a monthly SIM card with unlimited data to a pay-as-you-go phone for traveling.

If you’re looking for an environmentally conscious phone operator, Very Mobile is a great option. Low-cost phone companies include Ho.Mobile and Kena Mobile.

Pre-paid vs. mobile contracts in Italy

Surprisingly, in 2021, only 13% of Italian residents had mobile contracts, while 87% used pre-paid SIM cards.

If you want flexibility and not commit to a single provider or plan, consider a pre-paid SIM cards (SIM ricaricabile). One downside is that you must add credit regularly to the SIM card to continue using the service.

A young man wearing over-ear headphones checks his phone while a tram drives by behind him
Photo: Halfpoint Images via Getty Images

Contracts can be beneficial if you make many phone calls or need unlimited data and messaging. They’re also convenient since the cost of the plan and any extra charges are deducted directly from your bank account, as with monthly utilities. If you are staying in Italy long-term, getting a contract might be cheaper and more convenient.

If your provider allows upgrades, you can return your phone every one to two years and get the latest model with an extended contract. This might be the right choice for tech aficionados who want the newest iPhone model or those looking to be more sustainable

Whichever you decide, keep in mind that there are activation fees for both contracts and pre-paid SIM cards.

Italian mobile phone plans and contracts

There is an abundance of mobile phone packages providing internet, messaging, and phone calls, so finding the best deal can be a challenge. You can compare different operators to find the best one using SOSTariffe.

Using TIM as an example, here are some typical plan prices:

PlanServicesCost
TIM 5G Power SmartUnlimited minutes and SMS, with up to 50GB data€14.99
TIM 5G Power TopUnlimited minutes and SMS, with up to 100GB data€19.99
TIM 5G Power FamilyUnlimited minutes and SMS, with 5GB data€9.99

Some Italian mobile operators offer bundle deals if you also use their home Wi-Fi or your family members are on the same plan. Special discounts are often available for students, senior citizens, and young professionals. Contracts typically run for 24 months.

How to get a mobile phone contract

You can start a new mobile contract in person at the provider’s store or their kiosks in the mall. However, getting a phone contract can be difficult if you’re brand new to Italy because it takes time to obtain the required documents.

In most cases, you will need the following: 

Without a tax number, the best option is to get a pre-paid SIM card or keep using your current mobile operator until you can get it.

Two nicely dressed female friends stand facing each other on an Italian city street looking at their phones
Photo: Anchiy via Getty Images

Contract activation takes from 48 hours to 10 working days. Once valid, you can use your new SIM card and the provider will debit your bank account each month.

Pre-paid SIM cards in Italy

For those looking to stay in Italy short-term or who don’t yet have a codice fiscale, a pre-paid SIM card may be the right choice. Anyone can buy this from a newsstand, tabaccheria, or operator’s store, with prices from €5.

Some examples of pre-paid plans and costs include:

PlanServicesCostNotes
TIM in Viaggio Pass500 minutes and SMS, with 10GB data€20Valid for 30 days
Vodafone Holiday300 minutes and SMS, with 2GB data€30

Credit must be available for a pre-paid SIM card to work. You can top up in stores, online, or even at the ATM (bancomat). Some pre-paid SIM cards cater to tourists and are only valid for 30 days. Keep in mind that these will not work if you travel outside of Italy even to another European Union (EU) country.

Mobile phones in Italy

In 2018, Pew Research Center reported that only 8% of residents didn’t have a mobile phone. Additionally, in 2021, Data Reportal found that 97.1% of internet users in Italy owned a mobile phone.

Smartphones

With their impressive selection of apps and functions, smartphones have swept the competition to become the global standard. Italian residents prefer Apple and Samsung smartphones over this category’s other choices.

Some of 2022’s best-selling smartphones in Italy were:

  • Samsung Galaxy A13 (approximately €160)
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro (approximately €230)
  • Oppo A16 (from €120–190)

Other mobile phones

Alternatives to smartphones (i.e., feature phones) are also available on the Italian mobile market. The most popular models are made by Brondi and start at €28 in stores.

An farmer makes a phone call out the back window of his tractor
Photo: Westend61 via Getty Images

While they may seem limited compared to smartphones, feature phones are valued for their simplicity. Customers who may prefer a feature phone include older adults and industrial workers, as these devices tend to be more durable and easy to use.

Italian mobile numbers

Italian phone numbers are ten digits long, starting with the number three. The first three digits are specific to the network; for example, TIM numbers begin with 330 and Vodafone with 340. However, this is less predictable today since people use pre-paid SIM cards and frequently switch providers.

If you want to call an Italian mobile from abroad, dial the country code (+39) before the fixed number. When calling a landline, you need to dial the country code plus the area code.

Examples of area codes are:

  • Milan – (02)
  • Rome – (06)
  • Naples – (081)
  • Florence (Firenze) – (055)
  • Bologna – (51)

Repairing a mobile phone in Italy

With a mobile contract, you can take your phone directly to your network provider for repairs. Electronics stores in shopping centers also do repairs, including:

Manufacturers like Samsung and Apple, will repair a phone you purchased from them. Third-party repair services may be a good option because they are cheaper and available locally. The average cost to repair a smartphone is €25–175, according to Ernesto.it.

Recycling your mobile phone

Recycling old phones is a common practice in Italy. According to the Uno contro zero law, electronics stores must accept recyclable items, even if you’re not buying anything. Some stores, like MediaWorld, will recycle your phone in exchange for store credit or a discount on your new mobile.

Alternatively, you can also take your old phone directly to the recycling center (Centro di Raccolta – RAEE, link in Italian).

Italian mobile phone laws

Like in other countries, it is against Italian law to use – or hold – your mobile phone while driving.

You can be fined between €165 and €661, and you risk losing your driver’s license if you have another violation within two years.

How to complain about a mobile phone provider in Italy

You should contact the Communications Regulatory Authority (Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni – AGCOM) to complain about a phone provider.

The process usually includes the following:

  • Submit a complaint to your provider
  • Write down the complaint identification code from the provider. They have a maximum of 45 days to respond to the complaint in written form.
  • Create a conciliation attempt on Conciliaweb or with another authorized entity to manage the dispute
  • If this is unsuccessful, request to settle the dispute via Conciliaweb
  • In some instances, you can apply for an interim ruling through Conciliaweb

It can take up to 180 days for the Communications Regulatory Authority to make a final ruling. At this time it will be communicated to stakeholders and published on the AGCOM website.

If you don’t have a mobile phone in Italy

While mobile phones may be extremely popular, some people still use landlines for making phone calls in Italy. In 2022, the estimated line rental cost (excluding call charges) is €18 per month, depending on the provider.

Two identical Italian public phones stand side-by-side against a brick wall
Photo: Kypros via Getty Images

Public phone booths are still fairly commonplace in Italy for those without a mobile phone or landline. Operated by TIM, you can make a call with coins or a pre-paid card.

Useful resources