Travelling to Italy? Tips for mobile internet access

 

I spent the last 5 weeks in Bologna, Italy as part of the BlogVille Emilia Romagna  project to help produce a guide to the city and region.

Having cheap and excellent mobile internet access is key in my line of work. It’s like oxygen for a professional travel blogger. Without a good mobile internet connection, we’re practically useless.

As some of you maybe aware , the current EU roaming packages offered by UK mobile networks are quite cost prohibitive.

 

There are 2 ways to avoiding the roaming costs associated with using your phone in Italy

1. Get your phone unlocked and use a local simcard

This is strategy that a lot of my friends follow. Contrary to what people say, it is perfectly legal to unlock your phone in the UK. I would ask your network first.

If you are on contract with O2 , they will unlock it for free or if you are on Pay as You Go contract, you have to wait 12 months to be on their network before they unlock it for £15. Vodafone are likewise or otherwise they charge a higher fee of £20. Three are pretty easygoing with no minimum timeperiod for PAYG phones and after a month if you are on contract. EE/Orange are the toughest nut to crack and insist on a 6 month waiting period, charge a fee of £20.42 and will take upto 20 days to unlock your phone.

There is option of doing it yourself or paying someone but these options are fraught with problems. It’s easier if you are not with Apple ( Samsung Galaxy S3 –you can use the ‘GalaxSimUnlock’ app for example)

There are some internet based companies and local shops that will offer to unlock your phone but the costs they charge can be extortionate.

From a local shop in Edinburgh I was quoted a fee of £150 to get my iPhone unlocked which is a lot of money. Plus there was a waiting time of 20 days.

My advice-You are best going to network in the first place. Avoid the cowboys.

 

Buying a simcard in Italy- the best deal?

 

Once your phone is unlocked it is simply the case of buying and inserting a local simcard.

To buy a simcard you will need to have a form of identity, ideally your passport.

Mention that you are a tourist-should be no need to provide a physical address.

In Italy, your best bet is going with TIM.

photo 1

TIM are offering for 30 days 4GB of data for a one-off payment of €20, 5GB of data for €25 and €30 for 10GB.

If you are looking to stay for a longer period of 2 months, TIM offers a great deal of 15 GB data for €54.

Updated: 20th March 2015

Reader Vinicio and Paul send me through an update on deals with TIM and Vodafone

Vinicio: I live in Italy and I think the best option for your phone is to buy a TIM sim card, which is free, but you are required to buy a minimum credit for phone calls, perhaps 5 or 10 €.
While doing this ask to enable the Internet access at € 2.05 per week.
So, up to a week of stay, you will spend only € 12.05, you will access internet everywhere (I think up to 1 GB of data per week) and you have also € 10 credit for some short calls to your relatives abroad or to your hotel.
Nothing cheaper, I bet!

Paul: A tip for the best SIM-Card in Europe: in Italy you can purchase a Vodafone SIM-Card (10 €) and ask them to activate the option “Smart Passport”
With that option, you have 500 MB per day (throttled after 500 MB, no extra costs) for 3 Euros.
You can install it in a MiFI, set the APN to mobile.vodafone.it (very important: a wrong APN costs lots of money, because it is not covered by the promotion) and you can go online in 47 countries for the same price.
The country list:
Albania, Andorra, Austria, Azores, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Island, Finland, France, French Guyana, Germany, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Greece, Guadalupe, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Monaco, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Reunion, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Turkey + USA
If you use it in a smartphone, you also have 50 mins and 50 SMS per day.
But: do not use tethering, otherwise it switches APN and you pay the standard tariff per MB!

 

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Phone locked? Buy an unlocked mifi device

If your phone is locked to a network, I suggest buying an unlocked mifi device.

These devices last for 6 hours and can connect upto 10 internet devices, download speeds of up to 150 Mbps and upload speed up to 50 Mbps ( if you get a 4G simcard )

It’s an initial steep investment but pays off on subsequent trips abroad when you can just plug in a local internet data sim and off you go…..

I recommend this Huawei mifi device which has been great for me, compatible with 4G simcards and currently costs £79.99 at the Amazon store. It lasts upto 6 hours on full charge and you can connect 3 devices to the device.

Once you’ve got the internet device, all you have to do is find a prepaid simcard with a flat internet data plan, and pop into the device as show in the picture above.

 

Hope you found this piece useful. Feel free to share this with friends across your networks. If you have any tips or further suggestions, please comment below.

Grazie Mille!

Travelling to Germany? Here is an article about tips for mobile internet access in Germany

Note: my visit to Bologna was part of the Blogville project, a collaboration between the Emilia-Romagna Tourism Board and iambassador.

34 Comments

  • Are you going to update this post?

    • I will do soon, once I find out what deals are available for autumn/winter. If you any information you have to share, please do share

      • Karan says:

        Hi,

        I would be travelling to italy but just for 4 days in Florence. I mainly need data access on my android while I am on the move. Voice calls not needed as i do not know anybody there. What can you suggest me for this. The most inexpensive option.

        Thanks,
        Karan

        • Hey Karan

          I suggest you ask your mobile phone operator about the best deal for using your phone abroad. Where are you based? Otherwise for 4 days, best you stick you using your phone in wifi hotspots in Florence like your hotel..often bars will have free wifi and you always have McDonalds.

  • wes schmidt says:

    What is the best Sim card to buy for england, Scotland, Ireland, wales

    • Hey Wes…

      I haven’t been back to the UK for a few months but Giff Gaff are the best deal at the moment I believe -£12 for unlimited internet. Valid for 30 days.

    • mark says:

      We confirm, in our experience TIM has always offered a complete coverage over the whole country and the highest transmission speed.
      We spent holiday in Italy this summer. It was great! We booked a nano sim card for my iPhone 5, it is cheaper than buying a new one. They delivered the sim card TIM directly to our hotel before we arrived.
      Mark

  • Aldo Basile says:

    Hi, I found out that Italian SIM-Cards can be used all over Europe and also in the USA at a very convenient rate:

    1) Vodafone: 3 € per day, incl. 500 MB, 50 SMS and 50 min (47 EU countries, including Turkey and Croatia + USA until the 15th of June, but maybe they will extend)
    2) Wind: 2.50 € per day, incl. 50 MB, 30 SMS and 30 mins (all EU + USA)
    3) TIM: 10 € per week, incl. 500 MB, 250 SMS and 250 min.

    I prefer using Vodafone because they have almost the best coverage in every country and the data package per day is more than sufficient for my needs. My Italian Vodafone SIM-Card was updated for free by Rechargemysim (the Italian tariff was not changed). More details: http://bit.ly/vodafone_europe
    Caveat: be extremely careful with the APN setting!

    • Hi Aldo

      That is a handy piece of information -sounds like Italians have a very good deal. Vodafone offer looks like value for money for short trips abroad. I’ll add this to the article. Thanks

      Kash

  • Paul says:

    A tip for the best SIM-Card in Europe: in Italy you can purchase a Vodafone SIM-Card (10 €) and ask them to activate the option “Smart Passport”
    With that option, you have 500 MB per day (throtthled after 500 MB, no extra costs) for 3 Euros.
    You can install it in a MiFI, set the APN to mobile.vodafone.it (very important: a wrong APN costs lots of money, because it is not covered by the promotion) and you can go online in 47 countries for the same price.
    The country list:
    Albania, Andorra, Austria, Azores, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Island, Finland, France, French Guyana, Germany, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Greece, Guadalupe, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Monaco, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Reunion, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Turkey + USA
    If you use it in a smartphone, you also have 50 mins and 50 SMS per day.
    But: do not use tethering, otherwise it switches APN and you pay the standard tariff per MB!

  • Heikki says:

    What about December 2014 or January 2015. Internet , calls and text prepaid for 4-5 Days.Mostly internet .Rates ?

  • Vinicio says:

    I live in Italy and I think the best option for your phone is to buy a TIM sim card, which is free, but you are required to buy a minimum credit for phone calls, perhaps 5 or 10 €.
    While doing this ask to enable the Internet access at € 2.05 per week.
    So, up to a week of stay, you will spend only € 12.05, you will access internet everywhere (I think up to 1 GB of data per week) and you have also € 10 credit for some short calls to your relatives abroad or to your hotel.
    Nothing cheaper, I bet!

  • Denis says:

    We are travelling from Canada to Italy for two weeks. This article is great advice, but I don’t speak a lick of Italian but I’d like to pre-order my SIM. Can I do it through the TIM website?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Denis

      I am not sure if you can pre-order. Best bet is waiting till you come to Italy. Just back from Rome and there is no simcards available at Fiumincino airport. If you are coming to Termini station from Fiumincino or Ciampino airport, there is the TIM mobile phone store on the 2nd floor. I got a deal for 4 GB data ( 4g), 200 minutes calls abroad ( including Canada) for €50.

  • Dipen says:

    I am traveling to Italy and Austria for 16 days in May month. Which Sim card is best to buy for local calls in Italy and Austria, calls to India and Data services of up to 2gb 3G or 4G with good quality and cost effective. Where to buy the same in Italy. Will it available at Rome Airport ? Please reply soon. Thanks

    • Hi Dipen

      Thanks for dropping by at my blog. Just back from Rome and there is not simcard available at the airport. If you are coming to Termini station from Fiumincino or Ciampino airport, there is the TIM mobile phone store on the 2nd floor. I got a deal for 4 GB data ( 4g), 200 minutes calls abroad ( including India) for €50. Don’t quote me on that but if memory serves me well…

      Have a great trip

  • Kamal says:

    I am arriving in Bologna (BLQ) Airport on June 10 at around 1 pm in the afternoon and will be in Italy for 10-15 days to visit Venice, Rome, Florence etc.
    I need a SIMM card with data. Can anyone help advise me where I can pick a SIMM Card either at the airport or somewhere close by there.
    Many thanks

  • donna says:

    Hi,We will land at Malpensa Airport in late June ,then will pick up our rental at the airport before we drive to Bologna. Is there a TIM store at the airport to pick up a prepaid sim card? We’ll stay in Bologna, then go up to Parma before we drive to Lake Garda then over to Lake Como before we ditch the car for our last days in Milano. Any suggestions or cheaper car locations than the airport? Thanks for any help.

  • Mikee says:

    Hello, I am wondering if I can do this trick when I am taking a 20day cruise in Italy? The Cruise will be MSC Fantasia which i believe is along the coasts of Italy.

    I plan on buying a local simcard. Having unli-internet or a big package then using it as a hotspot/internet for my laptop.

    2 Questions:

    1.) Is the signal going to reach the Cruise ship?

    2.) And I believe the Cruise will go also to spain and italy back and forth. So which mobile carrier is best for my plans?

  • Ronald Yudo says:

    Hi,
    Im going to visit Venis & Verona for 1 week, then next time to another cities in Italy everytime I have free time.

    Was wondering is TIM still the cheapest for data plan?
    I will only use it for FB ix a day, then checking emails, whatsapping & sometimes checking the maps.

    Also was wondering if with TIM, I can turn-on / turn-off the internet access, because as stated by Vinicio “While doing this ask to enable the Internet access at € 2.05 per week”, so im assuming I can turn it on-off weekly.

    Moreover, until when I can keep the credit because like I said I want to visit another italian cities within a year & I thin I will visit quiet often.

    Thanx

  • Michela says:

    Great article, it was very helpful. For a recent update, I just spent 1 month in Italy, May of 2016, and I used TIM. We walked into a TIM shop in Venice and asked about the tourist data-only option, which was 4GB for something like 35 Euros (I forgot exact price). Funnily enough there was a tourist deal on a 30 day SIM that also had 4GB data and some minutes and text as well, for a few Euros less, so we went with that. Maybe it was 30 Euros. We were only in the North, but I always had service, even high in the Alps. I used it in my unlocked iPhone.
    I had read somewhere that after you buy a TIM SIM you need to wait a day before using data, otherwise the data plan won’t be activated yet and you’ll be paying high data rates, and won’t have enough credit for the actual plan to start. I don’t know if that’s true, but just in case I waited about 24 hours before using data and had no issue.

  • DDS says:

    Suggestion: if you want something really inexpensive, you just can go to a coop supermarket (the only problem could be the assistant not speaking English well)

    for 5€/mth you get 100 min 100sms 1GiB (mins and text are valid only to italian numbers)
    for 4€/mth 1GiB data traffic (Italy only)
    for 6€/mth you get 2 GiB data traffic (Italy only)

    for 9€/7days you get 500MiB of data to be used in any EU country.

    sim usually cost 10€ with 5€ airtime

    plans don’t require minimum subscription time nor activation fees.
    it uses TIM network
    you can top-up at every tobacco or ATM or supermarket or online
    Sim lasts 2yr after top-up (instead of 1yr of other carriers)

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