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If you have an unlocked GSM cell phone that supports the GSM 900 and GSM 1800 frequencies or an iPad, you should consider purchasing or renting an Italian SIM card for your cell phone for your trip to Italy. Purchasing a SIM card from an Italian cell phone provider can offer signifcant cost savings as opposed to using your home cell phone to roam abroad. Roaming rates, particularly for data services, can literally cost thousands of dollars. Furthermore, you will have an Italian phone number which is advantageous if you plan on receiving phone calls from friends, families, hotels, restaurants, etc. from within Italy as they will then be calling locally. Each cell phone provider has numerous rate packages for voice, messaging, and data, and the offers vary considerably and frequently.
You may purchase a SIM card for Italy prior to your departure or once you have arrived in Italy. Purchasing prior to your trip will cost a bit more but it is an added convenience. You will also have acces to a English speaking customer service which is particularly important if you intend to use your SIM card for data. Search the forums for experiences and reviews.
Purchasing a SIM in Italy requires presentation of proper identification, such as a valid passport or European ID card. There are no real differences between purchasing a PAYG (pay as you go) SIM and purchasing a contract, except for the rates applied. PAYG top-ups can be purchased in many more places than the SIMs, such as most tabacconists, many supermarkets, some news agents, and some bars and coffeeshops. Many ATMs also provide an option for adding credit from an ATM card directly by inserting the phone number in a guided on-screen procedure.
Please note: SIM registration is required by the Italian government prior to service activation. This can be done using your passport when purchasing a SIM card. More information on the regulatory requirements can be found here at www.italycellphone.com
There are four major GSM network operators in Italy, as well as several network resellers such as Italian Postal Service and the CoopAdriatica supermarket chains that sell SIM cards:
If your SIM card is WIND, takes about one hour to get activated after purchase. Brilliant for mobile 3G data. 9 Euros a month for 1GB data, plus card costs (around 15 Euros, plus min 10 Euros top up. If in any doubt, get a wind dongle, around 40 euros. Software all built into dongle. Just plug into USB port and you are away.
www.tre.it (you will need a 3G phone to use this carrier)
Many cell phone stores represent multiple service providers, and can offer a wide choice of voice,messaging, and data packages, as well as often having relatively inexpensive, basic unlocked cell phones (from €29 on up) to which you can add a SIM from any of the cell companies.
Vodafone has a store inside Milan Malpensa airport's Terminal 1 (Phone Number: 0274867058) and also inside Milan's central train station.
The Vodafone SIM card costs 5 Euro, which includes 5 Euro time (May 2009). Additional time costs 10 Euro and up. A warning SMS message is received when your balance falls below 2 Euro and again at 1 Euro.
A Vodafone store locator is available here: Vodafone Store Locator
TIM or Telecom Italia Mobile has cell phone stores all over Italy as well. In 2012, a TIM SIM card cost 20 Euros, which bought the purchaser 15 Euros of service at 0.12 Euros/minute. You pay TIM the other 5 Euros as a set-up fee.
One issue with Italian cell providers is that unless you speak Italian, it may be difficult to navigate through the options such as adding talk time, checking your call credit or accessing voicemail. You can ask the dealer where you buy time to add it for you.
Once purchased, the credit on your SIM card generally lasts for 12 months. If you add additional time on to the SIM card, which can usually be done on the phone companys website, it resets the time deadline for another 12-months. But, once your 12-months expires, the phone number is deleted and you will have to purchase another SIM card.