How to Set Up a Prepaid Cell Phone in Italy


More and more travelers are choosing to stay connected with folks back home – as well as people they meet along the way – by purchasing prepaid cell phones in the countries they’re visiting. It’s both cheap and easy to stay in touch this way, but if you don’t know what you’re doing with a prepaid mobile phone it can be frustrating.

When I last visited Italy, I had to have a prepaid cell phone because my US-based phone doesn’t even work outside the US (don’t get me started on how stupid that is). So, I bought a prepaid cell phone in Italy – I actually picked it up en route from the airport to the hotel just a couple hours after I’d arrived! And then, a couple days later, I recorded a video to show others how to set up a prepaid mobile phone in Italy (or elsewhere), including how to insert a SIM card and how to add additional talk time to a phone.

How to set Up a Prepaid Cell Phone in Italy

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In addition to the valuable information I’m giving you in that video, I can also say that the hotel I was staying in at the time should probably put a piece of art or something on the wall above the headboard. Too bad I didn’t have a green screen to put up behind me, because then we could have pretended I was recording this video from inside St. Peter’s or something. Oh, well. Maybe next time.

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18 thoughts on “How to Set Up a Prepaid Cell Phone in Italy

  • Cristina

    Another good idea is to use one of the big carriers which offer really low rates all over the EU (I won’t give names) and you can use the same number in the entire EU. I’m lucky to be part of such a network and, trust me, even roaming seems cheap!

    No matter what you do, don’t forget your PIN code for the SIM. You won’t want to try to locate your phone card to insert the PUK code (if you punched the PIN wrongly 3 times)

  • Jess

    Is it possible to just purchase a SIM card without having to purchase a phone along with it? (I have a phone that would work in the EU, but no SIM card/phone number).

  • Jessica Post author

    That’s a great question, Jess, and the answer is – absolutely! The SIM card is a separate purchase from the cell phone, so if all you need is a SIM card you’ll be able to buy just that. You’ll find them in the same shops where you can buy those prepaid phones. It’s like I said in the video – if you didn’t mind constantly getting a new phone number, you could buy a different SIM card in every country you visit & just keep swapping it out in the same phone in order to make sure you’re getting the best calling rates for that country.

  • Jessica Post author

    Hi, Dennis – I’m not an expert on GSM phones, so I don’t even know what all those numbers mean! 🙂 My understanding is that the key is whether or not your phone is unlocked. If it is, and if you can swap out the SIM card, then it should work. But there very well may be much more nuance to it than that, so I’d suggest you ask your mobile service provider for more information.

  • Jessica Post author

    I had a Wind prepaid SIM card, Serge, & bought two more during my stay – and I never had any trouble. And I think it was pretty obvious I’m not Italian. 🙂 Where did you hear that they refuse to sell them to non-Italians?

  • Ariana

    What a great, informative video! Approximately how much does it cost to buy or rent the cell phone? Do you recommend any specific type of shops from which to buy them?

  • Jackie

    I will be buying a prepaid cell phone, a SIM card, and recharge cards in Italy. I want to use this same phone in Prague.
    1. Do I have to buy a new SIM card and new recharge cards in Prague?
    2. Is it possible to keep my same phone number in both countries?
    3. How much do SIM cards cost in Italy and Prague?

  • Jessica Post author

    Ariana, sorry I missed your question earlier! If you want to, you can rent a mobile phone that’ll work in Italy (and a SIM card to go with it) from companies like the one here on BootsnAll:

    http://phonecard.bootsnall.com/index.htm

    If you prefer to do it once you get to Italy, you’ll be buying the phone & SIM card rather than renting (I’m sure there are rental places in Italy, too, but I doubt they’re as easy to find – and it’s certainly more challenging to handle the transaction if you don’t speak Italian). I’ve always just asked for the cheapest phone in the shop, which was around 45euro the last time I was there. I’ve heard of people getting them for more in the 30-35euro range, but that may require some shopping around and if you don’t have time you might not find those prices. The SIM card is an additional cost, and varies depending on the maker, but can range from 10-20euro. And then you’re buying the charge cards to actually make calls – these come in denominations from 5euro up to 30+.

    As for where to buy them, I’ve gotten both my phones (the 1st died) at the same shop – a closet-sized phone center in Cadorna train station in Milan. But there are similar types of phone centers in train stations (and probably airports, I haven’t looked) all over Italy. They’re really convenient, because you’re passing through anyway, although they may charge a bit more for phones.

    Remember you’ll need your passport to buy a SIM card.

    And Jackie, I replied to your email, let me know if you have any more questions!

    Ciao,
    Jessica

  • Ileane

    I just wanted to say Thanks! I have been researching all day on getting a cell phone when in Italy, we will be there for for a month (4 friends) and want a way to be able to communicate between us. Your Video and comments are very helpful!

  • Velia

    perfect video! Where did you buy the phone. Is there a charger included with the phone or must one buy it also? We are still debating b/w renting or buying a phone for our 17 day stay ion Italy.

  • Thaw

    hello jessica ! you give a great helful to travellers ,cheers! And i have plan to visit to milan and venice .Is there anything to suggest me about it . I would like to hear it .

  • Aly

    do you have to get the phone and SIM card in italy? or can you buy them in the US?? and if you do buy it in the US will it still work in italy??

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