The juxtaposition of a modern technology store with an ancient building is quite an interesting sight, but I digress.
If you have become a recipient of the “Your account has incurred approximately $389127891.00″ in international data charges” message, then welcome to the club! Every day hundreds, if not thousands, of expats all around the globe receive this devastating text message from their phone companies back home. When I first arrived in Bologna, I thought a one month-long international data plan would last me at least a week, but boy was I wrong.
But with many things related to life in Italy, I have suffered through them first so you don’t have to! In this article I have listed the main phone companies in Italy and their respective prices.
If your phone is unlocked and you are able to switch out the SIM card then I definitely recommend this course of action. Before leaving the states, I purchased a international travel plan through Verizon for one month which included 100MB of data, 100 text messages, and 100 minutes. This plan cost $40 and I think I blew through the data in, well, two days. I was promptly notified by email that I had incurred an extra $25 in international charges. My recommendation is to purchase a one or two day international data plan through your U.S. phone company and purchase a SIM card in Italy ASAP. Luckily, you have a few good options abroad for phone plans.
The Phone Companies
In Bologna, the three most common phone companies are Vodafone, WIND, and TIM. I use TIM and I have no complaints. Most people opt for the prepaid phone plans which are VERY affordable and easy to use. All you need to do is go into the nearest phone company store, ask for a SIM card, show your passport, and you’re done! Every month you will get a text message from your phone company notifying you that it is time to add more money to your phone. You can either go to the nearest tabaccheria and ask to fill up your phone or you can go into any grocery store and purchase a recharge card.
Here are the prices for the 3 main phone companies:
SIM card price: 29€
Data price: 10€ per month
What you get: 2 GB, 500 minutes, and 100 SMS
SIM card price: 19€
Data price: 12€ per month
What you get: 5GB, unlimited minutes, and 500 SMS
SIM card price: 20€
Data price: 9.99€ per month
What you get: 10GB and 1000 minutes
The phone companies are always running promotions so these prices may change based on what kinds of specials are running. Also, don’t be scared by the seemingly low data offers. For some magical reason, I go through data way more slowly here than I do in America. You can easily make 10€ of data last an entire month. Just make sure you are using WhatsApp to send text messages!
- If you don’t use your Italian SIM card for a year, it will be deactivated and you will have to pay for another SIM card. Make sure you top up your phone online if you ever plan to come back to Italy in the future.
- Bring cash to pay for your SIM card as some phone companies will not accept American credit cards.
- Many train stations have cell phone company booths inside them. This can be a convenient place to purchase a SIM card if you are just arriving.
- If you aren’t comfortable with speaking Italian yet, buy a prepaid phone card from the grocery store to add money to your account. Sometimes the tabaccheria can be intimidating and not all of store employees are able to speak English.