How to use your phone in Italy

If you're visiting from an EU member country, then your phone plan should work just as in your home country, thanks to the EU's fair use roaming policy. You will be charged domestic prices for your calls, text and data use in the EU. This is considered a "fair use of roaming services". Whenever you cross a border within the EU, you should get a text message from your mobile operator informing you that you are roaming, and reminding you of its fair use policy.

Will my phone work in Italy?

The four main network providers in Italy are Vodafone, Tim, Tre and Wind. Almost all phones should work in Italy. Just check to see if your mobile phone supports GSM 900 and GSM 1800 frequencies.

While your phone will most probably work, if you're not from an EU member state, you will need a plan for using voice and data services. Some UK providers, at the moment GiffGaff, Smarty and O2, still offer some amount of free roaming, with O2 being the most generous and offering up to 25Gb a month.

Most of us will have to find extra data or voice plans to allow us to stay in touch while in Italy. There are several different ways to go about this and we've listed the details below, but the options in brief are:

Option Description Pros & Cons
e-SIM Get an e-SIM to add data only to your exisiting phone Phone must be unlocked - You keep your normal number
Mobile Wifi Buy a Mobile Wifi unit and install an Italian SIM Great for sharing wifi with a number of phones - There is an initial outlay for the MiFi unit
Italian SIM Buy a PAYG Italian SIM either before travelling or in Italy Phone must be unlocked - You lose your normal number

WhatsApp for making calls in Italy and home

A note about WhatsApp, particularly for non-Europeans. WhatsApp is a chat and voice app that is widely used in Italy. It's advantage in the context of using your phone abroad is that you can call and text people with just a data plan, rather than having to change your number to a local one.

Let's get your ducks in a row

What is an e-SIM and how do I install it?

An e-SIM is a great way to get an Italian data plan on your phone without physically changing anything. You can order an e-SIM before you leave and then turn it on when you arrive and instantly have the data flowing.

You phone will have to be unlocked before you can install an e-SIM or a physical SIM card into it. You can ask your current provider to unlock your phone. If unlocking your phone is not possible, then the second option, the Mobile MiFi, might be an easier option for you.

If you're phone is unlocked, then an e-SIM is the easiest option. We've used HolaFly but we've also heard good things about Airalo and Bouygues.

The Bouygues option comes with a French telephone number and EU wide roaming, unlike the other two which are data only. My preference is HolaFly as its e-SIMs comes with unlimited data.

Tuscan Villa

Mobile WiFi unit

If your phone is locked and you don't want to unlock it, you could get a small MiFi unit. We tried a HUAWEI E5576 that connects to a 4G network and creates a wifi network for up to 16 devices - one of the advantages of using a MiFi to roam with is that you don't have to buy eSims or Sims for everybody's phones, just set up this one little router and everybody in the family can get online.

We're currently using a ZTE MU5120 with a Smarty Data Plan - it runs 5G and we get 12GB of Roaming data included in the monthly plan for £12. But the unit itself is much pricier that the Huawei, so it depends on how much you travel.

The advantage of a MIFI is that it acts as a wireless router, so that if you're travelling with your family you can give everybody internet access without buying eSIMs or extra data for each of their phones. The disadvantage is that your daughter might stream her Netflix as you're driving through France and use up all your allowance (!) - and that's why I prefer HolaFly's unlimited data packages : )

Whether you use a MiFi or whether you decide to change the SIM in your phone for a local one, you will still need to buy an Italian SIM card.

How can I buy an Italian SIM?

You can buy a physical SIM card in Italy from any of the main provider stores, though TIM is probably the easiest to find, and offers a prepaid sim card for tourists for €20 EUR with 40 GB data; they have a great 4G/5G network in Italy and a TIM SIM card includes free (limited) EU data roaming.

To buy a SIM you will need ID so make sure you take your passport along with you and be prepared to fill out a form or two. Cards can cost as little as 5 euros for 5 euros worth of calls, texts and data. If you need to top up your credit, just visit any tabaccaio or supermarket and ask for a ‘ricarica’, tell the shopkeeper who the mobile phone provider is and how much money you would like to top up with.

Remember - to install an Italian SIM card your phone will have to be unlocked, make sure to check this before you travel, or go for one of the two previous alternatives, an e-SIM or a MiFi.

Also remember - I have found buying and running a TIM SIM to be quite a pain, best to find an e-SIM for your phone, or an international data SIM for a Mifi if you want an easy life.

Siena from old Duomo
With unlimited data on your phone you can upload as many photos as you wish of beautiful Siena, and not have to resort to drawing it all with a pencil : )

Finding a WiFi network

You can also opt to minimise phone use while out and about and just rely on WiFi networks in cafes, restaurants and at your beautiful villa - all of our villas come with Free WiFi, and some, like "Casa Etrusca" with blisteringly fast 1Gb speeds.

If you decide to go for the wifi only option, remember to turn 'data roaming' off on your phone and perhaps use a mapping GPS system like TomTomGo where you can download the country maps before you leave home, so you can use it without being online.

Lastly, a note on the links - we're not affiliated to any companies, we don't get any money from TomTom, ZTE or Smarty, this is all just free advice to be taken as such.

view of Montestigliano, near Siena