If you've been wanting to find out the best and cost effective solutions for getting Prepaid Mobile Internet for Italy, you're in the right spot.
There can be lots of problems with getting overseas prepaid mobile internet.
Whilst we've got France pretty much dialled (Orange Internet Max from Mobipassport), I really wanted a solution for Italy.
Whilst anecdotally the TIM network provides unlimited prepaid mobile Internet for Italy, there are a few issues with customer service and user experience can vary.
So I was pretty chuffed when the president of Cellular Abroad – Sebastian Harrison – contacted me for a chat about what they're offering particularly in relation to prepaid mobile internet for Italy (or prepaid phone and data SIMs for Italy to be precise).
Sebastian grew up in Rome and is familiar with the pain we all go through to make sure we're always connected to the net!
Cellular Abroad is a National Geographic licensee (they are the company behind the National Geographic travel phone) and have come up with some nifty products in the data and phone roaming space.
Cellular Abroad has about 200,000 customers and did a considerable number of SIMs just for Italy last year so they have a bit of pulling power with the Italian telcos and know their stuff. Plus they've been through all the customer service pain and set their products up so you don't have to worry.
Remember my maxim: HASSLE FREE CYCLING TRAVEL.
Cellular Abroad Prepaid Mobile Internet for Italy
Language (especially idiomatic and contextual comprehension) can be a big barrier to a hassle free experience with mobile data SIMs overseas specifically when buying and recharging.
Cellular Abroad has done a lot of work to develop custom prepaid mobile Internet in Italy in particular providing support and menus in English which is a big plus.
Cellular Abroad has three products for Italy: not only is there a prepaid call product but prepaid call+data and prepaid data as well as a 3G WiFi hotspot.
Italy Prepaid Call and Internet SIM in English
This is the product developed especially for Cellular Abroad by UNO Mobile (Vodafone Italy).
This product is a specific solution for English speaking customers and hence is different from Uno Mobile SIM card that one would buy in Italy (for example at a Carrefour supermarket). Cellular Abroad are the exclusive distributor for Uno Mobile in the US and Canada so, while they are available through Amazon and other places, they are all sold through CA originally.
You can buy or rent the SIM card (buy for USD$69.95, rental costs here).
The Italy prepaid SIM gives you prepaid calls plus you can add on 1GB of prepaid data for only €9 (lasts one month) – Prepaid Italy SIM card. The SIM comes with €10 of credit which is enough for the 1GB of data.
Key features include:
- €9 Euro cents per minute for calls within Italy
- 35 Euro cents per minute for calls to the US and Canada
- Free incoming calls
- €9 for 1GB of data (up to 30 days) or 250MB for €2 for 1 day
- Great coverage (the network is Vodafone)
- Pre-registered – no need to submit a copy of the passport as is the case with all other carriers (loophole as they are sold from the US and Canada so don’t have to abide by the same laws)
- Comes with a phone number
- Already activated and ready to use with any unlocked GSM cell phone
- Prompts in English
- Customer service in English
- Have the number and SIM before departure
Get the Prepaid Italy SIM card here.
Unlimited Prepaid Mobile Internet-only SIM
Cellular Abroad also sells an unlimited prepaid mobile internet data SIM.
This is on the TIM network and is for available for rent only. It's a lot more expensive than the call+mobile internet SIM described above but provides unlimited data.
I'll be honest, for most people on holidays, 1GB of data will be enough for a month. If you run out, simply recharge and get 1GB for €9!
You can actually get calls and data on this TIM SIM too but it is tricky because if you use the credit and have less than 1€, you can’t get data (you need to recharge).
There are some other issues with the TIM customer service (discussed below).
Get the Cellular Abroad Italy Unlimited Prepaid Mobile Data SIM here.
Prepaid Italy Mobile Internet WiFi Hotspot
This is an interesting solution if there's a few of you travelling in your party.
It's pretty expensive but if there are a few of you on your trip it could be worth looking at.
Personally speaking, even if there were 4 people in my travel party, I reckon we'd all get our own SIM cards so we had mobile internet.
Get the Prepaid Italy Mobile Wifi Hotspot here.
Recharging and Getting more Credit
To recharge a SIM that was purchased from Cellular Abroad sounds pretty easy.
- For the UNO call/internet SIM, go to www.unomobile.it (using a Visa or MC), going into a Tabacchi or bar, or online, via a text or via calling Cellular Abroad – lots of options.
- For TIM SIMs, you need to go into a Tabacchi and pay cash (I don't know if cash means cash or cash/credit card but I think it means cash money) or online, via a text or by calling Cellular Abroad.
Problems with TIM customer service
Cellular Abroad tell me that up until 4 years ago, they distributed TIM SIM cards and they were extremely difficult to manage due to many factors.
The biggest was that on occasion, an operator would pick up the phone when you try to call and they would try to verify the account holder. Inevitably, due to the language barrier, the TIM operator would disconnect the service.
Another issue was that TIM would text the user saying “we are going to change your rate plan unless you text us not to.” This would be in Italian, the customer would do nothing and then he or she would burn through the minutes at a higher rate.
With this and other issues in mind, together with Uno Mobile, Cellular Abroad came up with the UNO prepaid SIM mentioned above.
Frequently Asked Questions
After having a squiz at the Cellular Abroad website I had a few questions about recharging, credit cards and so on. I reckon most travellers would be wondering the same things.
So I asked these questions directly of CA's president.
Can I recharge with Aussie/UK/etc credit cards (the CA website only mentions US/Canada credit cards)? If not, how are recharges obtained?
The UNO Mobile Call/Internet SIM can be recharged online at www.unomobile.it with an Aussie/UK/etc credit card or you can pay in cash in a Tabacchi or bar. Or you can get a recharge directly from Cellular Abroad (as long as the SIM was bought through them) by calling, texting or online at the CA website. TIM SIMs can only be recharged in a Tabacchi with cash money [Ed: ssssh don't tell the Italian tax man].
With the text-to-recharge option, where does the customers credit card number come from? Is this stored in the CA customer profile and is the whole thing automated (i.e. just the text is needed)?
Exactly as you describe. Just text us and we'll charge the card stored in your profile.
If I recharge via CA website: what is the process (do you need an account), are credit cards from all countries accepted, how long does it take for the credit to be activated and, what is a voucher equivalent to?
We only recharge if the customer originally purchased the SIM card from us. This is to protect CA and customers from fraud. Yes customers need an account which they'd already have since they bought the SIM from us. If the customer orders a top up via phone, it takes 3-4 minutes. Via text is about 15 seconds and online 1-2 minutes.
Can't I buy a SIM in Italy?
Both UNO Mobile SIM and TIM SIM cards are available in Italy but they don't have the same benefits as the ones that were specifically designed to meet Cellular Abroad's requirements, including:
- Lower international call rates
- English menus in the voice prompts and texts (a BIG plus) – UNO mobile product only
- Preregistration of SIM to Cellular Abroad (so no passport is required)
- SIM card is ready to go on arrival
- Having the number in advance
- Obtaining call credits simply by texting Cellular Abroad
- English customer service
Cellular Abroad's solution seems really awesome.
Whilst Mrs VeloNomad and I don't have Italy pencilled in for the Giro for a few years yet I'd be getting one of the UNO mobile SIMs from Cellular Abroad, no doubt (CA offered me a free trial of one).
So if you're heading to Italy for the Giro (lucky) or just for a holiday (even if it's not a cycling holiday), do consider this product.
Special offer for VeloNomad readers
Cellular Abroad has offered a $10-off coupon for any of the above products for VeloNomad readers which you can redeem at checkout or if you order over the phone.
The code is velonomaditaly.
Disclosure: Note that I like this product and am so comfortable with it that I am signed up as an affiliate. Any sales from VeloNomad to CA generate a 20% commission which helps me keep the site going, pay the mortgage and so on (one day it might even put a flash new Wilier in the garage!). More on my income and disclosure policy here.