Buying a SIM card in Italy

by SteveMadsen on December 8, 2010

Our first full day in Rome, and after some great sightseeing, food and a quick siesta after lunch we headed off to take care of our domestics. First stop the Internet cafe, I checked my email then while Colleen attended to her blog I headed up the street to find the cell phone retailer.

‘Buon giorno, parli inglese?’

‘Si, a little.’

I thought, ‘Great, I do not have to do the phrase book shuffle.’

‘I need a SIM card for my phone.’

‘I can sell you one, I need your phone and passport please.’

This is just too easy, she examined my old T-Mobile GSM cell phone that I unlocked when we left America and satisfied herself that the local SIM card worked with my phone. The SIM card cost €8 with €5 credit to get us started but I added another €25 to last us the month, more than we needed as it turned out.

With a copy of my passport filed to fulfil the local security requirements, I signed the paperwork–all in Italian so I could have been signing over my first-born child–and the seller activated the SIM. Simple, a quick check to make certain it worked and I was out the door with my new Italian cell phone number. The whole operation took less than 20 minutes, and is certainly a lot simpler than getting a SIM in Australia where my Government issued passport is insufficient evidence that I am in fact me.

We mostly used the phone to SMS the kids each day and receive their messages of love, good wishes and frustration when we appeared to have too much fun without them. For the record we had great fun and highly recommend teenage-angst free travel for everyone. It also came in handy to arrange meetings with our guides, make reservations or contact the hotel if delayed.

After a month in Italy, I checked the credit balance and we still had €25 (we did not phone many people but SMS’d daily) so we called the kids from the airport to use the remaining minutes.The overseas phone calls drained the credit pretty quickly but SMS proved very inexpensive.

A local phone number makes life much easier when you spend an extended period in one country but be sure you understand the call charges and roaming costs if you head into a neighbouring country (they can be substantial). The process in most European countries and the USA is similar to my Italian experience, so I recommend getting a local number when possible always compare the costs against your usual plan.

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