When traveling internationally with your iPhone you want to avoid the exorbitant roaming charges using a local SIM card. First, you’ve to make sure, your iPhone is not SIM-locked – either factory SIM-lock-free or unlocked manually (no, I won’t go into the details).

Here is my experience how to get 3G data access in Italy. In Italy, there are four major operators: TIM, Vodafone, Wind and Three. Depending on your destination you might want to check the coverage first:

While Wind and Tre are a bit cheaper, I found TIM has the best 3G coverage. Getting a TIM SIM card is rather easy: TIM Stores are in every larger city.

The prepaid SIM card with 5€ credit costs 10€. National voice calls cost 30 cent/minute, SMS 15 cent, incoming calls are free. To buy the SIM card, TIM requires your ID or passport and an Italian postal address (just use an arbitrary address, they promised not to send mail to it).
On top of that a data option is needed, in this case Maxxi Internet 10 that gives you 50 MB/day at 10€/month. You receive an SMS if the 50 MB are reached. If you’re using more than 50 MB, you get another 30 MB for 1€/day. After this, traffic will be billed with 6€/MB!

Total investment: 20€

So the total investment is 20€ for the prepaid card including Internet access. Activation takes only a few minutes. To enable Internet access, open Settings > General > Network > Cellular Data Network and enter ibox.tim.it in the APN field. Leave user and password blank.

Extra tip: If you happen to swap SIM cards you have to enter the APN again.

The connection was rather reliable and fast. There’s only one caveat: If the maximum volume is reached, the warning SMS is not received instantaneously but with a 1-2 hours delay. So you can easily produce expensive overtraffic and eat up all the prepaid credit. When the credit is used up, the Internet access is disconnected and you’ll get a message that you’re not a subscriber of the data network. Internet access is restored the next day even if all the credit is used up.

Status Check

To check the balance and the activated plan, I found it useful to create a web password that still allows you to access the status when you’re back from the trip. To activate the web password, send a free SMS with TIM XXXXXXXXX to 49001 where the X are your new 8 digit (only numbers, no letters!) password. Then go to 119selfservice.tim.it and login with your phone number and password.

Other countries?

This blog post was inspired by Till Schadde’s coverage on US prepaid data access using T-Mobile. If you figured out how to get access in other countries, please let us know.

Update 10.03.2011: For our German readers: Claus Wolf hat gute Erfahrungen mit Vodafone gemacht.
Update 03.08.2011: Vodafone Italia offers the Internet Sempre Smart (translated) prepaid tariff for 9€ per month with unlimited traffic. Bandwidth is throttled to 64 kbps after 1 GB. It’s available as SIM and micro SIM card.

All articles how to get 3G data access internationally

2 Comments

  • Giancarlo Nicolof

    wrote on September 20, 2009 at 12:18pm

    I would suggest to get a Vodafone sim card. You can get it in the Vodafone stores that are in every large city and it cost €5 and you get €5 of credit. In the shop where you buy it you ask them to activate the Vofafone Pack for iPhone which cost €3 a week and you get 500mb per week.

  • Katharine

    wrote on October 6, 2013 at 2:21am

    Any updates to this in 2013? I have a US AT&T Samsung Galaxy S4 Android Phone and heading to Italy in May 2014.

    Any updates to the best (and affordable) data plan would be much appreciated.

    Thanks!

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