My experience getting a Micro SIM Card from Vodafone while in Italy

Cellular Abroad rents MiFi devices with unlimited data and, although I thought about taking one of them for the trip from our stock, I figured that since the demand for our MiFis is high and stock is low, I would just get a micro SIM card in Italy as well as an unlimited plan for the two weeks I was there. While we always tell our customers that it is oftentimes problematic getting cellular service or data service in Italy, since I know what the issues are, I really wouldn’t encounter any of these issues and I would be up and running in no time. How wrong I was!

Having been born and having lived in Italy for many years, it does not come as a surprise that, to put it diplomatically, customer service as well as implementation of new technology is not Italy’s forte. However, my experience with trying to get data for my iPad was unexpectedly challenging. Since my Italian is fluent, I thought, “if I am having problems, how could someone who doesn’t speak Italian figure this out!?” The answer is that they probably would have given up. Here is a run down of the events and the eventual resolution.

As having email access is vital to me, the same day I arrived in Rome I went to a Vodafone store to purchase a SIM card for my iPad. The pay as you go plan is excellent – only 19 Euros for a month of unlimited data. I bought the micro SIM with no problem. It was a simple matter of giving them a document, in this case my Italian driver’s license, and 5 Euros. I asked the store to insert the SIM for me but they didn’t have a pin or needle or similar object in order to do so. No problem as I could deal with that when I got back to the apartment. The store told me that I had to buy a recharge voucher so I had enough credit to activate the service. I bought a voucher and asked them to add it directly to my number, which they couldn’t do. Their solution was to put the SIM in my phone and add it from there. I told them that I didn’t have a micro SIM adapter to which they responded that I could add it from another phone. No problem I figured, I will just call from my cell phone. However, the number that was on the voucher didn’t work. I asked another clerk if they couldn’t just add the talk time. As I am in the cell phone business, usually distributors can do so from a terminal, as business is needed to be managed fast and the use of software like pay stubs template is helpful for payments and more. The answer once again was that they couldn’t. Another solution that they told me was to find someone who had a Vodafone cell phone and call from their cell phone to add the talk time (which is what I ended up doing but, needless to say, this was certainly an inconvenient).

Once I had the talk time added, I figured that I would be up and running as, after all, iPad’s are supposed to configure themselves automatically. Since it wasn’t working, I called Vodafone. The Vodafone told me that the iPad plan was not activated as the talk time was not on the SIM card yet and that I had to wait until the talk time was on the system, and then I needed to call back. This could take up to 24 hours.

I waited a few hours, called back to activate it and they said I should be up and running. I once again tried to connect. Although I was getting a signal, nothing happened. I called Vodafone again and they said that everything looked ok on their end. We went through the typical troubleshooting points such as verifying that there was coverage and signal strength and making sure that the WiFi was off. The customer service rep was not sure why I wasn’t getting service but she offered to reset the system on their end. She told me to take out the SIM, wait 15 minutes and retry. While I know that this can resolve some issues, it rarely actually works. Still, I didn’t have much of a choice at this point. I took out the SIM card, waited, reinstalled it, turned on the iPad and once again…niente (nothing in Italian).

At this point, several days had actually transpired. Luckily I had my Blackberry with me so I wasn’t totally disconnected. I decided to go to another Vodafone store to see if they could help. They confirmed that I had coverage and credit and that the plan had been activated. Everything looked fine to them too and, too make a long story short, they couldn’t help me. In fact, they told me that they don’t even sell micro SIMs for iPads but one clue that they did give me was that the iPad automatically configures the settings. Hmmm….what if in this case, my iPad did not automatically configure the settings? They didn’t have any information about that and suggested I call customer service. Once again, as with the other times I had to call Vodafone, I had to find someone with a Vodafone cell phone, which I did. I called Vodafone and explained the situation to the customer service. They escalated the call to someone who actually had experience with iPads. Sure enough, the APN was not configuring itself and they gave me the correct settings ( by the way). This worked and, after approximately 5 days, I was up and running.

If I hadn’t had my plan B, my Blackberry with service through T-Mobile, this would have been a total nightmare. As it turns out, there was about a day that even my Blackberry wasn’t working for emails and I had to access my emails through the actual data usage – for an extra fee. Ultimately, both were working flawlessly and the service on the iPad was quite good. Still, I wish that I had brought one of our Italy MiFi devices as I would estimate that I spent about 7-8 hours of vacation time dealing with service issues.

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About Sebastian Harrison

Founder and President of Cellular Abroad and travel writer.
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22 comments on “My experience getting a Micro SIM Card from Vodafone while in Italy

  1. Anna Furian on said:

    My experience of obtaining iPad data in Italy was totally the opposite. It couldn’t have been easier. I took my iPad to TIM (telecom Italia mobile?) at Rome termini station. The gentleman there installed the microsim (paper clip used to open the compartment) and I was up and running within 10 minutes of entering the store. I was unable to send emails from my usual account because the outgoing mail server couldn’t connect to my Australian server, but receiving mail was no problem. To get around this I added a gmail account to the mail settings, plus TIM’s outgoing mail details.

    Over 4 weeks I travelled from the most southern areas and all around Sicily to Alta Badia (the Alps) in the north. I could count on one hand the number of times I lost reception. I was really impressed with the coverage and TIMs easy to navigate website to keep a check on usage and to recharge if necessary.
    Buying a microsim in Italy with only basic Italian through TIM, was easy, efficient and overall, much simpler than I could ever hope for even in my own country.
    Viva Italia!

  2. Mike Burke on said:


    How did you cancel the TIM Micro Sim when you returned to the U.S.? So that you weren’t continually billed month-to-month. I can’t find “how to cancel” on the website. Any advice is appreciated.

    • Richard Jefferis on said:

      Hi Mike – So long as you don’t maintain a balance above the per-month rate of the internet plan you were using, you will not be billed anything extra. If you log in to your TIM account, you can choose “Dettaglio Offerte Internet” and then look for the plan you wish to deactive – “Disattiva” – choose “conferma” to confirm the deactivation.

      • Simon on said:

        I have a similar question re: cancelling my TIM micro-SIM that I bought for my iPad (which worked perfectly, btw. Spent much of my time in Puglia and had good coverage pretty much every where I went).

        I never bothered to register while in Italy. When I try to register now (back home), step 2 of the process is supposed to be TIM’s system sending me a SMS with a temporary password. I’ve tried twice and not received the txt.

        I’m getting other txts from TIM (playing with some of the SIM apps in the iPads “Settings>Cellular Data” config menu), but nothing for this registration process.

        Do you know of another way of canceling/deactivating the SIM account?


  3. Glenn R on said:

    Hi Sebastian,
    I going to Italy to see my parents in early Sept and plan to take advantage of my unlocked ATT iphone 4. I didn’t want to use ATT but either TIM (more common) or Vodafone. I plan to stay on the Island of Ischia which has poor wifi service. I thought about having my parents get it for me and then mail it to me so I can start using it when I wait at Marco Polo Airport while I wait for my connecting flight to Naples. I tried searching for a TIM/Vodafone shop though the airport website as well as the carrier’s websites–but no luck. Agree that Italy is still trailing the world when it comes to website information of telecom services.

  4. Sebastian Harrison on said:

    Hi Glen,

    while I am certain that you can find a Vodafone or TIM (or Wind) store in Ischia, it is indeed a little bit of a hassle to set up – particularly if there is a language barrier. We do have a TIM data SIM that we rent and sell from here which would allow you to be up and running as soon as you land. Here is the link /DataSIMitaly.php. Would it be less expensive to get one there? Yes, but I think that the huge convenience outweighs the price difference. Here is a brief list of the pros and cons of getting it through Cellular Abroad.
    You have the product ready to use as soon as you arrive.
    You don’t have to spend your vacation time trying to get a data SIM card.
    you have the number before you leave (allowing you to give it out to friends and family).
    The customer service is through Cellular Abroad and of course in English.

    You pay more through Cellular Abroad than getting it locally.

    You can certainly have your parents mail it to you but, if they set up the data service, say a plan for 30 days, by the time you get it, much of that period would be lost. It CAN be activated via a text message. They could buy the SIM card, add the sufficient credit and, depending on what data plan you want, give you the information on how to send a text message. As you can see, buying the SIM, sending it to you and getting you the proper information for a nominal savings may not be the best option. Let me know if you have other questions and I will see if I can assist.

  5. Glenn R on said:

    Hi Sebastian,
    Thanks for the information. I was raised in that part of the world and am fluent in Italian. I thought I’d have my parents (in Naples, It) get me a TIM or Vodafone micro SIM for my unlocked ATT Iphone 4. They tell me that Vodafone has been offering the better deals for voice and data and I figured I could get them to get one since they live there. I used Telestial 3 years ago to get a TIM SIM with an extra card and activated as soon as I got into Rome. Didn’t have any problems. Unfortunately, cellphone stores in Italian airports are not as prevalent as in other major European airports so I’m looking at several alternatives. The farther south you go–the farther back you go when it comes to telecommunications technology. The Island of Ischia hosts a lot of tourists from all over Europe every year but the local establishments continue to fall behind in implementing services that make it easier for tourist to stay connected to net. It’s just want of those things you learn to deal with and move on.

  6. Sebastian Harrison on said:

    Hi Glen,
    in compenso si mangia benissimo!

  7. Katherine on said:

    I just bought a sim card for my iphone in Rome (I will be living here for the next three years) but i keep getting text after text, over 30 so far saying i have insufficient funds on my card. I have tried going on line to pay with visa but it says that the visa company has refused my card- i have talked to the visa company and they say no they have not even had a request from vodafone and have not refused my card. I only speak a little Italian and cant understand them on the phone- all the shops are closed. how do I get service in English, can i get service in english?

    • Sebastian Harrison on said:

      You need to be very careful about the texts. Sometimes a company sends a text and if you respond, that means that you agree to their terms. Their terms can be that you agree to pay – I’ve seen up to 5 Euros per text – to receive news, pictures or whatever from this company. Very sneaky but happens often. Also, you cannot use a US credit card with Vodafone, TIM or Wind. You cannot necessarily get customer service in English. You can request it if you ask and if you get lucky to find someone that speaks English. You can however get English menus and prompts but in order to get this, you need to follow the Italian prompts so…tricky. Katherine, this is why many clients use Cellular Abroad. That way you are dealing with us in English (and then we get to deal with them in Italian…!)

    • Topping up in Italy is not allowed by law for tourists with their foreign credit card. To top up via credit card you need to be Italian resident: “Verranno accettate solo Carte di Credito i cui titolari siano residenti in Italia.” That’s why your credit card company hasn’t even got the request.

  8. Catherine on said:

    I need to thank you so much!!!! My vodafone card didn’t work and I thought I have the correct APN setting. You inspired me to look for a list of apn settings, tried a few and finally got it right!!! I thought I was scammed by the phone card store!

  9. utsanee on said:

    I just bought a sim card for my iphone in Milan. i bought prepaid package 7 GB for 20 Euro. i tried to go back and forth with store 3 times to activate my data. but after turn off celular and use wifi in the night. next morning i cant even use internet but i keep getting text after text, over 30 so far saying i have insufficient funds on my sim. i went back to the shop and officer there called to call center for helping. it happened that they did wrong about my data so they will refund credit back to me and i have to turn the phone off for 20 minutes. i did and left to Venice to find that it didnt work at all. i still got the text and when went to the shop in Venice they did the same and i got the same result. i sick and tired with this i will think that i lose my money and never trust Vodaphone again for godsake.

    • Sebastian Harrison on said:

      It looks like they didn’t activate it correctly…twice. They usually say that it can take up to 24 hours to activate the data so if you try to use data before that and your plan isn’t activated, you are using the data through the credit on the SIM card and not the plan and you can use it up very quickly. It definitely can be frustrating.

  10. Lisa on said:

    Dear cellular abroad, I am planning to bring an iPad #A1430 3rd generation with cellular capabilities to Italy. Can I just put in my Vodofone chip from my iPhone and have it functioning, or do I need to unlock the iPad in the U.S. Before I take it? Sorry for the ignorance in this subject…thanks for any help!

    • Sebastian Harrison on said:

      What Vodafone SIM card do you have? is it Italian? You should definetely have an Italian SIM card. If you do then yes you can but make sure that you get a data plan. You can go to a store for this. You will pay x amount plus an activation fee. In addition, make sure that the iPad SIM and the iPhone SIM sizes are compatible. There ARE adapters but they don’t always work well.

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