In Italy you have a couple of gsm providers or carriers as you might call them. The most well known are Vodafone, TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) and Wind. There’s also a smaller one called 3 (Tre).
I’ve opted to use TIM Young, which gives you quite a bit of stuff for free. For example, I get 1000 free texts each month to every provider (up to 300 to Tre apparently, though) and 1GB of data. If you buy an Italian sim, which costs ten euros, you can get this plan for nine euros a month. Basically you have to make sure you have at least 9 euros on your simcard because they deduce that amount every month. So the best thing you can do is just get a recharge card of 10 euros in any of the multitude of Tabbacheria’s around or, if you prefer, in an official TIM store.
When you get such a plan, make sure you ask them to change the language to English. There also is an option to activate an ‘International’ thing so texting to other European numbers costs only 15ish cents (instead of 30ish). Last but not least make sure you DISABLE the message delivery confirmation service because that costs 15 cents per text.
To check your balance you can either go to www.119.it (where you can check and modify a huge number of things concerning your TIM plan), the other option is to either call ‘40916’ or send a text to that number containing the word ‘credito’.
A friend of mine and myself sometimes have trouble with the Italian simcard though. For no apparent reason your cellphone will either reboot or say “Sim card removed” and will ask you to reboot your phone (depending on what OS you’re running). I’ve also noticed when your cell is idle, the signal seems to be dropped at some times and you will only get the signal when the screen is on or someone tries to call you or sends you a message.
If you’re used to having a signal all the time, welcome to Italy, where you only have a decent cellphone signal about half of the time (at least in Turin). In the end it’s not really a problem but your battery might be drained a bit faster because your phone tries harder to get a signal.