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How expensive is Italy compared to other EU countries?

What's cheaper in Italy than in other European countries, and what is more expensive? We took a look at the data to find out.

How expensive is Italy compared to other EU countries?
How much do you spend on food in Italy? Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

EU statistics agency Eurostat compares everything from the price of groceries to utility bills to get a snapshot of how much living in each country in Europe really costs.

Here's what its consumer price level comparison has to tell us about Italy.

What costs more in Italy?

Even though Italy is one of Europe's biggest food producers, buying groceries here is more expensive than the EU average: 13 percent higher, in fact, making it cheaper than Ireland, Sweden or France but pricier than Germany, the Netherlands, Spain or the UK.

According to the latest national statistics available, the average Italian household spends €457 a month on groceries, the equivalent of nearly 18 percent of their total expenditure. But at least inflation is relatively low: food prices increased by just 0.4 percent between May 2018 and May 2019.

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Photo: Andrea Solaro/AFP

It'll also cost you more to kit out your house: home furnishings cost 11.9 percent higher than average and are more expensive in Italy than any of the 28 EU countries except Luxembourg – so if you're moving here, it might be worth considering shipping some of your homewares with you.

The cost of communications – phone and internet services and equipment, the post – is 10.4 percent higher in Italy than the EU average, which makes it slightly more expensive than the UK and significantly more expensive than France. But it remains cheaper than Sweden, the Netherlands or Spain.

Even so, communications is one of the few areas of spending in Italy where prices are actually falling: they cost 9.4 percent less in May 2019 than they did in the same month a year before, a far bigger decrease than in any other category.

Internet companies in particular have struggled to attract customers more than in other EU countries: just 79 percent of households in Italy have a broadband connection, compared to 85 percent across Europe.

READ ALSO: Foreigners rank Italy 'worst in Europe' for internet and paying without cash


Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Disappointingly for those looking to travel or eat out in Italy – i.e. everyone – bills for restaurants, bars and hotels here are 4 percent higher than the EU average. It's noticeably cheaper to dine or stay in Greece or Spain, and only marginally more expensive in the UK (7 percent above average), though most northern European countries are significantly pricier.

Prices for restaurants and hotels have increased by 1.1 percent in the past year, according to Italy's national statistics office. But the in-depth picture probably varies widely because of the sheer number of establishments in Italy: yes, there are plenty of pricier places, but it's not hard to find great-value options, especially when it comes to eating out.

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Buying a car, motorbike or bicycle in Italy will cost you 2.4 percent more than the EU average. When it comes to personal transport, you're better off going to Germany, the UK, Sweden or Spain (though you'll save money compared to France, Ireland or the Netherlands). 

It's perhaps surprising when you consider that Italy has almost the highest rate of car ownership in the EU, with 625.1 cars per 1,000 residents compared to the European average of 507.3. But many people in Italy feel obliged to buy their own vehicle regardless of cost when public transport is limited or unreliable.

The other things that will cost you slightly more in Italy than most other EU countries are clothing and footwear (1.1 percent above average), and recreation and leisure such as books, cinema tickets, TVs, pets and package holidays (+1.7 percent).


Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

What costs less in Italy?

Moving to Italy isn't all bad news for your wallet. Though it might be for your liver and lungs: alcohol, tobacco and narcotics are 5.1 percent cheaper in Italy than the EU average, which puts it in between Greece (-3.8 percent) and Germany (-5.3 percent). And it's much cheaper than expensive Ireland or the UK, where prices are 77.8 and 56.7 percent higher than average respectively.

But booze and smokes are getting more expensive in Italy: they're are among the consumer products with the highest rate of inflation, at 2.1 percent in the past year.

READ ALSO: Seven reasons why living in Italy can be bad for your health

In better news, housing will also cost you less here. The cost of buying or renting property in Italy, as well as maintaining it and paying the utility bills, is 8.8 percent lower in Italy than the EU average. That makes Italy cheaper in this respect than even Spain, which beats it in almost every other category, and tallies with the fact that Italy is the only country in the EU where house prices are actually falling (-1.1 percent in 2017).

But overall, housing expenses in Italy are rising. Inflation is at 3.3 percent on housing and utilities, making it the fastest-increasing cost in Italians' household budget.

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Photo: Christophe Simon/AFP

Travellers will be happy to hear that Italy is one of the cheapest places in the EU to take transport. Catching a train, bus, plane or boat is 22.7 percent cheaper in Italy than average, making it slightly cheaper than Spain and a fraction more expensive than Greece. Almost every western European country is pricier, especially the UK (26.6 percent above average) and Netherlands (+34.3 percent).

Anyone who's ever waited for a bus in Rome will tell you, though, that you get what you pay for. Public transport in Italy is cheap and it shows, though trains (mostly) offer better service and often at bargain prices.

What do you think?

In my own experience as Brit in Rome, I find anything bought from a pharmacy here, whether medicine or cosmetics, significantly pricier than in the UK. Public transport is a fraction of what I'd pay in London, though usually for a fraction of the service – the one exception being regional trains, where I'd take Trenitalia over Thameslink any day.

READ ALSO: The 25 stats that help explain Italy today

Groceries aren't dirt cheap, but nor are they overpriced – and you often get a great price-quality ratio, especially if you shop at markets. My internet and phone contracts offer worse value for money than I could get in the UK, but eating and drinking out is almost always cheaper.

And I'm surprised to hear that clothes and footwear are more expensive in Italy than other EU countries, because I'm always amazed by how cheaply I can find well-made leather shoes here.

What's your experience? And how does Italy measure up to countries outside Europe? 

Fill in the form below to let us know.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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