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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

What you need to know about opening a bank account in Italy

There are a few things to know before choosing the right place to put your cash in Italy. Here’s our guide to finding the best bank for you.

What you need to know about opening a bank account in Italy

Money makes the world go round, they say, and even in notoriously cash-friendly Italy, your life will be a lot easier if you have somewhere to put it.

But with daunting paperwork, confusing opening hours and array of diverse offerings, interacting with Italian banks can be challenging.

Here’s our guide to opening a bank account in Italy to get you started.

Step one: Know what’s out there

I come from Canada, where you can count the number of big banks on one hand. That means Italy’s banking sector can be a little dizzying in comparison. At the time of writing, Italy has more than 20 banks with assets of more than €10 billion. 

Among the biggest names in Italy are Dutch-based ING, Germany-based Deutsche Bank, Italy’s own Unicredit, and the Banca Nazionale di Lavoro (now owned by France’s BNP Paribas).

READ ALSO: Which are the best Italian banks for foreigners?

Alongside these big national banks, there are regional providers like the Banca Popolare di Puglia e Basilicata or the Banco di Sardegna, which confusingly operate branches far from their respective homelands. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find a Pugliese bank next to a Venetian one in Lombardy, or encounter a local bank that has just a handful of branches throughout the country.

Consider the fees applied to transactions and cash withdrawals when choosing your Italian bank account. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Disrupting the banking world in recent years has also been the emergence of a whole new crop of online banks, like N26 and HYPE, which offer very low fees by operating no physical branches.

And lastly, there’s the post office: Poste Italiane, in an unholy alliance of paper-based bureaucracy, also operates a consumer bank notorious for slowing down postal lines everywhere.

Knowing the lay of the land will help you pick out the best offering for your life and location. Consider your choice carefully. When we arrived, we chose N26 for its low fees and easy sign-up. But soon, we needed a bigger bank that could offer services like a fideiussione (renter’s guarantee).

Choosing the right bank is about more than knowing if it has a branch in your area — as you settle, a bank’s mortgage offerings, insurance, or high-interest savings accounts may become more important to you.

Step two: Decide what account you need

Technically, if you’re over the age of 18, you’re eligible to open an account in Italy — but most account types are only available to residents, which includes foreign nationals who are here because of a valid job offer or degree program.

The most common account type is a conto corrente or current account (a checking account for American readers). These accounts are designed with daily transactions in mind, meaning there are often opportunities to save on fees by maintaining a minimum deposit or balance.

Ask an expert: Which are the best UK banks for Brits living in Italy?

To earn higher interest, you can place your savings in a conto di risparmio or savings account, which offer fewer transfers and transactions in exchange for higher interest. There is also the conto di deposito, a more restrictive but even higher-interest savings account designed for parking your money just to earn.

Lastly, there are conti correnti esteri, foreign accounts, which can offer deals on wire transfers or allow you to use your home currency and save on exchange fees. These accounts don’t require you to be an Italian resident, making them a good choice for people staying for an indeterminate time.

Step three: Review costs

There’s a reason some of Italy’s nicest buildings belong to banks — this country’s banking fees are among the highest in Europe.

Though comparisons are hard to come by, in 2009 the European Commission found that fees in Italy could be four or five times the amount for the same accounts in the Netherlands, Ireland, or Germany.

But choose the right offer, and they don’t have to be — one analysis found these fees could vary by as much as 10 times between banks.

On average, a typical current account cost nearly €95 per year in 2022, with high-interest savings accounts costing even more. But that average dropped to just €25 for online-only accounts like those offered by N26.

A branch of Unicredit bank in Milan. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP)

In exchange for these fees, banks offer a range of different services — everything from higher interest to lower transaction fees.

Most banks won’t charge a setup fee, but may charge to issue you with your first debit or credit card. Other services, like cheques, wire transfers, or even ATM withdrawals above a monthly limit are likely to be met with other fees.

Il Sole 24 Ore, one of Italy’s leading financial newspapers, has an online tool that will help you compare bank offers, automatically deducting your expenses from your anticipated interest to show you exactly how much your account is likely to cost.

Make sure to read the fine print — some “fee-free” accounts are promotional offers and expire after a year or so, leaving you paying hefty fees. Others look expensive, but are free if you maintain a low minimum balance or make monthly deposits of just a few hundred euro.

Step four: Visit a branch or sign up online

Now that you know the account type and bank you’re looking for, you can dive into the paperwork.

For a variety of reasons, it’s generally best to wait until you are in Italy to open your account — even in the case of online accounts or conti esteri. Banks will want to mail you your card and know a fixed address in Italy, and you will need an Italian tax code (codice fiscale) to get started in any case.

For online accounts like N26 and HYPE, paperwork is often minimal and requires filing out a few online forms and uploading your ID. 

In physical banks, by contrast, it can be quite extensive, involving a lot of fine print in Italian. If your language skills are poor, consider bringing a friend who can help you review your contracts, or select a bank that you know offers counter service in English.

To open an account, you’ll need the following documents:

  • ID or a passport;
  • Codice fiscale;
  • Residency permit (or, if you’re a non-resident, proof of address like a bill or piece of certified mail); and
  • Proof of your employment income (i.e., a contract or tax return).

Businesses will also need to provide the company’s registration certificate, a certificate of good standing, and statements of the financial status of all shareholders with more than a 20 percent stake in the company.

Take these to your local branch to get the process started. Make sure to check your local bank’s opening hours first — Italian banks are notorious for taking long lunches and closing early in the afternoon.

Closing an account

If you’ve decided it’s time to say goodbye to your bank, it’s unfortunately not quite as simple as visiting a branch.

In most cases, you will need to send a registered letter or raccomandata to your local branch before you show up in person, including signatures from everyone on the account.

And as usual, make sure to read your contract carefully — some banks will even charge a fee to close your account.

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