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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.

Using smartphones abroad can land you with big bills.
Using smartphones abroad can land you with big bills. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

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.

Member comments

  1. I come to Venice for 3 weeks every year and bring a Solis hotspot, preloaded with data which I buy by the gig – usually on sale, using their Global Pay-Per-GB Data plan. Right now I have 20 gigs loaded on it, which I bought on sale last year. They never expire. I take it with me when I head south to the US as well. It doesn’t weigh much, fits in my purse and so far has worked everywhere in Venice despite the narrow calli.
    And my cellphone plan (CHATR, in Canada) only charges 2 cents/minute for calls from Canada to Italy, so I just go ahead and phone for restaurant reservations. It also has unlimited international texting.

    https://soliswifi.co/?rfsn=2318081.4a2bce

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For members

COST OF LIVING

How does the cost of childcare in Italy compare to other countries?

Parents in Italy spend a monthly average of €303 for public nursery care and €324 for public kindergarten. How does that compare to other countries?

How does the cost of childcare in Italy compare to other countries?

Childcare costs in Italy can differ greatly depending on where you live, as the monthly cost of public nurseries (for children between three months and three years of age) and kindergartens (for children between three and five) are left to the discretion of local authorities.

READ ALSO: How much parental leave do you get in Italy?

According to the latest available data, a one-child Italian family spends an average of 303 euros a month for a full-time place (around ten hours a day, five days a week) at a public day nursery, or asilo nido, and an average of 324 euros a month for a place in a public kindergarten (scuola materna or scuola dell’infanzia). 

Fees are generally higher in northern regions, with the highest monthly nursery fees of all recorded at 515 euros in Lecco, Lombardy. Conversely, childcare is usually more affordable in the south – full-time nursery care in Catanzaro, Calabria costs 100 euros a month on average. 

For a breakdown of average public nursery fees by Italian region, see this website.

READ ALSO: Italy ranked among worst in Europe for tax burden on families

Unsurprisingly, fees for private daycare facilities are generally significantly higher than those for public ones. 

According to an investigation from Altroconsumo, a part-time place (five hours a day) at a private nursery costs 480 euros a month on average, whereas a full-time place (ten hours a day) can cost as much as 620 euros a month.

Once again, the available data show a big gap between the north and south of the country, with private daycare facilities in southern regions being significantly more affordable than their northern counterparts – Palermo, Sicily is the least expensive city when it comes to private nursery fees, charging an average of 2.09 euros per hour of care.

Financial support for low-income households is available in the form of a bonus asilo (‘nursery bonus’), which can be claimed by families of children in public daycare facilities or in contracted private ones.

The claimable amount depends on families’ economic situation, which in Italy is calculated as ISEE (Equivalent Financial Position Indicator). The following subsidies are in place:

  • Families with ISEE under 25,000 euros are entitled to an annual budget of 3,000 euros.
  • Families with ISEE between 25,001 euros and 40,000 euros are entitled to 2,500 euros. 
  • Families with ISEE over 40,001 euro are entitled to 1,500 euros.

The bonus asilo for the current school year must be requested by midnight on December 31st, 2022 through the INPS website.

Shortage of childcare places

While this bonus does provide vital help with childcare costs, many families are not actually able to use it due to an endemic dearth of places available at public or private daycare facilities across the country.

According to data from the Italian Public Budget Observatory (Osservatorio sui Conti Pubblici Italiani), in the school year 2019-2020 there were only 361,318 nursery places available in Italy overall (public and private nurseries were considered together in this instance).

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to raise a child in Italy?

That meant that only 26.6 percent of children eligible to receive nursery care (aged between three months and three years) could actually find a place in a daycare facility. 

Though Italy formally committed to increasing the capacity of existing nurseries and creating new facilities through its National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) – the target is to have an additional 264,480 places by December 2025 – many families are still struggling to get their children into daycare and are having to resort to alternative options.

Here’s a look at how the situation compares across Europe:

Denmark

In Denmark, every child is guaranteed a place at a public childcare facility from the age of six months. The government pays 75 percent of the cost of a place or even more if your household income is below a certain threshold

The exact amount parents pay depends on the Kommune. In Copenhagen Municipality, the cost of nursery care (vuggestue up to 2 years and 10 months) is 4,264 kroner a month including lunch (roughly €573). For kindergarten (børnehave from 2 years and 10 months to 6 years) it is 2,738 kroner a month including lunch (roughly €368).

If you have more than one child using childcare, you pay full price for the most expensive daycare and half-price for the others.

Parents in Denmark can also receive child and youth benefits (børne- og ungeydelsen), also known as børnepenge. This is a tax-free payment that you receive for each of your children until they reach the age of 18.

For children aged 0-2 years it is 4,653 kroner per quarter (roughly €156 per month per child). For children aged 3-6 years it is 3,681 kroner per quarter (roughly €123 per month per child).

Norway

The cost of nursery and kindergarten is capped at 3,050 Norwegian kroner, regardless of the hours attended or whether that facility is state-run or private. This means you’ll never pay more than roughly €295 a month per child in childcare costs.

Sweden

Generally, the highest amount parents have to pay for a full-time place in childcare is 1,572 SEK a month, which is around €145. The exact amount is calculated on income. It is half price if you have more than one child in childcare. 

Germany

The costs for daycare centres (Kindertagesstätte, or Kita for short) can differ greatly depending on where you live in Germany, as the fees are set by the local government.

In Schleswig-Holstein in the far north, parents pay on average nine percent of their after-tax income on childcare costs. In Hamburg, 4.4 percent of parent’s income goes on childcare as every child is entitled to five hours of free care a day. In Berlin, daycare is completely free. 

Spain

Costs can vary depending on whether it is a  private or public guardería or centro infantil (as nurseries are called in Spanish).

Public ones are heavily subsidised by the government and cost around €100-260 per month, depending on where you live in Spain and your situation. Private nurseries cost between €150 and €580 per month. There is also a fixed yearly fee called a matrícula or enrolment fee, which is around €100.

There is a 50 percent discount for large families and single parents don’t have to pay anything for childcare.

There’s also a deduction of up to €1,000 (cheque guardería) that is applied to the income tax return and works out at around €100 to €160 per month which is aimed at working mothers and is available up until the child is three years old.

France

In France, crèches tend to be the most affordable option and the cost is based on the family’s income. High earners might pay up to a maximum of €4.20 an hour (€33.60 for an 8-hour day), whereas low-income families might pay €0.26 an hour (€2.08 for an 8-hour day) at a crèche collective, which is for three months to three year olds. At the age of three, compulsory education begins in France.

The cost of a childminder is around €10.88 an hour and up to 50 percent of the costs of a nanny or professional childminder can be reimbursed by the government.

The OECD calculations on the percentage of income spent on childcare – based on two parents both working full time – is 13 percent in France. This is roughly similar to Spain and Italy.

Austria

Public nurseries and kindergartens are heavily subsidised and in some cases free, depending on where you live. For example in Vienna, parents only need to pay €72.33 a month to cover meal costs, with low income families being exempt from that fee.

Vienna also subsidises private kindergartens, paying up to €635.44 a month directly to the institution. 

In other provinces, kindergarten is free for part-time hours. It is mandatory for all children in Austria to attend part-time kindergarten from the age of five. They start school aged six.

Switzerland

The average Swiss family spends a massive 41 percent of their net income on childcare, three times the OECD average of 13 percent.

The average cost of childcare in Switzerland is CHF130 a day (€136). Due to tax breaks and subsidies paid out in the cantons, many parents will pay between 30 and 80 percent of this cost, depending on income. This equates to paying between €41 and €108 a day, roughly €902 to €2,376 a month. 

It’s even more expensive to hire a nannie, which will cost between CHF3,500 (€3,678) and CHF5,000 (€5,255) a month, including mandatory pension contributions.

United Kingdom

According to charity Coram in their Childcare Survey 2022, the average cost of full-time nursery is £1,166 (around €1,304 a month), which is even higher in some parts of London. There are some government subsidies available for low-income families and those receiving benefits and every parent is entitled to 15 or 30 free hours of childcare the term after their child turns three years old.

Conclusion

The cost of childcare varies within each country, depending on family circumstances. However, for guaranteed low childcare costs for every parent, Sweden comes out best, with a maximum of €145 a month.

Average monthly cost of state-run childcare:

Sweden: €145 maximum

Norway: €295 maximum

Austria: €72.33 – roughly €500

Spain: €100 – €260 

Germany: €0 –  €368

Italy: €303 for nursery care; €324 for kindergarten

Denmark: €368 – €573

France: €45,76 – €739.20 

Switzerland: €902 – €2,376 

U.K. €1,304 which reduces the term after the child turns three.

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