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Where can I use my Italian mobile phone without paying roaming fees?

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Where can I use my Italian mobile phone without paying roaming fees?
A tourist is pictured as she checks her phone while standing on the sidewalk. Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Where can you use your Italian mobile phone without being charged and where should you be wary of roaming fees?

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Travelling is one of the many joys of life, but keeping in touch with friends or family back home while exploring new places and cultures can at times lead to rather unpleasant surprises on the next phone bill.

The good news is if you're travelling within the EU, you'll almost certainly not be charged roaming costs. 

Thanks to EU legislation introduced in 2017, you can use your Italian mobile phone in any EU country without incurring any extra costs.

That includes: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden.

As Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are members of the European Economic Area (EEA), you will also be able to use your Italian phone for free there too.

READ ALSO: 'Hellish odyssey': Why cancelling my Italian phone contract took six months

But things get fairly tricky when you’re travelling outside of the EU as most network providers apply roaming charges in non-EU countries, with costs varying by company.

In most cases, you’ll be notified of any possible charges by your own provider upon arriving in a new country. However, it can be easy to overlook these types of messages when travelling, which is why it’s generally best to check the roaming rates before setting off.  

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It’s worth noting that Switzerland, Andorra and Monaco are not EU member states, which means roaming fees apply there.

Merely using your mobile in the proximity of the above countries’ borders may also prove costly, as your phone may connect to their networks and be charged roaming costs.

This does not apply to San Marino or the Vatican, as neither state has a phone network of its own, instead relying on the Italian network, which means Italian mobiles don’t incur roaming charges there.

Roaming charges in the UK post-Brexit

Following Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the European free-roaming arrangement. 

This means that it is up to individual phone companies to choose whether to apply roaming charges or not.

Of the main mobile networks in Italy, Vodafone continues to keep the UK in Zone 1, which means that there will be no additional cost to the tariff you have at home.

READ ALSO: How to answer the phone in Italian

The same goes for Wind and TIM customers, though Wind has said that the current arrangements are temporary and may change in future.

It’s worth noting here that phone companies are legally required to give one month's notice before they change any rates or contract terms, including roaming fees.

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What about the US?

To date, none of Italy’s four major mobile networks (Vodafone, TIM, Wind, Iliad) offer free roaming in the US. However, all companies offer special bundles that can be purchased before travelling to the US to avoid standard roaming rates. 

For instance, TIM offers 10GB of internet data, 500 minutes of calls and 500 text messages for 20 euros. The offer has a 30-day validity.

Wind customers can purchase a 19.99-euro monthly US travel pass including 30GB of data, 500 minutes of calls and 500 text messages.

Among other offers, Vodafone customers can get 10GB, 200 minutes and 10 SMS for 10 days for a total price of 24.99 euros.

Using standard roaming tariffs is generally not advisable barring very short stays as, depending on the provider, calling an Italian number from the US can cost up to 2 euros per minute, whereas one single MB (megabyte) of data can cost up to 20 cents.

Is there a time limit to free roaming in an EU country?

EU legislation states that the free-roaming policy is intended for people who occasionally travel outside the country where they live or have stable links (work, study, family, etc.) and is not meant to be used for permanent roaming. 

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As long as you spend more time at home than abroad, you can roam at domestic prices with no extra charges when travelling anywhere in the EU. 

As part of the free-roaming policy however, your phone operator can monitor and check your roaming use over a four-month period. If during this period you have spent more time abroad than at home and your roaming usage exceeds your home usage, your operator may start applying roaming charges.

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