Born to Stefano and Paola Maino in Lusiana, a little village 50 km from Vicenza, Italy, she spent her adolescence in Orbassano, a town near Turin being raised in a Roman Catholic family and attending a Catholic school. Her father, a building contractor, died in 1983. Her mother and two sisters still live around Orbassano.
In 1964, she went to study English at The Bell Educational Trust's language school in the city of Cambridge. Being from a poor family she once worked as a waitress in a restaurant to pay her tuition fees While enrolled in this certificate course she met Rajiv Gandhi, who was enrolled at the time in Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. They were married in 1969, after which she moved into the house of her mother-in-law and then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. She acquired Indian citizenship in 1983.The couple had two children, Rahul Gandhi (born 1970) and Priyanka Gandhi (born 1972). She acquired Indian citizenship after 14 years of her marriage.
Despite the family's heavy involvement in politics (her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, was Prime Minister), Sonia and Rajiv avoided all involvement - Rajiv worked as an airline pilot, and Sonia took care of her family. When Indira was ousted from office in 1977 and when Rajiv entered politics in 1982, Sonia continued to focus on her family and avoided all contact with public.