Being an Expat in Italy: The Honest Guide To Navigating Life Abroad

Being an Expat in Italy: The Honest Guide To Navigating Life Abroad
Spread the love

Last Updated on February 16, 2022

Living in Italy and getting my Italian dual citizenship was a dream born while studying abroad in Florence. Fast forward a few years and now I wake up to the sound of Vespas whizzing down my street, stare out my window to a view of the Alps, and stuff my face with all the amazing carbs Italy has to offer. But every big change comes with its ups and its downs. To help you decide if it’s the right move abroad for you, I’m sharing exactly what it’s like to be an expat in Italy and how to navigate this big life change.

From dealing with bureaucracy to adapting to local customs, there are so many facets to life in Italy that could maybe spoil the idealistic “dolce vita” everyone pictures. Of course, there are lots of pros to living in one of the most (in my opinion) beautiful countries in the world.

This is the good, the bad, the honest guide to being an expat in Italy, hopefully answering questions you have about the ins and outs of every aspect of life.

Reasons You May (Or May Not) Want to Live in Italy

Like any country, there’s a lot to love and some to not love, which becomes much more apparent when you’re a resident. At a glance these are reasons I would and would not move to Italy as an expat:

Reasons to move to Italy:

  • Variety of landscapes
  • Long history
  • Slower lifestyle
  • Welcoming people
  • Opportunity to travel
  • Safety

Reasons not to move to Italy:

  • The lifestyle is just too slow
  • Convenience (24-hour pharmacy? In and out trip to the post office? Non-existent in Italy!)
  • To find a job – opportunities are already slim

And for those wanting the juicy details from an expat in Italy herself, here’s the breakdown.

The Overwhelmingly Beautiful Landscapes

Can you tell I think this is one of the positives about living in Italy? The country is so much more than the Tuscan countryside’s rolling hills or colorful village houses of the Cinque Terre. All of the Insta-famous places are breathtaking, but after moving to Italy, you soon realize everywhere you look takes your breath away.

Mountains, lakes, old cities, new cities, sea, fields: there are a variety of engaging, diverse landscapes that make living in Italy special.

The same goes for the climate. Skiing in the Alps? Check. Swimming in the Mediterranean? Check. Tanning on island time? Check.

On top of that, the opportunity to travel to amazing places in basically no time is one of my favorite things about living in Italy. A few hours drive and you could be in France, Switzerland, Austria or Slovenia. Not to mention it’s easy to find cheap flights all around Europe.

History

What adds to Italy’s landscapes are the country’s centuries of history, embodied by both ruins that are world famous and random castles you’ll have never heard of every few miles.

As an American, it’s extremely strange yet magical to see a castle or ancient building everywhere you look.

It’s one of the best reasons to live in Italy because it consistently pushes you outside of your bubble, broadening your perspective on the world and how you can add significance.

Speed of Life (Or lack there of)

Some people may love Italy for its slower pace. Even in large cities, the Italians manage to always take time to pause throughout the minimal hustle and bustle. And life is much, much slower in small towns.

Visiting my family in the central Sicilian countryside, I experienced what rural life in Italy is like. Let’s just say after two weeks, I couldn’t figure out how people stay sane passing the time.

There are absolutely positives to that slower way of life: deeper connections with people, creating moments with what you have, and finding deep appreciation for the small things.

Even if you’re not in a tiny Sicilian village, the slow culture permeates every aspect of life. Family lunches are not just lunch: they are all-day affairs. You will never be rushed out dinner; in fact, the waiter will not bring you the check and does not come to visit you because that would be taken as them rushing you. In Italy, you don’t rush!

This speed is often frustrating as an expat. For example, I had to pick up a package from the post office this past weekend. There were 8 people when I got there waiting outside. I waited an hour and a half to finally get my package!

So, there are positives and negatives to the slow lifestyle of Italy.

Italy living: slow and relaxed

Friendliness

I don’t want to generalize, but I have never met an Italian who was not completely welcoming. It is part of their culture to make others feel welcome and taken care of.

This also makes it really easy to connect with locals and build relationships, which makes the country an even more comfortable environment for expats.

Safety

For the past four years, I’ve traveled around Italy solo, with a group of girlfriends, and now lived and navigated daily life. I always feel safe in Italy.

Women can walk alone, children are always out playing in the towns and there is a general feeling of safety. I would still recommend making safe choices, many that you can find and apply from my post on solo female travel tips.

Avoid walking alone way late into the night, be street smart, and don’t be too flashy. One of the more common safety concerns is pickpocketing in large cities, so always keep your belongings in front of you and expensive items away from prying eyes.

But, in general, Italy is a very safe country for expats to live in.

Mistakes to Avoid As A New Expat in Italy

For those with their hearts already set and preparing for the big move, don’t make these mistakes! And consult my moving abroad checklist to make sure you’ve got all the to-dos checked off.

Choosing the Wrong Place To Live

I recommend putting lots of thought into where you’d like to live in Italy. The major choices you’ll have to make are:

  • City vs. countryside
  • North vs. South
  • Town size

All of these factors impact another important aspect of life in Italy: language. I personally wouldn’t move to a tiny village where no one understands a lick of English. I speak decent Italian and I would still be intimidated to know that something could come up where I can’t explain my situation to get help from anyone.

Cities in Italy move at a faster pace and usually include bigger expat communities, dining variety, job opportunities, etc. The countryside is much slower, so it could be ideal for a freelancer working from home wanting the authentic, rural experience.

Northern Italy is more developed than southern Italy. It should be easier to find jobs, English-speaking companions, and an overall more “modern” lifestyle.

Southern Italy moves at a slower pace and, another important aspect to consider is that it’s cheaper to live in, from the price of real estate to that of food.

Another culture shock to me was that there are no “neighborhoods” of the conventional American style. Towns are just towns, either large or small, which can determine how your experience goes in many ways.

Especially at the beginning of your moving process, you’ll be dealing a lot with the “Comune” or town government. Towns that are more like tiny villages may lack English-speaking resources or not be in tune with all of the expat practices (in the case that you move to a town uncommon for expats to be living in).

Not Having Your Ducks In a Row Upon Arrival

Not to scare you or anything, but there are many ways moving to Italy can go wrong. But speaking from my own experience moving here to apply for my dual citizenship, you must familiarize yourself with all the rules of your visa/right to live in Italy and come with all the right paperwork.

In fact, just come with every piece of paperwork ever related to you moving to Italy. Bureaucracy is not only slow, but I’ve found people often don’t know what they’re talking about and may ask to see more than you bargained for.

Not Learning the Language

Italians speak Italian and they like it that way. You’re more likely to encounter young people who know English,m So, it’s much easier to adapt as an expat in Italy if you learn the language.

This will not only allow you to make friends but will definitely increase your opportunities for work in Italy. A second language, especially English, is highly appreciated, but you have to have enough knowledge of Italian to get by.

Not to mention that handling affairs with any institution, from the Comune (town government) to the delivery person, will be frustratingly difficult without any knowledge of Italian.

Expecting It To Be Like Your Home Country

You will not like Italy if you expect it to be like your home country. Italians do things differently, and that’s what makes it special (and annoying sometimes – there are always pros and cons).

Take everything in stride. Get used to doing anything with the government taking forever, but look on the bright side that you can drink coffee all the time and no one will look at you weird – well, only if you order a cappuccino after 10 am.


Daily Life in Italy

A bakery depicts a part of daily life in Italy

Food

It’s no secret Italy is home to some of the best comfort food, and their culture revolves around it. Each region has its own specialty ingredients due to the variety of landscapes and climate conditions.

The way Italians experience food may be different to what you’re used to. There are no quick meals, the customer is not always right, no coffee to-go, and you won’t see an Italian scarfing down a sandwich while they’re walking somewhere.

The culture of food is very much in line with the rest of the lifestyle; take your sweet time to sit and enjoy.

Expats may also need to adjust to the time Italians eat. Dinners can run very late because they start late: around 8-8:30 pm. Before dinner, Italians have what’s called an aperitivo (kind of like a happy hour, but every single day) with snacks and drinks.

There are so many food traditions, customs, and details to dive into, so a full eating in Italy post is coming soon!

Working

One of the likely paths of moving to Italy is securing a job and a work visa. It’s not easy for a multitude of reasons, but it’s the option that is open to most people.

It’s not easy finding work in Italy (especially while still living abroad) if you don’t speak the language, have a specialty, or know somebody in Italy. Italy works the same way as a lot of other places: it’s who you know, not what you know.

Italy’s economy is again representative of the lifestyle: it’s slow-moving and holds onto tradition. So, while Italy is developed and continuously modernizing, the job market, in general, fails to keep up, which is why many young people move out of Italy.

So finding a job as an expat in Italy becomes even harder since there is already a lack of jobs for those that already live in the country.

Not to mention, although the cost of living is not much less than what I am used to in the United States, the salaries are much lower.

Getting Around

Getting around in Italy, whether traveling by train, hopping on a bus, or having the convenience of your own car or “moto” (aka the vespa every expat dreams of!), is usually an adventure.

Public transport is well-developed. Train travel in is convenient for getting between regions. Buses in Italy are the best way to get around cities. Driving, however, is a bit intimidating.

Yes, there are road rules – and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a car accident after almost a year in Italy – but Italian drivers like to do their own thing. After going to Naples once to visit the Amalfi Coast, I had an anxiety attack as the bus at the train station pulled into what was the craziest roundabout traffic I’ve ever seen in my life.

If you do plan to drive in Italy, your foreign license is valid for a year and then you will have to get an Italian driver’s license. For all the ins and outs, check out my full guide to driving in Italy.

As a new expat, I’d start small using public transportation and then consider driving.


Cost of Living in Italy for Expats

The cost of living varies greatly depending on where you live. If you choose to live in the North, you’ll have a higher cost of living. If you choose to live in the city, you’ll have a higher cost of living.

It’s difficult to put one number together and tell you it costs _____ per month to live in Italy, due to the varying factors of the region, city size, your personal needs, etc.

If you have a specific question regarding the cost of living, leave it in a comment!

Currency

First things first, Italy’s currency is the euro (€). I recommend downloading a currency conversion app on your phone to get used to understanding what things cost compared to your home currency!

Housing

I’ve been fortunate to live in my boyfriend’s home and not have to deal with rent and bills – yet. The day will come and apartment hunting has been performed, so I can give an overview of what to expect.

You can expect to pay 500€-1000€ a month for a basic “monolocale’, or studio, or “bilocale”, one-bedroom, apartment. This is in my city of Bergamo in northern Italy and its hard to generalize the country because the regions are all so different. So expect that the price will vary greatly based on where you live.

Apartments may or may not come furnished and you’ll likely have to pay condominium fees on top of utilities.

Italy is not the cheapest place to live, so make sure you have an emergency fund and savings built up before making the big move.

Food & Groceries

Compared to U.S. prices, I find prices of food at grocery stores in Italy and eating out slightly cheaper.

There are always sales at grocery stores and some jobs even offer their workers “buoni pasto”, which are lunch certificates of a determined value (usually around 5€) you can use at participating restaurants but also at the grocery store, which is a great help.

The biggest difference in the cost of eating out in Italy (from the United States) is that you don’t have to tip. Instead, you pay a “coperto”, or cover charge, per person (usually between 1€ and 3€).

INPS/Taxes

If you’re a fiscal resident of Italy making over 5,000€ per year, you’ll have to report your income and pay taxes/INPS contributions.

INPS contributions are similar to social security. There is no specific “expat tax” to pay. If you are a resident, you pay taxes like other residents.

Depending on your country, you may or may not have to pay taxes in both your home country and Italy.

For example, as a dual U.S.-Italian citizen, I still have to file taxes in the U.S.; however, I can claim foreign tax credits that mean I won’t pay anything in the U.S. I’ll only pay taxes in Italy where my income is earned.

The Italian tax system and working in Italy gets a bit confusing, so I recommend talking to a specialist in your country or contacting a “commercialista”, or accountant, here in Italy when you arrive.

Cell phone

Luckily in Italy, just having a cell phone bill doesn’t cost much! Just a SIM Card with a low-cost phone provider costs around $9 per month.

Dive into the specifics on this topic in my post on SIM cards in Italy.

Transportation

Public transportation, like buses, metros, and trains typically “abbonamenti,” or passes, instead of single-use tickets to cater to residents.

The longer the duration of the pass, the less you usually pay. For example, my monthly bus pass costs 52€, while the annual pass costs 455€. It’s more money upfront, but the annual pass actually saves you three months’ worth of payments.

Health Insurance

Italy has public healthcare called the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN). If you become an Italian citizen, you will have access to Italy’s public healthcare system.

You can become an Italian citizen through marriage, descent, or residency. (Keep in mind that to earn Italian citizenship by residency, you have to be a resident for 10 years if you’re a non-EU citizen or 4 years if you’re an EU citizen.)

Expats who are residents and not citizens can usually also qualify for SSN but need to have private insurance until they can apply. You’ll need to have your Codice Fiscale and valid “permesso di soggiorno”, or permit to stay, (or receipt stating you applied for it) to apply for the “tessera sanitaria”, your healthcare card.

Private healthcare is also an option in Italy that obviously costs more, but usually gives you more choice and easier access to appointments. So far, I’ve had a good experience using the public healthcare system and haven’t experienced too long of waits.


How to Make Friends and Connect with Other Expats in Italy

What It's Like Being an Expat in Italy

Making friends with locals and other expats in Italy alike can be a challenge! It all comes down to what your daily activities are like and putting in the effort to meet new people and use the language.

Starting points I recommend are:

  • Join expat Facebook groups like this one.
  • Follow expat websites like this one.
  • Strike up a basic conversation at local bars/cafes where people are quite open.

Honestly, Italian communities are so tightly-knit, especially in small towns, that you’ll probably be well-known as the “straniero” or foreigner!

As mentioned before, Italians are very welcoming. All you have to do is strike up the courage to start some conversations and you will make connections.

If you’re really worried about this aspect of the transition, factor this into your choice of residency. Bg cities tend to have larger expat communities (and more English speakers), which will ease your transition and allow you to make connections quicker.

Wait: How Do You Actually Move To Italy?

I assume if you’ve made it to this post, you’re already moving or have moved to Italy. But in case you’re in that state of confusion where you know you’d like to move to Italy but have no idea how, here a few ways you can do it.

  • Applying for Italian dual citizenship by descent (prerequisite: have Italian ancestors)
  • Finding a job in Italy that will sponsor your visa (tough since competition is high and job opportunities are slim)
  • Studying at international schools in Italy (student visa is potentially the easiest way to move to Italy)
  • Marry an Italian (straightforward and easy, right?)
  • Self-employed, but meet certain requirements
  • Have family members to reunite with ( for which you’d apply for a reunification visa)

I’m not an immigration expert or official, so there may be other ways I’m unfamiliar with. There are tons of expat resources online, like this post, so I recommend you read many as you do your research.


Final Thoughts: Is Italy a Good Country for Expats?

If you have the opportunity to live abroad, Italy is truly a dream location to do so.

Here’s why I would choose to live in Italy summed up:

  • Location
  • Opportunity to travel
  • Food
  • Cultural experiences

I wouldn’t choose to live in Italy for the work opportunities or the conveniences that I am used to from my American lifestyle. Secure a job first or have something lined up to set yourself up for success!

But no one can deny that there is an allure to Italy and the Italian culture unlike any other. To live in Italy is to truly be living out a dream, through the ups and through the downs.

What questions do you have about being an expat in Italy? Leave them in a comment and I’ll answer!

Save this guide to Pinterest!

I hope this honest “review” of being an expat in Italy has been helpful to your decision-making process or, if you’ve already moved, your adjustment to life abroad!

XOXO

Michela

Follow:
0
Share:

4 Comments

  1. Jenny
    May 6, 2022 / 11:00 pm

    I am interested in moving to Italy for many of the reasons you have shared above but the expat tax reduction is a big appeal. Can you advise if you know people who have taken advantage of this?

    • Michela
      Author
      May 13, 2022 / 2:21 pm

      Hi Jenny,

      I will pay Italian taxes for the first time next year and I’m a dual citizen, so unfortunately I don’t have a lot of personal experience with this question! And I also don’t know anyone who has taken advantage of it. But I can share with you the most reliable resource on this topic which comes directly from the Agenzia dell’Entrate, which is the government organization that handles all the financial regulation and taxes: https://www.agenziaentrate.gov.it/portale/web/english/nse/individuals/tax-incentives-for-attracting-human-capital-in-italy

      At that link, you’ll also find a pdf that explains all the different kinds of expat tax breaks and who is eligible for them. I hope this helps and that moving to Italy is in your future!

      Michela

  2. Phoebe
    June 8, 2022 / 8:21 am

    I’m moving to Rome in a month (for work) and I’m freaking out already although I used to live in Europe and have visited Italy several times. Your blog is very helpful with all the tips – especially the part about driving and getting a car. Thank you!

    • Michela
      Author
      June 9, 2022 / 1:20 pm

      Hi Phoebe,

      That sounds like such an exciting opportunity! I’m glad you found the article helpful. Feel free to reach out whenever if you have specific questions and I wish you the best on your new adventure! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Looking for Something?