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When you first arrive in Italy your heart will leap as you take in the sights and sounds of your new home as everything seems new, exciting and full of adventure; but as the honeymoon period wears off you’ll start to notice that there are plenty of challenges too!
There are many obstacles that Expats/Immigrants face when moving to a new country and Italy is no exception. Surprisingly though, many Expats underestimated the challenges that they will face before they made the move. If, on the other hand, you do have an idea of the potential issues that you may have to overcome it can make your transition that much easier.
Underestimating the Challenges – The Stats.
The truth is that most Expats underestimate the challenges that they will face in their new homes! This is not to say that you should rule out moving abroad because the benefits far outweigh the problems but the more you understand about what awaits you the quicker you’ll be able to find your feet in Italy.
According to research conducted by the transnational bank HSBC, in the Expat Explorer Survey of 2008, German Expats who were questioned about the difficulties they faced often admitted that the move was harder than they first expected it would be!
For instance, more than 80% of Expats who were questioned in the survey said that adapting to the local culture was harder than they thought. 42% said that learning the local language was more challenging than they expected and 38% said that finding accommodation was difficult.
On the upside, nearly 10% of Expats questioned said that they felt the move to a new country was far easier than they had expected! If you’re wondering how you can become one of the 10% who find the move a piece of cake then read on because knowing about the challenges in advance is the best way to either avoid them or overcome them with ease.
The Language Barrier.
When you move to Italy you will realize quickly that many Italians either don’t speak English or are uncomfortable doing so. This is a very common challenge that Expats find out about on arriving in Italy and whether it’s asking for the prices in a local market or shopping for clothes, if you don’t speak Italian it can be quite tricky.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be 100% fluent in Italian and be able to speak about politics and academic subjects, so don’t worry! What it does mean though is that even a smattering of basic conversational level Italian will go a very long way in your daily life.
You should certainly aim to learn how to ask for prices, train tickets, hotel rooms, directions and other basic necessities before you move to the country. There are many incredibly useful online courses where you can get started on Italian before you move to the country. Once you arrive in Italy you can also join up with local language groups and language exchanges.
In a language group you’ll be with other Expats and you may hire a Italian language teacher together. In language exchanges, you meet up with Italian locals who want to learn English. Different language exchanges work differently, but often you’ll take it in turns to practise your conversational skills with each other, correcting each other where necessary. Both language groups and exchanges are also fun ways to meet new people.
Fitting Into The Culture.
It’s amazing how in our home countries we barely notice the customs and culture but the moment we arrive in a foreign country nothing could be more obvious! Well, you certainly will find that when you move to Italy because not only are the locals fiercely loyal and proud of their customs but the culture pervades every aspect of life.
This is no bad thing and it’s part of the reason why people from all over the world love Italy so much; but even so it does take some getting used to when you first arrive.
As an Expat it’s important that you respect and adapt to the customs of your new home because doing so will make your life infinitely easier! You’re never going to change the Italian society to fit your expectations so you should just go with the flow.
Italians are flamboyant, expressive and passionate about their food, soccer, heritage and families. There’s a lot you can learn from the Italians, as an Expat, and so even if it feels overwhelming at first you should do whatever you can to fit in and become a part of the magic.
Italians are hugely welcoming and friendly so if you show them that you respect their way of life they will be more than happy to take you under their wing and show you the best places to eat, shop and everything else you need to know to live your best life in their homeland.
Shelter is a basic life necessity and so when you arrive in Italy it should be one of the first things you sort out. You may be hoping to buy a property in the future or rent long term but on day one you may have to stay in a hostel or hotel.
Whatever your plans are, you should always try to arrange accommodation for at least the first few weeks before you arrive in the country. This will take a massive stress out of your life and give you the security, time and space to begin adjusting to your new home.
If you are house hunting in Italy, then you can rent a property for a very reasonable price for a few months which will turn out to be much cheaper than staying in a hotel. Incredibly, particularly in rural parts of the country, you can rent a small but comfortable apartment for as little as $400 per month while you look for a more permanent home in Italy.
Becoming Familiar With The Local Legal System.
Another major challenge that many Expats face is learning about the different legal system where not only do European Union laws apply in Italy, but there are also national and regional laws to abide by.
This can make the bureaucracy extremely tiring and complex, to say the least! Unlike in many other parts of the world the local authorities in Italy have wide ranging powers and enforce a wide range of unusual regulations relating to housing, communal areas and heritage.
The rules surrounding the purchasing of property in Italy are especially onerous and so if you’re not familiar with them you will need to employ the help of a local property lawyer or real estate agency to handle the paperwork for you.
If you’re moving to Italy you will also have to arrange your official residency permit, bank account and local drivers license. You can get advice about this from your consulate before you arrive in the country so you are prepared for what you’ll have to do. Alternatively, if you know other Expats in the county then they can give you some practical advice as to what you need to do.
Healthcare And Schooling.
Healthcare and schooling are challenges that immigrants from all age groups face. Obviously if you are not going to school yourself or if you do not have children, then schooling is not an issue. If not, this can become an issue, particularly if you or your children do not speak Italian. Read my article about the Italian school system for additional information.
Proper healthcare is an universal problem. Italy has an universal health care system that covers most health issues at a reasonable cost to the patient (Taxes in general are much higher in Italy when compared to the US, so you are paying for it every time you get paid!). But you should not expect the clinic, the doctor’s office or the hospitals to function at the same level as that of the US. My experience with the Italian system is similar to that of what I have had with the health system in India than it is to the United States.
Making A Living.
Financial security is an essential feature of a happy life and this is even more true when you’ve moved to a country where you might not have the family, friends and support network that you are used to.
Many Expats move to Italy without having a job and although this is risky it can work out if you find a job fast. However, it’s a far better idea to arrange work before you arrive. Alternatively, if you are working remotely then you only need to make sure that you have access to a reliable internet connection.
Acclimatizing To The Weather.
Depending on where you’re moving from you might have to get used to the weather in Italy – although generally speaking the weather is lovely! You should bear in mind that the winter temperatures in Italy can fall quite low, especially in Northern and mountainous parts of the country. However, wherever you are in the country the summers are pleasantly warm, and positively hot in the South, while during the winter it gets cold enough to need a good heating system in your home.
The key to adapting to new weather conditions is to make sure you have the right clothes to handle the conditions. There is a saying in Scandinavia that there is no such thing as cold weather, only the wrong clothes! So take this on board when you move to Italy and dress for the weather as it changes throughout the year.
Making New Friends.
Life can quickly get lonely if you don’t know anyone while living in a foreign country. This means that you will want to start making friends as soon as possible once you’ve moved to Italy. The key to successfully building up a new circle of friends is to be proactive and adaptable. You can join local groups, meet people online in Expat forums and social media groups or just go out to your local bars and cafes and start up conversations with the people you meet!
When you are making friends it will be easier to meet other Expats because you have more in common with them but you shouldn’t limit yourself to this. Try to get to know local Italians as well because this way you’ll get a much better feel for the culture and community that you are living in.
Dealing With Homesickness.
It’s only natural that you’ll feel homesick from time to time while you’re living as an Expat. One way you can help to overcome, or mitigate, this is to maintain regular contact with your friends and family back home. Maybe you can arrange to call your family on the weekends, or write weekly emails to each other. This will help you stay in touch with the news at home and continue to feel connected to your loved ones over the sea.
You should also try to stay active and fill your days with new and exciting things, meet new friends and even take up some new hobbies. Remember, that moving to a new country will always be challenging but if you make the most of the possibilities that are available to you then you should settle in fast and stop feeling homesick so often.
The Challenges That Expats Face Can Always Be Overcome With A Positive Attitude.
When you move to a foreign country, even one as lovely as Italy, you are always going to have to face challenges that you aren’t used to. Whatever you are facing though you should always try to maintain a positive mental attitude and although it’s often easier said than done it can really help a lot.
What are the major challenges you faced when you moved to Italy?