Moving to Italy to become an Expat/Immigrant resident is an exciting and life changing event. However, there are a few mistakes that you should try to avoid because although you might call yourself an Expat, you’re still an immigrant in a foreign country. This means that you need to be able to adapt to the new culture you are in, be respectful of local customs and ready to learn new things, including the language!
Generally speaking, the more you can do to fit in and become a positive part of the local community the happier your experience will be and the faster you’ll make friends in your newly adopted country of residence.
Italians Are Open And Friendly – So Don’t Worry Too Much!
Despite the fact that you need to be considerate when you move to any foreign country, Italy is one of the friendliest and welcoming countries in the world. This means that if you make an effort to avoid the major mistakes then you will find it quite easy to fit into the community and start a new life full of opportunities overseas.
Who is an ‘Expat’?
An Expat, or ‘ex patriot’, is someone who is foreign and living in another place. Expats come from all over the world to settle in Italy to enjoy the scenery, cultural heritage and lifestyle of the country. As Expat you may work full time or be retired – either way you still qualify, even after you have got official residency. Most Italians welcome expats to their country, partly because of the economic stimulus that they bring to local economies but also because Italians are naturally a hospitable people.
There is a lot of controversy over whether the use of the word expat is appropriate considering that the vast majority of people in similar situations all over the world would be considered as immigrants. For example, I am a first generation immigrant to the United States. I am a productive citizen of the United States and I travel freely between India and the United States. Neither Indians nor Americans consider me as an Expat. I am an immigrant. I plan on writing an article in the future on the expat vs immigrant debate.
Living as an Immigrant in Italy – Mistakes To Avoid.
The following are some of the things that you should avoid if possible when living in Italy:
Not Learning Italian
I am still learning Italian and I am finding it difficult. In my view this is probably the most common mistake that Expats make when moving to Italy and although this doesn’t mean that you have to completely master the language it’s always a good idea to make a start and get up to basic standard as soon as you can. This will allow you to interact with market traders, buy tickets at rural train stations where English may not be spoken and order meals in a restaurant.
It’s worth remembering that many Italians who live outside of the cities don’t speak much, if any, English and so you’re going to need a bit of Italian language to get by.
You might be thinking there’s no point because the locals will know that you have a foreign accent and you keep making mistakes with the grammar and syntax! However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Local Italians will greatly appreciate the fact that you have made the effort to learn their language and will actually treat you with more camaraderie in return!
One of the major reasons why people avoid learning Italian is because they feel embarrassed to try speaking it in public but don’t let this hold you back. It might be daunting at first to try out basic phrases and order a train ticket, but as you get used to it you’ll find it’s actually really enjoyable and as your confidence grows it’ll be fun to test out the new things you’ve learnt.
Don’t Hang Around Exclusively with Other Immigrants
It’s always going to be tempting to spend all your time hanging around with other English speaking Expats and Americans but if you do you’ll really be cutting yourself off from the realities of living in Italy.
Isolating yourself in a bubble of ‘home away from home’ will not only make you stand out but could even bring about resentment from the locals, particularly in smaller towns. The danger is that you can start to get used to living in this way and it will only become harder to break the habit further down the road.
If you’re wondering how you can start to meet some of the locals then keep an eye out for local events which you can attend on your own. This will force you to talk to the locals and act as a springboard for you to get more involved with the community. Volunteering is one of the easiest ways to meet some friendly local residents but you can also go to book launches, language exchange groups and music nights.
It will take a bit of courage to put yourself out there in a foreign country but once you embrace it and start enjoying the adventure of learning about the culture from the inside you’ll soon get over your fears as it becomes completely natural to you. Once you start meeting a few locals you’ll also be able to meet more people through them and in no time at all you’ll find your social circle quickly starts to expand.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t hang out with other Expats but try to keep it in perspective and create as wide a group of friends as you can in your new home. Remember, to a lot of local Italians, they’ll be as interested to meet you as you will be to meet them! They’ll want to hear all about the States and be happy to show you around their town in return, whilst giving you tips about the best restaurants, bars and events that you need to visit! You can break the ice with your new friends by inviting them around for dinner at your house or meeting them for a coffee before going to see an exhibition in the town.
Italy Can Be Very Expensive – Don’t Underestimate the Costs.
Although many parts of Italy are relatively cheap to live in it will take you a while to find your feet and get used to life. At first you may not know where to buy the cheaper food that the locals eat and this will cost you money!
When you move to any new country as an Expat you need to build up a new life from the ground up. There’s bound to be a lot of unforeseen costs that spring up unexpectedly so you should always try to be as frugal as possible until you’re settled down and feel confident about your prospects going forward.
If you’re moving to Italy and expecting to find a job straight away then you might have to temper your expectations. The economy is in the middle of a minor downturn and most employers will probably favor an Italian to a recently arrived Expat.
When you move to Italy you should always try to maintain a financial buffer so that you can weather any unexpected storm that might come your way. If you can work online then you’ll be in a better position than if you just arrive and then start looking for a job.
There are plenty of job opportunities for Expats though in some sectors of the economy, such as teaching and hospitality; however, don’t expect to arrive and get a job at a local business without speaking fluent Italian and having some connections in the community first.
A few tips to help you stretch your budget when you first arrive in Italy:
- Instead of eating dinner out in a restaurant have lunch – it’s cheaper and you’ll get just as much food! Some restaurants have lunch time menus for workers which you can take advantage of and save a lot of money.
- Try to cook for yourself most of the time. Find out where the supermarkets are and visit the local markets on the weekend. Avoid touristy shops and markets where prices will be inflated by comparison.
- Utility bills in Italy are quite expensive compared to the US so be careful about how much hot water you use and always turn off the lights when you’re out the room! Every little helps and it will soon add up.
Don’t Expect Italy or the Italians to Change for You!
Language is not the only barrier you will face when you move to Italy because you’ll also need to learn to adapt to the local customs and ways of life. Learning about the culture and finding ways to fit in is crucial to living a comfortable life in your newly adopted country. Italian society has a lot of strange and quirky things that are not going to change for you so you will need to get used to them!
For instance, if you go out to the shops at 1pm in the afternoon and find they’re all closed, don’t be surprised! Italians, particularly in rural areas, shut up their shops from about 12 noon until 3.30 pm so they can go home and have a relaxed lunch! The slow pace of life pervades every aspect of Italy so the best strategy is to go with the flow and enjoy the way things are done.
Driving in Italy is also crazy. If you’re planning on hiring a car then make sure you can handle the fast paced and erratic style of driving which Italians are well known for. Drivers will skip stop lights and ignore road signs, cut across lanes and drive at high speed, and although they are very skillful drivers it’s going to take some getting used to. Italians frequently rank as the most dangerous drivers in Europe but if you go with a local saying, ‘You watch your front and I’ll watch your back’ then you should be okay!
Another cultural aspect of Italian life is that the people speak in a very respectful and flowery way compared to most Westerners. In America, people tend to be very direct in the way that they communicate but in Italy this could easily be perceived as rudeness or worse! So be careful how you communicate with the locals and try to be conscious of how you are coming across.
Don’t Try To Eat Only American Style Food.
Even if you miss the food from your homeland then you should still try to adapt to the ways that the Italians eat. This will not only save you money but will make your life in the country far more enjoyable.
For example, if you’re eating out with other people then don’t expect to have a meal on a single plate! Italians like to eat multiple courses and they often share food from one plate. A traditional meal in Italy is usually at least 3 courses and will take some getting used to.
Furthermore, Italians do not eat ham and eggs for breakfast! They prefer to eat sweet cake or croissants with coffee. You might be craving a plate of ham and eggs but you should try to take up the habits of your new culture as soon as you can. You can find a more traditional American breakfast being served in most hotels but if you regularly go for this option it will soon start costing you a fortune.
Immerse Yourself in Italy and Enjoy.
There’s going to be a lot of things you need to get used to when you move to Italy. Unlike the US and most of Western Europe, Italy is not a service orientated economic system and so if you’re used to getting excellent customer service any time you walk into a restaurant or shop then you’re going to have to lower your expectations!
As an Expat you need to remember that you are a guest in a new country and until you’ve made some friends and become a firm fixture in the local community you’re going to have to be prepared to make changes to your expectations, be ready to adapt and constantly pick up the nuances of the locals around you.
Italians are extremely friendly and welcoming as a society but they are also proud of their heritage and like to do things in a traditional way. This means that as long as you are respectful and are ready to overcome unexpected challenges along the way, your new life as an Expat will be a wonderful adventure.