The quality of life in Italy is extremely high however the experience of an Expat is very different to that of a holiday maker on vacation. Expats become part of the community and through making friends with locals on a longer term basis they are privileged to get an inside look at the Italian culture; they’ll get to know about the best local restaurants and shop at farmer’s markets on the weekend. However, there’s a whole range of challenges and frustrations that an Expat will need to overcome before they can fully settle down in Italy.
The Expat community in Italy is fairly large – particularly in the big cities, although many hill towns and rural areas also have a good smattering of foreign residents. Nonetheless, to integrate into Italian life, an Expat has to learn to operate within the local culture as a genuine member of the community.
Community – The Pros and Cons For An Immigrant
There’s a fantastic sense of community in Italy and if you are open and friendly you will soon be accepted, even as an Expat. Communal eating is a common part of life all across the country and long lazy lunches with multiple courses are a great way to get to know each other.
However, some Italians can be rude and unwelcoming to foreigners, especially the older generations. This is not a universal truth but in some areas the locals have a reputation for rejecting foreigners and Expats. The city of Florence has a reputation for being unwelcoming to foreigners and having the attitude that if something isn’t Italian it’s inferior! This is a reputation that used to be deserved but in recent years the younger generations are leaving these attitudes behind and are far more open to the outside world.
Fortunately, most parts of Italy are extremely friendly. Most regions in Tuscany are particularly welcoming and if you move into the area with a positive attitude you’ll feel right at home in no time at all.
The good news is that once you have made friends with a local Italian they’ll treat you like family! You’ll see their warmer side and they’ll always be happy to go out of their way to help you in any way they can! The difficult thing can be making the step from being a stranger to being their friend but with a little patience you’ll soon be an accepted member of the local community.
Cost of Living – Managing Your Budget.
Compared to many parts of America and Europe, the cost of living in Italy can be very low. If you’re living in a major city, such as Rome or Milan, then the costs of living remain pretty high, not only on a day to day basis but also in terms of property prices and healthcare.
However, if you move out from the main cities you can live an extremely high quality of life for very cheap costs. You can lower your costs even further if you cook for yourself and shop in local markets, stores and retail establishments. Avoiding the touristy restaurants, bars, and shopping hot spots will seriously cut your costs but it will also help you to discover the real Italy!
Bureaucracy – Tourists Don’t Notice But Expats Will.
Italy has an incredible amount of bureaucracy, both at a national and region level. Unfortunately this is a nearly unavoidable part of life in Italy and you’re going to have to learn to get used to and work around the red tape.
Expats often experience a harder time when dealing with the bureaucracy because of linguistic and culture barriers in understanding. These problems can extend from obtaining a Visa or Residency right down to repainting your new property!
What can make this difficult, particularly for Americans and other Westerners, is that many of these rules and regulations are so unexpected that it would never have crossed their mind but the resulting fines for breaching this endless red tape can be pretty hefty! So always check first with your local authorities before undertaking any restoration or renovations on your property and wherever possible ask for advice and do some basic research in advance.
One sure fire way to avoid much of the potential red tape that seems to hang over all life in Italy is to befriend some locals and ask for their advice. In many cases they will know an easy way to get around the bureaucracy!
Alternatively, if you’re new to an area, then you can actually hire a local lawyer, solicitor or fixer to help you arrange the details of your move and maneuver the subsequent red tape. They will handle all the bureaucracy for you and with their local connections and inside knowledge they can also get you better prices on things like the installation of a new kitchen or moving your furniture into your new home.
Healthcare – Try To Arrange It In Advance.
The healthcare system in Italy is not very easy to navigate and if you haven’t arranged it in advance and then find yourself needing emergency treatment you may be left with a massive bill.
As an Expat you are not entitled to use the Italian public health system and unless you get citizenship – by marrying an Italian for example – then you’ll need to use the private health care system.
However, you may be able to enroll for the public healthcare system if you are working in Italy or for the Italian government; but even then enrollment requires that you jump through quite a few hoops!
Fortunately, the private health care system in Italy is absolutely top quality and you’ll always receive the finest treatment available. As an Expat you need to pay for your private health insurance before you arrive so ideally you should be covered before you set foot in the country.
Real Estate – A Good Market For Expat/Immigrant Buyers.
If you’re moving to Italy as an Expat you’ll find that it’s a buyers market and you really can snap you some fantastic properties at great prices, especially outside of the major cities. Italy has been experiencing an economic downturn in recent years and this means that if you’re coming in from overseas you can get some serious bargains!
On the downside, many of the properties require a bit of work to get them up to scratch. You may need to replace some structural elements in the property and often you’ll need to redecorate, particularly in the rural areas. Remember when you do purchase a property you’ll need the assistance of a local lawyer to help walk you through the local regulations!
When you’re buying property in Italy there’s also a lot more scope for negotiation than in the US. The price that the property is advertised at is often more of a guideline and the seller will be expecting a degree of bargaining before the purchase goes through.
Some Unexpected Downsides of Living as an Expat in Italy.
The following are some of the downsides that I have noticed living as an immigrant in Italy.
- Driving in Italy can be very difficult at times. Many drivers seem to have little to no respect for the rules of the road and cut across lanes with no warning, exhibit serious signs of road rage and often curse at foreign drivers who don’t make way! It will take some getting used to but as long as you’re careful on the road you should be fine. I am very comfortable driving manual transmission. But shifting a powerful Volkswagen or Audi through American roads is very different that driving under powered European cars though narrow and crowed streets and highways.
- Italian society is fairly conservative compared to other parts of the Western world, including the United States and Britain. This can be frustrating for Expats who are single and looking for a partner in the country. It will take a while for you to build up a new social circle once you move to Italy but you can start to put yourself out there by joining in with community events or language exchange groups.
- The night life in most of Italy is very tame compared to what many Americans are used to with few places outside of the tourist hot spots staying open into the early hours of the morning! Most of the major cities have bars and clubs that are open late but in the rural areas you’re very unlikely to find this happening.
- One of the best kept secrets about Italy is that in many areas there is a problem with trash and the illegal dumping of waste. This can ruin a perfect landscape and although efforts are being made to clean this up the problem continues.
- In some parts of Italy, predominantly in the South, you may encounter large numbers of stray dogs. Some of these dogs can be carrying Rabies which is a highly contagious and dangerous disease that can be deadly in humans.
General Pros of Living as an Expat in Italy.
The following are some of the good things I like about living in Italy.
- The food and wine is famously good. The cuisine is world renowned with regional specialties and a real emphasis on freshly sourced ingredients; it’s both tasty and very healthy compared to many other developed countries. Italians have very long lives which are often attributed to their Mediterranean diets that include seafood, salads, vegetables and wine!
- Italy is a highly developed nation with all the benefits of modern life. Italy has an excellent legal system which you can navigate with the help of a local lawyer. The banking system is also the same as the rest of the West so you can easily transfer funds from the States to Italy.
- Excellent phone and internet communication systems. There’s fast internet connections and you will get all the modern conveniences in your property, even in the most rural parts of the country.
What Is It Like Living In Italy As An Expat – The Good Far Outweighs The Bad.
The quality of day to day living in Italy is one of its best selling points. With its slow relaxed pace, the emphasis on good fresh food, excellent wine and community, you can really enjoy the finer things in life.
The country is incredibly beautiful and with a huge diversity of landscapes you can explore everything from the coastal regions of the Mediterranean to the mountains of the north. The weather throughout the nation is extremely pleasant all year round and with the cultural treats, museums and art galleries for more wintery days you’ll be in seventh heaven!
With all the advantages of a good legal system, safe banking and top level internet and phone systems, you can take the modern world with you to the rural idyll of Italy. The lower cost of living is hard to ignore and if you can be adaptable and make new friends, in both the Expat community and among the locals, you’ll find that living in Italy ticks all the boxes.