Italy is one of the most beautiful counties in the world that attracts large numbers of Expats, tourists and travelers, however, it’s not all upside in the land of the Dolce Vita!
No country is perfect and Italy is no exception although if you have an awareness of the potential pitfalls and problems of living in the country you can take the steps necessary to mitigate them. Having a clear idea ahead of time about the types of disadvantages you will face in Italy can help you to prepare to overcome them and will save you from feeling let down on arrival.
Expenses Are High.
While many items in Italy, such as food and accommodation, are relatively cheap compared to other Western countries, some things can still be extremely expensive. Some of the things that are very expensive in Italy include fuel, utilities, gas, highway tolls and medicines.
Duties and taxes are also very high in Italy compared to the United States, and although there are ways that you can keep these costs down if you’re living full time in the country you’ll still have to pay taxes on time! These costs disproportionately impact Expats because most tourists who are just staying in the country for a few weeks won’t notice the cost of electricity, income taxes or highway tolls!
You’ll also discover that the price of electronics is fairly high in Italy compared to elsewhere in Europe and the States. Another category of products that can be expensive in Italy are clothes and shoes. You should keep in mind that although clothes can be quite pricey the quality is usually outstanding, with different regions in the country specializing in different types of clothes; such as Florence for example, which makes incredible leatherware and shoes.
You’ll Need To Learn Italian.
If you move to Italy to live as an Expat or an immigrant you should really consider learning Italian. In many parts of the country, especially rural regions, hardly anyone speaks English and even in the cities most locals prefer to speak Italian, even if they do know some English.
This means that to make the most of your time in the country you’ll want to learn at least conversational Italian so you can take part in the local community in a more authentic way.
Cleanliness Is Not Up To Standards.
Here I am comparing Italy to other industrialized nations. When you see photographs of the major tourist sites or the hills of Tuscany, you can be fooled into thinking that the entire country is like that but that’s not exactly true. Most of the major cities in Italy have a serious problem with littering and dirt which is not properly addressed by municipal authorities.
Compared to most other countries in Europe and the United States, where cities are immaculately clean, Italy has not taken on the task of cleaning up their public spaces. This also goes for a lot of the beaches in the South where the water is often polluted and the sand is strewn with rubbish and debris.
Part of the reason for the dirt in the cities is the fact that the streets are often very narrow, winding and overcrowded with small houses. This makes it difficult for city cleaning crews to access them regularly enough and so the problem doesn’t look to have a solution in the short term. Things are improving though so don’t be put off by the trash, and even stray dogs, in the South. You’ll have to learn to overlook this unpleasant aspect of life in Italy.
Cheap Properties Are Often Remote.
You’ve probably heard already that you can buy some incredibly cheap properties in rural parts of the country but you may not realise how far off the beaten track many of these properties actually are! This is great if you want to live further away from the trappings of the modern world but you may be several hours drive from the nearest major town or city. Nonetheless, the scenery is often spectacular and so if you do want to live in an old house that’s quite far away from the rest of the world then it’s a perfect choice for you.
Internet Coverage Is Below Average.
Unlike most modern, Western nations, Italy’s internet coverage is not as extensive as you would expect. This can be a serious problem in certain rural areas, where in some cases there is no internet coverage at all. This is a major issue that you should always keep in mind when selecting somewhere to live – especially if you work in a remote capacity. This problem is getting better as the internet becomes a more central part of daily life with most major cities claiming to have nearly 100% coverage – although many locals and Expats would dispute that claim!
The Italian Schooling System May Not Be What You Expect.
If you have children as an Expat in Italy you’ll want to be sure that their education won’t suffer as a result. One of the major criticisms that you hear from Expats is that the schooling system does not provide such a holistic, all round curriculum as other Western nations do.
For instance, when children begin high school they instantly begin to specialize, receiving a highly focused education in their chosen subject, or subject area. This means that in many cases children have to choose their specialisation, which will impact the rest of their lives, at ages as young as 14-16 years old! This can be good for some children who have clear career ambitions at a young age; but for many children this approach does not work at all.
Driving In Italy Is Complicated.
The roads in Italy are certainly the most dangerous in Europe and many Expats moving to the country are shocked by the cavalier attitude that the usually laid back Italians employ whilst getting from A to B! Drivers will frequently cut you off, swerve across lanes without signaling and regularly break the speed limit in excessive ways.
On top of the other drivers, it can also be confusing to learn the new rules of the road in a foreign country. Roads, particularly in the cities, can be extremely congested and the other drivers are not usually very patient, meaning road rage is all too common. All these factors mean that you need to remember that when you live in Italy you should take a little extra care while driving on the roads.
Remember that in Italy, most cars are manual transmission, unlike in the US where most of the cars sold are automatic. If possible, you should try to learn to drive a car that has a manual transmission prior to arriving in Italy. Focus on getting in and out of parking spots on roads that are a little hilly.
Finding Work Can Be Difficult.
It’s not always easy to find a job in Italy, especially if you don’t speak fluent Italian. Most jobs in Italy require you to speak fairly good Italian which makes the process a lot harder for Expats. Unemployment rates in Italy have also been steadily rising for the last few decades which means that there is also far more competition for the few jobs that are available.
However, there are ways around this. You can find English language jobs in Italy, through job portals such as “The Local”, which specifically caters for Expats in the country. Alternatively, you can work remotely in a wide range of job sectors. Nonetheless, finding a job in Italy can be challenging and so you should be prepared for this before you arrive and make as many arrangements in advance as you can.
Italian Bureaucracy Is Legendary And Corruption Is Rife.
One of the most frustrating things about life in Italy is the endless layers of bureaucracy; to the extent that even getting the simplest administrative task completed becomes a real headache. Not only are the processes overly complex but the general customer service is very poor and so if you’re not patient you can quickly become tired and fed up.
The best advice for Expats who are having a tough time dealing with the local bureaucracy is to hire the services of a local lawyer who can get the process completed much more quickly; just giving you the relevant paperwork to sign or fill in while they handle all the details on your behalf.
To compound the issue further, Italy’s bureaucracy and society is generally extremely corrupt compared to other nations. This has its roots in the traditionally nepotistic society but even in the modern world it has remained widespread. You often have to pay extra fees, or bribes, to get things done and many business owners avoid paying taxes as a matter of course!
Many Houses Do Not Have Proper Heating Or Air-conditioning.
It can seem that Italy is a land of permanent summer; and given that most tourists visit during the warm months, many people go home with this impression in mind. However, even though Italy is in Southern Europe, the winters can get very cold, particularly in the Northern regions.
Given this, it’s really quite surprising that a large number of Italian homes do not have proper central heating! This is at odds with the rest of Europe, where central heating is the norm; however it doesn’t look likely to change. So if you’re renting a house in Italy, and find there is no central heating, you’ll just have to wear an extra jumper or a coat indoors! Alternatively, you can buy an electric heater, but given that electricity is very expensive in Italy the costs will soon add up.
Many of the older, rural houses do have working fireplaces though which can help to keep you warm as well; but as a general rule you shouldn’t expect to have central heating. The same is the case for air-conditioning also.
My apartment in Volterra does not have air conditioning at this point. I tried to install one, but my neighbor objected because the window will face her window!
One of Italy’s most serious social problems is the aging population. This means that as a proportion of the total population, an increasingly large number of people are old and retired. Currently, just over 22% of Italy’s population is 65 years or older!
A country with an aging population will face economic issues, such as higher labor costs, declines in overall productivity and falling innovation; but there are social issues too. Many of Italy’s younger generations try to leave the country to find opportunities elsewhere. The aging population in Italy is part of the reason why the country is so welcoming to Expats, particularly younger ones, who want to make their life in the country.
Italy, Like Any Country, Has Its Problems.
Nowhere is perfect and unless you can be realistic about your expectations of living in Italy you may find yourself feeling disappointed. However, most of the problems and difficulties are cultural, social and economic; and although they can be a real headache to deal with they are also part of what gives the country it’s unique charm.
Most of the negatives that you will have to deal with while living in Italy can be overcome as you get used to the society and the way it operates but you’ll also need to be adaptable, flexible and willing to take new challenges in your stride.
Overall though, it must be said that Italy is a wonderful country and despite the problems it’s still an absolute joy to live there and integrate into the local community.