Safety in Italy
Few people would call Italy dangerous. Italy is neither safer nor more dangerous than other places in Mediterranean, as long as expats use a little common sense. On the whole, safety records are usually better in small towns and villages than in big cities.
That said, Italians do have a fondness for after-dinner strolls, which means it is usually safe to walk through most cities at night as long as one sticks to well-lit and well-frequented streets and gets home at a reasonable hour.
General safety and petty crime in Italy
Most Italian cities are reasonably safe but for an extra layer of security, get to know the neighbours. Italians look after their own and the more people expats know, the more people that will be around to keep an eye out.
When it comes to cities, the most important thing to remember is that there are quartieri (neighbourhoods) that expats should avoid, especially at night.
It’s easy to get caught up in the romanticism of Italy and forget that poverty and discontent do exist. Petty crime is a problem in all Italian cities. Tourists and residents alike can fall prey to pickpockets, and for expats, not speaking Italian can make them an obvious target.
Avoid engaging with anyone who appears to be begging, performing or selling trinkets on the street. For example, in front of Il Duomo in Milan, people will hand birdseed to foreigners, presumably to feed the pigeons, only to then steal their wallet while they’re distracted.
These petty criminals aren’t confined to the streets and expats should expect to encounter them inside stores and on public transport too. They usually work in groups and are sometimes in cahoots with street vendors, so be wary of going to them for help. They also target cars, so never leave valuables lying around.
Another major petty crime in Italy is the sale of illegal counterfeit goods. There are people selling fake handbags, sunglasses and jewellery in every major city. Normally they will mind their own business, but it’s always wise to do as the locals do and ignore them. People caught buying counterfeit goods can be fined in Italy.
Credit card skimming and counterfeit money are rife in Italy, so always check bills closely and make sure nobody is watching when entering a pin number.
Prostitution is common, so try to avoid any lone and/or provocatively dressed women on the side of the road.
Taxi drivers may try to scam foreigners. It’s a fact of life, so it’s a good idea to calculate the taxi fare and have the driver agree to an amount before setting off on a journey.
Organised crime in Italy
One might think the mafia is the stuff of old movies but one of Italy’s biggest safety concerns is organised crime. For expats, that means exercising extra caution when in southern Italy, particularly Calabria, Sicily and Naples, where organised crime is at its worst. In Naples especially, it’s not a good idea to go wandering in unfamiliar areas or without a local. The city has some very dangerous quarters where street fires, open fighting and vandalism are common. The same goes for the towns and cities around Naples.
Civil unrest in Italy
Italy has been affected by civil unrest in recent times. The global financial crisis has been hard on all of Europe, but Italy was one of the worst affected countries. Demonstrations and strikes are common. Upcoming strikes are generally publicised (in Italian) on the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport website and expats should monitor the website and plan ahead.
Basic services in Italy can be affected during periods of unrest, including the availability of fuel and fresh food. Air travel, taxi services and public transport are other sectors that are often brought to a standstill by strikes. There’s usually no threat to physical safety during these times, but protesters have been known to attack property, cars and the police, and protests and demonstrations should therefore be avoided as a precaution.
Road safety in Italy
The Italians would say they are excellent drivers, but for expats, it is all too easy get hurt on the road. The majority of Italian motorists do not stop for pedestrians, no matter where the person is or whether they use a pedestrian crossing or not, so don’t risk it.
This warning also applies to cyclists. This doesn’t mean expats can’t ride a bike altogether but should remain vigilant. Wear a reflective jacket and helmet, and stay close to the footpath.
Avoid driving in Italy’s cities if at all possible. The Italians have their own driving style that can appear aggressive and frenetic, and therefore unpredictable, to new arrivals. It’s easy to become flustered when people illegally overtake and use their horns too liberally. One-way streets and double parking are also common in the cities and only serve to make new drivers more anxious and upset.
Outside of the cities, the only real concerns are speed and overtaking. Most Italians treat the speed limit as a loose guideline and the deeper one goes into the countryside, the more impatient the drivers become, so expect to be overtaken often.