Pros and Cons of Moving to Italy
Italy is a study in contrasts. Decades of Hollywood films have created an image of the country that's hard to break. Italy certainly is a sophisticated and beautiful place to live, but not everything is as perfect as the silver screen will have you believe.
As with every country, there are pros and cons to living in Italy.
Lifestyle in Italy
Living well in Italy is all about perspective. If you arrive with rose-coloured glasses, you're likely to be disappointed. But if you acknowledge that like any big, busy and heavily populated country, Italy has its faults, you'll quickly learn to love it warts and all.
PRO: A buzzing night life
One of the first things you'll notice about Italy is that its inhabitants are incredibly social. Only torrential rain and snow can keep them indoors. Whether they're chatting to friends over a very late dinner or going for a stroll down the main strip, Italians are not homebodies.
This enthusiasm for after-dinner socialising is contagious and you'll soon find yourself, gelato in hand, admiring the shops and impromptu street concerts late into the night.
As for more formalised entertainment, there's always a festival or 'sagra' to enjoy and a theatre show, museum opening or late-night film session you can check out.
CON: Limited English speakers
Very few Italians are fluent in English. You can chalk this up to pride and inadequate language education. City dwellers will naturally be better off as the locals are more accustomed to tourists, but in some towns, you can be the only English speaker for kilometres.
You might also find people are abrupt when you speak to them in English. This usually happens in the more popular cities like Florence, Rome and Venice, where the jaded locals often think tourists are a nuisance.
PRO: Amazing surroundings
It's hard not to feel star struck when your daily commute involves a trip past the Colosseum or Saint Mark's Square. No matter where you live in Italy, you're surrounded by an amazing heritage and natural beauty. Soon your surroundings will start to rub off. You'll find yourself feeling cultured and more appreciative of the history around you. Not to mention, you'll never want to use a treadmill again because you'll always have plenty to see when you go for a walk.
CON: Dirty streets
While it isn't fair to expect century-old cities to be spotless, Italy does have a problem with grime. The mess is a combination of age, overcrowding and a lackadaisical approach to proper rubbish collection. As a tourist, you won't notice the graffiti, worse-for-wear buildings or messy streets, but as an expat, you will, especially when you venture out of the tourist centres.
Accommodation in Italy
There’s a long-standing joke about Italians living at home until they're 40 because they don't want to do their own washing. While that’s true, their reluctance to leave the nest also stems from an understanding that good housing is hard to come by.
CON: Expensive, small and old
The vast majority of Italy's apartment blocks were built in the 1960s and 1970s from the same grey concrete mould. They are small and sparse on modern furnishings. Yet, they still go for a premium.
PRO: Well maintained
While the décor is dated, you can't criticise the state of most of the apartments you'll find to rent. The Italians are short on space, but they're still discerning customers. They expect their apartments to be in good working order and if anything breaks, it's the responsibility of the owner to fix it for you.
Cost of living in Italy
Italy is on par with the rest of Europe. Its economy isn't in the best of shapes, but its prices haven't risen. If you’re not from Europe though, you might find things are steeper than you’re used to.
PRO: Cheap and tasty food
The Italians have the most amazing supermarkets. Even the smallest supermarket in the smallest town has an incredible spread of fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese. The things you'd expect to see in your gourmet deli back home are cheap and plentiful in Italy. And the quality is exceptional. Strict food laws prevent the excessive use of preservatives or colourings. Fanta soft drink, for example, is a natural shade of yellow rather than the vibrant orange you're used to.
CON: Expensive amenities
Italy has limited resources, so, while you pay less for things 'Made in Italy', you pay more for everything they have to import. Resources like fuel, gas and electricity are expensive and limited. For example, you can't have too many appliances on at once or you'll short the system. The best way to avoid paying too much is to commit the peak and non-peak times of your electricity company to heart.
Education in Italy
The Italians take schooling seriously, so whether your little ones speak the language or not, they're assured a good education.
PRO: Good and cheap
In Italy, kids start learning to read and write at three. Public education is free and students get a well-rounded education in the sciences, arts and history early on. They also get nutritious and varied school lunches. Most Italian cities also have reputable international schools. However, these can be expensive.
CON: Hard choices
The Italian school system is divided into three parts - elementare, media and scuola superiore. The problem for expats comes when they attend the latter. Italian high schools are unique in that they don’t teach everything. Most have their own speciality, for example art or science, so children attend the high school that teaches the subjects that most interest them. This choice can impact what university degree they can study. It's a lot of pressure for someone as young as 14.
Transport in Italy
It’s surprisingly easy to get around Italy’s cities and towns, as long as you steer clear of anything on four wheels.
CON: Dangerous roads
Don't drive in Italy if you can avoid it. The public transport is more than adequate, so you have no reason to risk your life with erratic drivers, confusing rules and crowded roads. Even as a pedestrian, you should never cross the road in Italy without thoroughly looking both ways. Italian drivers are known not to stop for anyone - not even if you're crossing at the designated crossing.
PRO: Good public transport
People are always complaining about the state of Italian public transport, but it’s actually quite good. It doesn't have the punctuality of Switzerland, but it's cheap, safe and reliable in the cities and connects the entire country from north to south.
Working in Italy
Finding a job in Italy isn’t as easy as it once was, regardless of whether you’re an EU citizen or not.
CON: High unemployment
Italy’s economy has seen better days. Every year, thousands of university students graduate with no job prospects. To be safe, it’s a good idea to secure a job in Italy before you move away from home. Even the traditional expat hospitality jobs are in short supply now.
Healthcare in Italy
The chances of finding employment might be slim, but you can rest assured that you’re in good hands when it comes to the Italian healthcare.
PRO: Great healthcare
Healthcare in Italy is an unheralded success story. The country's public hospitals are extremely good and you can easily get access to doctors, specialists and dentists in even the most rural areas. And the best part? It's free, or ridiculously cheap, for EU citizens.
Culture Shock in Italy
The Italian culture has few secrets. The locals are liberal with their nudity and sexuality, so you will see exposed body parts on television or billboard ads. They're haughty, proud and loud. The men like to perve and the women like to gossip. They have a healthy disrespect for authority and a profound respect for the afternoon siesta. The older Italians still dress with class and panache, while the younger ones try to imitate American rappers.
What might surprise you is the degree of bureaucracy that permeates the country. Getting anything official done in Italy can be a confusing, frustrating and drawn out process. There is nothing cute about it. You will be driven half insane, so make sure you always have a good bilingual lawyer on hand whenever you're signing documents.