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Interview with Valerie S – an American living in Italy

Updated 11 Feb 2010

Valerie Schneider and her husband moved to Italy in 2006 and quickly settled into life in the beautiful city of Ascoli Piceno.  Valerie is a freelance writer, and she and her husband offer customized tours, as well as consultation to others thinking of tackling bureaucracy and moving to Italy. Valerie maintains a travel-related blog, 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree.

Read more about the country in the Expat Arrivals Italy country guide or read more expat experiences in Italy

About Valerie

Q: Where are you originally from?
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA

Q: Where are you living now?
  Ascoli Piceno, Le Marche, Italy

Q: How long you have you lived here?
 Three years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
 With my husband

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
 I have roots in Italy and have always felt drawn to it. We love the lifestyle, culture, food and people. We wanted to experience it fully, to become a part of the local scene and integrate ourselves into Italian life…and we didn’t want to wait until retirement when we’d be too old to learn the language or too weak to walk the cobbled streets!

About Italy

Q: What do you enjoy most about Ascoli Piceno, how’s the quality of life in Italy?
 The overall atmosphere is magical. It is a beautiful city built in travertine with one of Italy’s most beautiful piazzas as its centrepiece and living room. It offers so much, yet is largely unknown by tourists, meaning everything is centred on “real” life…by the residents and for the residents, making it an exciting place to live.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
 We try to say that things are just different…not necessarily better or worse, just different. One negative (as viewed through our American eyes) would be the amount of graffiti we see around town. It’s not something we’re used to, but Italian cities are generally marred by it.

Q: Is Italy safe?

About living in Italy

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
 We live in the centro storico and would recommend it for expats. While the countryside here is gorgeous, to really become a part of local life, it is best to live in town where you can interact on a daily basis.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Italy?
 Normal; apartments in restructured historic buildings are the norm in the centro storico. Our apartment is fully furnished and is in walking distance to everything we need. 

Q: What’s the cost of living in Italy compared to America? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
 Housing costs can be higher than we expected for an apartment and utilities definitely add up quickly. Gasoline is much more expensive, but food costs are lower (and food is much fresher and tastier, too!)

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
 We have found the Ascolani to be very welcoming and open. We made friends very quickly, even more so than in places we have lived in the US. We have been included in family gatherings and parties, and regularly meet friends for coffee or drinks.  We moved here because we love the Italians and their zest for life, so we made a conscious decision to interact as much as possible rather than relying too heavily on other expats. Besides, there are few other expats in our city ;)

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
  Very easy, as mentioned above. Learning the language certainly was an important factor in that, though. Not many people of our acquaintance speak English.

About working in Italy

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
 We were initially denied our visa due to a document error and had to reapply. Bureaucracy can be heavy and slow. They want to make you work for the privilege! We knew going in that it would be a long, slow process and planned accordingly.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Italy, is there plenty of work?
 Like everywhere else right now, the economic crisis has significantly impacted Ascoli Piceno. Some factories have closed, and shops and other employers have cut back. Working here is difficult for someone who is not an EU citizen (like us!)

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
 It is more dependent upon who you know and who recommends you, rather than experience or merit. Competition can be tough, and people may be wary of you and/or your intentions until they get to know you.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
 No, we made the move on our own.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
 No, not at all. We embraced it and slipped right into the daily rhythm and routine, but that was a major reason we had decided to move to Italy in the first place.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Italy?
 Accessible and affordable. Italy has national health care, and we signed up for the system at a much lower cost than we would ever pay in the US for healthcare insurance. We haven’t had much need to try it out, though.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
Before making an international move, evaluate your reasons and desires for moving. I believe they will influence – either positively or negatively – your overall experience. If you are willing to become a part of the local culture, you will have a much better adaptation and experience. I have seen many expats become disillusioned because they could not look at the local culture through local eyes, imposing instead their own background and experiences upon it and wanting things to change to be like they had “back home”.  When I hear an expat saying, “They should do things this way…” it makes me want to run in the opposite direction because I know a long litany of complaints is sure to follow. I prefer to focus on the beauty and delights of everyday life rather than the perceived negatives. After all, if I wanted things to be like they were back home, I’d have stayed there!

~ Interviewed February 2010

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