Milan is known as Italy’s commercial centre, a cityscape of old-world elegance meeting the high-end tastes of the rich and famous. A landmark of both refined culture and industrialisation, it has rebranded itself as a leader in fields such as design, information technology and textiles.
While perhaps not as pretty as Venice or Rome, the city is rich in history, famed for its delicious food and, of course, a hub of fashion design and luxury boutiques. It's also home to two of Italy's biggest football clubs and one of world football's most famous rivalries.
Lifestyle in Milan
+ PRO: Cultural treasure trove
While not on the same scale as Rome, there is a real presence of a glorious past. The Duomo di Milano is an architectural marvel of Gothic brilliance, and the Carnevale Ambrosiano celebrates the city’s patron saint, while the nearby Piazza del Duomo is the centre point for arts and culture. But the city also boasts more contemporary drawcards, such as the Milano Film Festival and Milan Fashion Week.
+ PRO: Fashion paradise
Befitting its status as one of the four fashion capitals of the world, Milan's calendar highlight is perhaps the famed Milan Fashion Week. Outside the festival, the Quadrilatero della Moda will delight shoppers with a penchant for high fashion. Boutiques and outlets of only the most sophisticated brands abound, including anything from Versace, Armani and Jimmy Choo, to Guess, Bagutta and Hugo Boss.
- CON: Language barriers
Not many Italians speak English, and this language barrier can be tough to overcome. So be prepared to struggle if you don’t put in at least a little basic prep. Having said that, there’s generally more English spoken in northern Italy in cities such as Milan.
+ PRO: Outdoor retreats
Families looking to get away for some peace and quiet are an hour’s train trip from the serene Lake Garda, the biggest lake in the country. Its ornate towns and villages are the perfect tonic when the buzz of city life becomes a little too much.
+ PRO: Racing royalty
Petrolheads will be delighted to know that the Monza racing track is a simple half-an-hour drive away. It’s been the site of the Italian Grand Prix ever since the inception of Formula One.
Raising kids in Milan
+PRO: Abundance of international schools
There’s a variety of international schools in Milan, so expats are spoilt for choice. American, German, British and French curricula are all offered, as well as the International Baccalaureate. While expensive, there’s less pressure on kids to learn Italian, which means socialising is a lot easier.
+PRO: Fun for children
Kids will love growing up in Milan, whether it’s exploring its cobbled streets, discovering educational museums and having fun at its planetarium. They’ll no doubt get caught up in the Milan versus Internazionale rivalry, so parents might want to invest in some football boots. There are also numerous parks dotted around the city, perfect for picnics.
Working in Milan
+ PRO: Diverse economy
In the past, those earning a salary in Milan might have found themselves working in the city's massive textile industry or finance sector. Nowadays, a broadened and diversified economy means there are jobs in design, communications, fashion design and tech.
- CON: Decline in traditional sectors
Italy as a whole has endured tough economic times for more than a decade. Recent recessions mean that the once powerful banking industry in Milan is in a vulnerable state, while its industrial sector has declined substantially. Having said that, financial powerhouses still have a large presence in the city.
Safety in Milan
+ PRO: Very safe
Milan is safe, with pickpockets the only real threat. There are certain areas best avoided – as in all cities – and there might also be scammers in tourist hotspots such as the Duomo, so avoid handing over money to strangers.
Getting around in Milan
+ PRO: Efficient public transport
Public transport in Milan is well developed with good infrastructure, with a variety of options available to expats. The efficient metro system has four lines and 100 stations and is generally cheaper than the less-crowded overground trains. Quaint trams are found mainly in the small city centre, while buses are useful for travelling at night, although with limited routes.
- CON: Terrible for drivers
Driving in Milan can be a nightmare for expats, on top of it being completely unnecessary. Local drivers and taxis can be quite aggressive, and parking is both expensive and difficult to find.
+ PRO: City is walkable
Milan is pedestrian and cycling-friendly, with those lucky enough to be staying near the city centre able to simply stroll to their destinations safely and in good time. Bicycle-sharing schemes are popular, with widespread rental depots.
Weather in Milan
- CON: Not a Mediterranean dream
While it’s by no means uncomfortable, Milan isn’t exactly a dreamy Mediterranean getaway. Its summers can be extremely hot and humid, while winters tend to go below freezing, with deep fog shrouding the roads, and snowfall common.
Cost of living in Milan
+ PRO: Getting around is cheap
Italy in general and Milan in particular might be rather expensive, but a redeeming feature is the cost of public transport, which isn’t that high, especially if expats use an ATM travel card. Tickets can be used on the tram, metro, bus or train. Most people avoid cars altogether because of both congestion charges and high gas prices.
- CON: Milan is expensive
Milan is one of the most expensive cities in Italy, behind perhaps only Rome. So it's best to shop smart and buy groceries at local markets instead of dining out at tourist traps. Of course, accommodation will be the biggest enemy of your bank account, especially with the high property rates in Milan.
Accommodation in Milan
- CON: High property prices
Milan has the highest rental prices in Italy. As with most big European cities, the closer one gets to the heart of the city centre, the more toll it takes on their wallet. And often the apartments are small, with landlords sometimes requiring up to three months' worth of rent as a deposit.
+ PRO: Variety if you choose to look
Moving out a few zones may be a more palatable option for expat families on a tight budget. Property is far more affordable in suburbs such as Porto Venezia and Monza, and there’s more variety to choose from, including plush villas, houses and safe complexes with good transport connections to the city centre.
Are you an expat living in Milan?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Milan. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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