Italy is a study in contrasts. Decades of Hollywood films have created an image of the country that's hard to break. While Italy certainly is a sophisticated and beautiful place to live, not everything is as perfect as the silver screen may make things seem.
As with every country, there are pros and cons to living in Italy. Here are a few points to consider.
Lifestyle in Italy
Living well in Italy is all about perspective. Expats arriving with high expectations will likely be disappointed. By acknowledging that Italy has its faults like any other large, busy and heavily populated country, new arrivals will quickly learn to love Italy despite its challenges.
+ PRO: A buzzing nightlife
Italians tend to be 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 street, Italians are not homebodies.
This enthusiasm for after-dinner socialising is contagious and many expats soon find themselves, gelato in hand, admiring the shops and impromptu street concerts late into the night.
- CON: Limited English speakers
Very few Italians are fluent in English. City dwellers will naturally be better off as they are more accustomed to tourists, but in some towns, there can be no English speakers for kilometres.
Many expats find that people are abrupt when spoken to in English. This usually happens in the more popular cities like Florence, Rome and Venice, where the jaded locals often view tourists as a nuisance.
+ PRO: Amazing surroundings
No matter where expats live in Italy, they'll be surrounded by an incredibly rich heritage and natural beauty.
- CON: Dirty streets
While it isn't fair to expect century-old cities to be spotless, Italy does have a real problem with grime. The mess is a combination of age, overcrowding and an inefficient approach to proper rubbish collection.
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 there's a grain in truth to this, their reluctance to leave the nest also stems from an understanding that good housing is hard to come by.
+ PRO: Well maintained
While the decor is often dated, it would be difficult to criticise the state of most of the apartments available to rent. Italians tend to be discerning buyers and they expect their apartments to be in good working order.
- 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. Although these apartments are small and sparse on modern furnishings, they still go for a premium.
Cost of living in Italy
The cost of living in Italy is on par with the rest of Europe. Although its economy isn't in the best of shape, its prices haven't risen. Those not from Europe may find that prices are steeper than they're used to.
+ PRO: Cheap and tasty food
Italians have amazing supermarkets. Even the smallest supermarket in the smallest town has an incredible selection of fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese. Certain products are also significantly cheaper than they may be in an expat's home country. The quality of produce is also exceptional, with strict food laws preventing the excessive use of preservatives or colourings.
- CON: Expensive amenities
Italy has limited resources, so while products made in the country might be affordable, imported goods are much more expensive. Resources like fuel, gas and electricity are also pricey.
Education in Italy
Italian culture prioritises schooling, so even if expat children don't speak Italian, they're assured a good education.
+ PRO: Excellent and affordable
In Italy, children start learning to read and write at the age of three. Public education is free. Students are provided with a well-rounded education in the sciences, arts and history, as well as nutritious and varied school lunches. Most Italian cities also have reputable international schools, but in contrast to public schools, these can be expensive.
- CON: Difficult choices
Italian high schools are unique in that they provide specialised teaching, as opposed to teaching from a holistic curriculum. As most Italian high schools have their speciality, children attend the high school that teaches the subjects that most interest them. This choice can impact what university degree they can study for and presents a challenging decision for children as young as 14.
Transport in Italy
While it's easy to get around between the cities and towns of Italy, driving here can be dangerous.
+ PRO: Good public transport
Although people love to complain about the state of Italian public transport, it is generally 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.
- CON: Dangerous roads
Italian driving culture can be aggressive and drivers often go over the speed limit. Many expats also find the road rules to be confusing and the roads are often congested.
Working in Italy
Finding a job in Italy isn’t as easy as it once was, regardless of whether a new arrival is 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, expats should try to secure a job in Italy before they move away from home. Even the traditional expat hospitality jobs are in short supply now.
- CON: A lot of paperwork needed
As a degree of bureaucracy permeates Italy, getting anything official done can be a confusing, frustrating and drawn-out process. To avoid this, many expats ensure that they always have a reputable bilingual lawyer on hand whenever they sign documents.
Healthcare in Italy
The chances of finding employment might be slim, but Italian healthcare is excellent and affordable.
+ PRO: Great healthcare
Healthcare in Italy is an unheralded success story. The country's public hospitals are extremely good, and expats can easily get access to doctors, specialists and dentists in even the most rural areas.
Are you an expat living in Italy?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Italy. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Elisa is an Australian journalist who came to Tuscany for a year, and fell in love (how cliché?), and decided to stick around. Cutting her teeth in frenetic-paced Rome, she now writes a Tuscan travel blog and online travel guide about her new home, the infinitely beautiful Tuscan Maremma, so that others can get a taste of la dolce vita.
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