Safety in Italy

Few people would call Italy dangerous – indeed, Italy is neither safer nor more dangerous than other places in the Mediterranean, as long as expats apply the same sense that they would in any country. 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, especially as locals tend to get to know their neighbours. This affords another dimension of safety as 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. Tourists and residents alike can fall prey to pickpockets, and for expats, not speaking Italian can make them an obvious target. 

Petty crime such as pickpocketing, although rare, is more common in tourist areas and can happen inside busy stores and on public transport too. Another major petty crime in Italy is the sale of illegal counterfeit goods and there are people selling fake handbags, sunglasses and jewellery in every major city. People caught buying counterfeit goods can be fined in Italy.

Expats living in cities should also bear in mind that:
  • 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, 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. Although most expats experience no difficulties, areas in southern Italy such as Calabria, Sicily and Naples have a poor reputation as organised crime is at its worst in these areas. 

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. As such, demonstrations and strikes do occur in Italy. 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

Italians would say they are excellent drivers, but for expats, this might not feel true. 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.

This warning also applies to cyclists. This doesn’t mean that expats can’t ride a bike altogether but that they should remain vigilant. Wear a reflective jacket and helmet, and stay close to the footpath.

In fact, many expats avoid driving in Italy’s cities if at all possible. Italians have their own driving style that can appear aggressive, and therefore unpredictable, to new arrivals. One-way streets and double parking are also common in the cities and only serve to heighten a new driver's anxiety.

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. 

Elisa Scarton Our Expat Expert

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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