The insider’s guide to expat life in Italy

Posted on July 31, 2014 by Guest Writer
Le Marche Appassionata

If you’ve got to the point where your holiday to Italy is no longer enough, you may be ready to make your dreams of moving to this beautiful country a reality.

It’s easy to become captivated by Italy and its generous climate, sparkling coastlines, rich culture and towns which look like they’ve just stepped out of the Renaissance. Not to mention its varied but consistently tasty cuisine and friendly population.

Living somewhere long-term is very different to a two-week holiday and if you’re seriously considering relocating you can find yourself asking some tough questions. What’s Italy really like for expats? Does the appeal wear off once you’re dealing with bills and red-tape instead of relaxing on the beach or lingering over dinner in a trattoria?

Three British expats living in Italy share the highs and lows of their experiences.

What to do before you go

Unsurprisingly, learning the language is top of the list.

“Before I came here I hadn’t studied Italian at all, and the part of Italy I moved to wasn’t exactly an English-speaking hotspot! I ran into various difficulties, both embarrassing and downright hilarious,” says Amy Jones, who blogs about her experiences as an English teacher in Puglia.

After learning the lingo, doing your research is also important particularly if you’re planning on opening a property-based business, when relocation will be much more difficult.

“We holidayed in Le Marche for 3 years and then rented a house for a year, visiting at different times of the year, allowing us to experience all the seasons, before deciding to relocate,” says Dawn Cavanagh-Hobbs, who, with her husband Michael, moved to Montefiore dell’Aso, La Marche, to open Appassionata, a holiday property business.

Vineyard Appassionata

Be prepared for cultural differences

Although it’s only a few hours away on a plane, adjusting to the Italian way of life can be a big shift.

If you’re doing business, particularly outside of the big cities, expect it to be slower and with more of a personal touch. When Dawn, an interior designer, was working on refurbishing their first properties she found that very few suppliers had websites or offices.

“I was frequently directed to a shed or out building where I would discover the most amazing artisans. I spent the first 6 months driving around in circles, getting lost, but discovering things I would never have found in a large store in the UK!”

Consider what you’ll miss

For most people, family and friends top the list of what they’ll miss the most when moving abroad. Luckily you’re likely to find people very eager to visit, but if you’re used to seeing family regularly, only seeing them in person a few times a year can be challenging.

Expats find themselves missing the small things about British life. “I miss good shopping centres, traditional pub lunches, and occasionally fish and chips,” says Louise Shapcott, who moved to Itri, Lazio, with her husband Paul, to restore Tre Cancelle, an old farmhouse which is now holiday apartments.

Historic Itri

Finding somewhere to live

As in the UK, house prices vary greatly by region. Coastal areas tend to be more expensive, as do areas like Tuscany, which are extremely popular with British expats.

“You can get more for your money if you want to buy a house and some land,” says Louise, who purchased the olive grove surrounding their farmhouse.

“Long term rentals are much cheaper than buying, most Italians rent their property,” says Dawn.

If you’re considering teaching English, remember that lower living costs also often mean lower local salaries – including yours. “In southern Italy the cost of living is quite low, but then again so are a lot of salaries,” says Amy.

Cost of living in Italy

First, the good news. “Fruit and veg are very cheap and very fresh, meat is more expensive, but of a superior quality. Wine is cheap and good quality,” says Louise.

Not everything is cheaper though. “Car insurance can be pretty expensive,” says Amy. This is echoed by Louise, who pays over €1,000 a month for third party insurance. According to her, it’s cheaper to keep your car registered in the UK and travel back once a year for the MOT.

She also says that gas and electricity are much more costly in Italy, while taxes are high.

Red tape

This is perhaps the biggest downside of living in Italy according to all our expats. It took Louise and Peter three months to get their Permesso di Soggiorno (a document giving you permission to stay in Italy) and seven months to get Italian license plates for their car.

“Unfortunately, all of the negative things you hear about it are true!” says Amy. She advises taking an Italian friend or colleague along if possible to help with translation, particularly for legal jargon.

“It is no good getting irate with officials, it is a waste of time,” says Louise. “Don’t give up when things get difficult, stick at it and persevere, and it will get done in the end.”

Italian sweets and pastries

Embracing the Italian lifestyle

Along with the weather, food is what expats love most about Italy.

“The food is definitely one of my favourite things! From pizza to pasta and local vegetable dishes; everything is fresh, simple and absolutely delicious,” raves Amy. Louise and Dawn are similarly enthusiastic about Italian cuisine.

The healthy Italian diet means you can indulge yourself with traditional treats like cannoli or sfogliatelle without feeling guilty.

“We love the pace of life here, although we work hard it’s not nearly as stressful as the UK. We love to sit outside our local café in the morning, sipping our coffee and chatting to the locals,” says Dawn.

Despite the occasional frustration, all three expats are overwhelming positive about their expat experience and quality of life. Amy sums it up well: “Living in another country is such a wonderful experience that you should try and enjoy every single moment!”