Italy is one of Europe’s most enthralling and complex nations. Known as the world’s ‘living art gallery,’ the boot-shaped country’s artistic, cultural and architectural heritage is beyond compare. From the mighty Colosseum and the leaning Tower of Pisa to the simply astonishing beauty of Florence and shimmering islands of Sicily; not many countries can boast similar riches within their borders.
Despite globalisation and its 60 million-strong population, Italy retains a diverse regionalised identity, with cultural norms, traditions, dialects and cuisine varying hugely between provinces. It is also a country of two halves, metaphorically split into the affluent, industrialised North and the poorer Southern regions which make up the lower half of ‘the boot.’
Colloquially named ‘Mezzogiorno’ (Midday), the laid-back people and red-earthed olive tree fields of the South are a cultural and geographical world away from the affluent, verdant North, to the point where visitors may feel themselves in two different countries.
Despite Italy’s recent economic difficulties, the list of attractions for expats moving to the country is infinite. With its warm Mediterranean climate, stunning coastline and majestic Alps to the relaxed lifestyle, generous people and world-famous cuisine, Italy truly offers ‘la dolce vita’ to the thousands of expats who move there each year.
Visas and becoming a citizen
EU Citizens and some countries listed in the visa-waiver agreement such as the USA and Canada may enter Italy without a visa for a period of up to 90 days. Citizens from countries outside such agreements must apply for a visa before entering the country.
Those intending to stay in Italy for longer than three months must acquire either a Certificato di Residenza (Certificate of Residence) for EU citizens or a Permesso di Soggiorno (Permission to Stay) for non-EU Citizens, which is renewable every five years.
The Permesso di Soggiorno can take up to five months to obtain and is only granted on proof of employment or study. The process can be stalled further by Italy’s notorious bureaucracy, so it is advisable to have all your documents in order before applying.
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Application for citizenship can be made after four years (EU Citizens) or ten years (non-EU Citizens) residency in the country, or if expats have an Italian spouse.
Italy has had a national health service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, SSN) since 1978, which is funded through income tax. The system provides low cost healthcare and medicines to all Italian residents, including emergency care for visitors.
Healthcare under this system is free to expats as long as they are residents in Italy or from an EU/EEA member state. Most Italians have a supplementary private health insurance policy, which funds the portion of healthcare that is not covered by social security. Such policies cost around €1500 a year and are mandatory for non-EU residents.
Waiting times for treatment in public hospitals can be long and, although the standard of Italian healthcare is good, the system has been crippled by poor management and bureaucracy. Having a private health insurance policy ensures that treatment is received more quickly. As with other public services, healthcare is of a higher standard in Northern Italy than the South.
The employment market in Italy varies according to whether you are searching for work in the industrialised and prosperous North of Italy or the South, where jobs are scarce.
Although the Italian economy still relies heavily on the industry, machinery, automotive, fashion and food-processing sectors, the country is moving towards a more service-based economy. The main employment sectors traditionally open to foreigners are: Tourism, education (Teaching English), communications/media and international business.
Italian employers rate university education over experience so having a degree is highly desirable. Being fluent in both Italian and English will also put you ahead of the competition.
Networking through friends and family is the best way to find a job in Italy although there are recruitment agencies in the larger cities.
Italians like to hire based on personal impression so approaching an employer face-to-face will show initiative and help you land a job.
Essential information for Italy
|International dialling code:||+39|
|Emergency numbers:||112 (Carabinieri), 113 (police), 115 (fire), 118(ambulance).|
|Drives on the:||right|
|Tipping:||Normally just add a few extra euros on restaurant bills, or a bit more for outstanding service.|
|Unusual fact:||Fresh pasta has been consumed in Italy for over two thousand years.|
Over 70% of Italians own their own home and houses are generally passed between family members. Young people traditionally live with their parents until their late twenties, particularly in the South.
Most Italians live in apartment buildings (palazzi) in the cities and villas/houses (casa) in the rural and coastal areas. The age and quality of the apartment tends to depend on where you live. In the ancient city centres of Rome, Florence and Venice you will find crumbling palazzos with capricious plumbing. More modern housing can be found in the suburbs of the larger cities of Milan and Turin.
Buying property in Italy
House prices in Italy have fallen by around 20% since the economic downturn and this trend has only just begun to slow. The cost of property varies significantly in Northern Italy, where sales are buoyant compared to the South, where sales have slumped.
Although the rules are strict, non-Italian residents are eligible to apply for a mortgage in Italy and banks will lend up to 50-60% of the property price, depending on circumstances.
Property prices range from €3000 to €10,000 per square metre in Rome and Milan to just €2000 to €4000 per square metre in Naples. Potential buyers must also be aware of the 7% registration tax and other fees added to the price, plus months of nightmarish bureaucracy during a sale.
Renting in Italy
The rental market in Italy has opened up in recent years and prices again depend on where you choose to live. A one-bed city centre apartment in Rome, Milan and Florence will cost between €800-€1600/month depending on how exclusive the property. You can expect to pay around €400-€800/month for an equivalent apartment in Naples.
Finding accommodation to rent or buy in Italy is usually through real estate agents, newspaper classifieds or by landlords simply hanging an affittasi (for rent) sign in the property’s window. Being in Italy during your search and knowledge of the language will improve your chances of finding your dream home.
Cost of Moving
The shipping costs of moving to Italy vary from inside and outside Europe. If you are moving from somewhere close by in Europe, then it will be more affordable than from somewhere further, such as Cape Town.
|London to Rome||£900 GBP|
|Paris to Rome||£950 GBP|
|New York to Rome||£2,100 GBP|
|Dubai to Rome||£2,800 GBP|
|Vancouver to Rome||£3,200 GBP|
|Brisbane to Rome||£4,200 GBP|
Although Italy is one of the most expensive countries in Europe, living costs vary significantly from North to South of the country. For instance, the average rent in Rome is €1270-€2000/month compared to €500-€1000/month in Naples. As well as rent; groceries, alcohol, going out and transport all cost much less in the southern Italian cities compared with Florence, Rome and Milan.
Although Italy has a reputation for inflated prices, living costs are comparatively cheaper than Australia, UK, France and the USA. For example a mid-range bottle of wine costs around €5 in Rome, while a meal in an inexpensive restaurant costs around €10 less in Florence than in London, Paris, and New York.
However, would-be expats must bear in mind that the average monthly disposable income of €1000/month in Southern Italy and €1270/month in the Northern cities is lower than other large economies such as Australia or France. It is also worth noting that Italy is the 5th most visited country in the world, so prices are hiked up accordingly in the tourist hotspots of Rome, Florence, and Venice.
Schools and education
Education in Italy is free to all children, regardless of residential status, from pre-school (kindergarten) up to and including university. Public state schools make up the majority of education but there are also a number of private and international schools.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranks the Italian state education system at 32nd in the world, with Northern Italian Schools performing better than institutions in the South. Italy’s pre-school provision and quality (age 3 to 6) is recognised as one of the best in the world.
School is compulsory from ages 6 to 16 (kindergarten is optional). The school day starts around 8:30am and lasts for 5 hours, Monday to Saturday (although the system is moving towards a Monday-Friday week). Children generally return home for lunch and most schools do not have a canteen.
The education system is divided into three cycles:
Scuola Primaria (primary school): Starts age 6 and children attend for five years. Class sizes are around 25 children.
Scuola Secondaria di Primo Grado (Juniors/Middle school): Students remain here until they are 14 before taking an exam to enter high school (below).
Scuola Secondaria Superiore or ‘Liceo’ (Higher Secondary School): Divided into specialisms such as classic, arts, technical, scientific, languages, teacher training, humanities and music. Students work towards the Diploma di Maturità which is required for admission to university.
Universities in Italy
Italy has 90 universities, most of which are publicly funded. Higher Education consists of a three-year Bachelor’s degree (with the exception of Law and Medicine), followed by a two year Master’s degree.
The University of Bologna is Italy’s highest ranking university, followed by Sapienza University of Rome, Politecnico Milano, the University of Milan and the University of Padova.
Driving in Italy
Italians have a global reputation for their fast and chaotic driving which can be a shock for new expats. Lane-hopping, late braking, tailgating and relentless over-use of the horn is standard driving practice in Italy.
Those with a licence issued by an EU/EEA member country are not required to exchange it for an Italian licence but have the option to do so at the Ufficio Provinciale della Motorizzazione Civile, if desired.
Licence holders from non-EU/EEA countries must obtain an Italian licence after their first year of living in the country. Some countries have an agreement with Italy whereby the holder can simply exchange the document. Expats from countries without such an agreement must pass a theory and driving test before they can exchange their licence.
Italy is home to over 400,000 expats from all over the world, attracted by the warm climate, cuisine and slower pace of life. Most expats choose to live in the Northern regions, where you have a better chance of finding work and has a more progressive culture than the laid-back South.
Italians are enormously generous people and are known for the warm welcome they extend to foreigners through their love of food and hospitality. A new expat may find themselves being invited to a four-course pranzo (lunch) on a daily basis, particularly in the South of the country.
Ranking against the World
Italy is rightly famous for its fashion, food, culture and architecture.Yet the country is about more than just being easy on the eye and stomach.
Despite taking a massive economic hit during the ongoing recession, Italy has the 4th largest economy in the EU and the 8th largest nominal GDP in the world. It was one of the founding members of the European Union and plays a centre-stage role in global military, economic, cultural and diplomatic affairs.
Italy is also ranked 21st on the Economic Intelligence Unit’s Where-to-Be-Born Index (above the UK, France and Spain) for life expectancy, health, safety, sense of community and work-life balance. Italians report a generally high quality of life particularly in the areas of healthcare, well-being, crime and pollution.