Moving to Florence
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Known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is widely celebrated as the most beautiful city in Italy. It has the greatest concentration of art (in proportion to its size) in the world and is home to works by Michelangelo, Botticelli and Leonardo Da Vinci, to name a few. Over 50 million tourists throng the city’s centro storico (historical centre) each year to marvel at the unique multi-coloured architecture, Brunelleschi’s famous orange-domed Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral and the masterpieces that line the walls of the Uffizi Gallery.
However to see this UNESCO World Heritage Listed city as just a tourist trap for art lovers would be to overlook its present role as a dynamic and modern metropolis. Despite its relatively small population of 1.5 million people, Florence boasts a large economy and is a major production and commercial centre. The ancient university also welcomes thousands of international students each year, giving the city a cosmopolitan and bohemian atmosphere.
Florence is the capital of Tuscany, famous for its verdant landscapes, Chianti-producing vines and the idyllic rural homes of prime ministers and film stars. The city also lies an hour away from the Ligurian Sea where you can escape the tourists, eat spaghetti alla vongole (pasta with clams) and bask in the region’s warm Mediterranean climate.
The job market
Florence has not escaped Italy’s surge in unemployment which reached a record high of 13.6% in 2015, so competition for work is high. However, Florence is a truly international city that welcomes hundreds of new expats every year so there are more opportunities for work here than other Italian cities.
With over 50 million tourists descending on Florence every year, the mainstay of the economy is tourism, with more jobs available in the travel, hotel and restaurant industries. English-speaking expats can also find work in the numerous English/TEFL schools dotted around the city. Other employment opportunities exist in fashion and retail with Ferragamo, Prada and Chanel having large offices in the city. Florence’s manufacturing and automotive sectors (the iconic Vespa producer Piaggio is located near the city) offer further scope for employment.
Although it is possible to find work online, the best way to land a job in Florence is through face-to-face networking. Florentines prefer to hire based on personal impressions and rarely respond to cold-calling and emailing. Spending some time in the city will greatly improve your chances of finding work. Having some knowledge of Italian is also a distinct advantage when competing for jobs.
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Because of its status as a world tourist destination, living in Florence can be expensive. However, the cost of living in Florence is lower than Rome, Milan, London, Brisbane and Singapore and away from the tourist trail you will pay less for groceries and eating out.
Rental costs depend on where you live in Florence but are lower than Rome and Milan. Expect to pay an average €640/month for a one-bedroom and €1300/month for a three-bedroom city centre apartment. Outside the historical centre you will pay an average €600/month for a one-bedrooom and €1000/month for a 3-bedroom apartment. Basic utilities plus internet are an average €120/month on top of accommodation. Groceries and alcohol are lower than other major European cities, a mid-range bottle of wine will cost you €5 in Florence compared to €9.50 in London and €6.50 in Paris.
Despite a fall in house prices of 20% in Italy since the country entered recession, Florence remains a constant draw for international buyers. This trend means that property prices in the region are above the national average. Tuscany as whole is by far the most popular region in Italy for foreigners looking for a country villa, particularly within the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of Florence, Sienna and Volterra. Rural properties in this area are said to be among the most expensive in the world.
Property prices in Florence are fractionally lower than Rome and Milan, with bargains to be found in the quieter suburbs of the city. If you are lucky enough to buy in Florence, a bolthole apartment near the Duomo can set you back around €5900 per square metre. You will pay an average €3900 per square metre outside the city centre.
Italy is a nation of homeowners but the rental market has expanded since the economic downturn, with many unable to get on the property ladder. Most people live in apartment buildings (palazzi) and you get more space for your money the further the property is from the centre. A one-bedroom apartment here can be anything between €650 and €2000/month. Further outside the city centre, such as near the Giardino Torrigiani, a one-bedroom apartment costs an average €600/month and a three-bedroom around €1200/month.
Finding an apartment can involve complicated negotiations with landlords, so having fluency in Italian is a distinct advantage.
Florence is a compact city surrounded by hills and is easily traversed on foot. The main tourist sights lie to the north of the River Arno, which bisects the city. Quieter suburbs, green areas and light industry can be found to the south, east and west of the city. The coast is easily reached by train and the smaller, equally beautiful cities of Prato and Pistoia are less than an hour away.
- Family friendly: Campo di Marte, north east of the centre has a large sports complex, playground and excellent bus links. Also, Bagno a Ripolito the east is a quieter option to the city centre and a short distance from the International School.
- Hip and trendy: Piazza di Santo Spirito is where you will find the young and beautiful of Florence basking in the sun or in one of the many bars that line the square. Also the Via dei Benci is a well-known spot for nightlife.
- Upmarket: The hills surrounding Florence, such as Settignano, Fiesoleand Carregi is where you will find millionaires surveying the city from on high. A country house here can cost up to €18,000,000.
- Up-and-coming: Oltrano is a characterful area with narrow streets and shops that lies south of the Arno. The area has been transformed since its main piazza, which previously served as a large car park, was returned to its former glory.
Cost of moving
The shipping costs of moving to Florence vary from inside and outside Europe. A 20ft container will cost around €1600 from the major European cities such as London, Lisbon or Madrid. From further afield such as New York, Dubai, Brisbane and Sydney you will pay between €6000 and €8000.
Schools and education
Italy offers free education to children aged 3 (kindergarten) up to and including university. School is compulsory from age 6 to 16 and the system is divided into three cycles: primary, junior and secondary.
Florence has around 600 primary and secondary public schools. The city also has a wide range of private and international schools, one of the most established being the International School of Florence. Children (aged 3-18) are taught in both English and Italian and the school offers the International Baccalaureate. Fees range from €10,000 to €20,000 per year.
The University of Florence is one of the oldest universities (est. 1321) in the world and has Popes, Prime Ministers and Presidents among its alumni. Ranked 352nd in the QS World University Rankings (2015), the institution is divided into 12 research faculties, placed strategically around the city according to subject matter. Over 6% of the 60,000-strong student body are from abroad and the university has a distinctly international atmosphere.
Florence’s legendary artistic heritage means the city also has a number of art schools, such as the Florence Academy of Art which offers courses in painting and sculpture.
Ranking against the world
Although Florence cannot compete with large cities such as New York, London and Singapore, the city has a thriving economy and a large expat community. It is also recognised as a major tourist destination and was awarded first place in the Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice awards (2014) for its beauty, history and international flair. Florence is also the 89thmost visited city in the world (Euromonitor).
Being a comparatively smaller city, Florence has a lower crime rate, less pollution and a generally higher quality of life than London, New York and Rome. The city has a vibrant international feel, with many expats attracted by jobs in its tourism, education and manufacturing (textiles) industries. Florence also has a world renowned university, a modern transport system and a large teaching hospital.
A day in the life
With its flourishing economy, decadent vibe and staggering beauty, Florence is a popular choice for expats. Life in Florence combines a youthful, international atmosphere coupled with the traditions, culture and history of the Florentines.
If you live and work in Florence you may start the day by joining the runners by the River Arno. Or less energetically, you might saunter over the boutique-lined Ponte Vecchio, browsing the Murano glass and jewellery shops. The Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station is well-placed in the middle of the centro storico, where you can commute to offices outside the city.
For the long lunch break, traditional in Italy, you might order pasta and a glass of Chianti in a quintessentially Florentine spit-and-sawdust trattoria near the Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, a spot relatively unknown to tourists. After work you can catch one of the free jazz concerts in the ornate Piazza SS Annunziata (Jun-Sept) or hang out with the locals and students in the laid-back bars around the Piazza Santo Spirito.