17 Things You Should Know Before Moving to Italy
Bonjourno! It’s no coincidence that the world’s only boot-shaped country walks all over everywhere else.
Just kidding – every country has its special bits. It’s just fair to say that Italy is practically rammed with special bits. Food, coffee, wine, countryside, history… it’s all something to write home about when you’re in Italia.
In this article, we’ll run through the 17 things you need to know before moving to Italy, from culture and customs to serious stuff like health insurance.
If you’re wondering how much it’s going to cost you to move your stuff over there, just pop your details in the form at the top of this page, and our shipping suppliers will contact you with quotes.
The sublimely beautiful hills of Tuscany
1. The cost of living is a little steep
The ease and beauty of the Italian lifestyle comes at a premium, of course. Italy is one of the most expensive countries in Europe.
Not that you’d see this as a ‘premium’ if you’re coming from Britain – according to Numbeo, Italy’s living costs are 2.02% lower than in the UK. Check out the table below for a better idea.
|Average cost in Italy
|Domestic beer (0.5 litre draught)
|1kg of local cheese
|Monthly pass for local transport
|Monthly gym membership
|One ticket for new cinema release
|One pair of mid-range Nike trainers
As you can see, there isn’t much difference between living costs in Italy and in the UK, apart from dramatically cheaper public transport and coffee.
This is also the case with rent – according to Numbeo, property rental costs in Italy are 30.79% lower than in the UK. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment across the country is around £675 (source: Internations), although it can reach over £850 in Milan (source: Wise).
2. You'll probably need private health insurance…
Italy has its own equivalent of the NHS, called the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN).
It’s a pretty good system, ranked 17th in the world in the Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index. 17th might sound fairly unimpressive, but bear in mind this is in a list of 166 countries, and Italy ranks six rungs higher than the UK.
Nevertheless, the standard of care in Italy can vary considerably depending on where you are, with the north generally outperforming the south.
What’s more, Italy’s ageing population problem (more on this later) means there’s increasing pressure on its public health services.
It’s compulsory to register for the SSN (made easier if you’re an EU citizen), but most expats in Italy also tend to opt for private health insurance.
3. …and a residenza elettiva as well
If you’re an EU citizen, settling down in Italy is not a difficult process. In most cases, you can stay in the country as long as you want, providing you register your fixed address with your nearest Ufficio Anagrafe (General Register Office).
However, if you aren’t an EU citizen – here's looking at you, fellow Brits – and you wish to live in Italy long-term, you'll first need to successfully apply for a Long Stay visa.
Fill in this form created by the Italian government to see whether you’re able to apply, then be prepared to pay €116 (£102) if you choose to go ahead with the application.
A Long Stay visa is available to anyone who’s moving for work, education, family reunification or adoption, retirement, or religious purposes – but they’re not permanent.
You’ll be allowed to stay in Italy for a specific length of time, depending on which of the above reasons applies to you. The length of visas varies from three months to two years.
If you want to stay in Italy for longer, you must apply for a residence permit (residenza elettiva) at what’s known as an ‘immigration one-stop shop’ and a police station – in that order – within eight working days of arriving in the country.
You should be able to book your appointment at the one-stop shop online, depending on where your local one is.
If you’re moving for work, you’ll need an Italian employer to get you a work permit, at which point you can apply for a work visa – as long as Italy is allowing foreign workers in, and as long as the national quota hasn’t been filled up.
Ask your local Italian Embassy about the quota’s current state before you apply.
4. Coffee is in the blood
Right, on to the serious stuff.
You won’t be surprised to hear that Italians are absolutely hooked on coffee. Ever since the coffee bean reached Venetian ports from the Middle East in the 16th century, Italy has been practically pumping the stuff into its veins.
It’s not unusual for your average Italian to have six or seven espresso shots in a single day – as our resident Italian, Lorenzo, can confirm.
Naturally, there’s a bunch of coffee-drinking rules in Italy that are simultaneously “unspoken” and “embarrassing if you get wrong”…
- The word for a coffee is ‘un caffè’, and it’s a strong, small espresso shot
- Italians don’t do the huge buckets of watery Americano that you find in Starbucks
- For a larger coffee, ask for ‘un caffe lungo’ – this is an espresso shot with some extra hot water
- If you’re out and about, the most common way to drink your coffee is while standing at the bar of a cafe – not sitting at a table
A cappuccino is a breakfast drink – ask for one after 11am and in most places you’ll get funny looks
A cup of coffee made with a traditional Italian moka
5. Pasta in the bones
If there’s one food-based fanaticism that matches Italy’s coffee obsession, it’s that of pasta.
A 2017 study published on Statista found that 63% of Italians eat pasta every day (or almost every day), and that the typical Italian consumes around 23.5kg of pasta per year. That’s more than any other country, of course.
Strangely, the next highest was Tunisia (17kg), followed by Venezuela (12kg), Greece (11.1kg), and Chile (9.4kg).
Italians have been eating pasta since the 13th century, and there are now over 300 established pasta shapes (formati), from the simple spaghetti and the frilly campanelle to the downright blister-like orrechiette.
6. Catholicism is a diminishing big deal
Italy is a very Catholic country, home to the hub of Roman Catholicism (Vatican City) and the Pope. It was in the Roman Empire (Judea) where Christ started his teaching all those years ago, and according to Pew Research, 78% of adults in Italy are Catholic.
However, in the past fifty years, Catholicism’s grasp on Italian society has certainly weakened. Back in 1970 when the Italian Government legalised divorce, the Vatican protested this change – but to no effect.
Today, experts assume that only around 15-20% of Catholic people actually attend mass each Sunday. Indeed, in 2007, Camillo Cardinal Ruini (then president of the Italian Episcopal Conference) declared that Catholics in Italy “who live their faith deeply are a minority”.
7. Football fever
And while Catholicism’s influence is very much waning, Italy’s enthusiasm for football is nothing short of religious.
They are positively mad for it, with entire towns basically shutting down on Sundays if there’s a big game happening. Italy has had a national football league since the end of the 19th century, with Serie A (the Italian Premier League) starting in 1929.
The behaviour of Italian football fans is so extreme (think unbridled passion, hooliganism, flares, deafening chanting) that the name for a group of supporters is tifosi, which means ‘infected by typhus’. We are currently without a cure.
8. The North/South divide
As with many European countries, there is a significant disparity between Italy’s northern and southern regions.
The north of the country is generally seen as more wealthy, fast-paced, cosmopolitan, industrious, and high-tech, while the south is generally considered to be more agricultural, traditional, friendly, slow-paced, and – well – “Mediterranean”.
“In the South, people value human relationships more than time”
– Lorenzo, our resident Italian, from Termoli
However, there’s also a genuine economic imbalance between the two regions. According to Veem, the north of Italy produces over 90% of the country’s exports, while the agrarian south is significantly lacking in infrastructure.
A 2017 European Commission survey on public services ranked all eight of Italy’s southern districts lower than 155th (out of 202 EU regions). Similarly, a report from Reuters in March 2018 found unemployment in the south to be almost 18%, compared to 6.6% in the north.
There’s a serious discrepancy, and the mass movement of young people from the south to the north isn’t helping.
9. Doing naff all is perfectly fine
Amidst the lethargy of warm sunlight and heady wine, the prospect of doing nothing in Italy seems quite tempting. This is why the Italians developed an idiom to make people feel okay about it – dolce far niente (“the sweetness of doing nothing”).
In the new age of ‘self-care’, it’s vital that we all find time for relaxation, reflection, people-watching, or even just empty-minded sitting. In Italy, up and down the country you’ll spot people of all ages enjoying dolce far niente, and that is absolutely fine.
10. The countryside is exquisite
This goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: the Italian countryside is as sublime and varied as all the swooning poets have made it out to be. It’s almost nauseating how bountiful the Italian country can be, like a piece of overripe fruit.
We’re talking the cyprus-lined roads of Tuscany, the green rolling hills of Umbria, the towering peaks of the Dolomites, the dazzling colours of the Amalfi Coast, the azure waters of Capri, the lunar cliffs of Chiaia di Luna… you get the idea.
The vibrant coastal villages of the Cinque Terre
11. Italy is steeped in history
If you think you like history, a move to Italy will really put that claim to the test. Like when Bruce Bogtrotter has to eat the entire chocolate cake in Matilda.
Italy bears the imprint of a whole litany of nations and empires, including the Greeks, Arabs, Byzantines, Spaniards, Germans and – most significantly of all – Romans.
And as if the remnants of the Roman Empire weren’t enough, Italy also boasts opulent palaces and breathtaking artworks from its Renaissance period.
It is the only country with more than 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (54, to be exact), including Rome’s mighty Coliseum, the crystallized city of Pompeii, and Milan’s gargantuan Gothic cathedral. Go get your geek on.
12. Fashion is everything
There’s something in the Italian psyche that simply demands style. No country manages to pull off effortless fashionability quite so well as Italy.
Milan is one of the ‘big four’ fashion cities, famed particularly for its exquisite sense of glamour. Huge luxury brands like Versace, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, and Prada have their headquarters there, and the city’s obsession with understated, classy appearance emanates across the country.
In particular, Italian men are more than happy to wear scarves and red trousers, which can rescue even the most otherwise drab of outfits.
13. An exodus of brains and hands
Despite all the nice things we’re saying about Italy, young people are practically pouring out of the country and the Italian government isn’t quite sure what to do.
Yes, Italy has one of those ‘ageing populations’, meaning that the average age of population is gradually increasing, as the birth rate drops and life expectancy rises.
In February 2019, the Financial Times reported that Italy’s birth rate was at its lowest point since the 21st century began, and that in 2018 around 160,000 Italians moved abroad – the largest number since 1981.
2018 also saw Italy’s overall population tumble by 90,000 people to an estimated 60.4 million – its fourth consecutive year of decline.
How to stop the rot? Nobody’s sure. But it’s certainly making space for expats.
While many young people are scrambling to leave Italy as soon as they can, some have got quite the opposite idea in mind. Mammismo is the time-old attachment between Italian boys and their mothers, resulting in many Italian men still living at home well into their late 20s or early 30s.
A 2017 study by Istat found that over 50% of Italy’s male population (aged 24-35) are still living with their parents. Naturally, this is a problem for Italy’s ageing population, with the Catholic church recently commenting on the negative impact of mammismo on marriage rates in Italy.
For many Italian men, a mother’s love is like no other.
15. Breakfasts are small
When it comes to the meals of the day in Italy, breakfast is at the bottom of the pile.
If you enjoy gorging yourself on food at the start of the day, prepare yourself for a bit of a culture shock. Italians do breakfast, but they don’t do breakfast. Your typical Italian’s morning meal is nothing more than a shot of coffee, a croissant, and sometimes maybe a piece of fruit.
Of course, you can prepare sprawling morning feasts within the confines of your own Italian home, but if you’re heading to a cafe for breakfast, expect something a little more ‘tasteful’.
16. Prepare for il bacetto
If you’ve been cursed with a limp handshake or clammy hands, you needn’t worry about poor first impressions in Italy.
No, in Italy it’s common to greet people (strangers and friends alike) with an ‘air kiss’ on either cheek. This is known as il bacetto (‘the little kiss’), although crucially you don’t actually make any lip-cheek contact. Just make a ‘mwah’ sound with your mouth (women tend to do this a bit more exaggeratedly than men).
Worried about going the wrong way? It’s customary to start with the right cheek and then move on to the left.
17. Cometh the aperitivo hour…
…cometh the Italian man (and woman).
We’ll close with a traditional Italian ‘opening’.
An aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink intended to whet your appetite and prepare you for the meal ahead, hence the name, which comes from the Latin verb aperire (‘to open’).
It’s meant to be a time for sipping on a particular drink (usually aperol, campari, or white wine), delicately eating nibbles, and discussing your day with friends. It is not meant to be a time for getting very drunk or full on food before your dinner, which is what many tourists mistake it for.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do – or make a very great fool of yourself.