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What not to expect when moving to Italy

Like many fellow bloggers who live and work in Italy, we tend to get a lot of emails from those interested in moving here. I can understand why, the food, the scenery, “la bella vita”what’s not to love?

While I am personally obsessed with this country and can happily see my life here forever — at the same time I have become much more realistic throughout the years and can kind of ‘tell’ when this might not be the right fit for some people. It’s really all about managing expectations. If you haven’t yet lived/worked in a Mediterranean country with high unemployment, you face some huge challenges that you never thought much about.

Below is my list of what NOT to expect when moving to my favorite country in the world besides the USA – Italia! 

 You will easily find a job

Probably the number one concern for most, if not independently wealthy or living off their pension. I get emails all the time about this and I always say better to find something beforehand than arrive here expecting to get a job the first week. I would be surprised if these people didn’t already know Italy’s (and much of the worlds) economic status at this time and jobs are hard to find for anyone, locals and immigrants alike. I think I have successful managed the art of the hustle here but it is not easy – nor will it ever be easy.

Some of my jobs in Italy have included – nanny, slave, wedding celebrant, leather sales, slave, housing assistant, slave, translator, questura liason, and your general ‘jack of all trades’.  Luckily now I am doing for the most part what I want to do as opposed to what I have to do and consider myself to have a pretty viable career path. Truth be told, a lot of what I do is because I worked at another job (including being a nanny so you never really know where one job may lead towards so never burn bridges!).

 Most of my friends work very hard for not great pay because they love being here or are married to an Italian. Plus almost everyone is fluent in Italian. My advice – either be a nanny, or teach english  (though be careful at some schools that somewhat resemble ‘teacher factories’ – they treat their employees like crap) or check out the local paper for jobs searching madre lingua inglese” – mother- language english. If you have a student visa you can legally work 20 hours a week which is a good stepping stone. Another thing is that yes people often get paid late but it really just depends. That’s a whole other blog post.

A work visa

 I know I am writing this while also possessing this coveted visa that I only dreamed about having four years ago. Most people who are not part of the EU must obtain a visa to work and live long-term in Italy and I was no exception. The thing is, like the Pope and the government — Italy LOVES to shake things up – including laws on immigrants working in the country. My visa process was extremely painful, and though I am happy now, I doubt the majority of people could be as masochistic as myself to actually go through with getting one. No-one ever seems to know the current laws regarding visas – just try asking those at the anagrafe or questura whose advise to me years ago was “why not just get pregnant or married” – nice. 

Converting a student visa to a work one might even include a trip back and then its still not 100% or 50% going to happen. It’s not impossible but just be ready to be frustrated and prepare every document known to man. Be prepared to kill many trees in the process and keep shiny plastic folders with all of these documents and copies of these documents. You will learn to respect those who also carry these overflowing plastic folders. There isa certain comradery amongst us all.  By the way it is also worth keeping in mind that you can stay in Italy for 90 days as an US citizen, no visa necessary! 

Affordable housing

This one can quite easily be debatable since it just depends on where you plan to live and where you have lived before. Since I decided to make home in the city of renaissance, Uffizi gallery and Michelangelo’s playground, there is a price to be paid with living in this zip code. Florence, Italy is expensive and so are most other major cities in Italy {Rome, Milan & Venice to name a few}. A studio apartment here can run anywhere from 600 euros a month to 1200 in the city center. Once when I was on the hunt, I saw announcements for places without kitchens, windows, walls, and one older Italiano even tried to rent me a half office/half apartment with the stipulation that I couldn’t be ‘home’ from 9-5 Monday through Friday – with the claim that it was ‘romantic’. What??

 Of course, the better your Italian is, the better off you will be. Either live with roommates, get an agency (and prepared to pay 10%) or live in the suburbs such as Campo di Marte, Gavinana, Novoli or anywhere where the housing will be less but that public transportation is still efficient. I don’t think its impossible to find a nice place for around 800-1000 euros per month. Plus you should budget bills, and internet which can be quite high depending on the season. Also it pays to know your landlord — I personally would prefer that they live in my same city if a problem should arise or at least have a decent property manager. 

These are just a few of the things to think about before you make the big move. I wrote this page including various resources for expats & immigrants, staying safe in Florence, 10 mistakes that Expats make. Remember that anything that is really worth something in life – is going to be a real challenge and if you are ready for that, go for it! Just be as prepared as possible (and flexible) in order to make the transition as easy as possible for yourself.

Now it’s your turn! What would you add/remove to this list!  

meyoung 001

Throwback to a time when hideous school uniforms were the norm and I had no idea I would be a future expat in Italy 

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25 Comment

  1. newmexicotoitaly
    14.03.2013 at 10:37

    I can’t help but wonder if this post was at least personally inspired by a fellow blogger’s recent decision to return to the U.S…. Actually, I think you have hit all of the quantifiable obstacles on the head. But to me, these things are actually obstacles that can be overcome with much patience and perseverance – “where there’s a will there’s a way” (as your story proves). I think it is the more subtle cultural difference which are the more challenging – as no amount of patience and perseverance are going to change those – you can either change your own mindset or not, but those differences are immutable.

    1. ggnitaly84
      14.03.2013 at 10:41

      It was really stemmed from a few emails that I have gotten from readers about moving to Italy and asking questions about salaries and stuff that I really couldn’t answer comfortably since my situation is kind of different. I love it here so much and don’t ever want to ‘go home’. But obviously six years here has made me less idealistic and more realistic. I think its entirely possible to live and work here but that people must manage their expectations from Italy.It still has that sort of ‘bella vita’ drawl to it that yes is appealing but that often hides deeper issues. As you mentioned the subtle differences are often the hardest to get used to, absolutely agree. ;-).

  2. D
    14.03.2013 at 11:02

    Very informative! I wish I read more blogs before I first came. I was starry eyed and not prepared for how expensive basic things in a touristy city was. In my mind it was “It’s Italy….cost of living must be so much CHEAPER than the east coast.” wrong. More importantly, the work thing. I ASSumed I’d get a work visa straight away….a snap! bwahaha. When visas run out/don’t get renewed or never come to fruition, c’e poco da fare. right? Housing: Great points. In the beginning I needed to stay in centro because I was alone, hardly knowing anyone. I got ripped off by my TEFL course by way of a much too expensive apartment….and subsequently ripped off on the next 2 since I then spoke little Italian and still wanted to stay verso il centro. Once I ditched agencies, spoke Italian and could search places on subitio, bakeca,etc I found it such a different experience. Also to note….with the help my boyfriend and his fellow Italian friends landlords were much…..much less apt to try to screw me. In fact, funny story….. an acquaintance of mine (fellow Americana) and I ended up looking at the same apartment. I got quoted a price 150 euros less/mo than she did. Was it me, or was it my Italian with the attitude I was told to bring? I think the latter. It’s hard to be forceful in a country that isn’t yours but we have to be. Good point about landlords, too. I’ve run across several in ads that live out of town….whether “close enough” in Livorno or all the way in Napoli!? lol.
    The easiest thing to do is just try and go with the flow and not micromanage everything like many are perhaps used to in the US. I still get annoyed about things at times, but I’m here because I chose to be, so I need to find how to deal with things or make them work!

    1. ggnitaly84
      14.03.2013 at 11:08

      brava! I write this after getting screwed over myself by agencies, jobs, people, situations and still despite that I am so very much in love with Italy! I just want for people to have a less stressful transition than I originally did because I just didn’t have the right resources (or internet in my overpriced shared apartment)! The point you make about micromanaging is so right – I am a control freak and I have really had to let that go. You have to just know that many things are out of your control and your ability to be patient can be your best friend! And yes the more Italian attitude you have, the better at negotiating you can be ;-). hehe

  3. lolo
    14.03.2013 at 11:29

    I have been flowing your blog for a while.Now and it is very entertaining . I used you blog post about “Beppe” Grillo and a example the Italians are getting there act together. I would love to move to Florence. Very helpful,

    1. ggnitaly84
      14.03.2013 at 11:32

      good luck with everything and anytime you have a question, ci sono!

  4. lolo
    14.03.2013 at 11:50

    Following not flowing.

  5. Kaley
    14.03.2013 at 13:14

    Totally true in Spain, too, although I guess that goes along with being a southern European/Mediterranean country. I always look for jobs that specify “native English” or “inglés nativo” when job hunting, as that’s an easy way to make myself stand out from the crowd!

    1. ggnitaly84
      14.03.2013 at 13:18

      It’s a great start, I have a friend who moved from Florence (she’s native French) to Barcelona and found it slightly easier to find a job (she speaks a few languages). I think in the beginning you utilize the fact that you speak english to secure at least something or work from home remotely, with the future plan of learning the language and integrating more of your passions into work own the line..

  6. Shelley
    14.03.2013 at 14:09

    Sheer genius here. The camaraderie of shiny plastic folders is the true mark of an insider.

    1. ggnitaly84
      14.03.2013 at 14:18

      you get it 😉

  7. Christie
    15.03.2013 at 10:24

    Hi, first of all, great blog! I have only been to Florence as a tourist, but it looks like a wonderful place to live. As an American expat (in Milan), I can fully corroborate all of your points and think it’s a great guide for the wide-eyed romantic bunch that thinks it’s “not that hard” (aka me 6 years ago). I will say though that it was all worth it 🙂

    1. ggnitaly84
      15.03.2013 at 13:43

      So worth it –I think its only fair to present a real picture of la bella vita but as always, I absolutely love Italy! Today for example, is such a beautiful day, there is no place I would rather be

  8. lisa | renovating italy
    21.03.2013 at 15:38

    Well having just arrived less than a fortnight ago, (we lived here before for two years) I think the thing that we didn’t expect was the emotional turmoil. Leaving elderly parents and taking children from school. We are fine just didn’t see this coming. Another thing I had to readjust to quickly is the driving, we don’t have a problem with housing as we bought part of an old borgata and will slowly fix it up. Also Italy is not all picture postcards and that’s what I love most, the people and their stories x ciao lisa

    1. ggnitaly84
      21.03.2013 at 16:45

      That’s exactly right, after all for those who live here, the honeymoon period does go away when you are trying to make an independent life for yourself. That much is true! I hope that you guys adjust well and just take it one day at a time, skype with the grandparents and enjoy simple pleasures. After all, spring time is coming!

  9. livinginthelanghe
    21.03.2013 at 18:37

    Hi – great blog! We’ve been in Italy for a few months now and are still very much adjusting. We knew it would be tough at times, but I think we’ve been surprised by just how tough. Still, the good times very much outnumber the bad, every day seems to bring with it a new adventure and we wouldn’t change a thing… yet! 😉

    1. ggnitaly84
      22.03.2013 at 9:15

      It can be really hard in the beginning, my first six months here as a non-student were tough! I had no friends, my job sucked. It just was not a good time. But eventually that all changed and (as you all know) wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Just take one day at a time and get lost in simple pleasures! Patience is key to survival in il bel paese!

  10. Pendo
    03.06.2013 at 4:55

    Thanks! Great blog! I love Florence and hope to make the move in a few years. The rent sounds great to me since I’m coming from San Francisco. Thanks again for the tips.

    1. ggnitaly84
      03.06.2013 at 10:33

      Thank you! on the flip side, I am a huge fan of San Francisco.. such a gorgeous city

  11. Marlee Renaud
    14.07.2013 at 1:20

    Hi,
    I’m writing this because I was searching desperately through the Internet to find some straightforward answer on how I could possibly pick up and move to Italy. Obviously it doesn’t work that way and over the last 3 years I’ve gotten my fair proof of it. Within those 3 years I have been back to Florence, Italy 4 times varying in length (all more than a month the longest being 4 months). I am head over heels in love with that country and I’m not going to give up on finding a way to stay there permanently. During my 4 month visit I felt truly at home. But, money and time ran out, and not having the documentation to obtain a job I had to return home. I have considered every possibility and none seem to be realistic at all. I know everything there is to know about every visa there is, I just keep turning up empty. My boyfriend lives in Florence and we have considered marriage but with the crisis he hasn’t found a steady job and it is just not the right decision at this time. My interests are History and Art History and I am studying this in University and I have been considering applying for a study visa and finishing/starting my education there, hoping that by graduation time ill either find a job or my boyfriend will find stability. But, the Florence University of the Arts doesn’t award degrees so that, to me, seems pointless. As far as I know every other university is not in English, and while almost fluent in Italian, I am absolutely not confident in taking courses that aren’t taught in English. Anyways, the point of all this is, do you have any advice for me? Any suggestions of what to do? Like you said, no one is ever sure of any visa laws etc so if we did get married would I receive a permanent resident card ASAP? Do you know of any English taught universities that actually award degrees? I am coming from Canada and am clearly desperate. Life here just isn’t the same once you’ve experienced it there! Hope you can help!

    Marlee

    1. ggnitaly84
      14.07.2013 at 20:04

      Hello Marlee, I do understand your postion, I was once ina very similar one myself and it was not easy. Have you thought about studying at one of the American universities that offer masters degrees such as Middlebury? I would look into that since the Italian uni’s that I know that offer classes in English are pretty much Bocconi (super prestigious uni in Milan) and that’s it. If you got married, you would get a resident card pretty soon, but it is quite a long process (think at least 4 months) to collect and do all of the paperwork it takes to get married. After you are married you would then take your marriage certificate (and husband) to the questura.

  12. Jordana A
    10.09.2013 at 8:11

    Thank you so much for blogging about all these things. I can tell you put much energy and effort into it, greatly appreciated! My biggest, hugest question/concern is about living in Italy legally/illegally. I am an American moving to Florence for one year. I do not have work there, nor would I be going to school. I will be staying with a woman in her house for trade of helping take care of her 6 year old son. She wants a one year commitment for the betterment of the child. I am happy to give it because my dream for the last 12 years has been to live in Italy. I feel that this is an opportunity that I cannot pass up. I have researched all the types of visas for Americans and see that there are none that I qualify for past the 90 day tourist. I am obviously going to have to try to find work there since I will be agreeing to stay for a year. The advice that I have gotten is that people just overstay their tourist visa and when they leave back to the states they are not allowed to return to the Schengen Area for 3 years. Getting by on finding ‘under the table’ work.This makes me nervous of course. How common is it that Americans do this? I keep reading different stories, but no one actually says what they have done in the beginning to be able to remain there for years. Or what the consequences were when leaving after overstaying their Tourist visa. The only way I might possibly obtain a work visa is by going through the TEFL courses and attempting to find work that way (I know it’s unlikely) anyhow, I need any advice anyone has who has been through this process or knows anyone who has done. Also any testimonies about the success of TEFL graduates in Italy. Look forward to running into you around Florence! Much Thanks – Jordana (Portland OR)

  13. Anna
    06.03.2014 at 12:58

    I totally agree with, I’ve been living in Bergamo for 3 years, and I pay 700 euro per month for rent, which I find expensive (to which I add 100 euros/ month for amenities), since I used to pay rent in Chicago for much less….plus, car insurance is really expensive here, think 900 euros/ year!
    and on top of that you hardly find someone who speaks English! I am lucky, I am fluent in Italian, still I am amazed at how badly Italians speak English!
    The economy here is in shambles, the taxes are huge, the salaries are pretty low, how the hell can someone live on a 1000 euro/ month pay with all these expenses?

  14. ggnitaly84
    13.03.2014 at 9:29

    Thanks Matt for replying with your experience and or checking out my blog! These kinds of tips are really valuable, I think a lot of these schools are a rip off, plus, unfortunately a lot of places aren’t super honest about expectations…I think going the private route when it comes to being an English teacher is the best idea…

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