italy

Living in Italy : What is it really like?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time, and of course being an overworked expat – overplanner extraordinaire, I just haven’t had the time. But since I get a fair amount of emails weekly about people all over the world looking to move their life overseas, I thought it the right time to write a post about my opinion on whether or not its a good idea to make a big move to il bel paese, or well – at least Florence. I am going to start a weekly series based on answering questions that I receive quite often via email. Questions like ‘What is it like working in Italy? Are there decent jobs to be had? “How are the apartments?” “How hard is it to get a work visa?” or “how much does life really cost?”.

I am surprised I don’t see more posts about this subject since I get so many questions about it, but here goes!

Each post will focus on one question and I ask you to please comment, comment, comment! I want this blog to be a comfortable forum where people share their experiences. 

Also I have to say, please remember that this is just my opinion, after all there are so many Italians, expats and immigrants living and working in this country with varying degrees of success and I have only been here for seven years so if I sound like a total knumbskull or idiota - fair enough.

**  I’ve touched on this topic before: and if you want to browse a few of my previous posts about working, getting a visa and whatnot: here are some great ones to start with:

Popular question #1 : Can I find work in Italy, and can you help me? 

This is a common question and understandably so. Life in Italy can resemble (and I know I don’t help with all of my instagrams of Florence) an idyllic dream world where locals browse locals markets for the freshest produce daily, wine is present at every meal and everyone is home at a decent hour every single night.

How much do Italians really work?

It has been my personal experience that people living and working in Italy tend to work more hours than their European counterparts (especially up north) for much, much less pay (especially Italians themselves). I have had the great opportunity to have worked with some really awesome, smart, talented people who were busting their ass 40-50 hours a week for a paycheck that after taxes, was at best, a 1000 euros (if they were lucky).

Keep in mind that, if you live at your parents house rent-free that salary could be fine but if like most of us, expect to pay around 300-400 euros for a room in a shared apartment in or around the city, it’s absolutely not near enough to afford a place on your own. Obviously coveted ‘expat jobs’ like those at huge companies dotted around Florence allow for a much different scenario but often those workers are recruited overseas and have a pretty specific skill-set. 

Finding work depends on a few things, can you legally work in Italy? What are you willing to do to live here? Do you already have connections?

The legal question is one that I really can’t help you with, my struggles with getting a work visa were traumatic enough that I really don’t want to go back there. It is NOT impossible if you really, really want to live and work here but just be aware – it ain’t no cakewalk. If however you can legally work in Italy, the truth is that you still have a quite difficult road ahead of you if you are starting from ground zero.

That means competing with tons of similarly smart, multilingual, hungry-to-work people in the same boat as you. You know… people who speak a few languages fluently, have a masters or PH.D or basically learned how to speak Mandarin Chinese while hula-hooping and playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 – Allegro at age five {ok I admit, I may be exaggerating but I think you get my point}. The absolute ideal situation is that you find a job in the city you want to in from an international company which will transfer you to Italy with a great salary allowing you a normal life without extreme financial stress. This means you need to be protected with a decent, legal work contract with benefits that people really should have anyway, but often don’t. You might even get a housing allowance (sounds like a dream to me).

What can you do Well, if you can work for yourself remotely, great! This means you can make your own budget and make Florence your stomping ground. I have friends who have done this and live quite well with a wider berth of flexibility allocated for them. Of course I imagine many people dreaming of working for a local International university in Florence or something to that caliber but know that those kinds of jobs are extremely competitive and almost seem like fairy tales if I’m honest. If you don’t believe me when I talk about how many people are looking for work, just go to the ‘job wanted’ classifieds in any local newspaper or website and scroll through all of the listings to get an idea of what people are looking for.

Otherwise you might consider teaching english (but be careful if you work for a language school  which can be notorious teacher-slave-factories paying native-speakers embarrassing unlivable wages with illegal or horrible contracts while charging clients up to 30-40 an hour for lessons). Read this first. Some friends of mine have had horrible experiences, being forced to work hours on end with no breaks until late in the night, the schools want to get every penny they can, naturally. Better is having your own private classes, private students and a job with a reputable school if you can find one.

In addition, almost every English-speaker I know has taught english in some form or another, combined with babysitting or nannying in order to get their feet of the ground. It’s also a great way to make connections, Florence is a small town and I have met so many people from being someone’s nanny. Just call me Mary Poppins because I have likely baby-sat for every expat’s kid from 2007-2011. Consider it your life-in-Florence right of passage if you are young and new in town looking for work.

Last but not least, yes getting a ‘normal’ job is possible in Florence, I think? Well that depends on what your idea of ‘normal’ is? If normal is having a few jobs at the same time – than normal would be correct. Most of the people I know that have a salary-type full-time long-term jobs have a high skill-set like my boyfriend who is an engineer and speaks 3 languages or friends who have found a long-term job at an International university – I think I know one person.

Many people I know do side-gigs along with their regular job to make ends meet because once again in the economy is not-that-great. The best advice I can give someone is that before accepting any work, is to go over your contract with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that you are being protected and don’t accept anything that you know isn’t right. Here is a great starting point to understanding the types of employment contracts that are available.

Check out this post from the awesome blog – My Sardinian Life where she also checks in on expat job struggles or this post from 2007 from Ms Adventures in Italy.

Also I have to say, many long-term friends that I have in Florence have left due to the difficulty of finding, good stable and consistent work. It’s just as devastating for them as for the friends they leave behind, and is a constant reality for Internationals living in Firenze. The countless stories of not getting paid on time or companies going into litigation with their employees over unpaid work is all too normal here. I would love to absolutely believe that this will be a relic of the past but as optimistic as I am, this I need to see to believe.

On a personal note, I will say that I absolutely love what I do for work at the moment even if I had to create it myself, though I wouldn’t exactly say that I am 100% financially stable and have everything I need to survive, I wish. I love to write, I love social media and I’ll be damned if I didn’t at least try to make this work. It did help having good friends and people looking out for me from time to time which is why I want to pay-it-forward as best I can and help advise those who need help. Anything is possible in Italy, as long as you are a little crazy and can manage expectations like a pro.

Also to see & read about real people living and working in Italy, check out my ‘locals I love’ series featuring people I meet in Florence! Perhaps you could be one of them some day?

Also since this is a subject so very based on personal experiences: I want to hear from you! What’s your experience finding work in Italy? What advice would you give those looking to make the move here and support themselves locally? 


This subject has also been tackled by our COSI blogger roundtable, I highly recommend checking out what they have to say about the subject because well, they are expats working and living in Italy too.

Expats Working in Italy for fun and profit – awesome post by Rick’s Rome.

How to find work in Italy or a warning to other foolhardy immigrants. – must-read by an Englishman in Italy

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  1. sunshineandoliveadventures

    Great post! It’s definitely easier to get work in Italy if you have an EU passport but it does seem to be mainly teaching jobs. Living in a smaller city or town definitely makes it easier to live off a teaching salary as living costs are lower. At the end of the day I find the lifestyle so much better here! :)

    • ggnitaly84

      That is a great point, if you do move to a smaller town, housing costs are significantly lower but I imagine the job opportunities might be as well. Perhaps if you stick to English it would be fairly easy? I concur about the lifestyle, Italians know how to appreciate the finer things in life aka, fresh air and great food!

      • D

        This is true. While I can charge a really decent price per hour (teaching English) in a city like Florence, or even bigger, despite the market saturation, small town people tend to wince at such prices. Also, they seem to have less of an urgency for English. I tend to flick through gli annunci in various regions and provinces to get a feel for the going rate and I have to say it’s often half of what I charge. A few of my friends living in little towns surrounding Florence also often teach wayyyy later (10 PM seems normal) in the evenings than I do and can only ask significantly less money of clients if they want steady work. This is just one thing to consider.

      • D

        The only caveat, and I hate to sound negative, is in small towns, not that many people have the drive to take, or stick with English lessons. There may be a rare school (like in Prato, but it’s not that small…), but if you end up with 2-3 lessons a day, and “everyday” is a huge IF, and you can charge 10-15 euros max, teaching English is not going to cut it.

  2. Catherine Bolton

    I would add that people who plan to move here without the least knowledge of Italian will find that winding their way through the welter of Italian bureaucracy they need to live and work here will make Dante’s Circles of Hell look like child’s play!

    • ggnitaly84

      hahaha dante’s circles of hell indeed! GREAT point in Catherine, I failed to mention the ‘If you don’t speak Italian’ card but I will on a later post. Dealing with red tape here makes going to the DMV in Texas look like fun!

      • muirgeilt

        If I didn’t have my brother to translate for me, I’d be completely lost. I’m learning, but that takes time, and what tiny bits of Italian I do have aren’t up to the task of visits to the Questura, rental contract negotiations, or opening a bank account. I can maybe order lunch… ;)

  3. rickzullo.com

    Georgette, this is a really accurate overview of the situation. I get a lot of these emails, too, and of course most people don’t really want to hear about this reality. I’ve been lucky–my English teaching experience has been wonderful, but I know that mine is the exception rather than the rule. And now I’m transitioning into more Internet based work, which is always an option for people with either tech skills or a passion for writing and social media. As you said, it’s not an easy path, either, but with time it can at least offer supplemental income. Ciao!

    • ggnitaly84

      Thanks for your comment Rick and thats awesome that you had a great experience teaching english. I have to say I really enjoyed mine as well but it was way too short lived to be that much of an example. I think people really make a good game plan if they want to be financially independent in Italy.

  4. missellenmiller

    Georgette, I totally agree that finding work is really challenging in Florence– regardless of whether or not you are legal! I got SO lucky in that my boss was looking for someone at the exact moment that I emailed her inquiring about working together and somehow it worked out, but I’ve constantly been looking for additional work since, because it doesn’t pay enough to meet my needs and it has been tough. I’m on a student visa, so I can work part time, but I know myself well enough to know that I don’t love Florence enough to go through the trouble of getting a work visa to stay. But kudos to you! I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been.

    • ggnitaly84

      Thank you for sharing your experience! Often as you say, you can find a nice job that you love ‘enough’ but it often doesn’t pay the bills and you need to supplement this somehow. While I know this is can also happen in the states as well as other countries (especially for more low-income positions) it just seems a little TOO normal here for my tastes :(.

  5. Alexandra

    What’s not to agree with here?!
    People think I live the high life and do tons of things, they can’t even figure out what job I have (it’s actually much simpler than it looks). But I recently found out that a friend in Canada with a comparable role in a marketing company makes 6 times my salary. True, she’s taxed at around 50% and we here are at 30% which seems plenty, but people have just no idea how low salary here is, especially in the creative industries like the ones we work in, where there is tons of competition.

    I have always said that you need to have a love of irony and a lot of flexibility to live in Italy. I was rather more rigid in the past, but have become almost cirque du soleil-like flexible in life now, or at least, in comparison! Work-wise, YOU are the most flexible person I know. The other part of flexibility is inventiveness. I invented a few jobs in grad school, like image-rights researcher for art historians publishing books about renaissance Italy. It was a good job. Due to a particular combination of skills (including a phd and being able to play the brandenburg concerto, although not at age five more like in high school), I never taught English, babysat, or worked as a tour guide. I figure those markets are oversaturated. So here’s the final advice for people looking for work in Italy: find your niche, and then sell it.

    • ggnitaly84

      Thank you so so much Alex for your long comment :). I was really hoping you would say something about this post. I admire how well you’ve done, hey its motivation for people like myself. I think a lot of people fall in love with Italy or an Italian first and sort of realize these things much much later – like the reality of living in a country where salaries or really not enough to live without some sort of parental help. I think the finding your niche and selling it is KEY advice for anyone looking to find even an ounce of success in Italy, great phrase!

  6. Cindy

    Since I have never even tried to live or work in Italy, kudos to all of you that are doing it! I think the biggest problem my friends have is getting contract work that is for life, not the more common 6 or 12 months. These short term contracts leave much to be desired and life really has been put on hold for them because they can’t plan a future when you don’t know if your contract will or won’t be renewed at the end of the term. So while finding a job is hard, I will stress that its hard for everybody! Its not just you! They are Italians, and range from having some university ed to having their PhD’s. And while they’ve encouraged me to come, I think I’d only try Europe if my husband got a job transfer with his current company! Good luck!

    • ggnitaly84

      Thank you for commenting Cindy, I mention in the post that Italians are the ones having the most trouble at all so naturally that would only mean that an outsider would have it worse (unless they have a ‘niche’ skill as Alexandra mentioned). Its not a good situation for anyone and in fact many Italians are leaving in droves to other countries in the EU or Australia for better opportunities. Two good friends of mine (one Italian) left Italy recently due to the fact that he could not find steady, consistent paid work.

  7. Stacy di Anna

    Fantastic post and I’m looking forward to your entire series. I especially love the way you are realistic AND positive. Thanks for taking the time to share your honesty and enthusiasm! Tante belle cose a te per sempre.

    • ggnitaly84

      Thank you Stacy! I appreciate your comment, I try to be as realistic as possible so that moving to Italy doesn’t become some dream-like easy feat. But at the same time I stand by that where there’s a will, there’s a way. :)

  8. Diana

    Hi! I love your blog…I am an Texas girl too! :) Anyway….I got lucky in Milan teaching English. I worked on my own and with a school as well. The school gig did not pay as much as doing it on my own, but I was lucky enough to land 4 classes at the same company, one right after another….so I did not lose any time jumping from place to place. It was a good balance for me. Great post!

    • ggnitaly84

      Hey Diana! Nice to hear from a fellow Texan, what part are you from? Thank you for sharing your experience, props to you for finding such success – when I was teaching what irked me the most was taking the bus all around the city. It just got old after awhile..

  9. Kellina

    I recently discovered your blog. I love that the information is realistic and informative. I studied in Florence a few years ago, and I am in the midst of the process of relocating this August. I am going to micro manage two bars. Hopefully I will find some teaching English side gigs. :) Your tips and information has really been a great help and guiding aid. Perhaps I will see you around Florence! :)

  10. David

    Great post. Having yesterday returned from 8 unbelievable days in Florence the first thing I searched for this morning was ‘living and working in Italy’. I think your article was first In the listing and highlighted the challenges ahead;but it’s going to be fun.

    • GirlinFlorence

      Hello David, thank you! I love that I am so high up on google, who would have thought. Livign and working in Italy are harrowing to say the least, but if you can work remotely, that might be your best best! I wish you luck and if you need anything, just shoot me off an email!

  11. Jon

    What’s the market like for people in IT (information technology) fields like Cisco ( CCNA, CCNP Certified) and Microsoft (MCSE, MCSA)… I work on servers and networks here in the USA and I might be able to get dual citizenship based on jure sanguinis and I would love to translate this job I have here to one there. After all… technology is a worldwide language. lol.

  12. Pecora Nera

    Great post,
    I have dug holes in gardens, worked as a labourer for a builder and laid garden turf to earn money. All of it was hard work and paid very little. All the jobs were offered to me by friends, unfortunately I didn’t have a friend with a spare, high paying job for an Englishman who couldn’t speak Italian.

    My favorite ‘work in Italy inquiry’ went something like this…. I am a nineteen year old girl who has just finished a hairdressing course at college, can you tell me where I can find an English speaking hair salon, as I don’t speak Italian….

    • GirlInFlorence

      haha Pete, you truly get it. I get so many email about life in italy or how to come to italy and I just want to be fair with people hence why I wrote this post. People have to have some sort of plan, hopefully a viable one and be ready to do anything and everything short of prostitution (joking).


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