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Expat Exchange - 10 Things to Know Before Moving to Italy
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Mondello near Palermo in Sicily


10 Things to Know Before Moving to Italy

By Betsy Burlingame

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Summary: If you're planning a move to Italy, here are 10 things expats living there wish they had known before moving to Italy.

Italy, a country known for its rich history, delicious food, and stunning landscapes, is a popular destination for expats from around the world. However, moving to a new country is a big step and it's important to be prepared. Here are 10 things you should know before packing your bags and heading to the beautiful Mediterranean nation.

1. Understanding the Italian Pace of Life

Life in Italy moves at a slower pace compared to many other Western countries. This is particularly true in the south and in smaller towns and villages. Italians value their leisure time and believe in living life to the fullest. This means long, leisurely meals, plenty of time spent with family and friends, and a generally relaxed approach to life. It's a wonderful way of life, but it can take some getting used to if you're from a fast-paced, work-oriented culture.

2. Mastering the Italian Language

While it's possible to get by in Italy with only English, your experience will be much richer if you learn Italian. Not only will it make everyday tasks easier, but it will also help you connect with locals and understand the culture better. Plus, Italians appreciate when foreigners make an effort to speak their language.

3. Navigating the Italian Bureaucracy

Italy is infamous for its bureaucracy. From getting a residence permit to setting up utilities, be prepared for a lot of paperwork and potentially long waiting times. Patience and persistence are key. It can be helpful to hire a local lawyer or consultant to guide you through the process.

4. Embracing the Italian Cuisine

Italian food is more than just pizza and pasta. Each region has its own specialties and traditional dishes. Italians take their food very seriously and meal times are an important part of the day. Be prepared to eat late - lunch often starts at 1pm and dinner can start as late as 9pm.

5. Getting Used to Italian Social Norms

Italians are warm, friendly, and expressive people. They often greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks and it's common to see friends and family members walking arm in arm. Personal space may be smaller than what you're used to and it's common for conversations to be loud and animated.

6. Preparing for Italian Weather

Italy has a diverse climate. The north can be cold and snowy in winter, while the south enjoys a Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters. Be prepared for the heat in summer, especially in cities like Rome and Florence where temperatures can reach over 30°C (86°F).

7. Appreciating Italian Fashion

Italians are known for their sense of style. In cities like Milan and Rome, people often dress up just to go for a walk or to do their grocery shopping. While you don't have to wear designer clothes, it's worth noting that Italians generally dress more formally than people in many other countries.

8. Understanding the Italian Healthcare System

Italy has a good healthcare system, which is ranked among the top in the world by the World Health Organization. However, the quality of care can vary between regions. Private healthcare is also available and is often used for specialist treatments and to avoid long waiting times.

9. Getting Around in Italy

Public transportation in Italy is generally good, especially in larger cities. However, services can be less reliable in rural areas. Many Italians prefer to use cars or scooters, especially in the countryside. If you're planning to drive in Italy, be prepared for aggressive driving habits and chaotic traffic in cities.

10. Embracing the Italian Culture

Italy is a country with a rich history and culture. From ancient Roman ruins to Renaissance art, there's so much to see and learn. Italians are proud of their heritage and traditions, and festivals and celebrations are a big part of life. By embracing the culture, you'll get the most out of your Italian experience.

Expats talk about Moving to Italy

"I would say to find someone of your same socio-economical level in the area and ask them. We all have diverse expectations but this way you would know what is considered 'good' and what is considered 'bad' areas, prices, etc. by someone with whom you can relate. Remember, your expectations have no bearing. People native to a place often see foreigners as walking idiots (rightfully so as it took the natives years to sort it all out and they live there). They might try to take you for a ride so to speak. So making yourself more informed will only help you. Then, I recommend renting a place near where you would like to buy or live for a few months (without signing a year's contract) while you look and get used to the place and the diversity of the areas. The things to watch out for: cracks, mold, humidity, neighbours, graffitti. Be sure that your assesor is not related to your seller or anyone that your seller might know. They could be helping out a friend and they will do that before giving you a fair assessment. Here, omission is not considered dishonest and nepotism is a way of life-seriously. Check the roads and their conditions in all seasons...ask the local cafe people about stuff if you can...ask a lot of questions..ask the local planning counsel about future projects in your area (expropriation still goes on frequently)they will understand why you are asking, don't worry. They know the games better than you do. If you live near a school, your place will have or will soon get graffitti on it before any others. If you live near a place without street parking, be warned, people double or triple park thus blocking-in your car with no care at all. And..you must not honk or yell, you must wait patiently for them to come to move their cars. So if you live in the city, sort that out right away. Invasiveness is relative. Neighbours wanting to spend time with you could come by for hours a day and not feel invasive at all. You will have to ask their permission for most things you do to your home (on the outside and the property) and if they do not give it to you, don't do it. They will call the police and report you and you will have huge problems getting permits and these things. If building, pay a 'local and recommended' project manager. Keep him motivated though. Go onsite frequently and sporatically. If you do any restructuring or work on a property, we advise going with one 'dita' or company. If you choose to save a bit here and there hiring others, you will lose in the end as when a problem arises, you will be in the middle of the blame game. We always asked for three estimates for all jobs to be done (restorations, doors, windows, plowing land, everything) and informed those wanting to do the job of our policy. That way, they gave us more honest bids and did not cut themselves out of the running. Get it in writing as well and NEVER, EVER, EVER, pay everything upfront. Take care and be nice when you turn away a person if you live in a small area (they all know each other). Always pay in pieces....leaving an incentive to finish the work. Many people where we live, did not really care about the price of the job as much as they cared about how much they were looking to make that month. Doing so at times they reason that the job should pay 1000 Euro for the day because he needs it-not that the cost of the job was that, but the worker needed that money. So you want to be sure of the cost ahead of time...and not give the money until you are happy and in agreement. Add 6 to 9 months on top of the dates they give you. If you do not get what you want, ask nicely for what you do want. If that does not work, whine, call, complain until you do...and then pay. The build time speeds up when someone wants money. That is why you do not ever, ever pay before the job-be careful even when asked to buy loads of materials paying up front. If you have a countryside property, it is probably zoned as 'agricola', if that is the case, the owner first had to offer it to the bordering neighbours. ASK THE NEIGHBOURS THE OFFERING PRICE. If they did not know it was for sale, it probably is not. If it is different from that being offered to you, you will possibly need to consult a lawyer as someone is not dealing completely within legal limits. Although dealing outside legal limits is often happening in Italy, being complacent to this makes you an accomplice and it will not end there...as you were once an accomplice, you will be seen as one who will be expected to always be one and keep quiet and be obliging-always. You will live in fear of the law and of threats if you accept this deal. Better to be totally legal and let them know you are and that you expect them to be as well. If you buy a piece of land and inside its boundaries there is another owner's land, be aware. That internal owner must have access at all times to his property-even at YOUR expense. There will be a whole separate agreement and legal document for that 'diritto di passaggio'. Again be honest and straightforward in your dealings. Don't think of ruining it for others. An Italian would choose to support his worst enemy from his local area over a foregner any day. Everything done here is done through a local NOTARY (Notaio). You will pay this person no small fees so try to negotiate these fees with the seller BEFORE going to the Notaio's office. It is his job to read over everything (after your lawyer did) and make sure it is all on the up and up. Don't be sacred off...once you are there and they know you are intelligent, and honest, they will value you and trust you. You will be welcomed. You will soon find yourself living happily ever after, attending dinners, bbq's giving a hand to your neighbour, lending tools to each other and sharing recipes too... Be a good guest (or newcomer), give first, then ask. In everything you can! Even when stating your name and from where you came. Give information, then ask. Then people do not see you as a risk but as an asset," said one expat living in Catanzaro.

"Just come and look around. I never, ever tell someone that "this is the place" for you. I've lived all over Italy and have dozens of "favorite" places to live, work or visit," said one expat living in Fiesole.

"I found the Milanese reserved, but after a while when they see you want to really integrate yourself in their society, they became really friendly. As far as shopkeepers and medical personnel, they are super. Although I spend most of my time in Suditalia, I really love Milano," wrote a member in Italy.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


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Mondello near Palermo in Sicily

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