Your guide to expat life in Italy

Living in Italy

Seduced by the Italian lifestyle, many career-minded expats head to the country’s culturally rich cities while retirees often settle in a peaceful village or coastal town.

Italy may be known for its ancient monuments, but its modern infrastructure is highly developed. There are thriving expat communities in Rome and Milan. And you’ll find many locals are friendly and welcoming. Expats with children enjoy a family-focused way of life with access to excellent schools and world-class healthcare.

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Accommodation

Most expats in Italy rent rather than buy. Property prices are on a par with many other European countries, although they’re a little cheaper than in the UK.

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Types of accommodation

Apartments are the most common type of accommodation in Italy. Detached homes are rare, especially in the main cities. In rural areas, you’ll find centuries-old villas set on large pieces of land.

Renting property

Most landlords ask for three months’ rent up front, followed by monthly payments. Utilities in Italy are more expensive than in most other Western countries.

Culture changes

For all its charm, Italy has a unique way of doing things that can take some getting used to.

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Bureaucracy

Many expats complain about Italian bureaucracy. Simple procedures like setting up utility payments often take a long time – and the volume of paperwork can be overwhelming.

Time

Life tends to move at a slower pace in Italy and locals have a relaxed and flexible approach to deadlines and appointments. You may struggle with this if you’re from a culture that values punctuality.

Language barrier

While many locals can speak some English, learning a few Italian phrases will make a world of difference, especially in rural areas.

Eating out

Eating and drinking is a big part of Italian life and restaurants are often hubs of social activity. Locals don’t tend to make special requests when they order from a menu – and it’s considered impolite to ask for ingredients to be substituted or left out.

Shopping

Many Italian stores don’t let customers try on clothes. Returning or exchanging an item, even if it’s flawed, can also be a hassle.

Education

Education in Italy is dominated by the state system and all children aged between 6 and 16 must attend school. The academic year runs from mid-September to June with a two-week break in December and a long summer holiday in July/August.

For more information on planning for education see our Family Finances content.

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Public schools

State-funded schools are free for all residents, including expats. Most lessons are in Italian, but English is sometimes taught as a second language.

Private schools

Most of Italy’s private schools are run by religious organisations. The standard of education is similar to public schools, but classes are usually smaller.

International schools

Expats who don’t intend to stay in Italy for long usually send their children to an international school. Fees are high and competition for places is stiff. Most of Italy’s international schools are in Rome and Milan. Many follow the American or British curriculum, or the International Baccalaureate.

Have a good internet and telephone connection to stay in touch with family and friends at home.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

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Keeping in touch

Telecoms

Telecom Italia used to have a monopoly on landline, mobile and Internet services, but the market is becoming more competitive with the arrival of providers like BT Italia, Infostrada, Tiscali and Uno Mobile.

Mobile

Italy’s main mobile providers include Telecom Italia and Wind, along with international companies like Three and Vodafone. There’s a wide range of contract and prepaid options to choose from.

Internet

Internet services in Italy are usually fast and reliable. Most of the country has ADSL broadband with speeds of up to 20 Mbps.

Postal service

The national postal service, Poste Italiane, doesn’t have a good reputation – and sending or receiving parcels can take much longer than you’d expect.

English media

A good selection of international newspapers and magazines are available from most city newsagents and bookstores. There are also several national publications for English speakers, such as The American and The Italian Insider. You can watch English-language programmes through cable or satellite TV – and radio stations like Rome.fm broadcast in English.

Healthcare

Italy has a highly developed healthcare system. Most Italians use public facilities, but many expats choose private healthcare instead.

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Public healthcare

State-funded Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN) provides free or low-cost healthcare that includes GP services, treatment at public hospitals, subsidised medicines and certain specialist care. Expats must have an Italian identity card to use this system.

Private healthcare

Private healthcare in Italy is excellent, with world-class doctors and state-of-the-art equipment. Private hospitals and clinics usually have better facilities and shorter waiting lists. But they’re expensive – so it’s worth taking out medical insurance to cover the cost.

Pharmacies

Italian pharmacies are easy to spot – look for the green cross outside their front door. A rota system means there’s always at least one pharmacy open for 24 hours in any given area.

Emergency services

Ambulance services in Italy are run by public hospitals or voluntary organisations. The standard of care is usually good, but response times vary considerably – urban services tend to be faster than those in rural areas.

Getting around

Public transport in Italy is efficient and reliable. The country’s extensive rail network almost rules out the need for other modes of transport within and between major cities.

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Trains

Alta Velocita is a high-speed rail network that connects all the main Italian cities. Regional trains aren’t as fast, but they’re much cheaper – and they’re usually the most cost-effective way to travel around the country.

Buses

Intercity buses are efficient, cheap and comfortable. They’re particularly useful for travelling between small towns in rural areas that don’t have train stations, although some services don’t run on a Sunday. You can pick up a local timetable from any tourist office.

Metro

There are metro systems in Rome, Milan and Naples . They’re a cheap way to commute, but trains can get very crowded during rush hour.

Ferries

Large ferries (known as navi) take passengers and vehicles to Sicily and Sardinia while smaller boats (called traghetti) go to some of the other islands. There are also ferries on the main Italian lakes, including Lake Como and Lake Garda.

Driving

Great for exploring the Italian countryside, a car isn’t essential if you live in a city. Italy’s highways are well-maintained and many are tolled. If you’re from a non-EU country, you’ll need an International Driving Permit.

Air travel

Flying with a budget airline can be the cheapest and fastest way to travel across Italy. The country’s main international airport is Fiumicino-Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in August 2016. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.