Your guide to expat life in Italy

Working in Italy

The Italian economy is still feeling the effects of the global recession and competition for jobs is high. But there are plenty of opportunities for expats, especially in the automobile and textile industries.

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Doing business

Although Italy’s economy is one of the largest in Europe, unemployment remains high in some parts of the country. In general, the prosperous northern region has the most lucrative job opportunities for expats.

In The World Bank’s 2016 Ease of Doing Business Survey, Italy was ranked 45th out of 189 countries. It scored particularly well for trading across borders, but poorly for the red tape involved in enforcing contracts and handling taxes.

Earning potential for expats is high, especially in executive roles at multinationals. Local businesspeople have plenty of experience dealing with foreign partners, which should make adjusting to your new work environment a little easier.

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Business culture

The business culture in Italy is different from other European countries. Understanding the idiosyncrasies should help you adapt more quickly.

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Family is central to Italian society – and this influences the way people do business. Many small to medium companies are family owned, but nepotism in the workplace is rare.


Seniority is respected and decisions are made from the top down. Someone’s job title isn’t always an accurate reflection of their power in a company – and influence is strengthened by who you know.


Italians are usually relaxed about time, but running late without good reason is considered rude – so it’s best to be punctual.


Italians prefer face-to-face meetings or phone calls over emails. Expressive gestures and emotional debates are common in business meetings.

Fast facts

Business language

Italian is the official language. Many locals speak English, but don’t assume this will always be the case.

Business hours

Usually from 8am to 7pm, Monday to Friday, with a two-hour lunch break between 1pm and 3pm.


Italians are known for being stylish and you’ll be expected to make an effort to dress well. Formal, classic businesswear is a safe bet for both men and women.


Greet people with a firm handshake. Close associates might kiss each other on both cheeks.


If you receive a gift from a business partner, it’s polite to give them something in return. Quality and presentation are important, but gifts shouldn’t be lavish.

Gender equality

While there are exceptions, women are generally under-represented in the higher levels of business in Italy. Expat businesswomen are treated with respect and courtesy, but they’re often complimented on their appearance by male colleagues – and flirtation in the workplace is fairly common.

Expat salaries

Multinational companies tend to offer the most lucrative employment packages. Salaries are lower in the south of the country, as is the cost of living.

Learn some Italian before getting there, it might be difficult otherwise.


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Making life easier for expats

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  • Your finances shouldn’t be one of them.
  • We believe that choosing to live abroad has the power to enrich your life. It can be a journey that leads to new experiences and opportunities. But it can also be complicated. That’s why we’re here to help manage your finances and make planning for the future simple.
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All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, 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.

Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.