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Guide to Living in Italy: What Are the Pros and Cons?

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So you’re thinking about moving to Italy? You know what we say about adventure: go for it! Moving to any foreign country is a unique, exciting experience that will forever change your world’s perception. Of course, there are many different ways to experience Italy, but the best way is to live there.

After all, Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in the world; with mountains, lakes, islands, and historic cities, it’ll feel like you walked onto a movie set. What’s not life-changing about that?

If you ask us, the more you explore different areas and countries, the more you learn about yourself—that is, more profound things beyond how much you love pasta (me, too!). The many cities of Italy are all at once historical, artistic, and modern—pair that with a lower cost of living than the US, and you’ve got heaven on your hands.

When it comes to living in Italy, there are plenty of perks, but as with anything, there are also downsides. To make the best decision to flourish, we think it’s ideal for you to go in with all the information possible. Check out the ultimate guide to living there below, and see if it fits you.

How is Living in Italy? A Personal Testimonial

View from Bergamo Città Alta, October 2019.
Lana Valente / ViaTravelers

While it may seem cliché, my experience moving to Italy can only be described as incredibly rewarding. I studied there in college with other university students, utterly perplexed by my amazing surroundings. Still, it soon grew into great love (and I will say, it made it easier that I had a family member or two around the corner).

Naturally, I would later move back on my own, ready to pursue my dream, the entire country—the entire continent—at my fingertips.

I was one of not many expats, but a few—we’d signed up for an internship program that provided us with a teaching job abroad. While the transition to actually getting there was a bit of a drawn-out process, including a lack of native English speakers and a frustrating bureaucratic mess, upon arrival, it was everything I’d hoped for.

From the first day, I enjoyed wonderful food, the opportunity to speak Italian whenever I liked, and a work visa that meant I could travel around Europe and beyond. (It also gave me some significant insight into the inner workings of Italian high schools!) Even though it was terrific, it wasn’t all roses. I won’t lie to you—the bureaucracy is difficult.

Every visit to the Questura (the official location to validate my residency requirements) took a long time, and it was tiresome… almost as if all the government workers were always in short supply. But you know what? Ultimately, I was living in my favorite country in the world. Who can ask for more than that?

So here’s my two cents: if you want to live in Italy, do it. You’ll experience a culture that changes how you think, feel, and experience every day, and I think that’s beautiful!

See related: Travel Credit Cards

Living in Italy: Pros and Cons of Everyday Life

Walls of Montepulciano and Aerial view of Tuscany
Jarek Pawlak / Adobe Stock
Pros Cons
Beautiful scenery, architecture, and art High cost of living, especially in major cities
Excellent food and wine Bureaucracy and red tape can be frustrating
Rich history and culture Learning to navigate traffic and transportation can be difficult
Warm and welcoming people High unemployment rates in some areas
Mild climate in many regions Some areas can be overcrowded with tourists
Access to world-class healthcare Limited job opportunities for non-Italian speakers
Relaxed pace of life Some areas may lack modern amenities
Easy access to other European countries Language barrier for non-Italian speakers

*Please note: this table is not exhaustive, and living in Italy may have other pros and cons, depending on individual circumstances.

Italy is a beautiful country—that much is certain. Some of its pros and cons are built into the system, while others are opinions. It’s up to you to determine how you feel about them and if you think it’s worth it to move there despite (or even because of) them.

The most prominent pros and cons you’ll encounter will vary, but for the most part, the following are the most consistent:

Pros

  • Unparalleled sights and history
  • Walkable cities
  • Reasonably priced, well-made food and wine
  • Accessible and convenient public transportation
  • High-quality, affordable healthcare
  • Temperate weather
  • Good nightlife
  • Italian lifestyle

Cons

  • The bureaucracy on the whole
  • Securing work visas takes time
  • Knowledge of some Italian is a necessity
  • High cost of living depending on the city
  • Difficulty finding work
  • Dangerous roads and drivers
  • Italian schools are not known for their holistic curriculum
  • Grime and dirty streets

Naturally, your experiences will shift depending on where you are—below. We’ll go more in-depth over the specific pros and cons that will affect your everyday life while simultaneously breaking down the perks of living in each region. Let’s learn more about the pros and cons of living in Italy!

See related: Tours in Italy: Food, Walking & Bike Tours

Pros and Cons of Your Expenses: Where You Can Save

large bowls and plates of food down a long table

Living anywhere in the world can be expensive, and living in Italy is, unfortunately, no exception. We can help you save where it counts, though. Discerning buyers, follow me—we’re preparing for Italian food and bank account savings galore, with as few out-of-pocket costs as possible.

First of all, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the social scene without spending too much, and aperitivo is one of them. A super fun pro of living in Italy is the frequency of this event—operating as happy hour, the cost of any ticket includes free food.

What’s more, Italy is rife with walkable cities. You don’t always need public transport, and walking is a great way to save money! Take a stroll to your local grocery store, save a few bucks, and enjoy one of the biggest pros that comes with living in Europe: walkability.

Speaking of groceries, we recommend visiting local markets for your produce—and it’s not just because local establishments typically offer lower prices. There’s always haggling (you can haggle just about everywhere in Italy) and even better, there’s Saldi! Saldi, a twice-annual sale that lasts about six weeks, is the perfect time to buy all your must-haves.

You can’t expect to only buy groceries and such during Saldi, though. One con to living in Italy—if you can call it a con—is that their food is very fresh and doesn’t last as long as you may be accustomed to. It’s not unusual for food purchased during the week to go bad within a few days; as a result, many Italians go to the store once a day.

See related: Best Ways to Save Money for Travel

Pros and Cons of Italian Transportation

long train going through green mountains with small houses and villages

Anyone living in Europe can attest: the public transport systems are superior. Living abroad provides a fantastic opportunity to travel, and from your home base in Italy, you can see the whole continent. This is a big pro for any travel aficionados—the accessibility to other countries just jumped exponentially.

Another huge pro that comes with travel in Italy are the card systems. Although the tickets you purchase may vary, you usually only need one transport card—and they work nationwide!

Despite the convenience of public transport, unfortunately, there’s a big con that comes with it: strikes. While living in Italy and traveling, you may overhear stations announcing a “sciopero.” This is the direct translation of the word “strike,” and when it comes to those, there are many. Occurring on a near weekly basis throughout the country, they will most definitely affect travel plans.

Although strikes can be frustrating, many Italians are used to it. You’ll adjust, find another route, and navigate accordingly—and on top of that, you’ll undoubtedly encounter beautiful scenery on the way. Tourists often travel by car when they’re visiting, but trains are convenient, more climate-friendly, and provide views that are just as pretty as those you’ll see on the highway.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Ravello

Pros and Cons of Retiring in Italy

Old family members hiking and exploring the Italian Alps
jovannig / Adobe Stock

While it’s absolutely possible to retire in Italy, you’ll have to start by planning a budget ahead of time—and of course, even with retirement comes the issue of a residency requirement. All these are cons, generally speaking, just because of the hassle—but when they work out, they’re quickly resolved; it’s good to keep in mind that the circumstances surrounding your own experience will vary based upon where you are.

Retirement abroad requires the completion of an application form (dealing with the bureaucracy is undoubtedly another con), a payment plan, and a place to stay, but if you have your mind set on it, it’s a great opportunity.

What are retirees saying about their lives in Italy? Most share plenty of pros:

  • Relaxed way of life
  • The pace at which everyone moves—slower than the US, and most certainly healthier
  • Lower cost of living (in general)
  • A beautifully temperate climate
  • Stunning Italian culture
  • Delicious cuisine

Conversely, there’s always a downside; some retired folks share that they struggle with the language barrier. Many Italians (more than likely in their age bracket) can’t speak English, and that can pose a problem, especially in emergencies. Likewise, some costs are higher than what you’d pay in the US—gas, for instance, if you drive a car.

On top of all that, something retirees are very aware of when making the move to Italy is the state of natural disasters. Earthquakes impact several locations in the country, and so if you’re looking for a peaceful retirement without risk, well… Unfortunately, in life, there’s always risk. You can take these cons as they are, and determine whether they’re too severe to consider retirement abroad.

Pros and Cons of the Education System

High School of Arts applied in Industry in Milan, Sforza Castle
Naeblys / Adobe Stock

Education in Italy firmly sits at the middle ground. It may be considered average in some places, while in others, it may be considered below.

According to an evaluation on secondary education in 2018, students in Italy ranked lower than the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) average in reading in science. This proves itself to be an unfortunate con, especially if you’re moving to Italy with kids.

Still, it depends on the region of Italy that you’re looking to move to—in the North schools are generally considered to be more prestigious and therefore present better results, compared to the poorer contrast in the South. That’s a pro in favor of the Northern regions—but that said, there are schools in the North that fall below the average; on the whole, it depends on the studies your student has picked up. If your children attend public school, this is something to consider.

Another prominent con is that Italian students enrolled in public schools may encounter limited resources, thereby limiting their opportunities.

A Testimonial on the Education System

Lana Valente and her my coworkers from Liceo Galileo Galilei, October 2021
Lana Valente (Roberto Valente) / ViaTravelers

As a former Madrelingua (mother tongue) teacher in the Lombardy region of Italy, I can provide some insight that goes beyond what an average observer might uncover. First and foremost, the Italian public education system, while imperfect, most definitely has its perks.

The most significant upside I noticed was the skill level in spoken English. I worked in a high school, which spans five years, and during my time there, I taught everyone from first-years (around the age of 14) to fifth years (around the age of 19).

What was apparent from the jump was my students’ language capabilities. As I was instructed to only speak to them in English, I worried they wouldn’t grasp my lessons. As it turned out, the concern was for naught! Although they live in Italy, some of them spoke like fluent English speakers. Their skills were that developed, and it wasn’t even the only language they were studying!

Naturally, this varied by class and age group; however, the students I worked with were generally very impressive. I didn’t work in one of those well-known, reputable international schools, but I did not doubt that my students were flourishing. Their fixed requirements in the classroom provided an overall well-rounded education and better language learning than anything I’ve seen in the States.

The Ups and Downs of Integrating into Your New Community

Italian People holding Italy's flag
DenisProduction.com / Adobe Stock

It’s hard to narrow down a pros and cons list of integrating into a new country. After all, moving to Italy is more of a rollercoaster than anything, right? A whole litany of ups and downs, and you see how it goes.

From the food to the culture, there’s so much to love about life in Italy; but sometimes, it takes time to adjust. You might even experience some initial culture shock—and this can be a con, especially for new travelers—but it’s worth it to experience everything the country has to offer.

When you’re on your way to becoming an Italian resident, the best way to integrate is by accepting the culture you’ve merged with. When it begins to feel like home, you’ll know you’re there.

So, learn the way of the people around you. Experience the way they operate on a day-by-day basis. Go to social events in town, communicate with your neighbors, try a cappuccino, and become a regular at a coffee bar. Explore, wild and free, on the main street of your city. Immerse yourself with them.

Although it’s intimidating at first, we think this adjustment period is actually a big pro. As you grow and change, you’ll begin to find the person you’re meant to be; and isn’t that wonderful?

See related: Best Day Trips From Florence, Italy

Pros and Cons of Northern Italy

Aerial view of Bergamo Città Alta
Lana Valente / ViatTravelers

When you picture northern Italy, you imagine something stylish and beautiful—and you wouldn’t be wrong! In the North, you’ll be nearer to countless major cities, including Milan, Pisa, and Bergamo.

With easy public transport options, proximity to landmarks such as the Duomo of Milan, Lake Como, and the Alps, and delicious regional food, you’ll have access to almost everything you’ll need.

The North is considered a wealthier region of Italy, and you’ll find this reflected in how they express themselves. They’re busier than in the South, with less of a rilassante attitude; it’s far closer to the hustle culture we share in the United States.

Of course, this doesn’t make it a bad place to live by any means; it’s simply a specific way of life, and if you move there, it’s good to keep an eye out for cultural differences. If you decide to make this your home base, you’ll see what we mean!

Pros

  • Here, you’ll have access to plenty of public transport throughout the country.
  • Northern cities are rich in history, art, fashion, and delicious regional food. They have a lot of unique features, such as Bergamo’s città alta and città bassa. The city is split in two parts, with a funicular running between the two.
  • Public transportation is effortless to access—Milan’s main station, for instance, can take you just about everywhere in the country!
  • Day trips to nearby locales are uncomplicated and beautiful; if you’re up for an adventure, most northern Italian cities are only a short ride from Switzerland or Austria.
  • For retirees, there are some great options for places to stay: Bergamo, for one, is retirement-centric. (This can be a pro or a con, depending on what you’re looking for.)

Cons

  • It depends on your location, but there’s generally a higher cost of living in the North. Notably, Milan is the most expensive city to rent in Italy.
  • Tourism picks up when it’s seasonal, so the big cities—Milan, Venice, Verona—get crowded.
  • The North is heavy on traffic, specifically around Milan (see Italy’s busiest roads: A4 Milan-Brescia and The A1 Milan-Bologna).
  • Although this applies to every part of the country, Italian drivers tend to be unpredictable.
  • Finally, people in the North are not necessarily unkind but less welcoming than those in the South. You can anticipate a brusquer atmosphere, with less of that Italian lifestyle and hospitality you might expect.

See Related: Best Car Museums in Italy

Pros and Cons of Central Italy

Florence rooftop, overlooking other buildings in the city.

You’re in for a treat when you’re looking to live in central Italy. With easy access to famed locations like the vineyards of Tuscany, the cobbled streets of Florence, and beautiful Bologna, you’re not only guaranteed the sights but what’s said to be some of the best Italian food there is.

(Naturally, that’s a matter of opinion—but granted that all regions of Italy possess their own strict food laws and recipes, you never know what you’ll find!)

Having lived in central Italy myself, I can assure you that not only is there convenient public transport, but plenty of lovely smaller towns and rural areas.

Here, you’ll experience the beginning of a transition from the North’s hustle and bustle to the South’s more relaxed homemaking; in the center, they’re all about wine, cheese-making, and studies.

In fact, Umbria is a region where many international students come to secure their university degree—thereby making it pretty affordable, considering the income of college students.

Pros

  • In the center of the country, you’ll find smaller cities that proffer fewer crowds and more small businesses. Often, these cities also offer a lower cost of living.
  • Big cities like Florence boast year-round markets, art, and architecture. There are plenty of things to do!
  • Its climate is moderate and remains fairly temperate year-round. For example, Pisa’s coldest month (January) reaches an average low of 45°F/7.2 Celsius.
  • Umbria, Tuscany, and other central regions provide an overall high quality of education and high-end hospitals for would-be patients.
  • Florence and Perugia, located here, are student hubs, so they’re lower-priced! They also have great universities and nightlife.

Cons

  • Like other cities in Italy, the central towns are known to be a bit dirty.
  • Busy cities, like Florence, aren’t the most pedestrian-friendly. Cars do not halt or slow down too often, and sidewalks are not everywhere, unlike other places.
  • Some of the central cities are known for having higher rates of crime. Visitors should be wary of pickpockets and other scams—likewise, residents claim they’re similarly concerned about drug use and vandalism.
  • Non-smokers may be put off by the amount of people that smoke tobacco—although this is nationwide.

See Related: Best Travel Apps for Europe

Pros and Cons of Southern Italy

Roman Colosseum in bright blue sky with no people

The South is full of culture, beauty, and history. When you think of it, you almost certainly picture Rome—but there are other places, too. Vatican City, Orvieto, Tivoli, Castel Gandolfo… You name it, there’s a place to visit, and they all have their pros and cons.

On a relative scale, the South is a bit poorer than the North, and even central Italy; this is something Italians are aware of and may even comment on. Naples, for instance, is known for being rife with pickpockets—however, stunning Pompeii is just 40 minutes away, with Mount Vesuvius, countless historical buildings, and the famous Amalfi Coast.

There’s more to it than that. For instance, did you know that in 2020, public hospitals credited with NHS (National Health Service) in the South were nearly tied with those in Northwest? Yep, it’s true!

We mean to say this: don’t judge a book by its cover. A wealth gap doesn’t make living in the South a con—it simply means that there are different upsides to be found than exceptional wealth.

Pros

  • There are countless iconic features right in your backyard, especially if you’re in Rome or Naples.
  • A truly rich culture is prevalent in the South; you can anticipate the “real” Italian lifestyle and experience, just by sitting at a bar for a cappuccino.
  • Like central weather, southern weather is very temperate almost year-round—in Rome, the coldest month (also January) averages 46°F/7.7 Celsius.
  • Southern hospitality is a real thing!
  • Many cities in the South are large, yet maintain a sweet, small-town vibe with narrow streets and neighborhoods for residences.
  • There are low rates of violent crime, even in the larger cities.

Cons

  • The most popular cities are often unreliable regarding public transport.
  • Some cities in the South, such as Naples, can be a little less modern regarding technology. You can expect as much in handling your own tech, such as Wi-Fi, and some cities don’t always accept credit cards.
  • Southern cities occasionally have issues with trash, dirty streets, and stray animals. This isn’t limited to the South, but may be more prominent, especially in Rome.
  • While violent crime isn’t more prominent than elsewhere, there’s a higher rate of robbery in the South.

See related: Best Things to Do in Rome, Italy

Best Cities for Expats, Retirees, and Non-Italians

Miniature  of Travelers
Montri Thipsorn / Adobe Stock

There are plenty of great places to live for non-residents in the EU. In Italy, We’d recommend the following: Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples, Bergamo, and Pisa, because they can access many different cities within the country and continent. Thanks to their popularity, diversity in language, size, and overall accessibility, they’re ideal options for expatriates, retirees, and non-Italians looking for local culture.

They might be a lot to tackle on their own, but living on a different continent means fully immersing yourself in the place you’ll call home; where better to settle on buying property than a beautiful city?

Tips Before Moving to Italy

From the voices of many expats: there are essential things to plan out before you go, as well as when you get there.

Determine the cost of living relative to where you currently reside.

Housing and apartment rental costs in Italy are generally high, especially in big cities. Depending on your location, your anticipated monthly rent will likely fall between 1,200 and 2,500 euros for a one-bedroom apartment unless you’re planning to buy property.

Insider tip: Many residences in Italy do not have air conditioning, coffee makers, clothes dryers, and sometimes ovens. Be prepared to find many places without these.

Consider expenses for food

We highly recommend considering the anticipated pricing for food and drink. While wine is incredibly cheap, visiting restaurants is not always the best idea to save—however, groceries are reasonably priced since Italians pride themselves on cooking well. Fresh, quality ingredients don’t cost a lot!

See Related: Top-Rated Restaurants in Italy

Be prepared for the bureaucratic process.

The Italian government is notoriously inefficient. This isn’t harsh—speaking as someone who’s experienced it, it’s simply true. Brace yourself for some red tape when you open a bank account, get your residency permit, employment contract, work visa, etc.

Regarding internationals, the Italian authorities take bureaucracy seriously; keep your information on you while traveling to be safe.

What is a Permesso Di Soggiorno?

You’ll likely require a permesso di soggiorno, or permit to stay/residence permit, upon entry; basically, a “permesso” is a document required by the state for all foreigners living, however temporarily, in Italy. Italian citizenship comes much later.

Secure your health insurance options.

In Italy, healthcare costs are relatively low. This is thanks to reliable health insurance for everyone all over the country! You’ll see when you go for any check-up, a private doctor visit costs around 30 euros, and prescriptions typically run for less than ten euros, so medical expenses aren’t a big concern.

If needed, you can also opt for a private health insurance policy. Be sure to bring along a valid proof of your identification.

Figure out where you want your home base city to be.

If you don’t speak the language, it’s best to make your home base somewhere comfortable and populated enough to provide you with English speakers. Likewise, here, you’ll have access to multiple public and private transport modes and many living options.

Also, something to consider is the weather. If you don’t like torrential rain in the fall, maybe the North isn’t for you… but if summer heat is overwhelming, maybe the South isn’t, either.

What places do we choose, then? It depends on whether you plan to buy property or rent, but if you ask us, the top choices that accommodate these are Milan, Florence, Rome, Pisa, Bergamo, and Naples.

See related: Top-Rated Restaurants in Florence, Italy

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What’s it like living in Italy as an American?

Life in Italy as an American is a great experience. Italians are welcoming and hospitable, and the culture and scenery are beautiful. There are plenty of opportunities to live in Italy as an American, and living there will generally be cheaper than in the United States.

Of course, it depends on the city you choose to live in, but overall, Italy is a relatively affordable country to live in when compared to Western Europe.

Is healthcare in Italy good?

Italy has a well-established, developed healthcare system that includes various kinds of doctors and clinics country-wide. It’ll feel practically free compared to the United States. That said, your treatment quality may depend on your location.

Is Italy a good place to live?

Yes, Italy is a great place to live. Its temperate climate, rich culture, and abundant natural beauty make it a popular destination for many expats.

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