So many people write to me asking how to make that move to Italy; how to quit your reality and find a home, a job, a social circle, a way to learn the language… even a lover. Every day a plane leaves Fiumicino airport full of people with aching hearts. People like me who feel inexplicably drawn to Italy. People like you who dream of making their holiday last forever. Only a few of those people will act on this desire and make a life in this country. I want you to be one of those people. I want this for you because even though we don’t know each other, we’re both Italophiles and I know how hard it can be lusting for Italy from afar. I think we’re united by an appreciation of beauty – whether it be culinary, cultural, or even linguistic. So I’m going to share all the information I was desperately searching for when I was lusting after this life four years ago.
It starts as an innocent little daydream, light and sugary as the pastry of a sfogliatella. It’s a lovely escape plan to talk about with friends but you don’t believe you could actually make it happen. There are always excuses – oh, but I’m in a relationship, I have children, I have a secure job in my home country, it would be too expensive, I don’t speak Italian, I don’t know anyone in Italy, I’m being reckless, it’s not the right time… Basically, you wouldn’t know where to start.
Start by setting a date. You need to work to a plan and create a timeline so that you can see your progress. The other reason you need a date? So that YOU believe this is going to happen. It sounds a little Disney, but the truth is, you’re only going to make sacrifices and stay focused on making this goal happen if you have a deadline. Don’t tell anyone about this deadline just yet. You may say, but Kylie, why – I’m so excited about my new dolce vita!! Of course you are. But I’d advise only going public with your plan when you have actually made official progress. Talking about running away overseas can actually be counter-productive. It makes you feel all warm and excited but this social gratification lulls you into the false belief that you’ve actually done something practical towards moving forward. Buy a ticket, hit your halfway savings goal, enroll in Italian classes – do something tangible first. So many people talk about moving to an exotic country; you need to get beyond just talking about it.
Another reason to keep tight-lipped? No matter how conscientious you are about balancing the work of your present and your future, colleagues or your employer are bound to assume you’re not fulfilling your work in your present job. Family and friends can be supportive but sometimes they can put doubts in your mind or tell you you’re not being realistic turning down a good salary, job security, a relationship that could be ‘the one’. I’m lucky to have parents who advocate adventure and following your passion over all else but I know many expats in Italy with families who have struggled with their child’s choice of lifestyle. As far as relationships go, if someone is meant to be the love of your life they will either find a way to follow you, support you in your dream or wait until your paths cross again. If your relationship is dependent on being in the same city then I would argue that perhaps it’s not true love.
How much money are you going to need to make this happen? It depends how you like to live. I can save like crazy when I’m focused on a dream and I did leave Australia with enough money to allow me to enjoy a few months of freedom before searching seriously for a job. That said, the reason I made sacrifices saving up before my move to Italy was so that I could live romantically, therefore I gladly spend my money on sensual things like food, vintage dresses and weekends away in Amalfi because… well, you didn’t fall in love with Italy because you’re a sensible person and you’re not moving to Italy to live a pragmatic life. You fell into this love affair, this storia d’amore, because you must have some kind of sensuality in you that isn’t quenched in your own country. When I was much younger I spent time living overseas and would never go out for fear of spending all my savings and subsequently cutting my trip short, however, I think you have to find a balance because living alone in a foreign speaking country is an emotional challenge and you need to know when to treat yourself. It’s imperative that you get yourself out there and accept every invitation, even when you’re going to an event alone, even if it means catching a taxi because you don’t know how to get there. This is crucial in the first three months so you don’t become alienated.
Before I left Australia I stayed in almost every single weekend in the one-year lead-up to my departure. I put aside a little of my wage each week. I didn’t go on holiday. I didn’t party. When I arrived in Rome it paid off a million times over. Don’t worry about buying the perfect wardrobe for your fashionable new life in Italy – buy it here! You can easily make the mistake of buying clothes (and shoes!) that are simply not right for your new Italian lifestyle. An example is stilettos – I’m certainly a fan but you’ll find that a platform wedge is the best way to cope with cobblestone if you want a bit of height for a dressy occasion while the stiletto will get stuck in the giant holes between the stones (or in your bike chain if you’re like me and ride a bicicletta everywhere).
Italy is all about being extravagant in some parts of your life and frugal or simple in others. I manage a trip to Intimissimi almost every fortnight as I have a weakness for beautiful lingerie. I insist on good bread, high quality olive oil and buying magnificent bunches of fresh flowers from the market for my home every week. However, I don’t use public transport or own a car. I don’t eat in restaurants all the time and mostly cook at home or take picnics if I’m eating outside. You can travel practically everywhere on a bicycle in Rome (or most cities in Italy), which you can buy brand new for €100 from the guy just outside of Campo de Fiori opposite Caffe Peru.
Italy is not expensive – whether you’re in a big city or a small town. Compared with London, Sydney, Toronto or New York, Italy is the best place for ‘getting by’ on a budget. An espresso costs 80cents, you can get a meal in a cool restaurant in the centre of Rome for around €8-12. You can go out and socialise in bars in the centre, which spill out into the piazza without having to pay for nightclub cover charges and taxis. You can travel to Tuscany or the Amalfi Coast in a couple of hours on the train and find cheap accommodation off-peak to see the rest of Italy on your weekends. You can rent your apartment out on Airbnb during these little weekends away, even at the last minute. Throughout every season of the year I was absolutely inundated with Airbnb requests when I had my apartment online for short stays.
Having said all of this, to come over here with nothing saved would be a mistake. You need a tiny nest egg to get you started. I know expats who have come over with nothing but they are generally the ones with a job already lined up or a European passport, meaning they can be hired without sponsorship issues.
THE ROOF OVER YOUR HEAD
Book yourself accommodation for a month when you first get here so that you have time to go and see the apartment in person and decide whether you like the area. Airbnb is great. I prefer to stay in a convent, because the location is as central as you can get, the rooms are cheap and the experience is authentic. I cannot express how important it is for you to see the place in person rather than booking something online. There are a few people who will take advantage of a foreigner and tell you the place is ‘centralissimo‘. More importantly, Italy is all about the community you find in the little cluster of streets around your apartment. You’re going to be living with your own personal piazza; your own local bar where you take your caffe and cornetto each morning; your local butcher; your own carabinieri, i.e – pretend police, sitting in their trucks and greeting you each day because they end up watching your whole life – from struggling home with groceries to kissing a date on the doorstep.
You can research online (there are great Facebook pages like ‘Roma Affitto’) and set up some times to meet the landlord or fellow flatmates but some of the best apartments are advertised on these little coloured handwritten ‘affittasi‘ signs that landlords attach to their windows or doors. These little rainbow coloured signs are most often put up by the owner, meaning you don’t have to go through an agency, which will charge you extra and insist on you having a ‘permesso di soggiorno‘ or permit to stay in Italy beyond that of a tourist. Many ads written by Italians say that an apartment is ‘central’ and well connected to public transport but the word ‘central’ is subjective. Until you’re shlepping there yourself in the baking heat and espadrilles that are giving you blisters, you can’t really know whether it is your version of ‘well connected’. You want to walk down the street and decide if it has a cute cafe you can make your local, whether you feel safe, whether the suburb or ‘zona‘ feels romantic enough to cheer you up when you’ve been cheated on, when you’re fed up with failing to make yourself understood in Italian, when you’re bankrupt and generally feeling defeated.
You can rent an apartment in the historic centre all to yourself for around €1200. You can find a room in a shared apartment with another person in a young fashionable area like Monti for around €700. If you’re hopeful and tenacious like me then you might even be able to find exceptions to these figures. After much waiting and gossiping at a cafe in the street I wanted to live in, I found a tiny apartment right near Piazza Navona with a communal roof terrace for €600 a month. It was so dark inside I had to light candles. Why didn’t I just turn on the lights? Well… the landlord was slow in getting the electricity reconnected when it cut out in the first month. I told myself it was wonderfully poetic. I even dealt with a toilet that stopped flushing for a month or two. It encouraged me to get out and talk to strangers in my local cafe after sneaking in to use their bathroom. Very few landlords will let you rent somewhere without some type of visa because it means they could get into trouble for renting to a tourist and evading tax by not having an official contract. If you don’t have a rental contract then it means that they can take their time with resolving any issues you may have from flushing toilets to electricity. But I had a rooftop and this made everything worth it. Once you get to Italy, you quickly learn that more than a fancy car, the right handbag or the perfect lover, the one thing most Italians and expats eye with pure envy and lust is LA TERRAZZA – a rooftop terrace. With so much sunshine, a skyline of domes and terracotta rooves and a culture that was born to eat alfresco, a rooftop is preferable to electricity every time. 😉
THE JOB AND THE VISA
Here’s the truth: it’s not going to be easy. Many writers and photographers (myself included) think surely it will be an advantage living in the country, surely you can corner the ‘freelance articles on Italy’ market. I have to be honest: there are a million talented food and travel writers all with their own blog (and Youtube channel and Instagram account) in Italy. Most journalists can’t pay the rent by doing freelance articles for magazines, newspapers and websites here. Even though the world’s appetite for Italian content is voracious, most publications usually have their one contact who they’ve been using for years and the others rely on free content, which they can find easily from those wanting to enhance their portfolio or get some online traffic to their blog. I know, it’s disappointing. But once you’re here you’ll probably be like me and become so stimulated by all this beauty that you’ll be wanting to document your life creatively even if no one is paying you.
If you’re Australian, American, Canadian or any other nationality without the ability to work legally in Europe and you’re hoping to get paid off the books because you haven’t got the right type of visa, be warned – even restaurants don’t want to pay you illegally or ‘in nero‘ these days because they’re worried about being fined. Italy used to be so lax about all this but things have changed, at least in Rome and in my experience.
The easiest visa to get is perhaps the working holiday visa, which you can obtain for one year, once in your lifetime. You will need to go back to your country and obtain it in your home city. Unfortunately, there’s no way of turning that three-month tourist visa into something more long-term without going home. Believe me, with tickets back to Australia costing thousands of dollars, I certainly tried to find a loophole here. If I remember correctly, this working holiday visa allows you to work but only for 6 months of the year that you’re in Italy and only with one company for a maximum 3-month period. There are plenty of highly educated Italians out of work who speak very good English so being a mother tongue English speaker is not necessarily an advantage in any industry besides teaching. Speaking even rudimentary Italian will help you network and develop a rapport with a potential employer in interviews, so even if you don’t need it in the potential role, it’s always an advantage.
Don’t speak Italian and don’t have any clue where to look for a job once you get here? Don’t despair. All Italians need help with their English so there is always a need for private English conversation teachers. You can do this through a language school if you have a degree, a visa and any kind of teaching experience, or you can do it privately. Put up a little notice in a cafe or online (even on Romeing‘s site) and you will get businessmen, university students, toddlers and teenagers all eager to do weekly sessions. And this, along with babysitting, is the only area where you can be paid without the right working visa. The average price you can charge, including coming to their home, is anywhere from €15-25 per hour.
I hope the advice so far is useful. Feel free to let me know what else you’d like tips on. Please send me questions in the comments below rather than writing a private email in case others have the same question and can see my response.
I hope some of the realities don’t put you off. It is worth it. Italy is where I am happiest despite the inevitable expat struggles. Even when I have been feeling sorry for myself in the dead of winter, with no friends, far from home, misunderstood and living on a pitiful budget, I have never regretted getting on that plane five years ago.
P.S. And if you want some inspiration to counter all the stress of working out how to fund your dream, check out the behind-the-scenes photos from my latest TV show I’m filming at the moment on the Amalfi Coast.