The videos I have made about moving to Italy are by far my most popular. You are so sure of your love for Italy but the thought of where to start to make this dream a reality is totally overwhelming! I understand. I’ve been there… and at a time where there were very few YouTube videos or blogs even put out about how to do this. I get this question sent to me almost EVERY day since I had my first TV show come out. It is tough. It is also magical and deeply fulfilling – that’s why I’m still here after about a decade of living in Europe. However, if you want to live this dream life, you can’t be lazy and expect to find quick answers to your challenges. When I moved to Japan, Spain and Italy, I was completely alone with no one offering me any advice or guidance.
First of all, have you seen the video series I made on How To Move to Italy?
WHICH CITY SHOULD I CHOOSE?
This is such a hard question and one I have debated in my head for years. I used to think you need to go to a place and get a feel for it, walking around, speaking with the locals, seeing apartments for rent. Then I thought, you just need to go where the work is because when you are financially stable, it’s a lot easier to be emotionally stable and make a successful life as an expat. If you’re studying, there are many options and I was always oscillating between Florence and Rome. You might decide that you love the beach so much and want to be near the sea. However, I have to say that living in Rome it was quite easy to catch the ferry over to Ponza or down to the Amalfi Coast and spend many weekends at the sea when the summer months became too hot in the city. I have friends who found that living in Sicily or some smaller towns in Tuscany or Emilia Romagna allowed them to find much more beautiful apartment options because the prices are lower than in the main cities. That said, it is nice to be in the main cities when friends and family come through all year round and can easily visit you in case you’re missing home and a social life when you first arrive and try to settle into life here. Milan is definitely a place that feel more ambitious and exciting in terms of innovation and global brand opportunities. Many of my Italian friends rave about Milan because of its cool nightlife and chic atmosphere. However, as a visual creator, I’ve always found the apartments and architecture in general, a little lacking in inspiration for me. I like to be around colour. Otherwise I might as well go live in London or LA or New York where it is so much easier for me to get freelance jobs. If I’m going to struggle to live in Italy, I need gratuitous beauty!!
It’s hard for me to answer the visa question for you specifically because each country has different rules. Start by typing your city (or the nearest capital city) and the words ‘Italian consulate’ into Google and set an appointment for a visa application. They are often booked out for months and it is so disappointing when you think you can just apply online, only to find you need to show up in person and probably go back several times (they always find one peculiar document that you are missing, which necessitates a second or third appointment). You can’t get around this requirement. Every time I needed to renew my visa or apply for a new one, I would have to spend around $1800 to fly back to Australia and then I couldn’t even set my return flight because they simply cannot tell you when your visa will be approved. It is very frustrating but have faith – everyone living in Italy has gone through this nightmare! You’re not alone.
In my case, Australians are only allowed in the Schengen zone (an area that includes all Meditteranean countries but excludes the United Kingdom) for three months on a tourist visa – which one doesn’t have to apply for, you only need to show a return ticket when you enter the country at the airport to assure them you don’t intend to stay illegally or apply for a job. Years ago people would overstay their tourist visa all the time. Italians were famously lax about checking passports etc. This is not the case anymore. You can be banned from entering Europe for a long period of time if you are caught doing this. Of course you MAY get through without anyone asking but in my experience of flying multiple times a year for 10 years in and out of Europe, I am questioned EVERY time and they are very suspicious. It used to be that people would fly to London for a day or two and then come back into Italy or France or wherever with a new stamp of entry on their passport and get by the laws in this sneaky way. I wouldn’t advise this anymore because they have become a lot more strict and you don’t want to be flagged on their system and end up losing money and time because they force you to get on a flight home.
The first visa I ever got was a working holiday visa, which allowed me to stay in Europe for a year and work for six months of that year. You will find that even jobs waitressing in a tiny café or babysitting will still require you to have a working visa of some sort so don’t assume you can get work just paid in cash unless you’re planning on living in a very small village and you have family contacts.
If you can’t afford university or only want to study a light language course, you can enroll in a language school, which will qualify you for a student visa IF the course is longer than three months. Also check with the school if they are a certified institution that is recognised by your Italian consulate.
Italy is, surprisingly, very open to embracing entrepreneurs or anyone with an innovative idea for business. You don’t need to be fluent in Italian or have a visa or European passport. If you have a business idea and are thinking of coming to Italy as an entrepreneur or a sole trader, you should definitely check out these sites:
There is also an excellent article on Romeing, the magazine I used to run, which details how to get a visa and a permesso di soggiorno in Italy.
GETTING A JOB
As I said above, even part-time jobs in restaurants or babysitting still require a visa so I would not recommend coming to Italy without the ability to work UNLESS you have a way of working online remotely. I always advise people to defer your move to Italy until you have some savings so that you’re allowing for the possibility that you won’t find work.
If you are a mother tongue English speaker with a university degree, you will usually be eligible to teach English in a language school. This doesn’t pay very much but it is constant secure work and I found it was a wonderful chance for me to meet all kinds of Italians from children to priests to housewives to business professionals.
Set up notifications on job sites with the keywords of your skills and the cities you’d like to live in. LinkedIn is great. I also use Indeed.com and Glassdoor. Put in searches like ‘madrelingua inglese’ for mother tongue English jobs.
If you find a family that is advertising privately or you meet them on holiday and can organise things without going through an agency, you may be able to find babysitting jobs paid in cash. This is a great way to learn what real family life is like in Italy and I learned a lot from hanging out with young Italian bambini – who were the only ones I could actually understand in the beginning with my amateur Italian. If you can’t afford to go to the beach for the summer months, this is also a great way to be able to travel to amazing summer destinations as many Italian couples are looking to travel with a nanny during the school holidays.
You can also put ads online or pinned up in your local cafè advertising private language lessons. I would always make sure these lessons were organised in the home of the student (for which I would charge a little more for my travel time and expense) or in a library or cafè. I think inviting people into your home could be a little dangerous for females. Not that I’ve ever heard of anything bad happening but I have tutored privately in Japan and Italy and I always make this a rule just to be sure I am protected. Sometimes adult students can become very close to you so it’s good to set boundaries and not have them in your home. I would say you can charge around €12-30 an hour. Think about your background and expertise and how this might appeal to certain Italians. For example, I have a corporate background so I positioned myself as a specialist in helping business professionals.
For apartments, jobs, moving companies and other ads for expats in Italy, check out this classifieds section of Romeing magazine. https://www.romeing.it/classifieds/browse-ads/
FINDING AN APARTMENT
I have spoken about this in my videos listed above, however, this is really a case of how dedicated you are to researching. I would literally get callouses on my thumbs from scrolling for months on these damn apartment sites, clicking into every photo, emailing agencies who then tell you the ad is not actually current and the apartment is no longer available. I have always wanted to live in the centro storico – the historic centre. This is a personal choice. I find it is safer because there are often carabinieri on every street corner so I feel safe walking home at night. I like to be around historic architecture because otherwise, all this struggle over jobs and visas is for nothing if I’m living in an area that kind of looks like any metropolitan city in an Anglosaxon country. I also enjoy just riding my bicycle to every social or work engagement. Again, I tend to avoid public transportation like the metro or even buses because in any country, that’s where I’ve heard the most stories of people being pickpocketed or harassed as a female. I like the independence of moving around on my bicycle and living in the centre allows me to do this with ease. That said, if you’re on a tight budget, you might consider living on the outskirts of a city to save money until you find a stable or higher-paying job.
Immobilare.it is a great site for apartment searching. Subito.it also has a section for apartments and is useful for finding secondhand furniture if you’re moving somewhere unfurnished.
I would advise against confirming your apartment until you arrive in Italy. Try to find a cheap Airbnb option for at least two to three weeks and set up your apartment viewing appointments before you arrive in Italy. Be warned – if you’re arriving in late July or August many landlords will be away on holiday so it’s not a good time to set up appointments.
Another thing I often do is look at the area I would like to live in and then type immobilare into Google maps. This will show you the real estate agencies in the area. Then email them – even in English – with your dates, budget and apartment preferences and they will email you directly, often before apartments are even listed online. Once you have an agency aware of your requirements, it’s helpful to have them emailing you multiple options.
Most Italians are now afraid of not having an official rental agreement so it’s rare to find an apartment that is rented privately. Also, I’ve noticed that it’s a lot harder to find long term rental housing since Airbnb arrived on the scene. I used to go around and see so many little brightly coloured notices saying AFFITTASI, which were private rental ads pinned to walls and windows with a phone number to directly contact the owner. Nowadays they can earn so much more renting to tourists for the weekend. That said, I’ve found that I can often appeal to the landlord or agency by offering to pay several months in advance. This is hard, I know. But I would advise you to put off your big move until you have savings because paying upfront has allowed me to find some amazing deals that I never would have been able to secure otherwise. So much is done in Italy through friends and family. As a complete stranger, Italians may not want to trust you and may feel uncomfortable renting to someone who doesn’t have a job or any relatives in the country and could just take off or try subletting the apartment. Paying upfront helps diminish these fears and show that you’re serious about making a real life here. Also, I find that even if I’m totally broke for the first few months and scraping by because I’ve put all my savings into paying the rent upfront, it’s actually a great way to manage your money and remind yourself how to budget on daily expenses when you first move to Italy and it’s so tempting to spend money on gelati and dinners out and train travel to nearby cities every few days.
I have often found apartment rental companies that generally list their apartments for tourists renting a week or a month maximum and written to them enquiring about longer term rental. Although they may not advertise this option on their site, they may just have a place that isn’t selling so well and be open to the idea.
Don’t accept an apartment thinking that you will be able to sublet. Most Italian palazzi are very intimate – everyone knows everyone else’s business. If you rent the apartment to tourists even if just while you’re away at the beach for a month, generally the landlord will find out even if they don’t live on the premises and that will create a very tense relationship. Many of these apartments are historic and the older Italians living in the palazzo might not want strange unapproved people in the stairwell or leaving the front door open or not respecting the rubbish rules, so even though you could make a lot of money listing the place on Airbnb when you’re short on money, I wouldn’t risk it.
Words that might be useful in your apartment search if the ads are in Italian are:
Monolocale – Basically means one living room, can often mean it’s a studio with no separate bedroom but not always.
Bilocale – I’ve seen this used to mean that it’s just a one bedroom so don’t assume the ‘bi’ part means two bedrooms.
Angolo Cottura – Literally means a cooking corner. Often signifies that there isn’t an actual kitchen, but rather some kind of sink and stove situation in the side of a hallway or built into the wall of the living room or bedroom. I can cook in small spaces but if it does have an angolo cottura I always ask if it has an oven because this is essential for me. Sometimes this helps you get the price dropped a little if you point out that it’s lacking a ‘forno’.
Cortile – Courtyard. Worth asking if you’re able to keep your bicycle in the internal communal courtyard. Locking your bike outside is risky in any major Italian city as they can be stolen in the night. I tried carrying my bicycle in my arms up five floors every night but that got tiring really fast!! So now when I look for apartments, I always ask their policy on keeping bikes inside the palazzo. Strangely, a lot of places have a rule forbidding anyone from doing this and it’s infuriating when you move in and then find out you don’t have this option. Get ready for a lot of angry notes from the locals who have lived in the palazzo for years if you try ignoring the rules and leaving your bike in the entrance hallway.