Join now
Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Italians Abroad: Leaving La Dolce Vita Behind

Despite high wages, previous overseas experience, and excellent language skills, Italians are generally dissatisfied with life abroad.
  • 11% believe they will never feel at home abroad
  • Almost two-fifths (38%) speak the local language(s) very well
  • 70% happy with host country’s economy
  • Over seven in ten (72%) earn more than they would in Italy
  • Unhappy with friendships and romantic relationships

Struggling to Settle In

A large number of Italy’s population leave the Mediterranean country behind for life abroad, with over 100,000 nationals emigrating in 2015. Many of these expats have overseas experience —31% have lived in three or more foreign countries before their current stay — but struggle to make their new country home: nearly a third (32%) find it difficult to settle down in their host country and over one in ten (11%) believe that they will never feel at home there. As a result, only one-fifth possibly want to stay abroad forever (global average: 29%), and less than a tenth (9%) have acquired the citizenship of their host country. Still, Italians have no intention of returning to Italy: only one-quarter state that it’s very likely that they’ll return home at one point.

Learning Languages? Nessun Problema!

Almost two-fifths of Italian respondents (37%) find learning the local language(s) of their host country easy and a further 38% can speak it/them very well — more than ten percentage points higher than the global average (24%). It’s lucky Italians are so knowledgeable when it comes to languages — nearly half (49%) believe it would be difficult to live in their host country without speaking the local language.

Italians may face so few linguistic issues because of the countries they move to. The most popular destination among Italian expats is Switzerland, where 11% are currently living. Italian is one of the official languages of this country, and 8% of the population speak it as their mother tongue. Italians also tend to have a good grasp of German, as it’s one of the country’s minority languages — nearly 5% of Italians speak it as their first language. This helps when moving abroad, since Switzerland and Germany (home to another 10% of Italian expats) are the two most popular destinations for Italians relocating abroad, and both have German as an official language.

Economic Advantages to Life Overseas

Italy’s economy continues to concern nationals: the country has lost 12% of its disposable income since 2009, and its national debt is 1.3 times higher than the economic output. Political corruption only makes economic matters worse, which might explain why nearly two-fifths (37%) saw the political situation in their host country as a potential benefit prior to moving abroad, and nearly two-thirds (66%) viewed the economy and/or labor market in their future home abroad in the same way.

Italians retained this optimistic outlook after moving, with seven in ten rating the state of the economy in their host country positively — 14 percentage points higher than the global average. Satisfaction with the economy is most likely to be connected to their countries of residence: Germany, the second most popular destination for Italians, has the fourth biggest economy in the world.

High Wages but Pricey Living Costs

Almost three-quarters (72%) of working respondents say they earn more than they would for the same job in Italy. Italian respondents are generally satisfied with their financial situation, with over seven in ten (71%) rating this aspect favorably. Italian expats are also generally well-educated: nearly half (49%) have postgraduate degrees and a further 10% have PhDs.

Despite being satisfied with their salaries, nearly half of Italian expats (47%) are unhappy with the cost of living abroad, and three in ten even say they saw this aspect as a potential disadvantage prior to moving. Once more, the countries to which Italians typically move could explain this: Switzerland is a notoriously expensive country with high accommodation prices, which might explain why over half of Italian respondents (55%) rate the affordability of housing negatively.

Dissatisfied with Relationships and Friendships Alike

Although Italians have a reputation for being romantic, over two-fifths of Italian expats (43%) are single. Six in ten (63%) do not have any children, compared to a global average of around a half (51%).

Less than two-fifths of Italians in a relationship (39%) have an Italian partner, and well over half (57%) met their partner outside of their home country. While the idea of being in an international relationship might seem dreamy, cross-cultural love comes at a price: over a fifth (21%) are not living in the same country as their partner — eight percentage points higher than the global average. This may contribute to the fact that one in ten is dissatisfied with their relationship, and 13% are unhappy with their life abroad in general.

It is not only romantic relationships that disappoint Italian expats. Despite good language skills, they also have a tough time making friends. Over a third (34%) struggle to make new friends, and a further 51% find it hard to befriend the local residents. As a result, 46% describe their social circle as being mostly other expats and more than half (51%) cite cultural differences as a reason for this. The countries Italian expats typically live in could explain why finding friends is tough: their top destinations, Switzerland and Germany, rank 61st and 51st respectively out of 65 countries in the Friendliness subcategory of the Ease of Settling In Index. Italian expats have certainly noticed this, with one respondent in Switzerland stating, “you don’t really have a chance to integrate”.

Further Reading