Living in Italy
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A practical guide to the way of life in Italy
Looking to settle in the sun, enjoy a slower pace of life and mingle with the friendly locals? A move to Italy means you will likely experience the so-called dolce vita. Our InterNations GO! guide has just the information you need on housing, healthcare, and education in Italy.
Life in Italy
At a Glance:
- Italian cities are amongst the worst in Europe for pollution, but the government are taking measures to improve the environmental situation.
- Italy has a well-developed road network, with nearly 7,000 km of motorway connecting all corners of the nation.
- While the Italian education system is of a high standard, many expats decide to send their children to one of the countries’ several international schools.
- The health service in Italy — the SSN — is one of the best in Europe, and healthcare coverage is guaranteed for all citizens.
Breathtaking scenery, friendly locals, world-renowned food and wine — life in Italy appears to have almost everything an expat could dream of.
Wake up each morning with a cup of the best Italian cappuccino, take a stroll through Milan’s upmarket fashion district, enjoy a plate of prosciutto cotto and a glass of Trebbiano for lunch, visit one of the countless museums and galleries, and finish the day eating a dinner of linguine frutti di mare in the Piazza Navona in Rome. Sound appealing? Then la dolce vita might be the lifestyle for you.
If you are considering accepting an expat assignment in Italy, or simply just want a change of scene, read on for some background information to help you make an informed decision about your move.
Troubles with Trash and Traffic
Regardless of the region, urban life in Italy is often very chaotic, with a lot of noise and air pollution. Unfortunately, Italy is also one of the least developed countries in Europe as far as environmental protection is concerned.
Italy’s cities are very polluted, with smog being a regular issue due to the immense amount of traffic. Milan is among the most polluted cities on the continent. Often, vehicle restrictions are imposed in order to bring down air pollution levels. Waste disposal is also rather underdeveloped, with the country failing to properly deal with factories dumping sewage and waste into the Po River.
The good news is that the Italian government, spurred on by the European Union and UNESCO, is looking into environmentally friendly solutions to the above-listed problems. This should make life in Italy a lot greener in the future.
Finding a Roof over Your Head
Where you begin your life in Italy depends on whether you plan on settling in Italy’s countryside or a city. Economically speaking, people residing in Italy’s north are much more affluent then those in the south.
When it comes to accommodation for your stay in Italy, it is more common to rent than buy in Italian cities. The average tenancy contract has a rental period of around four years. Although expat living in Italy is less expensive than, for instance, Switzerland, Scandinavia, or the UK, be prepared to spend a considerable amount on rent. After places like London or Paris, it’s Milan, Rome, and Venice that have some of the highest rents in all of Europe.
If your idea of life in Italy is more rural, in a quaint country home, Italy has plenty to offer. Quite a few expats who are not interested in living in Italy’s large overpopulated cities — especially self-made expatriates — move to smaller and quieter rural towns in regions like Tuscany.
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Education and Transportation in Italy
If you are going to be living in Italy with your children, you may be considering sending them to an international school. In this way, they will have the opportunity to receive an International Baccalaureate and be able to study abroad. Moreover, they won’t have to cope with the language barrier in Italian schools. Below, you can find more information on various education options in Italy.
Educational Options for Every Need
In Italy, school is compulsory from the age of six to the age of sixteen.
The national education system is divided into three “cycles”. These cycles are then divided into types of schooling: kindergarten (scuola dell’infanzia), first cycle (scuola primaria and scuola secundario di primo grado), and second cycle (liceo, istituto tecnico/professionale,or istruzione e formazione professionale).
The first cycle is composed of primary school and middle school, which children attend until the age of fifteen. A foreign language, usually English, is introduced in the first grade (around age seven), and a second one in the fifth grade (age eleven).
After completing the first cycle of school, students take an exam to qualify either for the liceo (the Italian equivalent to high school) or for an institute that offers vocational training. The licei cater to different academic interests, such as the classics, fine arts, natural sciences, etc. Upon successful completion of the liceo, the students receive a university entrance diploma.
A number of international schools in large cities, especially Rome and Milan, cater to foreign students. However, it is not only expat kids who attend them. Many Italians find it important for their children to excel at a second language as well.
You should consider the following things when searching for an international school that will best suit your children:
- What kind of qualifications does the school offer?
- Which languages and other subjects will your child study there?
- What is the ratio of foreign students to Italians?
- Where is the school located?
- How much are the annual tuition fees?
You can find lists of selected international schools in Italy in our articles about education in Rome and education in Milan.
A general stereotype of Italian drivers is that they are sometimes rude, a bit chaotic and do not tend to follow traffic rules. To some extent, this is true. However, the road network in Italy is highly developed. There are almost 7,000 kilometers of motorways (autostrada) across Italy, most of which are toll roads.
Gas prices are relatively high compared to other European countries, and vary from region to region. It may be useful to check the current local gas prices when you are planning on taking a long trip within Italy, to help you figure out if it would be more cost-effective to drive or take the train.
Affordability in Public Transportation
The national Italian railway, the Ferrovie dello Stato, can conveniently take you from one city to the other. It offers an efficient alternative to driving and gives you good value for your money.
Another alternative to driving is taking the bus, and there are many private bus companies in Italy. One bus company that is highly recommended (and comparatively cheap) is the iBus. Unfortunately, long-distance coaches and most trains usually do not stop at small towns across Italy.
In order to reach a less popular destination, it is useful to check the local bus listings. There are many regional bus lines within Italy that connect smaller cities, towns and villages, catering mainly to the working population. This results in hours of high traffic in the early morning and in the evening, so plan your trip accordingly and allow plenty of time.
Renting Your Own Ride
If you prefer to get around by car, but do not have one already or were unable to bring your own vehicle from home, you should be pleasantly surprised to hear that renting a car in most Italian cities is not that expensive. All short-term visitors in Italy can use a valid European driver’s license or an International Driving Permit. Nationals of EU countries can keep using their license until it expires, even if they are staying in Italy for more than three months. However, drivers with an international permit then need to acquire an Italian one within one year after arrival.
You can find more information on licenses and traffic regulations in our guide to driving in Italy.
Healthcare and Leisure in Italy
Worry-Free Living: Healthcare and Insurance
Italy has a very well-established public healthcare system, with public spending accounting for almost 7% of the GDP. It covers the treatment and prevention of illnesses and diseases, therapy and rehab measures, psychiatric care, and health and safety at the workplace.
The SSN, Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, is Italy’s public health service, which provides guaranteed coverage for all citizens. The regions are managed locally by the ASL (Azienda Sanitaria Locale) . A list of all ASL addresses can be found via the Ministry of Health website.
If you are an employee in Italy, your employer is obliged to pay for your healthcare insurance. You must visit your local health authority and then register with a doctor in order to receive your health insurance card (tessera sanitaria). If you are working in Italy and have brought your family with you, they are also entitled to public healthcare once you have been officially registered.
Medical Care and Private Insurance
Medical care in Italy is modern, and doctors take pride in their job. Nonetheless, some expats prefer to get a private health insurance policy for themselves and their families, as treatment may be faster than through the regular state health service. The quality of the treatment does not differ, but the waiting periods in hospitals or for an appointment do, since the state system is sometimes overburdened. Moreover, foreign-language doctors who cater specifically to the expat community mostly have private clinics.
The largest private health insurance provider in Italy, formerly state-owned, is Assistalia, which also covers pension plans and car insurance. There are also several foreign health insurance companies with agencies in Italy. They provide special health coverage for expatriates, including options for international health insurance and repatriation.
There are no dangerous contagious diseases or particular health risks within Italy, so there are no specific vaccinations required before moving there. Just get the full array of normal booster shots, and maybe additional immunizations for hepatitis A/B. As always, when moving with children, contact the school district for any necessary immunizations your child may be required to have to attend school.
Have the Time of Your Life!
An important detail to keep in mind when choosing a new place to live is the types of leisure activities a country has to offer and whether these fit your expectations and suit your lifestyle. Italy is known for its fast cars, expensive fashion, fine wines, and diverse landscapes. But what does it really have to offer to its inhabitants?
Stemming from Ancient Roman times, there are many thermal baths and spas spread across Italy, which provide a variety of health benefits. Italy also has a lot of athletic options for the more active expat, such as swimming, playing golf, skiing, fishing, horseback riding, and sailing.
Cycling has also become a popular national pastime in recent years, and Italy offers many different terrains for doing so, from flat valleys, over gentle hills, to steep inclines. If you decide on one of Italy’s beautiful cities to be your new home, you will be able to visit some of Italy’s many museums, which offer a number of fascinating exhibitions and collections by renowned artists.
The Official Tourism Website for Italy, although designed more specifically for tourists rather than expats, gives a great overview of Italy’s various regions. This will also be helpful when planning trips to other parts of Italy once you have settled in.
Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a comprehensive range of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!