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Working in Milan

Find out how to get a job and work in Milan

Is working in Milan a good option for your career right now? Our guide can help you answer this question. We introduce the regional economy, local working conditions, and social security — a useful overview for expat employees interested in Italy’s business hotspot.

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Employment in Milan

At a Glance:

  • Despite Italy’s economic troubles, it is still possible to find work in Milan, especially if you are practically experienced in your industry.
  • Milan offers some of the highest salaries in Italy, but unfortunately also has the highest cost of living, and salaries are lower than in many other European cities.
  • Working in Milan means you are covered by the state social security system. The country also has joint social security agreements with a number of other nations.

Milan was once the city with the most attractive employment prospects in Italy. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the region of Lombardy profited from industrialization and later became an important center for the service sector, especially banking and finance. The area is still Italy’s economic powerhouse and business center, but unfortunately this status hasn’t prevented the city from being affected by the nation’s economic difficulties.

Economic Struggles Affect Expat Life

The global recession of 2008/2009 hit the Italian economy particularly badly and resulted in Italy temporarily having a shrinking GDP. This particularly affected the banking sector and the employees working in Milan’s finance companies. In the two years that followed, it seemed the Italian economy was experiencing a slow recovery, although the increase of the GDP was lower than the EU average. But in early 2012, Italy had again entered a recession, and during that year, the GDP shrank by more than 2%. The country experienced a double-dip recession, shrinking again slightly in 2014. Since then, Italy has seen mostly slow and steady economic growth and in the second quarter of 2017 experienced its best growth rates since 2011.

Italians are proud of their country’s diversified industries, strong service sector, and its reputation for producing high-quality products (e.g. food and fashion). Many industries have struggled, but tourism seems to have stabilized, with visitor numbers estimated to continue growing.

Youth unemployment is a big issue across Italy, currently standing at 37.1% as of 2017. This persistent unemployment has caused a brain-drain of many young Italians, in particular those from northern regions like Lombardy or Veneto, who move abroad in search for better employment opportunities.

Working in Milan: Then and Now

As mentioned above, working in Milan was often synonymous with having a job in manufacturing or finance. The heavily urbanized province was (and, to a certain extent, is) home to plenty of factories, for example in vehicle manufacturing. Companies such as Alfa Romeo (sports cars) or Pirelli (tires) are household names all around the world.

Milan also houses the Italian stock exchange and countless banks. However, the past pillars of the local economy may no longer be taken for granted when it comes to working in Milan. Traditional manufacturing — e.g. in chemistry or mechanical engineering — has been in decline for some time; the vulnerability of banking and finance was demonstrated during the recent recession.

Fortunately, Milan has a diversified economy, with several thousand international companies based in the city. It is widely known for its fashion, communications, tourism, and design industries, among others. The region of Lombardy features several industrial clusters for niche products, like furniture or jewelry. Some of Italy’s most coveted food exports — e.g. salami, gorgonzola, grana padano, panettone, and rice — originate in the Milan area.

A Future Full of Opportunities

Despite Italy’s economic troubles in the past few decades, the country has the potential to become a global market leader in manufacturing machinery and advanced technologies. Milan is no exception, and the city is investing heavily in future growth sectors, such as biotechnology and pharmaceutics. Both the city itself and the surrounding towns — like Como, Lodi, and Pavia — are home to a number of new businesses taking advantage of these new opportunities and developments.

Thanks to Milan’s many universities, teaching hospitals, research institutes and science parks, the city is also an excellent location for those working in health and life sciences. Milan’s status as an up-and-coming location for economic development has been recognized in IBM’s plan to establish its first Watson Health European Center of Excellence in the city, which will focus on research on genomics and ageing.

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Milan: Job Search & Working Conditions

Employment Opportunities: Age and Experience Are Advantages

Despite the turbulent state of the Italian economy, there are still options for expats keen on working in Milan. Plenty of international companies have their headquarters or at least a large branch office in the city. These include, for example, UniCredit, Vodafone, Google, and the Campari Group. Milan is an important location for headhunting and personal services as well.

Even if you are not a foreign assignee, it’s still possible to find work in Milan — the city has a surplus of university graduates, but many educated expats will have an advantage, because most Italian degrees are more theoretical than practical. Therefore, expats are often in a unique position, as they already have more in-depth vocational and practical training. For younger expats-to-be, it is worth bearing in mind that it is notoriously difficult to find work experience and “get your foot in the door” in Italy, hence the “brain-drain” of many young Italian graduates moving abroad.

According to the CEDEFOP’s (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) skills forecast for Italy, most of the employment growth up until 2025 will be in the business sector, as Italy is expected to further recover from the effects of the 2008 recession. The distribution and transportation sectors are also set to grow, while the manufacturing and construction industries will remain stable, with growth in certain specialized areas. In jobs that require mostly unskilled labor, though, experts estimate that the number of illegal workers in the informal sector is rather high and keeps on rising.

Tips for Job Seekers in Milan

Contact your home country’s foreign chamber of commerce and ask if they can provide a business directory of their members in the Milan area. Many job vacancies in Italy are never advertised, so this could be a good starting point for unsolicited applications. As far as your own qualifications are concerned, Italian language skills are important: in many jobs, they are essential, and even in international companies, they are a significant bonus. 

If you are not sure whether the HR department of a potential employer will acknowledge your foreign credentials, please get in touch with the Centro Informazione Mobilità, Equivalenze Academiche (CIMEA). The CIMEA is responsible for recognizing foreign qualifications in Italy. In some fields of employment, like health services or education, this may even be a requirement for job seekers from abroad.

Local Working Conditions: Time to Rest & Relax

Once you have landed a job in Milan, you’ll probably want to know more about the working conditions. First, make sure that you have a written employment contract with a detailed job description. It should state the beginning of your employment with the company. For limited or project-based contracts, which are becoming ever more common, it needs to include the end date as well. Moreover, the duration of your trial period should be explicitly mentioned. The legal maximum in Italy is six months.

As for the working hours, 40 hours per week are usual. You can work up to eight hours of overtime a week, but they have to be paid extra. However, as everywhere else, many people — especially in middle and upper management — work far more extra hours, but these are implied to be included in the salary. The legal annual leave amounts to four weeks for full-time employees, but in many jobs, 25 to 30 days are common. In addition to this, you also get a day off on all Italian public holidays — up to another 11 days per year.

High Salaries, High Living Costs

Like annual leave, salaries are often regulated by nationwide collective agreements. In lower-paid positions, this can lead to differences in living standards. The local cost of living is often much lower in the south than in northern regions. Unfortunately, the Milan area is indeed among the priciest places in Italy, so you should take this into account when talking about your salary.

In 2017, the average income in Italy amounted to about 26,000 EUR per year, which is lower than the European average. Wages in Milan remain among the highest in the country, compared to other Italian regions. However, real incomes in Italy are now getting smaller while prices keep rising. The VAT sales tax is set at 22%, which is higher than in many other EU countries.

A potential advantage of working in Milan is that foreign employees are covered by Italy’s social security system. The final part of our guide explains this in greater detail.

Social Security for Expats in Milan

The Social Security System in Italy

Everyone working in Milan becomes part of Italy’s comprehensive social security system (INPS). Foreign workers and employees who are legally staying in Italy have the same rights and responsibilities as Italian nationals. The Istituto Nazionale della Previdenza Sociale covers old age pensions, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, and paid sick leave.

Social security expenses are financed partly by the Italian government, partly by contributions from employers, employees, and some groups of self-employed people. Most of the self-employed are obliged to register only with public health insurance. The rest of the mandatory state-sponsored coverage just applies to selected professions, e.g. self-employed farmers or artisans.

What this means for access to public healthcare services, we have already described at length in our article on living in Milan. Like all other social security contributions, those for medical insurance are deducted directly from your gross salary. On average, employees also contribute 9.19% of their gross income to the national pension scheme. It is the employer’s sole responsibility to cover the costs for occupational and accident insurance.

Which Social Security Fund Is Right for You?

Your new employer in Milan will  automatically register you with INAIL (the national insurance provider for workplace accidents and occupational diseases), as well as INPS, before you actually start working. If you are self-employed, please contact the INPS office in Milan to get advice on your specific situation. For instance, self-employed members of certain professions like doctors, lawyers, and accountants have their own social security fund (cassa), where they can sign up. Other freelancers may decide to make voluntary payments to the INPS.

The INPS also provides a hotline at +39 803 164 for general questions related to social security contributions and benefits. It is available in multiple languages and open 24/7.

The contact details for Milan are as follows:

INPS: Direzione Metropolitane, Via Pola, 9, 20124 Milano

+39 (0)2 67761

Direzione.milano@inps.it

Can You Take Your Pension with You?

As far as pensions are concerned, you should make an appointment with the INPS and/or your social security office back home. They can help you find out how your time as an expat in Milan may affect your right to a national pension in your home country.

To prevent losses for expatriates, all EU and EFTA member states have entered into a special agreement based on the principle of totalization. Working in another EU state should not cause any future disadvantages with regard to old-age pensions, disability benefits, etc. for EU nationals. Therefore, all years of contributions paid into the pension schemes of qualifying countries will be considered in order to decide if you are due a pension and how much it will be.

Worldwide Social Security Agreements

Individual social security agreements between Italy and selected countries have a similar goal. As of 2017, there are such agreements with Argentina, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, the Cape Verde Islands, the Channel Islands, Croatia, Israel, Macedonia, Monaco, San Marino, South Korea, Serbia, Tunisia, Turkey, the US, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Nationals of these countries who wish to receive their old age benefits in Italy must usually fulfill the same conditions as Italian nationals in order to access their state pension. As of 2018, both women and men have a statutory retirement age of 66 years and seven months and must have paid social security contributions for at least 20 years (in either nation), or at least five years if aged 70 or older. The same applies to all other expats, however, any of their social security contributions paid in a country without a social security agreement with Italy will not be factored in.

Top Up Your Retirement Savings

Many Italian employees also pay into an additional pension scheme to top up their national pensions. There are so-called closed pension funds reserved for the employees of certain companies or the members of specific occupations, as well as open funds for collective membership for all kinds of employees. These two types of funds were introduced under a 1993 law.

Of course, there are plenty of private pension plans for individuals as well. You could look into those, or you might prefer an international policy or a private fund back in your home country. But no matter which option you prefer, it would be wise to prepare a little “nest egg” while you are working in Milan!

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 complete set 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!

Updated on: January 30, 2018
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