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Living in Milan

What awaits an expat in Milan? Our InterNations guide introduces leisure and culture in northern Italy’s most influential city. You’ll also find plenty of practical tips for living in Milan, from healthcare and driving permits to education for children from expatriate families.
The Vittorio Emanuele II gallery is Italy’s most famous shopping arcade.

Life’s a Stage

Expat life in Milan is a dream come true for lovers of classical music. In the 19th century, Italian opera flourished here. Such masterpieces as Verdi’s Nabucco, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, or Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore all had their world premiere on Milan’s stages. Today, the city still boasts a musical conservatory, a symphony orchestra, and several musical theaters. While you are living in Milan, you shouldn’t miss the chance to attend a night at the opera at the sumptuous La Scala.

Even if 19th-century opera isn’t quite your cup of tea, living in Milan has its advantages. At well-known live music clubs like Blue Note or Nidaba, you can enjoy modern genres and styles. These venues are exclusively devoted to jazz, blues, soul, funk, and rock’n’roll. If your Italian skills are up to it, you might also give the modern stage productions at the Piccolo Teatro a try.

A Fashionista’s Paradise

Since Milan is the Italian capital of chic clothing and contemporary design, fashionistas living in Milan can shop until they drop. If you are interested in upscale brands, you should spend an afternoon in the couture boutiques of the famous quadrilatero della moda. This “quadrangle of fashion” refers to the area between Via Montenapoleone, Via Manzoni, Via della Spiga, and Corso Venezia. There, flagship stores of Milanese designers such as Armani, Gucci, Prada, or Versace abound.

Other fashionable shopping venues are located along Via Dante and Corso Buenos Aires, as well as in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This glass-vaulted shopping arcade next to the cathedral is not only a triumph of 19th-century architecture. Its elegant coffeehouses are popular meeting places — a spot to indulge in some people-watching and to be seen yourself! However, life in Milan tends to be rather expensive, so your credit cards may suffer from the excesses of a shopping spree. 

Local Sights and Regional Destinations

While Milan’s cityscape might not have quite the same charm as that of Venice or Rome, it features a variety of cultural treasures. Make sure that the busy schedule of your expat life in Milan allows you some time off for exploring the city’s heritage. Among Milan’s numerous churches and abbeys, you shouldn’t miss out on the impressive duomo or the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The Dominican church is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right, but it also houses Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Miraculously, the mural in the convent’s refectory survived a bombing of the building in World War Two.

Inside the Castello Sforzesco, a 14th-century citadel which was home to Leonardo’s aristocratic patron, you can admire more Renaissance artworks, including the last sculpture ever created by Michelangelo. The art gallery Pinacoteca di Brera, too, features an astounding number of Italian masters, from Piero della Francesca to Tintoretto.

If you want to escape the city for a while, living in Milan provides a convenient proximity to the beautiful lakes in Italy’s north. Lake Como, Lake Garda, and Lake Maggiore offer marvelous Alpine scenery, a mild climate, countless resorts, as well as plenty of activities for children. They are easy to reach from Milan by car or train; thus they are an ideal destination for a three-day weekend trip to the Italian Alps.

The Past Has Left Its Mark

Despite Milan’s tourism industry and bustling nightlife, the city does not rank very high in international expat surveys. In the Mercer Quality of Living Rankings in 2015, it was listed among the Top 50 expatriate destinations worldwide, but only on place 41.

The most likely reason for this low ranking is the city’s industrial past; it has left a legacy of factory towns, urban decay, environmental issues, and some infrastructural problems. On the other hand, at least Milan is generally safe, if rather costly. In touristy neighborhoods and quiet residential areas, petty theft and property crimes are the biggest problems, so you needn’t worry about living in Milan.

However, the city remains fairly expensive. After having dropped from rank 15 in 2010 to rank 41 in 2013, Milan ranked 30th in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey in 2014. If you compare Milan to, for example, German cities of a similar size, prices tend to be higher and local salaries a bit lower. Therefore you may have to budget carefully when living in Milan.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Francois Carpentier

"With the help of InterNations, my wife and I met a lot of other French expats at the famous aperitivos here in Milan."

Annabelle Molenaar

"The Milan Community of InterNations is just so great: regular events -- several easy-going Ambassadors -- really friendly expat crowd!"

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