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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, from healthcare and driving permits to education options for expat children.
The Vittorio Emanuele II gallery is Italy’s most famous shopping arcade.

At a Glance:

  • Culturally, Milan has something for every expat, from fashion to music to art, and more.
  • However, the city is comparatively quite expensive, and there’s a lot of red tape to get through before you can settle in.
  • Do your homework and find out if you need to register with the SSN and, if so, how you’re going to do it.

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. Masterpieces such 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 should definitely take the opportunity to attend a night at the La Scala, Milan’s incredible opera house.

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

A Fashion Lover’s Paradise

Since Milan is the Italian capital of all things chic and contemporary, fashion lovers living in Milan can shop until they drop. If you are interested in high-end brands, you should spend an afternoon in the 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, you can find the flagship stores of Milanese designers such as Armani, Gucci, Prada, and Versace.

Other fashionable shopping areas are located along Via Dante and Corso Buenos Aires, as well as in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Located next to the cathedral, this 19th century glass-vaulted shopping arcade is an example of some of Milan’s most beautiful architecture. Its elegant coffeehouses are also popular meeting places — a great spot see and be seen!

Local Sights and Regional Destinations

While Milan’s cityscape might not have quite the same charm as that of Venice or Rome, it is home to its own variety of cultural treasures. Make sure that your busy schedule in Milan allows you some time off to explore the city’s heritage. Among Milan’s numerous churches and abbeys, you shouldn’t miss out on the impressive duomo (Milan Cathedral) or the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The Dominican church is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it also houses Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

Inside the Castello Sforzesco, a 14th century citadel, 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 means you are in relatively close proximity to the beautiful lakes in Italy’s north. Lake Como, Lake Garda, and Lake Maggiore offer stunning 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, making them an ideal destination for weekend trips 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 2017, it was listed among the Top 50 expatriate destinations worldwide, but only achieved 41st place.

One possible reason for this low ranking might be the city’s industrial past, which has left a legacy of factory towns, urban decay, environmental issues, and some infrastructural problems. On the other hand, Milan is generally safe. In the more touristy neighborhoods and quiet residential areas, petty theft and property crime are the biggest problems, so you needn’t worry about your safety when living in Milan.

The city remains fairly expensive, though, ranking 71st place in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey in 2017. If you compare Milan to German cities of a similar size, for example, prices tend to be higher and local salaries a bit lower, meaning that you will likely 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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