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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Milan

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  • 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.

Life in Milan

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.

Healthcare in Milan

Public Health Insurance for Foreign Residents

Most expats living in Milan have access to Italy’s public healthcare system, the Servizio sanitario nazionale (SSN). All foreign residents from EU/EFTA member states, as well as third-country nationals with a valid residence permit, are covered by the SSN. Their dependent family members, i.e. non-working spouses and children under the age of 18, can register as well.

However, third-country nationals may have to show proof of private health insurance when applying for their visa. Once they have arrived in Italy, though, they still can — or have to — register with the SSN.

Registration with the SSN can be either mandatory or voluntary. For the following groups of people — among others — it is mandatory to register with the public health insurance system:

  • employees
  • self-employed people
  • anyone eligible for unemployment benefits
  • those with a confirmed job offer, waiting for their new employment to start
  • dependent family members of the above

In some cases, however, you can decide whether you’d like to register with the SSN or not. If you do, you’ll have to pay income-based contributions for every calendar year of your voluntary insurance.

For instance, voluntary registration applies to:

  • students
  • au-pairs
  • IGO employees
  • independent researchers
  • diplomatic staff

Medical Services Provided by the SSN

Once you are registered with the SSN, you will receive your official SSN card. Take good care of it — it is valid for the same period as your residence permit, and you have to show it whenever you go to see a doctor or dentist.

Visits to your general practitioner and stays in public hospitals are free. However, you may have to make co-payments for specific exams, treatments, or medications, as well as for appointments with medical specialists. Of course, to avoid such co-payments and long waiting times, you can always take out private health insurance and enjoy a wider range of services.

Registering with the SSN in Milan

In Milan, the Agenzia di Tutela della Salute (ATS, meaning Health Protection Agency) is your point of reference for all general questions on the SSN healthcare system. To get your health card, you must register at the central ATS office, which is located at Corso Italia 19, 20122 Milano. The contact number for the office itself is +39 02 85781.

In order to register at the ATS, you need to submit various documents depending on your specific situation (the government has provided a helpful guide for non-EU nationals which covers most eventualities). Generally, however, you will need to provide an identity document, your residence confirmation, your stay permit, and your taxpayer’s code.

The ATS website can also help you to find your local GP (medico generico) or pediatrician (pediatra), as well as your nearest pharmacy.

Medical Facilities in Milan

The general emergency numbers for Italy are 118 for medical assistance and 112 and 113 for the national and Milan city police, respectively. By calling 02 34567, you can get in touch with a doctor on duty (guardia medica/continuità assistenziale). He or she can give you advice, arrange appointments, or make house calls at night, on weekends, and on public holidays.

Milan has over half a dozen large public hospitals with accident and emergency departments. The Ospedale Niguardia and the Ospedale Sacco have an orientation desk for foreign patients, so the language barrier should be less of a problem here. If you prefer to have a doctor who is fluent in English (or French or German), there are several centers catering to Milan’s large expat community, such as the Milan Medical Center or the American International Medical Center. However, check with them before a visit if they require private medical insurance.

Transport and Education in Milan

Milan’s Public Transportation System

Although Milan’s transportation network suffers from certain infrastructural problems, it remains essential for life in the city and its metropolitan area. Most expats arrive in Milan via plane. Malpensa Airport is Milan’s primary hub for international air traffic, but there is also an airport for low-budget carriers at Bergamo (Orio al Serio). Linate Airport mainly serves domestic flights. All three airports are well connected to Milan’s city center by train or bus, as well as special shuttle services.

Local transportation in the Milan area is organized by the Azienda Trasporti Milanesi (ATM). The company runs the city’s four metro lines — the fifth being under construction — 12 suburban railways (which go as far as Monza, Pavia, or Varese), 17 tram lines, and various bus lines. To find out how long your commute from your new home to work will take, use their English-language journey planner or their mobile phone application. The ATM offers a toll-free service number (02 48 607 607), where you can ask for up-to-date information between 07:30 and 19:30.

Frequent passengers on ATM services should look into getting a travel card. There’s an urban version for the city of Milan and a cumulative one for the entire metro area. It can be purchased weekly, monthly, and annually. It costs 776 EUR a year to buy a travel card for the largest available area, while the one covering the urban area is 330 EUR annually (as of January 2018).

Health-conscious travelers and fitness enthusiasts might also be interested in BikeMi, the ATM’s bike-sharing service in central Milan. If you prefer a comfortable car ride, though, you can call one of Milan’s numerous taxi companies, e.g. Milano Taxi (02 3554 182).

Driving in Milan

Some expats living in more residential areas further out of the city depend on their car to get around, rather than relying on public transport. If this applies to you, you need to know whether your foreign driving license is valid in Italy. Expats from most countries can simply exchange their driving license to an Italian one. Non-EU citizens have to do so after one year of residence in Italy. EU citizens can exchange their license, but they are not obliged to. However, you need to renew your license just like all Italian drivers, i.e. every ten years for drivers under the age of 50 and rising to every five years after that, until the age of 70.

For further information on driving in Italy, you can also contact the office of the Italian Ministry of Transportation in Milan.

Ufficio Motorizzazione Civile, Via Cilea 119, 20151 Milano

02 353 79 355

Education for Expat Kids

While Italy has a comprehensive school system that includes a free academic education, as well as vocational training, many expats prefer to send their children to international schools. This is particularly recommended for kids with no Italian skills, older students, and children who move often or who’ll only stay in Milan for a fairly short time.

There are a number of schools in the Milan region catering to children from several foreign communities. Many of these schools include an early childhood program with one to four years of kindergarten and preschool. Some also offer the International Baccalaureate or other international diplomas. However, unlike the public education system in Italy, these schools are private institutions that rely on tuition fees. Therefore, costs may amount to as much as 15,000 EUR per year, or more.

International Schools in and around Milan

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  • 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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