When you start life as an expat in Milan, you will be settling in Italy’s second largest city. Unlike its “rival” Rome, Milan is located in the very north of the country, about 50 km from Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, and less than 200 km from the Austrian border. Thus, moving to Milan doesn’t necessarily bring you to sunny climes and a Mediterranean ambience. Summers in the River Po Basin do get warm, with up to 30°C in July. Winters are cool and foggy, though, and there is plenty of rain in spring and autumn.
Even if moving to Milan doesn’t promise you beach vacations under the Italian sun, it will lead you to Italy’s economic and financial engine. If Rome is the nation’s political heart, Milan is its commercial one. While Rome lures you in with the wealth of its historical heritage, Milan acts as Italy’s innovative cultural trendsetter. This doesn’t mean, however, that Milan cannot look back on a very turbulent history of its own.
Dating back all the way beyond Late Antiquity, the city has witnessed the intellectual development of early Christianity, as well as the splendor of Renaissance princes and polymaths, the birth of Italy as a unified nation, and the rise of Mussolini’s blackshirts. In the second half of the 20th century, the post-war economic boom was unfortunately overshadowed by political extremism, street violence, and terrorist incidents in the 1960s and 1970s.
Since the 1980s, though, Milan has turned into a peaceful and prosperous metropolis. Today, though Milan has obviously been affected by the general downturn of the struggling Italian economy, it still dominates its business world. Companies in the fields of advertising and marketing, banking and finance, design and fashion, publishing, as well as logistics and transportation are all based in Milan. Lombardy, the wealthiest and busiest region in Italy, stands in stark contrast to the rural south with its infrastructural issues.
Moving to Milan might take you to the metropolis itself — or to the sprawling region known as the Greater Milan area. The city of Milan forms the center of a populous province with the same name, but the metropolitan region extends even beyond the provincial borders into other parts of Lombardy. Grande Milano may be defined to include other cities like Bergamo, Como, Lodi, Monza and Brianza, Pavia, and Varese. This wider metro area covers circa 12,000 km² and is home to over 7 million people. It is even larger than the metropolitan regions of Naples or Rome.
The Metropolitan City of Milan, on the other hand, is only one among a dozen provinces in Lombardy, though a densely populated and highly urbanized one. It has about 3.2 million residents and includes the city of Milan as well as 133 other municipalities. Many of these comuni are satellite towns of Milan. Their population grew when migrant laborers from the Italian south or, later on, from abroad moved to Milan in order to work in manufacturing. In search of affordable accommodation, they often settled in growing suburbs, dormitory districts, and industrial towns.
The city of Milan proper is a pretty pricey place. Therefore it’s no wonder that the number of its residents decreased a little in the past. However, people have started moving to Milan again. In early 2015, its nine boroughs (zone) counted about 1.34 million inhabitants.
Milan has a large foreign population. As mentioned above, its former need for a huge labor force, especially in manufacturing, not only attracted Italian workers from the agricultural mezzogiorno, but also immigrants moving to Milan from various countries.
In 2013, about 360,000 residents in the Metropolitan City of Milan were of non-Italian origin. The largest population groups included residents moving to Milan from Albania, Bangladesh, China, Ecuador, Egypt, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Romania, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine. Moreover, there are smaller expatriate communities, e.g. from France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Spain, the UK, and the United States.
After moving to Milan, chances are high that you might hear your mother tongue on the street — especially as the city is also a popular destination for leisure and business tourism. The official language is, however, Italian. Although Milan is accustomed to welcoming foreign visitors, some Italian skills will come in handy for moving to Milan. But don’t be surprised if your decent knowledge of Italian seems to suddenly fail you. Some residents of Lombardy speak northern dialects such as milanese.
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