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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Milan

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Relocating to Milan

At a Glance:

  • Milan is a diverse city, with an international population and a fascinating history.
  • There are several bureaucratic steps to take before you are fully registered in Italy, like getting your tax identification number and residence certificate — so be prepared!
  • When it comes to accommodation, do your research beforehand, as the neighborhoods in the city vary widely in terms of price and facilities.

Milan vs. Rome

Starting life as an expat in Milan means you will be settling in Italy’s second-largest city. Milan is located in the very north of Italy, about 50 km from Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, and less than 200 km from the Austrian border. This means that a move to Milan doesn’t necessarily bring you the sunny, Mediterranean climate that is often associated with Italian life. Summers do get warm around the River Po Basin, reaching temperatures of up to 30⁰C in July, while winters are cold, wet, and foggy.

But even if a move to Milan doesn’t promise you beach vacations under the Italian sun, it will lead you to the heart of Italy’s economic and financial engine. If Rome is the nation’s political center, then Milan is its commercial one. While Rome offers you the wealth of its historical heritage, Milan acts as Italy’s innovative cultural trendsetter. This doesn’t mean, however, that Milan does not have a fascinating history of its own.

The City’s Turbulent Past

The ancient city of Milan has a long history. Founded before even the Romans were in Italy, the city has witnessed centuries of political and cultural change, including the Renaissance, the unification of Italy, and the rise of Mussolini. 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 then, however, Milan has transformed into a peaceful and prosperous city. Although it has obviously been affected by the general economic downturn taking place in Italy, Milan is still the business and financial center of the country. Home to many companies in the fields of advertising, finance, fashion, and commerce, the city is also located in Lombardy, the wealthiest and busiest region in Italy.

City, Province, Metro Area

Moving to Milan might take you to the metropolis itself — or to the sprawling region known as the Greater Milan area (Grande Milano). 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 includes other cities like Bergamo, Como, Lodi, Monza and Brianza, Pavia, and Varese. This wider metropolitan area covers approximately 12,000 km² and is home to over 8 million people, making it even larger than the metropolitan regions of Naples or Rome.

The Metropolitan City of Milan, on the other hand, is one of twelve provinces in Lombardy and is densely populated and highly urbanized. 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 south of Italy or, later on, from abroad moved to Milan in order to work in manufacturing.

The city of Milan itself is a pretty expensive place to be. It’s no wonder that the number of its residents decreased a little in the past. However, in recent years, Milan has once again become a popular place to move to. In 2016, its nine boroughs (zone) counted about 1.7 million inhabitants.

The Diverse Backgrounds of the Population

Milan has a large foreign population. As mentioned above, its former need for a huge labor force, due to its large manufacturing sector, not only attracted Italian workers from agricultural southern Italy, but also immigrants from various countries.

In 2016, there were about a quarter of a million residents of non-Italian origin in the municipality of Milan. The largest population groups included residents from Eastern Europe and Africa, with smaller expat groups from all over the world.

When in 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. Don’t be surprised if your knowledge of Italian seems to suddenly fail you, though — some residents of Lombardy speak northern dialects such as milanese.

Expats in Milan: Administrative Issues

Before moving to Milan, you will need to familiarize yourself with Italy’s immigration requirements. Firstly, you need to find out whether you must obtain a visa to enter the country.

Nationals of EU and EEA member states as well as Switzerland, Vatican City, Monaco, and San Marino do not need a visa, no matter how long they are planning to stay in Milan. Citizens of selected countries do not require a visa for short-term stays, though this also depends on the reason for their visit. Other nationalities may even need an airport transit visa if they want to change planes in Milan.

Getting through the Visa Hassle

To see which visa category you belong to, you could contact your nearest Italian Embassy or Consulate or check the “Visa for Italy” tool provided by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It helps you determine if you need a visa at all, where to apply, and which documents to submit. The visa wizard takes the following criteria into account:

  • nationality
  • current country of residence
  • planned duration of your stay (fewer or more than 90 days)
  • reason for coming to Italy

The last category includes various options, from adoption purposes to taking up salaried employment.

More Red Tape: The Entry Clearance

Let’s assume that a Canadian woman currently living in the US gets offered a job contract as an office manager at an international school in Milan. In this case, the visa tool would tell her that she requires a “National Visa” for long-term stays. She should submit a valid passport, recent passport photographs, and a completed application form.

She would also need a nulla osta (entry clearance), which is usually taken care of by the employer. Getting an entry clearance for work-related reasons may be subject to governmental annual quota agreements, especially for unskilled, semi-skilled, and seasonal labor, as well as for applicants of certain nationalities.

However, if she just wanted to join her spouse in Milan, it would be the resident partner’s responsibility to secure that entry clearance. The husband could choose to hire an immigration lawyer to save himself some hassle or contact the local Sportello Unico per l’Immigrazione (immigration office). For the province of Milan, the address is as follows:

Prefettura di Milano: Sportello Unico per l’Immigrazione, Palazzo Diotti, Corso Monforte 31, 20122 Milano

02 7758 1 (operator)


Turning Your Visa into a Residence Permit

Once you have acquired your visa and moved to Milan, all non-EU nationals still need a residence permit from the immigration office. Instead of contacting the Sportello Unico directly, it can be easier to fill out an application kit available at various post offices. To find your nearest post office in Milan with a Sportello Amico section, go to the Poste Italiane website.

Getting Your Residence Certificate

Lastly, you need a certificate di residenzia (residence certificate) — not to be confused with the residence permit mentioned above — from the anagrafe (registry office). This applies to everyone staying in Italy for more than three months, including EU nationals — don’t forget to get this certificate within the first 90 days of your stay in Milan. Depending on what you are planning to do in Milan, different documents are required for your application. The website of the City of Milan has detailed information on residence certificates, divided by “Documentation for EU citizens” and “Documentation for non-EU citizens”.

Once you have all the required documents, fill in the “application form of residence”, which can be found on the same site. Finally, you will need to make an appointment at one of the registry offices or send your registration documents via fax, email, or mail. All contact details can be found under the above link. You can also contact Milan’s central registry office by phone on +39 02 02 02 for more information.

The Codice Fiscale: Your Tax Identification Number

As soon as you have your residence permit, or proof that you don’t need one as an EU citizen, you can use this to obtain your tax identification number (codice fiscale). The codice fiscale is used for more than just doing your taxes — you’ll definitely need one for your time in Milan, as it’s required for renting an apartment long-term and for opening a bank account, among other things. You will need the following documents for your application:

  • valid passport/ID
  • completed application form
  • residence permit or similar

The Agenzia delle Entrate (revenue agency) has also published a video on YouTube explaining how you can obtain your tax identification number (TIN). Depending on whether you are an EU or non-EU citizen, as well as your purpose for relocating to Italy, you can apply for your TIN at the Sportello Unico per l’Immigrazione  (unified immigration desk), at any police headquarters, or the offices of the Agenzia delle entrate (Italian revenue agency).

Finding Accommodation in Milan

The Nine Municipi of Milan

Milan is divided into nine administrative zones, known as municipi. The municipio 1 is the centro storico (historical center) of town and located in the heart of the city. The other eight zones are grouped clockwise around the center, starting with zone 2 to the northeast. The nine municipi — which all include a variety of smaller neighborhoods — are often identified by the landmarks or notable streets in that region. For example, zone 4 is known for its Porta Vittoria and Forlanini districts and is often casually referred to by either name.

Milan’s Neighborhoods: A Study in Contrasts

Your choice of accommodation will depend on the location of your workplace, the availability of transportation connections, your personal taste, and your budget. However, as in many cities, there are some areas of Milan you might want to avoid, due to issues like high unemployment figures, social tensions, above-average crime rates, as well as environmental problems and being in a general state of disrepair after once being home to the city’s industrial activities.

These less desirable neighborhoods can be found in parts of zone 4 (Ponte Lambro), zone 5 (Vigentino, Gratosoglio), zone 6 (Ronchetto sul Naviglio), and zone 7 (Quinto Romano). Other districts that used to have a similar reputation have undergone a process of redevelopment and are becoming popular again, e.g. Baggio with the spacious Parco delle Cave in zone 8.

On the other hand, housing in Milan also caters to more luxurious tastes. Well-paid expats with a big budget may be able to afford accommodation in the centro storico — e.g. in bohemian Brera or around Piazza Sempione. However, while its central location means good transportation links and plenty to see and do, apartments there can be small, expensive, and the area can get very busy.

Popular Residential Areas in Milan

Younger expatriates, especially singles and couples, might prefer some districts in zone 3. As the name implies, Città Studi houses a number of university campuses and facilities and is popular with students; Porta Venezia has a vibrant nightlife for students and other partygoers, a diverse multi-ethnic population, and a lively LGBT scene. There’s also a bit of alternative youth culture in zone 6, in the Porta Genova neighborhood near Milan’s navigli (historic canals), and plenty of nightlife in the Porta Ticinese/San Lorenzo area.

Expats on a generous budget that doesn’t quite cover the centro storico might want to consider the fashionable inner parts of Porta Romana in zone 4, with their shopping facilities, embassies, and luxurious residences. They may also want to look into some areas of San Siro (zone 7), the quiet, upscale, and well-connected district of Porta Nuova (zone 9), or the gated communities in Arese (zone 8).

If you’d like to save a bit of money and don’t mind a longer commute, you should search for slightly more isolated areas with decent transportation connections to the city center. Such neighborhoods can be found in Rogoredo (zone 4) or the former dormitory district of Quarto Oggiaro (zone 8). Some expats even move to the towns of Monza and Brianza, which offer plenty of residential areas, recreational venues, green spaces, and convenient transportation links.

Housing: Everything Comes at an Expense

To find property for rent, look out for affitto or offerte di affitto in newspaper classifieds or online ads. For a one-bedroom apartment in a reasonably central location, you can expect to pay about 1,000 EUR per month, and a three-bedroom apartment will cost you nearer 2,000 EUR, or more. By searching online for stanze, you can find rooms to let, which are a useful choice for younger expats or those with a small budget. Even student accommodation in Milan can be rather expensive, though, with about 400–700 EUR in rental costs per month. Vendita refers to property for sale. If you are considering buying a flat or house in the Milan area, we recommend getting advice from a property lawyer first.

Some useful resources for finding accommodation in Milan are listed below.

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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.

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

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