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Working in Milan

Is working in Milan a good option for your career right now? Our guide can help you answer this question. We introduce the regional economy, local working conditions, and social security — a useful overview for expat employees interested in Italy’s business hotspot.

At a Glance:

  • Despite Italy’s economic troubles, it is still possible to find work in Milan, especially if you are practically experienced in your industry.
  • Milan offers some of the highest salaries in Italy, but unfortunately also has the highest cost of living, and salaries are lower than in many other European cities.
  • Working in Milan means you are covered by the state social security system. The country also has joint social security agreements with a number of other nations.


Milan was once the city with the most attractive employment prospects in Italy. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the region of Lombardy profited from industrialization and later became an important center for the service sector, especially banking and finance. The area is still Italy’s economic powerhouse and business center, but unfortunately this status hasn’t prevented the city from being affected by the nation’s economic difficulties.

Economic Struggles Affect Expat Life

The global recession of 2008/2009 hit the Italian economy particularly badly and resulted in Italy temporarily having a shrinking GDP. This particularly affected the banking sector and the employees working in Milan’s finance companies. In the two years that followed, it seemed the Italian economy was experiencing a slow recovery, although the increase of the GDP was lower than the EU average. But in early 2012, Italy had again entered a recession, and during that year, the GDP shrank by more than 2%. The country experienced a double-dip recession, shrinking again slightly in 2014. Since then, Italy has seen mostly slow and steady economic growth and in the second quarter of 2017 experienced its best growth rates since 2011.

Italians are proud of their country’s diversified industries, strong service sector, and its reputation for producing high-quality products (e.g. food and fashion). Many industries have struggled, but tourism seems to have stabilized, with visitor numbers estimated to continue growing.

Youth unemployment is a big issue across Italy, currently standing at 37.1% as of 2017. This persistent unemployment has caused a brain-drain of many young Italians, in particular those from northern regions like Lombardy or Veneto, who move abroad in search for better employment opportunities.

Working in Milan: Then and Now

As mentioned above, working in Milan was often synonymous with having a job in manufacturing or finance. The heavily urbanized province was (and, to a certain extent, is) home to plenty of factories, for example in vehicle manufacturing. Companies such as Alfa Romeo (sports cars) or Pirelli (tires) are household names all around the world.

Milan also houses the Italian stock exchange and countless banks. However, the past pillars of the local economy may no longer be taken for granted when it comes to working in Milan. Traditional manufacturing — e.g. in chemistry or mechanical engineering — has been in decline for some time; the vulnerability of banking and finance was demonstrated during the recent recession.

Fortunately, Milan has a diversified economy, with several thousand international companies based in the city. It is widely known for its fashion, communications, tourism, and design industries, among others. The region of Lombardy features several industrial clusters for niche products, like furniture or jewelry. Some of Italy’s most coveted food exports — e.g. salami, gorgonzola, grana padano, panettone, and rice — originate in the Milan area.

A Future Full of Opportunities

Despite Italy’s economic troubles in the past few decades, the country has the potential to become a global market leader in manufacturing machinery and advanced technologies. Milan is no exception, and the city is investing heavily in future growth sectors, such as biotechnology and pharmaceutics. Both the city itself and the surrounding towns — like Como, Lodi, and Pavia — are home to a number of new businesses taking advantage of these new opportunities and developments.

Thanks to Milan’s many universities, teaching hospitals, research institutes and science parks, the city is also an excellent location for those working in health and life sciences. Milan’s status as an up-and-coming location for economic development has been recognized in IBM’s plan to establish its first Watson Health European Center of Excellence in the city, which will focus on research on genomics and ageing.


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

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