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- Brandon Le Clerk
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Life in Rome
At a Glance:
- Since 2013, Rome has been divided into 15 municipi (boroughs), each of which has its individual charm and varying rental costs.
- The health service in Italy — the SSN — is one of the best in Europe. Simply visit your local ASL to register and receive your health insurance card.
- As long as your current driving permit license was issued in another EU/EEA member state and is still valid, you will be able to use it until it expires.
- Rome’s public transportation system includes three metro lines, six tram lines, and various bus routes connecting all parts of the city.
Even expatriates living in Rome cannot enjoy la dolce vita all day long. To start off your life in Rome, you must first take care of administrative matters.
We’ve given you an overview of dealing with bureaucratic issues in our guide on moving to Rome. However, some legal tasks essential for foreign residents — especially getting a residence certificate — require you to already have a permanent address.
Choosing a Place to Live
An important question that all expats planning a life in Rome will face: “Where will I live?” Rome is Italy’s second largest city by area, and has the biggest population, which stands at more than 3.7 million.
Due to its size, the city is divided into 15 municipi (boroughs), from I (the _centro storic_o or historical center) to XV (Cassia Flaminia, a green area in the northwest). Prior to the reform in 2013, the city was divided into 19 municipalities.
When looking for the ideal neighborhood in Rome, the area of your choice may depend mostly on local transport and the proximity to your place of work. When it comes to quality of life, Rome has a comparatively low ranking, placing 57th in the 2017 Mercer Quality of Life Index, due to its overburdened infrastructure and constant issues with pollution and waste removal. Even the most romantic Italian villa will soon lose its attraction if it comes with endless traffic jams and trash.
There are some neighborhoods favored by well-to-do expatriates living in Rome. Cassia Flaminia (XV) is a residential area with lots of green spaces and several international schools. However, just like in Vigna Clara (part of municipio XV), a quiet and safe district which also features an international school, the transport connections between Via Cassia and the city center are not ideal.
If you are part of the younger expat crowd living in Rome, you will appreciate Trastevere (I), with its charming old-fashioned buildings, booming nightlife, and international student population. Older expats may gravitate towards more upmarket districts such as Appia Antica (XI) — provided their paychecks are generous enough. The beautiful neighborhood along the Via Appia boasts plenty of luxury villas.
The average expat living in Rome will be looking for more inexpensive housing options. There are a number of residential or mixed neighborhoods with decent infrastructure and shopping opportunities, where local middle-class families tend to congregate. Peaceful Centocelle (V), comparatively inexpensive Prati (I) or suburban Aurelio (XIII) may not have the same flair as the cobbled alleys of Trastevere, but they are more suited to everyday life in Rome.
The office district EUR (IX) was originally built during Mussolini’s dictatorship, it features some looming buildings in the Fascist style. However, aside from those reminders of a darker era, EUR — a thriving commercial area and home to the offices of many international businesses — could offer housing conveniently close to your office.
If you do not want to hire a real-estate agent, property for rent (affito / da affitare) is advertised on Secondamano or PortaPortese, as well as in the classifieds of La Repubblica. While you browse through the property ads, it’s highly recommended to have an Italian dictionary handy. Even if your Italian skills are basic, it’s important to know if your new flat has riscaldamento centrale or a olio (central or oil-fired heating) and how many vani e bagni (rooms and bathrooms) your potential future home has.
Living in Rome does not come cheap. For a two- or three-bedroom apartment in the centro storico, you have to pay between 1,000 EUR and 2,500 EUR per month. When you calculate your budget, check whether the spese (obligatory service charges) for water, waste disposal, etc. are included in the rent.
Utilities (especially gas and electricity) are not part of the rent. You have to take care of the utenza (contract) yourself. Once you have the number of the flat’s previous utenza, your tax ID, and the last charges on the meter, you can ask the utility company to transfer the contract to you (voltura).
Healthcare in Rome
While the red tape in Italy can be aggravating, the government bureaucracy does have some advantages. Most expats living in Rome with a valid visa, residence permit, and/or residence certificate are entitled to the same public healthcare as Italian citizens.
This applies, among others, to foreign employees working in Rome, self-employed expats, and their dependent family members. EU citizens can use their EHIC card to access the public healthcare system, while non-EU nationals must officially register with the SSN (servizio sanitario nazionale), Italy’s national healthcare plan.
Register with Your Local Health Authority
For your SSN registration, you need to find out which local health authority (Azienda Sanitaria Locale or ASL) administers the area where you live. There are eight ASL offices covering Rome’s metropolitan area (ASL A — ASL H).
To begin the registration process, go to the nearest ASL center and bring along the following documents:
- your ID (e.g. valid passport or travel document)
- tax number (codice fiscale)
- residence permit (or proof that you have applied for one)
- proof of address (e.g. residence certificate, rental contract, etc.)
After completing the necessary forms, you will receive your tesserino sanitario (health card) and be assigned a medico di base (general practitioner). If you are not content with your original GP, you can look for a new family doctor whenever you want.
Public Healthcare Coverage in Italy
If you are an employee, your company pays your healthcare contributions for you. Self-employed expats working in Rome can opt for voluntary out-of-pocket coverage by the SSN. In any case, some form of medical insurance is mandatory while you live in Italy.
As a member of the SSN, don’t forget to bring along your health card every time you visit the doctor’s or a clinic. Provided you show your valid health card, the consultation will be either free, or require a co-payment in cash. Right now, the highest amount due in Lazio (the region in which Rome is located) is around 36 EUR as a maximum out-of-pocket payment, plus around 15 EUR extra for the most expensive diagnostic exam, a CAT scan.
SSN healthcare coverage entitles you to:
- check-up exams
- diagnostic exams (including X-rays, ultrasound, blood tests)
- home visits
- prescription meds
- specialist exams (often require co-payments)
- hospitalization with a referral from your GP
- rehab treatment
Moreover, all women — both locals and expats — can consult their local Family Advice Bureau for cancer screenings, contraception, pre-natal and post-natal care, pregnancy terminations, or treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
Private Medical Insurance
However, there are also certain disadvantages to SSN medical coverage: Waiting lists at public healthcare providers can be long, and some aspects of overall health (such as dental care) are not included at all. Furthermore, you don’t have any access whatsoever to private clinics and practices.
Many expats decide to take out supplementary health insurance or opt for full private coverage right away. Some fortunate expats may even be offered an international health insurance policy as one of their job perks.
Medical Services in Rome
If you need emergency medical care during your time as an expat in Rome, 118 (ambulance service) is the number to call. For regular check-up exams and minor ailments, though, you must consult your GP first.
The International Medical Center always has an English-speaking doctor on duty (06 488 2371 for local calls). Unless you have private health insurance, though, you have to pay their fees yourself.
If your Italian isn’t up to scratch, ask your embassy or consulate in Rome for a list of doctors that speak your mother tongue. There are quite a few English and German-speaking doctors around, while physicians fluent in other foreign languages are somewhat rare.
The Salvator Mundi International Hospital in Rome has both English-speaking staff and an excellent reputation, but with 75 beds only, their capacity is limited, and they only accept patients with private health insurance plans.
Transportation in Rome
How to Get an Italian Driving License
The idea of driving in Italy can be a daunting one. Although the Italians seem to have gained a reputation for slightly erratic and dangerous driving, Rome’s roads are not as bad as you may think. If you decide you want to make your daily commute by car, then you will need a valid license.
long as your old driving license was issued in another EU/EEA member state and is still valid, you are in luck. You can use your current license until it expires. If you are still living in Italy at the point of expiry, then you will need to apply for an Italian license. All EU licenses must be renewed every five to ten years, depending on your age. Read our guide to Driving in Italy for more information on driving regulations.
Driving Permits for Non-EU Nationals
A number of other countries have reciprocal agreements with Italy. This means that you can swap your driver’s license from abroad for an Italian permit within one year of arrival. This agreement applies to nationals of the following countries:
- Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Croatia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Japan, Lebanon
- Macedonia, Morocco, Moldova, Monaco, the Philippines
- Serbia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay
Drivers from other countries — with the exception of diplomatic staff from Canada, Chile, the US, and Zambia — have to obtain an Italian driving license, by taking both a written theory test and a practical driving exam. You must be at least 18 years old to do this.
To find out more, get in touch with the Ufficio della Motorizzazione (transport office) or one of the several driving schools in Rome that cater to foreign customers.
Public Transportation in Rome: Metro and Tram
Some expats prefer to avoid the chaos of Rome’s crowded urban highways, narrow and crooked streets, and instead rely on the city’s large public transport network.
The quickest way of getting around the city is the Metropolitana di Roma, short: the Metro.
Rome’s metro system now consists of three lines — A, B, and C (which opened in 2014). There are also three urban railway lines (Ferrovie Urbane) — Roma Lido, Roma Giardinetti, and Roma Nord — which connect the suburbs to the city center. There is also the option of taking the tram, which has six lines across the city. The metro and tram are a good, and faster, alternative to driving, as they are not affected by the traffic jams that regularly affect the city. Rome’s public transportation, run by ATAC, is fully integrated, meaning that you can travel on the various forms of transportation with a single ticket.
Public Transportation in Rome: Bus and Taxi
Another option is to take the bus. Rome has plenty of bus lines connecting much of the city, however, they rarely stick to a regular timetable. More and more bus stops have screens showing when the next bus is due to arrive, but this can be quite unreliable. Only a linea estatta follows a fixed timetable. The majority of buses are autobus urbano. There are also linea espresso (express lines), which connect the city with the surrounding areas, and make fewer stops. The bus notturno (night bus) — clearly marked with a little owl symbol — operates between midnight and 6:00 am, when all other public transportation is closed.
There is also the option to take a taxi. Taxi drivers in Rome don’t have the best reputation, and are known for overcharging people. To minimize the risk of being ripped off, make sure you only take licensed cabs. These are easy to spot — the cars are generally white or yellow, with a TAXI roof sign, and they often have a SPQR sign on one of their doors. In contrast to other cities, it is uncommon to hail a cab in the street. Instead, you generally need to wait at a designated taxi rank or book in advance. In Rome, it is considered polite to tip the driver up to 10% of the fare.
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Education in Rome
The Italian School System: From Kindergarten to Lower Secondary
Expat families in Rome will be particularly interested in the schools available for their children. In Italy, it’s customary to send your kids to scuola dell’infanzia (kindergarten) for up to three years, but this is not compulsory.
Pre-school is followed by five years of scuola primaria (primary education). In primary school, Italian children are taught reading, writing, math, English, arts, and music, as well as basic history, geography, natural sciences, and social studies.
The same curriculum as in primary education applies to scuola secondaria di primo grado (lower secondary school), except for the addition of a second foreign language. After three years, the students take the licenzia media exam for upper secondary school.
Upper Secondary Education in Italy
Upper secondary education is for students aged 14–19. There are three types of upper secondary education, depending on each student’s personal interests and academic achievements. The istituto tecnico or istituto professionale offer practical subjects with a commercial or technical focus as vocational training, and students attend for three to five years.
The lice_o, on the other hand, is the fast track to a university education. There are various kinds of high school, of an artistic or academic nature. Students can specialize in music, the fine arts, or even dance, as well as the classics, natural sciences, humanities, or modern languages. The final exam (_esame di maturità), in combination with an entrance test, paves the way to higher education.
International Schools in Rome
While the Italian school system has a good reputation, and is free of charge, expat parents often worry about the language barrier. If your child is still quite young, then immersion in an Italian education can be a valuable opportunity to become fluent in the local language.
However, if you are not planning on staying in Italy for the duration of your children’s education, then it may be a better idea to send your child to one of the many international schools in Rome. Many of them have their own nursery and kindergarten as well. Remember, international schools are private institutions and charge annual tuition fees.
Make sure to check out the following schools well in advance of your move:
- Ambrit International School
- American Overseas School of Rome
- Castelli International School
- Core International School
- Greenwood Garden (Pre-)School
- Kendale Primary International School
- Marymount International School
- New School
- Rome International School
- Saint Francis International School
- St. George’s British School
- St Stephen’s High School
- Liceo Español Cervantes
- Institut Saint Domingue
- Deutsche Schule Rom
- Scuola Giapponese di Roma
Further Education in Rome
Adult expats living in Rome have plenty of opportunity to broaden their horizons. Rome has four public universities with an estimated student population of over 200,000. In addition to that, there are several English-language universities in the Italian capital.
While the NATO Defense College and the LUISS School of Government cater to the military and the civil service respectively, the American University of Rome and John Cabot University provide more general higher education. Anyone who’d like to brush up their Italian skills should simply get in touch with the Società Dante Alighieri. They provide a number of classes in which you can study the Italian language, history, and culture at any level of linguistic proficiency.
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- Brandon Le Clerk
What I really love about InterNations? Making new business contacts and friends in real life. This is a unique plattform.
- Li Wang
At my first InterNations Rome Get-Together I met more expats then expected. InterNations made is so easy to settle in.