Italy’s long standing reputation for intricate bureaucracy is slowly fading. In fact, the Belpaese recently raced halfway up the “Ease of Starting a Business Scale” and it now ranks 46th as opposed to 90th. What living in Italy can offer you, of course, is quality of life and a completely new take on work/life balance, as one of our interviewees explained. On a less romantic, more practical note, Italy can also offer you easy access to most European markets and the Mediterranean area, making it an ideal location for import-export businesses. Registering as a new company in Italy is easier than you might think, but it does require you to jump through a few legal hoops. Several types of companies are available in the Italian system and a professional consultancy might be necessary to determine the one that best fits your needs, your goals and, most importantly, your startup capital. Before you embark on your Italian adventure, we’d like to offer you a few basic tips.
Learn the language
No, seriously. You don’t have to be fluent, you don’t even have to be able to speak and you can (and probably should) have a professional translator help you through the official acts and the drafting of your bylaws. And yet you should still make the effort of mastering the basics, for a number of reasons. First of all, you will feel much more in control if you don’t have to rely on a translation in order to understand the legal proceedings you are taking part in. You will be able to raise doubts and questions at the appropriate time and you will instantly know if and when all parties involved are not on the same page. Secondly, your business partners will appreciate your commitment, which will increase the overall level of ease and trust around you and your company. It might even be a lighter endeavour than you think. If you are a native english speaker, for instance, you might have a nice head-start on Italian vocabulary. Last but not least: if you are starting a business in Italy, it is reasonable to assume that you are committed to spending some time in the Country. Learning the language will make your time here much more enjoyable and your relationships with the locals much easier to manage.
Pace yourself to the Italian rhythm
Because things are unlikely to go the other way round. This attitude is highly advisable when you consider starting a business abroad, regardless of the country. This is not about plugging The Italian Way as necessarily better or worse than any other way, this is about fitting in. Being the odd one out is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you are relying on local partners for your business to grow, being aware of the local professional customs will serve you better than ignoring them. There will be some wiggle room for you to make your mark and bring about change, if you feel that change is necessary, but you shouldn’t cling onto your old habits too hard. We are renowned for taking it easy (which is truer in some regions than others), but keeping a humane pace does not necessarily mean forfeiting efficiency. You don’t have to trade quality of life for business growth: you can and should have both.
Starting a business in Italy: the bureaucracy
The bureaucratic process has been made remarkably simpler and smoother in recent years, but that doesn’t mean you can do it on your own. And not because we don’t believe you would be capable or competent enough, but because a notary is a legal requirement when registering a new business, be it a restaurant, a shop or a pr company. There are several legal forms available, but the most common is the Limited Liability Company (Srl). This legal form has existed for a long time, but it took Italy slightly longer than other European countries to lower the minimum paid-in capital requirement to 1€. This does not mean that your administrative expenses will be covered by that one nominal amount: you will still need to pay registration tax and the official act of drafting and executing the company’s bylaws will require the presence of a public notary, but you won’t be needing a real startup capital to get going. Government tax is reasonably low for this type of company, but you will need to register company incorporation, receive your tax identification number, VAT number, and register with Social Security Administration (INPS) and Accident Insurance Office (INAIL). These requirements are common to other legal forms as well and navigating them is what most entrepreneurs find frustrating. That’s why your best ally in the quest to entrepreneurship in Italy is and always will be your tax lawyer or accountant.
It is no coincidence that many of the best known luxury brands in the world originated in Italy and blossomed into multinational companies. Managing your venture from Italy will allow you to benefit from policies who favour foreign investors, while keeping and broadening your international business network. Your embassy should, of course, be your first point of contact, but once you find your feet the best course of action is to jump right in with the locals, avoiding the common mistake of limiting your contacts to other international companies in your area. Remember: besides style, friendliness and superhuman cooking skills, there’s another quality for which we are renowned: hospitality.