People move to Italy for a variety of reasons. For many young professionals it is often to do with the local startup scene, while entrepreneurs and boomers often see it as a way of dropping out of the rat-race and starting a new life – which often goes hand in hand with buying an old country house and turning it into a hotel or a B&B. In the planning stage, the idea of living in Italy looks like nothing but dinners and glasses of white wine, out on the terrace on an endless summer evening. And while you will get to have that dinner on that terrace, drink the wine, taste the food and enjoy the breeze, the whole business of moving abroad is probably going to be more complicated than you expect. There are practical, bureaucratic and human aspects that you should consider before deciding whether or not moving to Italy is the right thing for you. So, what should you expect, when you move to Italy? We made a list, of course…
1. You will get frustrated by the language
Not being able to communicate outside of your English-speaking bubble can be extremely frustrating, particularly because all the bureaucracy has to be navigated in Italian. Knowledge of the English language is very much the exception rather than the rule. Even though you might be satisfied with your multicultural tribe of friends and with the smattering of Italian that allows you to order food and do your shopping, if you are planning to stay in the Country long-term, you should still learn the language, particularly if you want to start your own business in Italy. And yes, Italian is by no means an easy language to master and yes, you will get very frustrated for a few years, but it will pay out eventually. We promise.
2. You will follow the wrong piece of advice
Specifically, you will google your own bureaucratic or legal question and land on a user-managed expat forum or Facebook group, where someone will rush to tell you what their cousin’s cousin did in the same situation and how it all panned out well in the end. It is almost impossible not to fall for anecdote-based advice, despite everyone agreeing that one should not follow it. And you will know you followed the wrong piece of advice when you get a letter refusing your request or informing you that you have to start some complex bureaucratic process from scratch. Try to resist the temptation of googling things for yourself, particularly if you are not trained in that particular field. Get a bilingual professional to help you (in most cases, a lawyer or a tax accountant) and, when in doubt, reach out to your local embassy to make sure you are doing everything by the book.
3. You will find people a lot less friendly than you expected
Statistically, this will happen to American expats more than anyone else and it has nothing to do with the truthfulness or otherwise of the Italian character stereotype. While our concept of personal space might be different from that of the average Scandinavian, most Italians, particularly in the North, are quite reserved and slightly perplexed by the relentless cheerfulness that our friends from the US express (and seem to expect). Cashiers and clerks will not smile toothily at you when you make a purchase, because they would feel ridiculous if they did. You can expect friendliness on social occasions and not a little camaraderie in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean everyone will go out of their way to be your best mate. Instant empathy is pretty much a myth, and being introduced by a friend or a co-worker will help your social and professional life a lot more than indiscriminate mirth.
4. You will be surprised by the opening hours of pretty much everything
Lunch at 4 pm? You might get away with it in central Rome or Milan, but it will be a tourist trap. Shopping or going to the post office at 1 pm? That’s not how you use your lunch-break and that’s definitely not how salespeople and office employees use their lunch break. Most shops, with the possible exception of shopping malls, will be closed for lunch. Most expats take a while to get to grips with different opening hours, particularly if they come from a place in which it is normal to go out for sushi in the middle of the night on Sunday.
5. It will take longer than you expected to start your own business in Italy
This is particularly true for businesses that involve the public, like hotels, B&Bs or restaurants. Despite Italy’s stereotypical reputation for a kind of merry anarchy and disregard of the rules, there are actually pretty tight regulations on what you can and can’t do when it comes to these kinds of businesses and you will need to get more permits than you ever dreamed of.