(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 2 in a continuing series of posts about Carla Bastos’ efforts to start a new expat life in Italy. You can jump to Pt. 1 here.)
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the world, it threw a massive monkey wrench into my grand plan to relocate to Italy. I had timed things out perfectly — when to start my visa application, schedule my reconnaissance/house hunting trip, purchase medical insurance. I was deep into my online language lessons, and beginning to scout out referrals for a good attorney to help me jump through the hoops.
I felt certain I could be moved and settled in 18 months—by early 2021.
Of course, what came next was the earsplitting screeching of brakes. I wouldn’t be going anywhere, any time soon. All my plans went out the window.
While Covid made us all forget inconsequential issues, this was a big deal. I had to regroup and somehow try to keep moving forward. Yes, the delay prevented me from checking off most of the remaining boxes on my list. Folks could barely plan getting next week’s groceries, let alone relocating to another continent.
But, there were some positives.
That giant pause button afforded me an opportunity to be more measured and (hopefully) make wiser decisions. Bear in mind, my journey to becoming an expat is a retirement plan. There are many newly minted remote workers exploring living overseas, but my criteria were different.
• I didn’t need regular access to the big city, etc.
• Of course, wifi is critical no matter your goals, and continuing my freelance writing put it high on my list.
• Housing costs, crime rates and accessible health care were important.
• I also wanted a walkable/bikeable location with a train station, as I had no desire to ever purchase another car.
As we’ve said previously, knowing your needs and wants is key.
Never underestimate the value of a recon trip
I hadn’t yet chosen the town I wanted to call home. Although I’d traveled throughout Italy, this was my first time exploring where I could actually live. I’d looked at homes around the Campania region that were affordable and move-in ready. I also loved Tuscany – more expensive but not cost-prohibitive so long as I didn’t want to live in the city center of Firenze. So, there were lots of options.
But there was another consideration.
Never underestimate the importance of those recon trips. It would be insane to move somewhere you’ve never been, or you’ve only been on vacation. Get to know the region and the locals in order to gauge whether it would be a good fit.
As a Black American woman, I’m keenly aware that I may not be warmly welcomed everywhere I go. Some regions simply may not want an influx of newcomers, no matter who you are. (And if you’re still holding onto that proverbial
American superiority complex, please lose it now or you may be in for a rude awakening.)
So, in February of ’21, when Italy and the rest of the world was locked down with no relief in sight, I went ahead and booked the trip I was supposed to make a year earlier. If allowed, I would travel in November. Yes, it was a crapshoot, but everything was refundable and flights were dirt cheap at that time. And the gamble paid off. Even in spite of the Delta variant, Italy is open as of this writing. But I’ll need to make the very most of the trip, so I’m currently knee-deep in preparation.
During the long pandemic delay, I made another decision. To save time, and maybe make fewer recon trips, I would rent first rather than buy. With a comfortable rental as a base, I would have the luxury of time to explore and find the village that would be my forever home.
And rents were soooo cheap! (After thinking this through, it was kind of a no-brainer and probably should have been the plan from the beginning.)
Enter Santa Fiora.
While many Italians towns were trying to unload decaying homes for one euro in hopes of attracting expat buyers to invest in renovation, towns like Santa Fiora had a different approach. They would subsidize the rent of a remote worker for up to six months, in hopes that that renter would then stay, and maybe buy.
They had read my mind.
Beyond intrigued, I read everything I could find about Santa Fiora’s history and this new initiative. Their very comprehensive website answered my initial questions. When I learned the initiative might be open to a retiree with social security and a freelance income, I realized this was a way to salvage lost time and move forward sooner rather than later. I was even able to download an application and accompanying documents.
So here I sit, biting my nails and waiting to see if my application is approved—and looking forward to visiting Santa Fiora in a few short weeks.
Next up: My new home?
About the author:
Carla Bastos is a freelance writer and former journalist and newspaper editor. Having lived in developing countries and covered wars and natural disasters, she has written extensively on a variety of related topics.
Her many years of world travels and humanitarian work continue to inform her writing, which can be found at carla-bastos.com.