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Dreaming of moving to Italy, Americans? Here’s a reality check from an expat who did it

Photo of Florence by Cheryl Boyd for Dispatches

(Editor’s note: This post about moving to Italy is third in a series looking at the best countries in Europe for American expats. You can read the introductory post here.)

Getting outta Dodge seems to be all the rage these days, with a current media frenzy enticing aspiring American expats to take the plunge. But all that enthusiasm should include a collective reality check.

Before my move to Italy earlier this year, I employed the wisdom of experienced expats at every step to avoid any surprises, and I’m so glad I did!

Italy has the fourth-largest economy in Europe

Italy’s economy

One reason for the great American exodus is the economy. However, other countries’ economies are also suffering, including Italy’s. Inflation here is currently through the roof, but the region you choose to live in may make all the difference. As a retiree, I had lots of options in deciding where I wanted to live. I didn’t want to renovate an abandoned 1-euro home in some desolate village, but I still wanted to live in a quiet region without the hustle and bustle of the city.

The search took time, but I eventually found a happy medium in my apartment in Tuscany, with an affordable rent, my coveted tranquility and convenient train access to the center of Florence.

(Remote workers may have such options; those involved in startups or other ventures might not.)

Housing

Rents are still dirt cheap in many villages, but more expensive in commerce centers. Homes are relatively affordable but, like most transactions here, the bureaucratic maze of mortgages for expats can be daunting. (Red tape in Italy is absolutely mind-numbing!) And, because the war in Ukraine has severely affected fuel and grain prices, the cost of living in general is not as much of a draw as it once was.

As for long-term visas, Italy’s Digital Nomad Visa may finally be available this fall. Other visas include the Elective Residence Visa for retirees which, as previously discussed in this space, is no easy feat to obtain. But, with careful preparation, it’s doable.

Politics

Another reason many are leaving the U.S. is the abomination that is American politics. While current Italian politics may not be as brutal as in the States, at this writing uncertainty rules the day. With Prime Minister Draghi’s resignation and an election scheduled for September, ultra-conservative, anti-immigrant factions are waiting in the wings.

Notwithstanding all of these issues, the slow-paced, relaxed vibe that I love here in Tuscany doesn’t seem to change. Guns and violent crime are a rarity, lending to an environment that feels safe and peaceful.

Of course, one of the most compelling incentives to the expat life is universal health care, and yes, it is all it’s cracked up to be. Italy boasts one of the EU’s best health care systems. Although I thankfully haven’t had to use it, other expats have given glowing reports. (Be aware though, that expats must purchase medical insurance before arriving for a long-term stay.)

When it comes to assimilating, I recommend extended reconnaissance trips beforehand in order to know what will be a good fit. You can’t know what you’re getting into based on a one- week vacation! Yes, Tuscany is an idyllic place for lovers of great art and food and wine. But no matter how much you love a place, don’t allow revisionist or idealist thinking to convince you there won’t be antipathy, racism, or many other ugly human characteristics.

There will.

And certain regions just may not want an influx of newcomers, no matter who you are. In fairness, though, I’ve experienced far less of the ugliness here in Italia than I did in my own country.

In virtually all of the 40-plus countries I’ve visited, I’ve found one common rule of thumb. If you approach a new country with respect, anticipation and curiosity – rather than presumptuousness and entitlement – then you’ll likely reap what you’ve sown. While I find most Italians to be warm and hospitable, I also take my responsibility seriously. I put in the work to learn the language and the customs, and locals appreciate that.

As I’ve said in my new book, “Getting Out,” my goal is never to discourage aspiring expats, but to provide an unfiltered look at what to expect. My move to Italy, at least in these first few months, has been everything I hoped for. But without extensive research and realistic expectations, that may not have been the case.

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You can read more of Carla’s posts here. You can order her book here on Amazon, or on her website here.

Read more tips here for Americans considering moving to Europe.

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Carla Bastos is an expat writer living in Italy.

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