Lifestyle & Culture

‘Know thyself’: Aspiring American expat finds clarifying, prioritizing are the first steps in her journey to a new life in Italy

(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 1 in a continuing series of posts about Carla Bastos’ efforts to start a new life in Italy. Jump to Pt. 2 here.)

After years of traveling the world doing humanitarian work, covering news stories and just feeding my soul, I began toying with the idea of one day retiring in another country. Just a dalliance at first, but there came a time when events in the United States made me think… hard. With my country descending into chaos, I realized I felt more fear, anxiety and uncertainty about the future than I had when living in a war zone in a developing country.

It had to be Italy

Retirement was approaching, and this time of life was just not supposed to be this stressful. Even if the then-president was not reelected, the band-aid had been ripped off. The ugly mindsets and worldviews, the division and the vitriol had been exposed, and they weren’t going away. I had to at least explore the possibility of a final act somewhere else. Was this doable?

Could it become a reality?

A Dispatches Europe article written as a guide to “getting out while the gettin’s good” confirmed that I wasn’t crazy. And so began the journey.

This is the first in a series of articles documenting my exasperating, confusing, wild ride from the beginning. Whatever your reason, there are plenty of new incentives for anyone thinking about fleeing – I mean moving – to another country from the U.S. Employers are more open to remote workers; more countries are offering digital nomad visas; and, with the U.S. housing market exploding, folks are realizing how much cheaper it may be to live elsewhere.

But where?

Of all the countries I’d visited or lived in, only one called to me. The land of rolling hills and olive groves, the greatest art and the greatest wine, and culture, cuisine and history like none other. As a longtime Renaissance lover who’d spent an inordinate amount of vacation time in Florence, I knew if I was going to do this, then it had to be in Italy.

Know thyself

The decision came just as all those 1-euro-home revitalization schemes were gaining momentum. While experiences varied with these initiatives, I was surprised to learn they were legitimate and many folks were reporting success stories. But renovating a dilapidated, abandoned home in a remote Italian village wasn’t for me. What works for one, may not work for another.

I realized the most important consideration had to be me. Not just what sounded like it would be a blast or a great deal.

Would it work for me?

This was a huge decision, and it was time to get real. I was a 60-something retiree who would write full-time and hopefully be pretty busy. I was also making the transition alone, so renovation might be burdensome. But there were other options, including shockingly affordable, move-in ready homes for sale, or renting.

So, step one in this process is knowing yourself – your needs, your must-haves, what you can live without.

Do you have at least a basic grasp of the language? How well do you know the culture, the lifestyle, the cost of living? What about visas and residency requirements?

Using the Internet for research is fine … as long as you verify

Much of this is basic information that can be found on the Internet, but verification is key. Rules and regs are changing due to COVID-19. Many countries are now requiring vaccination “green passes.” But governments are also becoming more creative with incentives, types of available visas, etc.

(When I began my research, Italy didn’t offer digital nomad visas, but they are about to.)

Speaking of knowing yourself, are you gifted with copious amounts of patience? Good. You’ll need it. This is step two. Prepare yourself for a dizzying bombardment of often conflicting information.

I know, I know – the whole idea was supposed to be escaping stress. But this was a good kind of stress, and there was light at the end of the tunnel. As a hater of bureaucracy – but still a research junkie – I found the process both exhausting and exhilarating. I spent countless hours reading government websites as well as advice blogs written by established expats. (These were invaluable to me.)

After extensive online research and correspondence, talking with the local Italian consulate (where I kinda, sorta got an understanding of the Elective Residence Visa) and navigating the mind-numbing bureaucracy, I’d created a to-do list and timetable, and booked my first reconnaissance trip. Things were moving along swimmingly. Then came 2020.

Ahhh, 2020 ….

What I’ve learned so far: This process is not for the faint of heart. I’ve lived overseas but never in the EU. Every country is different, and the learning curve is steep. But it’s happening. I’m really gettin’ outta Dodge! The excitement continues to build, and I’m convinced the reward will be great.

Next up: Covid delays and choosing my Italian village.

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.

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