Expat Essentials

Want to live in Italy? Small-town Umbria is an affordable, beautiful option

(Editor’s note: This post on the cost of living in Umbra was first posted on Nancy Goes to Italy. It’s reposted here with the permission of the author.)

One thing I have not addressed in my blog, Nancy Goes to Italy, is the cost of living here in Umbria.

Recently I read a blog talking about the cost of living in Milan. Admittedly, it is less expensive to live there – it’s rated the most expensive city in Italy – than in most cities in the United States. But it is still more expensive than many other areas here in Italy.

People who are still working and have no choice but to live in a place like Milan do so. But retirees like us and many people who move here on an Elective Residence Visa from the U.S. do have a choice.

Generally, all the northern parts of Italy are more expensive than the south. And of course, Tuscany, which has always been a magnet for expats, is quite pricey, especially Florence. But central provinces such as Umbria, or Abruzzo or Marche are a real bargain.

They also see fewer tourists and, therefore are more welcoming, in my experience. Umbria is just next to Tuscany and has many of the attributes that attract people there. It has beautiful hill towns, the food is amazing and it has some of the best wines in Italy. It is also known as the “green heart of Italy” because it is in the center, vaguely heart shaped and, being very agricultural, very green. It is also a very traditional area. A little more tranquil and old fashioned.

People have asked me how much things cost here so I will endeavor to list some things.

Housing

Buying a house here is not terribly expensive if you don’t want a palazzo or a fattoria in the country with olive groves etc. But I should also say, like anywhere else, there are a wide variety of houses in a large variety of sizes and price ranges.

For smaller budgets, I know of several habitable apartments in our town in the neighborhood of €80K -100K. This would be one or two bedrooms and bath(s). A fixer-upper would be much less.

Usually, houses here are smaller, so plan on 800-to-1,100 square feet for that price. Also, a real savings is that you won’t owe any property tax on your prima casa, or main residence.

Apartments for rent are very reasonable. An apartment of this size will rent for in the neighborhood of €400-to-500 per month. It usually comes furnished.

Generally, apartments rent with 4-year with options to extend for 4 years at the same rent. Another option is 3 years with a 2-year extension. But you can negotiate. Many times utilities are included in the rent.

Utilities

Speaking of which, utilities can be expensive here. Houses are rated from A-G for energy efficiency, “A” being the best as far as efficiency goes.

Old buildings are notoriously bad with no insulation and thick stone walls which conduct the heat/cold. Our building is about 500 years old and of the latter sort. In winter our bills were running in the neighborhood of 240€ for two months. But this past winter we got a 400€ bill (2 months). It was very cold.

Two months of gas:

Most people, including us, use a pellet stove (stufa) to warm parts of the house.

Most places do not have air conditioning. We have two electric units. We don’t use them much so our bills are small. Water is a lot less here, around 20€ for 2 months. We pay 75€ twice a year for trash removal.

Coffee/drinks/wine

At my local bar/coffee shop, an espresso is 1€. A cappuccino is 1.20€. Compare that to Starbucks! And the coffee is way better. A small beer is 2€. An Aperol spritz (mixed cocktail) is 4€. Many bars have a Happy Hour with snacks gratis if you buy a drink.

To buy a basic bottle of wine can cost as low as 3€. Here they also have sfuzzi which are like wine gas stations! Bring your bottles and fill them for between .80 and 1.30€ a liter! Of course high quality, pedigree wine is more. 12€ or more a bottle.

Eating out

We have several types of restaurants. At a trattoria, which has great local food, you can get three courses for about 15€. At a fancier Ristorante, you will pay more, 5-8€ for an appetizer and 12€ for a steak. Pizza at a pizzeria is about 5-8€ per pie which is more than enough for a person.

Contrary to common thought, most places are fine if you ask for a box to take leftovers home. You can get just a slice for 1.20€. No tipping here. Round up if you want.

Supermarkets and food shopping

This is a comprehensive subject and maybe should be a separate post.

Groceries are less expensive on the whole. Many larger towns have weekly markets (mercato). The produce is good, fresh and affordable. For about 10€, I can get a big shopping bag of gorgeous produce to last a week.

The markets also sell pecorino cheese of all sorts and ages and prosciutto, cured sausages and salami for which Umbria is known. Also we have a fresh mozzarella man, and my fish lady sells from her truck.

My normal shopping habits are, I shop the two weekly markets – Wednesday and Saturday – for produce, cheese, specialty meats, fish. I shop the butchers, bakers, etc for fresh meats and bread. I only go to the supermarkets for staples like sugar, cleaning products, etc.

Approximate prices at a supermarket: you can get a whole chicken for 3€. Hamburger patties for 1.50€ each. Pork chops for 3€ lb. Steaks for $6 lb.

For fancier things you’d pay.
Veal steaks $8 lb
Beef filet steaks $12 lb
Salmon steaks $8 lb
Ground beef $4 lb
Lamb for grilling $3 lb.

Cars

Autos cost about the same here as the US but you must be a resident to buy one. There is an annual car tax as well. Of course I think everyone knows gas and diesel is a LOT more expensive here. Probably 4-5 times the cost in the US.

Internet/satellite TV

Our Skye satellite TV costs 30€ a month. Phones you can top up as you use the service. It is a lot less expensive than in the US. There is a TV tax to pay for public Italian RAI TV rolled into your electric bill. Internet can be rolled into a package with your phone and is not expensive. But it’s not very fast here.

Other travel

• Train travel is reasonable.

One way to Florence from where I live is 12€. We take the Frecciabianca from Folognio to Rome fairly often. It’s reasonable (from 16.90€ on the fast Freccia train) and we are in Rome in an hour and 15. Have lunch, shop, come home before dinner. The fast trains (frecce) that run between bigger cities are more expensive and have several classes of seating.

• Air travel can be very cheap here.

There are a number of discount carriers like Ryanair, Easyjet and Wiz air. Umbria has a small airport but it is limited. We love it because it is so small and easy to use, parking is plentiful and cheap. We use Ryanair out of Perugia for our annual trip to the United Kingdom.

There are several flights a week. We also flew to Bucharest Romania on Wizair once, just because we could! And there are a couple of weekly flights to Sicily. In summer they add more. Frankfurt, Brussels, Sardinia, Bari. If you shop around and are flexible you can fly for as little as 19€ round trip to Catania or Bari. Our friends go just because it is so cheap. But for destinations farther afield we go to Rome, Florence or Bologna.

About the author:

Nancy Hampton is an American, a retired graphic artist and web designer who decided to pursue her dream in retirement to live in Italy. She loves the country, the cuisine, the wine and the inevitable challenges of living there.

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