Living in Italy as an American: What To Expect?

Many Americans would like to try living in Italy’s creative city, especially those with a penchant for art and romance. Who wouldn’t want to witness the structure of the Colosseum or observe the intricate details of Michaelangelo’s Statue of David? Who would miss the chance to eat authentic Italian pasta and pizza every day?

Living in Italy as an American is a huge change. You should expect that there will be differences in culture, lifestyle, weather, infrastructure, food, processes, language, and more. You might experience a culture shock at first, and learning Italian is a must.

Moving abroad will shift your life. But don’t be afraid. These changes are normal, and who knows? Maybe they are for the better! If you want to plan ahead and if living in Italy as an American is a right choice, then you’ve landed in a great place! Below, we will enumerate and discuss what you should expect when relocating from the US to Italy.

Is it hard for an American to move to Italy?

As with any country, Americans have the right to move to Italy, but there are a few caveats to be aware of. For example, you must obtain a residence permit to live in Italy long-term.

It is possible to get an Italian passport if your parents or grandparents were born in Italy and immigrated to the United States, allowing you to live in Italy without obtaining a visa or permanent residency.

As part of Europe’s Schengen Zone, Italy allows seamless travel between member countries, so if you have a French or German passport, you can also live there without any hassles.

On the other hand, non-EU passport holders who plan to spend more than 90 days in Italy must apply for a visa and a residence permit. However, it is well known that Italy is not easy to obtain visas for Americans. And getting a visa for them to move to Italy will take a lot of effort and paperwork.

But don’t worry! With dedication and the right support and information, you can totally get one in no time! Here are some visa routes that you may try:

1. The short-term Schengen Visa

US and Canadian citizens are among those who don’t need a visa to enter Italy. However, if you come from other non-EU/EEA countries, you most likely will need a Schengen visa.

The Schengen visa is required for citizens of 107 other countries, and you may see the list here. With this visa, every 180 days, you’ll get 90 days to live in 26 European countries that are part of the Schengen area.

If you don’t want to apply for a residence permit in Italy, you can live outside Italy for 90 days every 180 days to regain your Schengen limit. The place you travel to must be outside the Schengen zone.

Long-term Italian visas for Italy

Some of the most accessible Italian visas for US citizens fall into business and self-employment categories, namely:

  • Self-employment visa
  • Italian Startup Visa
  • Startup Hub Program – launched in 2012
  • Italian Investor Program – launched in 2018

1. Self-Employment Visa (Lavoro Autonomo)

There are several self-employment visas, each of which is suitable to the particular situation:

  1. Startup Visa – that’s a tricky one and will be issued if you plan to open an innovative company in Italy or want to join an existing Italian company as a top manager.
  2. Freelancer Visa – hence the name – this visa is intended for independent freelancers.
  3. Entrepreneur Visa – has higher requirements – you must invest at least €500,000.

Visa for self-employed and freelancers is one of the simplest ways to relocate to Italy. However, you will need to obtain a related work permit in order to be self-employed in the country.

For example, if you want to apply for a visa as a freelancer, you can not use a company as a sponsor. Freelancers must prove that they have Italian customers.

Besides that, Italy limits the number of self-employment visas issued every year. You can’t apply for it anytime, but only during a specific time window.

2. Startup Visa

Italian Startup Visa is a type of self-employment visa created by the state to attract foreign business owners and founders. To qualify, you must possess at least €50,000 in a bank account. This money must be used to establish and maintain an innovative startup in Italy.

The key word is innovative – your future company, but bring something new into the country.

The visa will be issued for one year, with a possible renewal later. After one year, you can renew it for another 2 years, twice. Therefore, the maximum validity of a Startup Visa is five years. Yet, after five years, you can apply for a permanent residence permit allowing stay for an undefined period.

3. Visa for investors

If you have some money on your side, you can become an investor and get an Italian visa that way. Entrepreneurs can apply for a visa for foreign businessmen as part of the Investor program if they intend to invest at least €500,000 as part of an investment plan of interest to the Italian economy.

Applicants must submit a business plan that includes a minimum investment of €500,000. Furthermore, the applicant must also submit a certification issued by the Chamber of Commerce in the country where the business will be established.

Other documents may be required by the consulate, such as proof of additional funds, a tax return, proof of accommodation in Italy, health insurance, etc.

When an application is filed, it could take up to 120 days for the consulate to approve/reject the visa. After receiving the visa, the applicant can travel to Italy, where the residence permit application must be filed within eight days.

Therefore, a visa through the Investor program is the most expensive way of gaining residency in Italy.

4. Elective Residency Italy Visa (Residenza Elettiva)

An Italian elective residency visa is a long-stay visa, also known as a Retirement visa allows you to stay in Italy for longer than 90 days. You will need to provide for yourself since you can not take any jobs in Italy. Moreover, applicants need to show proof of funds.

Your funds should come from savings, investments, or pensions. Hence, this visa is perfect for retirees who have a guaranteed income and can provide for themselves in Italy.

Applicants must have a minimal passive income of €31,000/year. For a couple, the amount rises to €38,000. Fortunately, there is no age limit on this visa, you can apply even if you aren’t a retiree.

However, you should have some passive income rolling in on a regular basis. It can be funds from rental units, pensions, 401ks, and other investments.

What’s it like living in Italy as an American?

Living in Italy as an American can be different for anyone depending on the choice they make. Generally, living in Italy is associated with:

Eating mostly Italian food

The range of food choices is pretty slim in Italy. In every city, Italian food scene dominates, and it’s hard to find another cuisine. Therefore, you will have to either cook yourself or learn to enjoy Italian dishes. And believe us, it is worth it!

Traveling around

While living in Italy, you can not miss out on traveling to different Italian and non-Italian cities. There is so much to see in this part of the world! Make sure you have enough free time to explore new places every weekend.

Enjoying Mediterranean weather

A large part of the Italian climate is Mediterranean. If you love to soak in the sun – this is a place to be.

Experiencing a culture shock

Moving to Europe means changing the entire life you used to live in the US. Moving to Italy is a different ball game. The Italian culture is extremely different from the American. For example, personal space boundaries are almost nonexistent for Italians.

People have different habits, way of communication, social norms, and customs. Besides that, Italy is a different world, somewhat chaotic, unorganized, and loud.

Living with friendly people

You will barely meet more friendly and welcoming people than Italians. They are fantastic hosts and will welcome you any time of the day. Despite the language barrier, they will communicate with you through food, emotions, and smiles.

Is Italy a good place for an American to live?

According to statistics, 20% of all expats living in Italy are from the US. They also take up the largest proportion of expats by nationality.

Italy was one of the favorite countries among Americans for a long time. Affordable cost of living, culture, heritage, food, nature, and travel opportunities – all these reasons are why people move to Italy from the US.

Consequently, Italy is a fantastic place to live as an American, but like anywhere else, there are some pros and cons. The biggest cons are, by far, the complex process of getting a long-term visa and the low proficiency in English among locals.

Pros and Cons of living in Italy as an American

For many people, living in Italy is a dream come true. There are many reasons why Italy is so appealing, such as its stunning scenery, fabulous weather, and fantastic food. 

Nevertheless, before you book your flight, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of living in Italy. This will help you decide if moving to Italy is the right decision for you. So without further ado, let’s examine a few key aspects to consider when making such a life-changing decision!

Pros of Living in Italy

1. The La Dolce Vita lifestyle

There are many aspects of the Italian lifestyle that everyone will enjoy. Besides its amazing food, Italy is a great place to live for many reasons. Taking part in leisure activities is a serious matter for Italians. Whether it’s sports or opera, they know how to have fun and enjoy themselves intellectually at the same time.

Moreover, by taking a trip outside of the cities, you will find some of the most enchanting landscapes in the world. There are endless rolling hillsides, vineyards extending for miles, and azure seaside towns to explore.

2. Affordable but high-quality healthcare

The Italian government offers a national health insurance program, like many other European nations. According to the World Health Organization, its healthcare system ranks among the top 10. To use healthcare for free, you must contribute to the insurance fund.

Most medical expenses are covered, so there are no out-of-pocket expenses unless you don’t have insurance. Despite sometimes overcrowding and long wait times at public hospitals, Italian healthcare is efficient and affordable.

Besides that, the cost of living in Italy is significantly lower than what you will pay in the US. In fact, living in Italy costs about 30% less than in a major city in the US. 

3. Incredible food

There is a reason why Italian cuisine is so famous around the world. Each region of Italy has its own unique dish to offer, and there are dozens of options to choose from. Italian food has something for everyone, from the classic spaghetti and meatballs to the more obscure but equally delicious rabbit ragu.

Italy treats food like religion and eats like the process is a ritual as well. The Italians are known for eating both lunch and dinner with their families. Therefore, lunch breaks typically last two to three hours, and your colleagues will arrive home just in time for dinner.

4. Exciting Nightlife

Many Italians love to stay out until the wee hours of the morning. Aside from the thriving club and dining scenes that are common in Italy’s cities, the country is also home to a truly charming custom known as the Passagiata, or the stroll, which is a very lovely tradition. 

This is the time of the year when people dress up and walk up and down the main drag on a warm summer day, eating gelato on their way, just to see and to be seen by as many people as possible.

After you have completed your passagiata, you can grab an espresso or a drink and watch how everyone else is out for a stroll, chatting with friends and family all along the way.

5. It’s a historical goldmine

Italy has so many historical sites to see that it’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to deciding where to visit! The city of Rome, which is full of ancient ruins, might be a good place to start your search. 

And then there is Florence, which is known for its Renaissance architecture. Naples and Venice are two of the most famous cities in the world when it comes to classical art, so you can’t miss them! 

Those are just a few of the historical wonders that you can find in Italy – there are many more. Hence, if you are a fan of weekend getaways, then Italy is the perfect place for you to spend your holiday.

Cons of Living in Italy

1. Language barrier

The first problem an American will face in Italy is that people rarely speak English here. Therefore, you will need to learn Italian to live life without constant limitations.

Yes, residents in some cities might be pretty fluent in English, but it pretty much ends in Rome, Venice, and Milan. Besides, people who speak English mostly work in tourism, while other locals are less proficient. Thus, brush up on some Italian before you make a move.

2. Fluctuating weather

Due to the fact that Italy is a rather large country that stretches from the north to the south, different parts of the country have very different climates. During the winter months, the mountainous north of the country experiences cold, wet weather. 

Whereas the Mediterranean south is much milder in the winter months but can get very hot and dry during the summer. It is likely that you won’t have consistent weather during the entire year, no matter where you live in Italy.

Besides, it’s pretty difficult to choose the climate that suits you in all times of the year. Nonetheless, Italy has something for everyone, whether you want to live on a hot seaside down south, in cool mountains up north, or in the average middle!

3. Dangerous drivers

Driving in Italy is dangerous, so drive carefully and be aware of the dangers.

Due to the extreme traffic congestion and aggressive driving style in Italy, driving can be dangerous. Italy’s top five causes of accidents include driving too fast, not obeying red lights or other road signs, driving under the influence of alcohol, driving tired, and driving without a license.

Also, it’s important to note that Italian drivers aren’t used to sharing the road with cyclists and pedestrians. It is often the case that this results in dangerous situations. 

It is essential that you exercise extreme caution when crossing streets as a pedestrian. In contrast, if you are a cyclist, you should also take all the necessary precautions to avoid being involved in an accident, such as wearing the right protective gear when cycling to avoid getting into one.

4. Bureaucratic public services

The Italian public services are plagued by a large amount of bureaucracy. Of all European countries, Italy has some of the most extensive paperwork required by the government. You will first face it when preparing documents for your Italian visa.

There is no better example of this than Italy’s infamous “ius sibillinum” or “Sibylline law”, which was a code of laws made up almost entirely of extremely obscure decrees. 

According to the legend, one can only be able to interpret the code if they are guided by divine guidance because the code can’t be deciphered without Apollo’s oracle intervening.

In a similar way, bureaucracy is still a problem in Italy today. It can lead to many difficulties when doing business or following through with certain legal procedures that are related to doing business.

There is a great deal of ambiguity in the formal requirements, and they frequently change. It is advisable to triple-check all the requirements before proceeding with a legal matter in order to avoid this issue in the future.

While this may seem like an easy task, it can often be challenging due to the fact that it isn’t always clear what is expected or where to find the necessary information. Additionally, it is often the case that government offices are unhelpful and slow to respond to inquiries made by citizens.

Anna

Anna is an experienced expat and writer. She has been living abroad for over 6 years.

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