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Expat Life in Northern Italy

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Picture this: you’re sitting at a café in a cobblestone square, dappled with morning sunlight. A tanned, impossibly-handsome waiter brings you a fresh cappuccino, which you sip contentedly as you listen to the comforting hum of Vespas zipping through the city streets, melodic conversation wrapping around you like a scarf. You’re considering which topping you’ll have on your pizza for dinner that evening, having already memorised the menu of your favourite local pizzeria. This is your life as an expat in Italy.

Okay, so I may have romanticised it just a little.

When I first fell deeply in love with Italy at the tender age of 17, I barely knew the language, traditions, or customs. I had no idea how to properly cook pasta (which is considered a crime here), and truly believed that Italians survived on a well-balanced diet of pizza and gelato. All I knew for sure was that, one day, I wanted to live there.

This exact image was the life I dreamed of as I peered out of my bedroom window at the dreary British sky. While Italian life certainly can often live up to these movie-set levels of glamour, life as an expat here is not all smooth sailing. But what Italy may lack in organisational skills, it easily makes up for in sheer natural beauty and rich, unique culture.
Italian aesthetic gelato cart parked in a plaza in Treviso, northern Italy on a sunny day
This view definitely seems out of a movie

After a year spent working as an English teacher in the little-known region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, I knew that I would one day call this north-easternmost corner of Italy home. With its imposingly-beautiful mountain range, its vast, sprawling vineyards, and its unusual coastline, this part of Italy is also one of the most diverse and forward-thinking in the country. a

I chose to plant my roots in the compact city of Treviso, in the Veneto region, celebrated for its elegant canals and delicious prosecco. While I eventually chose Treviso as my home abroad, Turin, a northern Italian city at the foothills of the Alps, also has my heart.

While both Treviso and Turin are both quaint and smaller, if you're interested in living in a bigger city, don't overlook Florence. It has all the charm of a small town but with loads more in terms of entertainment, shopping, and restaurants.

Read on to uncover the reality of my life as an expat in my personal gem of northern Italy- Treviso!

Let’s talk about the best bits of living in Treviso

Beautiful corner in Treviso, Northern Italy with pastel colored houses and canals running underneath
Treviso definitely has that typical Italian aesthetic that I can't get enough of

It would be impossible to talk about expat life in Italy without mentioning the endless positive aspects.

I could write a novel about Italian food, and about how each region clings so fervently to their culinary traditions, as if they were sacred. Pizza, pasta, and gelato don’t even scratch the surface of Italy’s deep-rooted food culture, which relies on incredibly fresh ingredients and generations of expertise.

For such a varied country in terms of its culture and geography, Italy’s weather is largely predictable, with the sun making an appearance even on the coldest of winter days – for a Brit like myself, this is enough to bring tears of joy to my eyes. 

But, to me, the best thing about life in Italy is its people. Incredibly family-oriented by nature, it won’t take you long to be quickly ‘adopted’ by the people that you meet upon arrival in Italy.

There is no problem too big, or favour too troublesome; they can always find time to help you, and will often go to quite extreme measures to make sure that you feel at home. Although somewhat stereotypical, the warmth and friendliness of Italian culture is one of the characteristics that, for me, renders this country so special.

So, how do I find an apartment in Italy?

British expat living abroad in northern Italy sitting at an outdoor cafe
Happily enjoying the cafe lifestyle

Finding an apartment or a room in northern Italy is not as difficult as it may appear.

Whilst it will help you to have something called a ‘codice fiscale’ (which we’ll get to later), it is definitely not impossible to find an apartment before you’ve even arrived. If you already have all your paperwork sorted – which will include a form of ID, proof of income in Italy, and a ‘codice fiscale’ – and you’re planning on living in Italy long-term, then search for lettings agencies in the city or town you’d like to move to.

Whilst this can sometimes be a more expensive option due to agency fees, it often makes it easier further down the line for you to get all the rest of your paperwork (yes, there will definitely be more paperwork) sorted.

If you’re looking for a short-term solution, or maybe have just arrived in Italy, then there are a number of sites and apps that can help you find the perfect home. Subito.it is a great website for buying, selling, and renting everything from old furniture to entire houses, and you can often find announcements for rooms or apartments to rent or sub-let. Idealista.it and Casa.it work similarly.

Another top tip for any expat – not limited solely to Italy – is to make good use of Facebook groups to help you find somewhere to live.

Chances are, the town or city you’re moving to will have a Facebook page dedicated to renting rooms and apartments. Keep an eye on the posts uploaded into that group, and you may find your perfect home! If all else fails, Airbnb also offer month-by-month deals on rooms and apartments.

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What about the language barrier in Italy?

Dome roofs with a blue sky in Treviso, Italy
Treviso, Italy is full of beautiful architecture

Although they don’t like to admit it, most Italians – especially in the north – understand and speak a good level of English.

But, as with any destination you travel to, it pays to at least learn the basics of the local language. Not only will this make your day-to-day life run more smoothly, but it will also allow you to forge deeper and more meaningful relationships with others. 

Language learning website Duolingo is a great place to start, and will help you get to grips with greetings, sayings, and other commonly-used Italian phrases. Once your spoken language reaches a pretty good level, try reading books or watching films in Italian; I’d recommend a book such as Io Non Ho Paura by Niccolò Ammaniti, or a series like Baby, which can be found on Netflix.

Another great way to improve your language skills – and to meet new people in your local community – is to join a language tandem group, or to find someone Italian who wants to improve their English, or to learn your language. Meet up for coffee once a week and spend half the time speaking each language. This way, you’ll get to discover some of the city’s best bars and coffee houses, too!

How do I get around northern Italy?

A smiling blond woman in Venice posing on a bridge over the small canals
A weekend trip to Venice isn't difficult to do

In northern Italy, public transport is frequent, well-organised, and well-connected – although many Italians would disagree! Bus and coach services can be found even in the smallest of towns, taking passengers into the larger cities easily and cheaply.

The entire country is also easily accessible by train, with inter-regional routes running through all major destinations.

While it's easy to get around the entire country, and even to other countries in Europe, by choosing to live in Northern Italy like I have, you'll have quick access to so many incredible destinations. Imagine being able to spend a quick weekend in Venice, Milan, or Lake Como.

Train tickets can be purchased either online or at the station – but remember to validate your ticket using one of the little machines on the platform.

North-eastern Italy is also accessible by air travel. The cities of Trieste, Treviso, and Venice all house international airports, whilst longer-haul flights tend to leave from Milan. 

What about Italian bureaucracy?

The canal streets in Treviso Italy with beautiful houses and patios on either side
A little bureaucratic hassle is worth it to live here

Despite the infinite list of things I adore about Italian culture, its bureaucracy is decidedly not one of them. Life here sometimes seems to pass in a flurry of forms and certificates and paperwork – but hang tight, because it’s so worth the hassle.

I decided to make my own life more difficult by moving to Italy during the Brexit transition. What exactly did this mean? In short, no one knew – which only made everything more complicated.

In Italy, the required paperwork differs depending on a number of factors, including your nationality. Because nobody – myself included – was sure whether or not I was European anymore, the process was pretty complex. But whether you’re European or not, there are a few things that you’ll definitely need if you want to get anything done in Italy (listed in the order you’ll need them):

  • Codice Fiscale: This is an identification number which you’ll need to do pretty much anything, from signing an apartment contract to opening a bank account.
  • Italian phone number: A lot of banks won’t let you open an account without an Italian phone number. Hilariously, some phone companies won’t let you buy a SIM without an Italian bank account – but that’s another story. I’d recommend visiting one of the Wind-Tre stores.
  • Italian bank account: This should be one of the first things you do when arriving in Italy; however, you’ll initially need to open a non-resident’s account. Once you’ve confirmed your residency, you can change this over, generally without too much fuss. But don’t hold me to that.
  • Residency, or a ‘permesso di soggiorno: Basically, something that proves you live in Italy. Whilst permanent residency is, of course, permanent, a ‘permesso di soggiorno’ allows you to legally live in Italy on a temporary basis. If you already have a work contract, this is a fairly simple process – if you’re a freelancer, however, it’s an entirely different story. The idea of remote working hasn’t fully made its way over to this part of Europe just yet (some of my closest friends here still have no idea what I do), so trying to prove that you actually have a job can be a little tiresome. Which is why, if you’re a freelancer looking to live in Italy long-term, you need to open a:
  • Partita IVA: A Partita IVA renders you an Italian taxpayer. Whilst it is possible to open and manage a P.IVA account yourself, it’s much more common – and less stressful – to hire a specialised accountant for an annual fee.
  • Doctor’s surgery: Signing up to a doctor in Italy will require a certificate of your residency or your ‘permesso di soggiorno’, a ‘codice fiscale’, and your Partita IVA or work contract. Once you have all those things, you’re good to go! Just head to the Anagrafe Sanitaria and they will sign you up to the Italian medical system.
  • Carta d’identità: This isn’t a must, so it can be one of the last things you do in your endless journey to becoming a fully-fledged Italian resident. Legally, you must have some form of ID on you at all times in Italy, although a driver’s license or passport is fine, too. To get your ‘carta d’identità’, book an appointment at your town hall’s Anagrafe. 

If you’ve always dreamed of balmy summer evenings by the coast, nursing an Aperol Spritz, or if you long to wake up to the melodious chatter of the local Saturday morning market, then northern Italy is the place for you.

Whilst the life of an expat here definitely comes with its challenges, any stress seems to lift from your shoulders at the sight of the gold-bathed prosecco hills at sunset, or the soft sound of the Adriatic’s lapping waves.

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