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An Expat's Guide to Living in Florence, Italy

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Captivating, fascinating, and absolutely stunning, Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and home to amazing food, arts, and culture. And while Verona is the City of Love here in Italy, that's actually what brought me to living in Florence in the first place.

My partner had the incredible opportunity to move to Italy with his job and so I had the very basic decision to either move abroad for love or stay home in Seattle. I chose the former and spoiler, I'm so happy that I did.

While I was terrified and took into account all the big moving abroad considerations before I decided to join him, I now happily call Florence my home abroad.

So, if you're like me an opportunity falls into your life or you've been dreaming of this day for years, here's everything you need to know about living in Florence, Italy.

What Florence Offers

A hazy day in Florence from a lookout point over their main river with 5 bridges in view.

The capital of Italy's Tuscan region, Florence is home to less than 400,000 residents but hosts over 16 million tourists every year, making the city vibrant with life.

Those choosing to relocate here can enjoy the impressive views of Brunelleschi's Duomo and walk through streets crowded with outstanding artwork daily. The day to day reality of living in Florence still wows me. Fresh food, endless things to do, and stunning views at every corner make my life here even sweeter.

Although Florence is a major Italian city, what makes living here even better is the incredible day trips from Florence that will be at your fingertips. Rolling Tuscan hills that we all romanticize are just outside of the city limits and other Central Italian hot spots are a quick drive or train ride away.

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Best Areas to Live in Florence

A glimpse of the famous Cathedral in Florence taken from an alley.

Historically, Florence has been divided up into four quarters: Santa Maria Novella, San Giovanni, Santa Croce, and Santa Spirito. You can think of these like neighborhoods but uniquely enough, they also represent the city's biggest sports teams.

These quarters face off each year in a tournament of Calcio Storico, an ancient game that is a blend of rugby, wrestling, and soccer. While good for creating sports teams, these quarters are a bit large when trying to decide where to live and most locals divide the neighborhoods into the areas surrounding the churches.

The neighborhoods most popular among expats are:

  • Santa Spirito
  • San Frediano
  • San Marco
  • Sant’Ambrogio

By the way, you'll notice the places I recommend you rent to get a feel for each neighborhood are on Vrbo, not Airbnb. Personally, I like Vrbo because you're able to cashback on each stay that you can then use on your next trip. Whereas with Airbnb, there are no rewards for users. But if you still prefer that platform, most rentals are on both Airbnb and Vrbo.

Santo Spirito

An artist’s haven located in Oltrarno, Santo Spirito is a lively blend of students, expats, and artists. The piazza is host to a daily market where you can pick up some local produce during the day. In the evening, the piazza is transformed into a lively mix of young locals and tourists enjoying aperitivo or pizza on the steps of the church.

It is located within the limited traffic zone so don’t plan on being able to drive to your apartment here as the residential car permit is a long bureaucratic process that can take a year.

For those that would rather walk and take public transportation though, Santo Spirito is a great area to live in Florence.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Santo Spirito is a good choice for you.

San Frediano

Located just west of Santo Spirito, this is considered the coolest neighborhood in the world by some. The vibe is very similar to Santo Spirito, with lots of local artisans but this neighborhood is a bit more modern.

A lot of the best cocktail bars in Florence are all located in San Frediano, within a block of each other, making it a lively place in the evenings. Just stroll down Borgo San Frediano and you'll find plenty of spots to wet your whistle.

This neighborhood would be my top choice for those planning to move to Florence.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in San Frediano is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Delightful near Pitti: Moving in the winter? You'll love the fireplace. In the summer? The terrace is great.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Cool San Frediano: This spacious apartment is perfectly located and has all the comforts you could ask for.
  • Luxury Stay: Sweet Home Campuccio: Located in an old building, the apartment is completely renovated and furnished.

San Marco

Home to Accademia, and therefore, Michaelangelo’s David, this neighborhood is crowded with tourists by day but left to the residents at night.

While this neighborhood is lacking in interesting dining and nightlife spots, it is well connected to public transportation so you'll be able to get around really easily if you live here.

The shining gem of this neighborhood is the botanical garden, a welcome oasis of green in the desert of stone and plaster that makes up the center of Florence.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in San Marco is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Apartment/Flat: Stay close to most of Florence's top attractions without breaking the bank.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Panoramic Last-Floor: Just steps from the Duomo, this apartment does offer discounts for longer stays.
  • Luxury Stay: Large Panoramic Apartment: Moving with your family? You'll have plenty of room to spread out at this cozy apartment.

Sant’Ambrogio

Situated along the eastern border of the city center, Sant’Ambrogio is home to the best produce market in Florence. Open daily, except Sundays, you’ll find the best tasting produce for the most economical price here.

One of my favorite things about living in Florence is the chance to buy local produce fresh from farms at an affordable price. My at home meals have gotten so much tastier now living in Italy and utilizing the freshest ingredients.

But don’t fear you need to survive on home cooking in this neighborhood, as it is home to the fabulous and famous Cibreo restaurant group. Early fall evenings at Café Cibreo are the epitome of Italian living.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Sant’Ambrogio is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Deluxe Suite: Wake up to views of the Duomo right outside your bedroom window.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Colonna Suite: This apartment has all the amenities you could need to settle into life in Florence.
  • Luxury Stay: Wonderful 5 Stars: Picturesque, comfortable, and family-friendly apartment.

How to Rent an Apartment in Florence

A view from the Duomo of all the terracotta red roofs in Florence, Italy.

It really is about the kitchen.

Here me out - renting an apartment in Italy is...unusual.

For your first apartment in Italy, I recommend only looking for furnished apartments. This is because unfurnished apartments tend to come without the kitchen installed. Yep, that's right. Meaning the previous renters take the stove, cabinets, and kitchen sink with them when they move and you need to install your own before you can have a functioning home kitchen.

Not exactly a project I would want to undertake right after moving abroad; much easier to just move into a furnished place with a kitchen that is ready to use.

Though finding a place to live isn’t necessarily easy as many apartments in Florence have been converted to short term tourist rentals (thanks to those 16 million annual tourists).

The Fine Print of Renting

For those that are still long term rentals, finding your lease term may be difficult. Typically, Italians sign an apartment lease for a term of at least three years.

To get started in your apartment search, check out the website Subito. This is a website full of available listings. I recommend setting an alert for what you're looking for so you can act quickly, especially if you're moving to Florence during high season.

If you don't speak Italian, I recommend getting an agent to help you navigate the nuances of Italian real estate although do know that most owners already hire an agent to rent out there place so chances are, you can just work with theirs.

In Italy, even if you don't hire your own agent but the homeowner hired one, you'll have to pay that realtor a fee regardless.

How to Take Full Advantage of Living in Florence

Tourists taking pictures of a famous piazza (plaza) in Florence with a fountain in the center.

The key: embrace the history and the culture.

There are endless numbers of museums to visit in Florence. It also is a huge fashion city and in the summer months, you can enjoy outdoor runway shows. Food is a huge part of the culture here and there are so many great places to eat.

Unfortunately, there are also a ton of tourist rap restaurants (remember those 16 million annual tourists) so it helps to know where to go.

Best Restaurants in Florence

My favorites for Italian are:

Florence is changing due to tourist influence and has some amazing non-Italian options as well. My favorites are:

Aperitivo is one of the best parts of Italian culture and can help you adjust to the fact that dinner hour doesn't start until 8 pm (most restaurants open at 7 pm, but that is considered tourist dining hour).

For those curious, an aperitivo is a pre-meal drink specifically meant to stimulate your appetite. My aperitivo favorite places are:

Navigating the Visa Process in Italy

A close up view of Ponte Vecchia (Old Bridge), one of the most famous icons of Florence.

Legally living in Italy is more challenging than you think so don't underestimate the visa process.

Getting your permesso di soggiorno or permission to stay in Italy is a long and frustrating process.

My husband's company has two lawyers working on getting everything in order and helping us through the process, yet we have still hit snag points and are constantly frustrated.

Part of the process will involve you getting local healthcare but as a spouse, it can take a second for it to kick in. I recommend you move abroad with travel health insurance until that happens.

Steps to Getting Your Visa

  • Step 1: You need to work with the Italian Consulate in your home country to have a long-term visa issued. Unfortunately, the process doesn’t end there as there is a second step that needs to be completed once you arrive in Italy.
  • Step 2: Within 8 days of arriving in Italy, you must present to the authorities to request your permesso di soggiorno.
  • Step 3: After doing that, you have a full calendar year to apply for your permesso, though you should start as soon as possible since the process usually takes at least 4 months.

Kat, the A Way Abroad founder, is currently living in Trieste, Italy. Like me, she's here because of her husband's job. Just to give you an idea of another expat's timeline, she and her husband arrived in August. In September (was delayed from the 8 days due to national holidays), she and her husband went to a few scheduled appointments to start their process in-person. In September, they were given their next appointment at the police station in FEBRUARY. Yep, 5 months later. From there, it should take another few months to officially receive their permesso di soggiorno.

Trust both of us, living in Italy is a dream come true but it does take a lot of patience to legally stay here.

‍Perks of Living in Florence

Italians have a social culture that strongly values community. This means that there are festivals and fairs most weekends that draw huge crowds.

Daily life is affordable as food at the market and grocery stores is very cheap. Eating out will cost you more and cocktails are equivalent to big city prices but wine is cheap and obviously fantastic. Note that the closer you are to the city center or touristic places, restaurant prices will go up.

The take-home pay isn’t great and you usually work long hours, but the holiday time makes up for you. Most Italians get three weeks of vacation in August with an additional two weeks at Christmas. That'll give you plenty of time to explore the vast beauty of this country or of any of the close European countries that can be just an hour plane ride away.

Hurdles of Living in Florence

A quiet day at Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy

Living in Florence might often look like living in other major European cities. And while I love city living, it's not for everyone.

Know that while Florence is a very walkable city, not everything will a short walking distance away. Luckily, public transportation in all of Italy tends to run quite smoothly. Bus routes and timetables are usually quite accurate on Google Maps.

Many people in Florence speak English thanks to the large number of tourists that visit the city so honestly, you can get by without learning Italian but I highly recommend you put in the effort. Knowing at least the basics in Italian will open up a new side of Italy that most tourists don't get to experience. I know learning a language can be a daunting task so start now and learn Italian before you move with Mondly.

Lastly, it can be tough to make friends abroad. Whether you're trying to befriend other expats or make local friends, it can be challenging to put yourself out there and meet people, especially if you're the trailing spouse. You won't have co-workers to get to know or people waiting on you. You're really on your own so the effort you put in is what you'll get out.

Will You Move to Florence?

My husband and I have lived in Italy for 6 months now and I’m so glad we made the transition. I moved abroad for love and it's been the best decision I could have made for myself and our relationship.

Getting out of our comfort zone and attempting to learn a new language has been a life-changing experience. Most days I don’t miss what we left back in Seattle. I’ve gotten used to my tiny kitchen and overly firm mattress. I’m grateful we brought our own down pillows so I don’t have to sleep on something super flat and hard. I wish we had a larger shower but that’s just a reality of Italian life.

And usually, the view from my apartment windows is enough to remind me that comprising my ideal shower size is worth it.

Hero photo by Unsplash.com. All other photos by depositphotos.com.

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