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As a Milan resident and a dual US-Italian citizen, Italy feels like home. However, Americans and U.S. citizens everywhere should keep these key points in mind before selling their belongings and moving to Rome on a Vespa.
How to Thrive in Italy as an American
I left the United States several years ago, and I've since realized that leaving is the easy part. The hard part—and the part that never truly ends—is acclimating to a new country and culture. Here are some of my best tips for Americans moving to Italy.
Take Italian Classes
The average European has a very decent level of English, and that includes Italians. However, if you want to live in Italy, it will be necessary to learn the language. You don't need to be fluent right away, but I recommend memorizing the basics (around 1,000 words) before moving. You can quickly accomplish this by using a spaced-repetition flashcard app like Memrise.
Not only will learning some Italian help you get around, but the locals will also treat you better if you try to speak Italian first and English second. Having a decent level of Italian will also be of great help when searching for a rental!
Ditch the American Dream
The American Dream of owning a two-story home with a white picket fence, a six-car garage, and a backyard the size of a football field does not exist in Italy. Not even football exists here—fútbol means soccer!
If you're moving to Italy pre-retirement, you'll need to swap the American Dream for the Italian Dream—otherwise, you will be chronically disappointed.
Salaries in Italy and greater Europe are almost always lower than U.S. salaries, and taxes are much higher. In return for your taxes, you will receive universal healthcare, cheap university tuition, 5+ weeks of annual paid vacation, unlimited sick days, and various childcare services and government kickbacks.
Whether you believe that these services are worth the higher taxes does not matter; you need to make peace with Italy's taxation model to live happily in this country.
Note: There are ways to temporarily reduce your tax burden in Italy if you are a highly skilled worker. I take advantage of the lavoratori impatriati tax scheme, which reduces my income tax by 70% for up to 5 years. I recommend hiring an Italian accountant (commercialista) to investigate your options.
Make Italian Friends
I moved abroad in 2019, and my family in the US often jokes that I've picked up an accent when I speak English.
I don't notice it, but I do know what might have led me to subconsciously neutralize my American accent: I don't have a single American friend abroad. All of my friends in Europe are non-native English speakers, and my best friends in Italy are Italian.
If you befriend the locals, you'll get a true glimpse at what it's like to be born and raised in Italy and how Italian families and communities function. It's one thing to read about Italy and visit the main tourist attractions, and it's a completely separate experience to live in Italy and experience life as a local.
The best way to feel at home in Italy—or any new country—is to make local friends.
If you only surround yourself with people from your home country, your conversations will naturally drift towards topics like homesickness, FOMO, and comparisons of your home country with your new country. These topics are worth the occasional wine-and-vent session, but they can quickly poison your life abroad if not balanced by more positive topics and experiences.
Plus, Italians make great friends!
Go with the Flow
It's no surprise that the ancient proverb, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do", can be traced back to the instability of the Roman Empire. Italians have always had their way of doing things, and there's no sense in straining your time, resources, and vocal cords trying to change the locals.
Your bank will be closed at random times throughout the day, your work meetings will have no set agenda and last for 3+ hours, and your friends will honk at anyone driving slower than 70 mph (115 km/h) in a school zone.
If you struggle with anxiety or benefit from having a lot of structure and rules in your daily life, Italy might not be your ideal home.
Reasons Not to Move to Italy
The cities of Milan and Rome were ranked as some of the worst places to live as an expat in 2023.
While there are plenty of valid reasons to swap the U.S. for Italy, there are also plenty of reasons to stay put. Italy is its own country with its own social, political, and economic problems. Moving here with a cushy remote job and renting a private apartment will not shield you from systemic issues like air pollution or xenophobia.
The United States is proudly regarded as a country of immigrants, while Italy is very much a country of Italians. If learning Italian, befriending Italians, and building a local Italian network does not pique your interest, you will struggle to feel at home in Italy.
U.S. citizens must also be aware that they need to file U.S. tax returns each year for the rest of their lives, regardless of their country of residence. Living and paying taxes in Italy does not mean that you won't owe taxes to the U.S., and investment options for U.S. citizens in Europe are extremely limited.
Moving to Italy is a deeply personal decision, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach to thriving in this country. However, Americans should be aware that it'll take consistent effort to assimilate and feel at home in Italy, even if you grew up with Italian-American relatives in the U.S.
Cultural differences can be subtle and sneak up on us, even after we've done our research and due diligence. I remember crying in the refrigerator aisle of Conad a few months after moving to Milan because I couldn't read the labels, and now I'm watching Friends in Italian. The best advice I have is to just keep going!
If you're unsure whether Italy is for you but you'd like to try it out, consider signing up for Trusted Housesitters. As a house sitter or pet sitter, you can stay in Italy for an extended period without constantly changing hotel rooms or hostel bunks. Just be sure not to overstay your tourist visa!