Wondering if moving to Italy from the USA is right for you? If you’re an American in search of a slower pace of life or la dolce vita, Italy might be on your radar. Moving to Italy is for sure an adventure. Unfortunately, it’s not for everyone.
Moving to Italy from USA
Despite traveling around Italy for a decade, I was ill-prepared for the adjustment of living in Italy as an American. Once I started writing about the good and bad sides of moving to Italy from the USA, I got emails, comments, and calls from others looking to make the move.
The most common question I heard was “What do you wish you’d have known before moving to Italy?” Translation “What are the most important things I should know before moving to Italy?” Hence today’s article of the seven hardest things I faced after moving to Italy.
I’ll be honest this list was hard to write because I love my life in Italy despite how hard the struggle to integrate has been. More importantly, this post contains some hard truths. Primarily the fact that I am currently undergoing cancer treatments in Italy.
I withheld this side of my journey for over a year because I wanted to be sure I could share a happy ending. So the fact that I’m writing this is a good sign!
While undergoing cancer treatments in Italy, I looked for articles that discussed what it was like to deal with a life-threatening illness abroad. I didn’t find any.
Instead, I found article after article talking about the logistics of moving to Italy. Impersonal lists companies trying to earn your business during a move to Italy created.
While a checklist of what to expect is helpful, what about the unexpected? Since I now know more than I care to about the unexpected, that’s what you’ll find here.
My list of seven things I wish I had known before moving to Italy from America focuses on the life-altering impacts moving abroad can have.
7 Things to Know Before Moving to Italy
While no expats experience is the same, the following seven things are common for Americans moving to Italy. This list leaves out the obvious things one could easily research without moving to Italy. For example, yes you need to speak Italian to live in Italy.
Instead these are the most difficult and daunting truths one learns after making the leap and moving to Italy. Plus, it ends with the bittersweet truth that keeps so many of us here.
- Banking in Italy for Americans & FATCA
- Getting a Driver’s License in Italy
- Bad Air Quality in Italy
- Finding Work in Italy
- Renovating in Italy
- Italian Healthcare (Dealing with cancer abroad)
- Leaving Italy
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1. Investing & Banking in Italy is Complicated by FATCA
Opening an Italian bank account and getting an Italian credit card is difficult for Americans in Italy thanks to FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act). Since March 18, 2010 FATCA has placed responsibility of catching American tax-dodges on the shoulders of foreign banks. In other words foreign financial institutions around the world (not just in Italy) must report all foreign assets held by their American account holders.
What that means for banks in Italy is that dealing with American customers requires extra paperwork and the risk of fines. What does that matter for Americans in Italy? Basically FATCA dissuades Italian banks from working with American clients.
In my own personal experience, three Italian banks turned me down when I tried to open a bank account in Italy. Keep in mind I’m a dual American Italian citizen. Still, the experience was frustrating and humiliating frankly.
What’s worse, is that FATCA impacts investing for retirement in Italy. Even for Italian citizens if they gain dual American citizenship. An Italian investment firm my Italian husband has held accounts with for 20 years no longer allows him to open new investment accounts, or buy new products in pre-existing investment accounts.
In the end I was able to open an account with a German neobank headquartered in Berlin. However, I still don’t have an Italian credit card despite having a stellar credit score is in America. American credit scores to Italian banks are like English resumes for Italian recruiters. Irrelevant. More on that in a bit.
To sum it up, before moving to Italy for retirement, look into FATCA, and if possible speak with a financial advisor.
2. Getting an Italian Driver’s License is Hard for Americans
One of the most common surprises for Americans who move to Italy is how difficult getting an Italian driver’s license is. While European countries allow drivers to convert their licenses from one country to the next, non-EU citizens are not so lucky.
For Americans, the process of getting an Italian Driver’s license is downright painful.
- First, there’s the driver’s ed classes in Italian.
- Then there is the written theory test that is not available in English. Only Italian, German, and French.
- Plus, the maximum number of errors on the written test is three, or you fail.
- What’s more is you have 20 minutes to complete the test.
- On top of that, if you fail the theory test, you can only retaken one time.
- If you pass both the theory and the driving test, you get a learner’s permit (folgio rosa).
- However you still have to drive with an adult (with 10+ years driving experience) until
- You pass the practical driving test that must be taken in a manual car.
- Plus, you only have three attempts to pass the driving exam.
- Oh and you only have one year from declaring residency to make this all happen. In Italian. Or you can no longer legally drive in Italy.
Thus getting an Italian drivers license is not easy, no matter how much driving experience you have. I own half a car here in Italy, but I can’t drive it! At least not until I can speak Italian well enough to pass the tests.
3. Air Quality in Northern Italy is Bad
Southern Italians joke that the only thing northern Italy has that they don’t is smog. The first time I visited Italy over a decade ago, I didn’t notice the smog. Instead, I was captivated by Italy’s beautiful landscapes, Italian food, wine, and history. Now that I live in northern Italy, there are days when the smog is all I can see. The photo below shows an average air quality day in winter in Torino, Italy.
Northern Italy doesn’t just have bad air. According to the European Environment Agency, it has some of the worst air quality in Europe. It’s so bad that NASA has documented the smog south of the Alps from space.
The Italian Alps run across the entire northern border of Italy and act like a lid holding pollution that sweeps up the Italian peninsula in place. Unfortunately, during many of our Tuscany trips, we could see smog as far south as Florence.
The air quality factored it into our decision to move into the Italian Alps. We sacrificed the opportunity to live in Torino to avoid the smog stuck at the foot of the Alps. Thankfully up here in Bardonecchia, the air is much cleaner.
4. Finding Work in Italy is a Challenge & Not Well Paid
Believe it or not, there is no minimum wage in Italy. On top of that, wages have been stagnant for over thirty years in Italy. These two facts make finding well-paid work in Italy challenging enough for Italian citizens. Let alone foreigners who struggle with the language.
More often than not, expats who move to Italy take a pay cut. As my fellow expat Amanda noted, the work experience she gained before moving to Italy did not matter when searching for a job in Milan. She had to start her career over again.
In other words, while American recruiters might value your experience, Italian recruiters probably will not. Unless that is, your career experience is in Italy. All of that said, remote work is often the way to go for foreigners who want to live in Italy. An increasing number of smart working villages like Santa Fiora in Tuscany and Rieti in Lazio are working to attract digital nomads.
5. Renovating a Home in Italy is Expensive
Given that the Average home price in the United States is $428,700, a 1€ home sounds like a deal. Right? Even those €20,000 homes featured on International House Hunters in Italy are a steal.
Here’s the catch. An old Italian home is not like an old American home. Forget drywall. Walls in Italy are brick and stone. Plumbing and electric? Utility lines run under poured concrete floors.
In other words, you’re not swinging a hammer to take down a kitchen wall in Italy. Much less a foot like you see Ben and Erin Napier doing on HGTV.
We interviewed nearly a dozen architects for our home renovation in Italy. Once we narrowed it down to six, we asked for estimates. We practically fell over when we got a bid at €1,400 a square meter. The lowest estimate? €800 a square meter, while the majority hit €1,000. It’s worth noting those quotes did not include appliances, furnishings, external walls, windows, foundation work, or roof issues.
Even though there are tax incentives from the Italian government, home renovation remains a costly proposition in Italy.
Check out our Renovating Bardonecchia series if you’d like to know more about what it’s like to renovate in Italy.
6. Italian Healthcare Saved My Life
Here’s where the good outweighs the bad of moving to Italy from the USA. Moving to Italy probably saved my life. More accurately, the fact that Italy has one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world did.
When I lived in America, I had a bad habit of putting off medical care because of how much it cost.
While, in Italy when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, I had no fear of the cost of care and was able to act quickly. Plus my treatment moved at lightning speed. If my Doctor said I needed a test or medication, I got it instantly. No questions asked. I didn’t have to wait for insurance approvals. I didn’t even have to make my appointments. My Doctor’s team handled everything.
I haven’t written about this much. Honestly, I’m not sure how much I will do in the future either. Partly because even though I’m in remission, I’m still going through treatment.
Treatment that in America, after all the health insurance premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses, would have cost a fortune. While in Italy, standard Italian healthcare services cover my tests, treatments, medications, and surgical expenses.
To my fellow Americans, I can only say this. Can you imagine facing a life-threatening illness without the stress of dealing with an insurance company for approvals? Without worrying about how you will pay a hospital bill because there isn’t one?
In Italy I get to worry about my health while fighting cancer, and that’s it. Italian healthcare is what brings me to my seventh point.
7. The Idea of Moving Back to America Feels Impossible
When I left America, what gave me courage was the idea that I could always move back. I figured New York City would still have six-figure jobs. Worst case, I could snag a VP-level job again, work five more years and save like crazy. Then in five years, take another stab at early retirement in Italy.
Facing cancer in Italy changed that. Now instead of measuring how much money I can save in five years, I’m measuring life in five-year increments. Right now, I have a 90% chance of being cancer free for the next five years.
Now that I’ve tasted la dolce vita and experienced universal healthcare, I no longer see moving back to the USA as an option. While I take peace in not fearing healthcare costs, this realization also comes with sadness because my family is in America.
Consequently, the one piece of advice I will give any American thinking of moving to Europe is to ask yourself this question. If you cannot get to your family for over a year, no matter what’s happening, how will you cope?
The biggest challenge of living abroad is the unexpected restriction of movement. While flights are easy to book when times are normal wars, pandemics, or illness can make international mobility impossible. So it’s a good idea to know how you would handle this before you move.
While that might sound drastic, between COVID travel lockdowns and cancer, I’ve already faced the issue twice in my first few years in Italy.
Bottom Line Moving to Italy from USA is Worth It
Moving to Italy is for sure an adventure. Unfortunately, it’s not for everyone. Thus I applaud your foresight in researching this question. I say this because it says two cool things. First, you’re open to making adventurous changes that require bravery. Compliments, my friend!
Second, it says Hollywood’s love affair with Italy hasn’t pulled the wool over your eyes. Just because you’re brave enough to move to Italy doesn’t mean you’ll do it without knowing the risks.
With that, I’ll say congratulations! Since you’ve started researching things to know before moving to Italy, you’re one step closer.
Getting my Italian citizenship is hands down the smartest thing I’ve ever done. In hindsight, I wish I had known these things before moving to Italy. That said, not one of the seven hard truths listed above made me rethink my decision to move to Italy from America. If anything, I wish I had moved sooner, not during COVID lockdowns.
I believe those ready for the adventure will find moving to Italy from America every bit the la dolce vita dreams are made of. Hopefully this list of the seven hardest things I faced helps you follow your dreams with fewer surprises.
Hi Brandy. Such a timely and helpful article. I’m thinking of moving to Venice, but as a cancer patient myself, I’m not sure about the wisdom of this idea. I’m taking a scouting trip in June, and plan to visit the hospital while there.
I’m glad to know you’ve experienced good care and are currently in remission. Me too. Let’s both keep it that way. I would love to ask you some questions. If you are open to that, please let me know by return email. Thx, Cy
Hi Cy, very happy to connect (email coming soon!) I’m happy to say Italy provided incredible healthcare. My hospital in Torino is ranked among the top 150 in the world. I was able to get all the testing and care I needed swiftly and with great compassion. It’s also comforting to know you can travel to different hospitals in northern Italy for different needs/specialists. My Oncologist and Chemo were at one hospital, surgery at another, a few different hospitals with the best specialist for tests and yet another still with the newest radiation machine. The doctors and hospitals all work together to give the best care they can. It’s really inspiring. In short, I’m happy to connect and answer any questions I can for you about my experience. Here’s to being in remission!
Eight-time cancer survivor here, since 1992. You’ve got this! Glad to hear your treatment has been good since we have entertained the idea of moving to Italy. RIght now we are just doing part-time. Feel free to e-mail me if you want for encouragement or to “complain”.
Eight-time! Hello fellow warrior. I’m happy to report the treatment I received was absolutely the best possible medicines. It’s a very different experience from American hospital experience which focuses on patient care, but I’ll take the stress free treatments I received here hands down. Same medicines. Amazing caregivers. I’m very happy with the hands I’ve been in. Plus now I’ll be monitored for the rest of my days in the Italian healthcare system proactively to ensure if it comes back, we catch it quickly. I appreciate the open invitation to connect and will offer you the same if you ever want to chat about moving to Italy! I’ll send you an email now so you have mine.
I love how honest you are about it. I definitely think the driving part would be a surprise to Americans too
It certainly was to me! I knew some of the struggle but not all of it. When we started looking into the process even Paolo was shocked. Then again he got his drivers license here as a teen!
Brandy, as always it was wonderful to read your article. I’m glad you were feeling well and I want you to know you’re in my prayers every single night.
It’s been my fantasy to move to Italy because I feel is my heritage there and I would want to live La Dolce Vita. Remember, this is a fantasy I’m too old to do that now obviously but I just said to Valerie today as we had Mother’s Day dinner together, would you still be interested in going to Sicily, and of course the implication was with me because we had spoken about it so it’s still in my heart and in my head. But I loved reading your piece because I did not know about the smog in northern Italy, and I couldn’t imagine the difficulty of getting a drivers license or a credit card. These are huge issues and I salute you for dealing with them.
I know you will manage things as difficult as they may be because there is just something about Italy that gets in your blood and in your heart and in your soul. Be well know my prayers are with you I send you a hug.
Love, Dolores Conners
I missed your comment for far too long Dolores. Thank you for all the words of support. Tackling one hill at a time over here. Sending hugs from Italia
I’m also 10 years into my travels in Italy with my husband. I’m from Michigan farm country, he’s from Liguria. It’s been an adventure so far, with more to come as we aim to get him home for an early retirement in 2030. Reading your stories helps so much. Wishing you continually improving health. Thank you for sharing so much with us.
Hi Nicole! I have family in Michigan, it’s so much more beautiful than I think people outside of Michigan know. Liguria is gorgeous! My husband used to summer there every year as a kid. What area of Liguria is your husband from? Do you plan to retire in Liguria? If you do… can we come visit?! I’ll take any excuse to see the coast.
Grazie Brandy … cheers to your Dolce Vita!
Keep fighting the good fight ❤️
Thank you Valerie. I’m feeling much better these days and grateful to be able to enjoy our home in the Alps on the harder days. Wishing you a bit of La dolce vita today. Cheers
Thank you for writing this Brandy. First of all, I hope everything is going well with your treatments and I am so glad you have been able to use the healthcare in Italy to your fullest advantage. That’s what it is there for and if someone needs it for lifesaving treatments, I’m glad it’s helping them.
I am thankful that I was never in a situation where I needed services for emergency or life-threatening cases, but I am upset with how it was so so difficult for me to get into the system due to the usual bureaucratic mess. I think when it comes to preventative care, the wait times and services available still need a lot of improvement, at least from what I saw in Milan.
I am one of those expats who decided it was better for me to go back home, at least for the time being. But my perspective is from someone who is at a different stage in their life, and it seems like you’ve “already achieved” what I’m still trying to do, haha. At least from a career perspective, I know I have to be back in the US to work towards that large salary so I can set myself up for more freedom later in life.
I also plan to write a post that reflects on my expat experience and why I chose to go back. I’m not opposed to living abroad again in the future, but for me and for now, I’m happy to be back in the US 😊
Sending lots of hugs!!
Hi Pree! Thank you for the kind words. Treatments are ongoing but going well. The first time I left the US I moved to Canada. I loved the experience but it wasn’t the place for me to stay in the end. I spent another 15 years in the US after before coming to Italy. Sometimes the best part is seeing where life takes you between coming and going from home. Sending hugs! Look forward to reading your post about your experience.