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Italy Or Spain – Which Would Suit You?

Are you trying to decide between Italy and Spain as a destination? There are some similarities between these countries, both of which enjoy sunny Mediterranean weather, are populated with Latin peoples, harbor a great love for good wine and cuisine, have the tradition of an afternoon siesta, and are known for their warmth and hospitality. However, in other ways these two countries can seem worlds apart. Each country has their unique features and does things in their own characteristic ways.If you’re trying to decide whether Italy or Spain will suit you best, think carefully about what you want and need from a home, as it ultimately comes down to your own tastes. Expat students, for example, might place importance on different characteristics than young expat professionals or expat families. Whichever you decide, both countries have much to offer and are hugely popular expat destinations.


If it’s attractions you are looking for, then you will find that both countries have many. However, Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites are greater in number, and this country has more ‘must visit’ sites such as the Pantheon, Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pompeii and Michelangelo’s David.

Spain, on the other hand, has the breathtaking Moorish Alhambra palaces in Granada, Gaudi’s signature Art Noveau buildings, the architectural wonder that is the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the Boulevard of Arts (El Paseo del Arte) which houses the world-renowned Prado, the Guggenheim Museum and the Seville Cathedral.


Italian food culture is world famous and is considered an art form by many. Pasta, cheese and wine are essential components of Italian cuisine. Meals are family gatherings and a chance to socialize. Different regions in Italy have different staples in their diet. The most commonly known Italian foods, such as pizza and spaghetti, come from the central region of Italy.

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The northern region uses fish, pork, potatoes and rice as common ingredients, while pasta recipes, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, eggplant and artichokes are popular in the south. Italy houses some of the best reputed vineyards in the world, and wine commonly accompanies Italian meals.

Italian food is world-famous for being fresh and of a high quality

The most common food in Spain is the potato omelet or tortilla de patata. Like Italy, Spain’s cuisine involves plenty of locally grown ingredients. Some of the most popular Spanish foods include chorizo, a spicy sausage; and jamon serrano, a cured ham. The coastal areas commonly feature seafood, where well-known dishes include paella, which is made with rice, shellfish, chorizo, vegetables and chicken or rabbit. As in Italy, every region in Spain has its own specialties. Spain’s most famous desert is the rich custard called flan.


Both Italy and Spain are incredibly varied, meaning culture and traditions vary from one region to another. Italian culture is centered on family and food. Mothers play an important role in Italian family life and usually sit at the head of the table. Italians are passionate people and tend to be very demonstrative in spoken and body language.

Music is an important part of Spanish culture. The Spanish guitar and Flamenco music are performed across the country. Like Italy, food is an integral part of the culture and the locals are generous about sharing food with newcomers. Spain is also known for its many vibrant street festivals.

Italy is known to be more culturally conservative, which is evident in the fact that the country has only recently permitted same sex partnerships, amidst considerable controversy. Spain, on the other hand, legalized same-sex marriages legal in 2005, and was the world’s third country to do so.

Italy As An Expat Destination

Italy has expats from different parts of the world arriving at its shores to start a new life. In fact, the expat population in Italy comprises almost six percent of the total population. Italy is a highly developed nation and makes it easy for expats to live and work within the country, especially if they are citizens of the EU. Non-EU citizens need to obtain a visa and a work permit. Italy offers its residents a high quality of life. The lifestyle tends to be laidback, especially in rural regions, which many expats choose as their retirement destination. Professional expats usually choose to live in one of the country’s big cities such as Milan and Rome. The business environment in Italy is one where personal relationships are valued a great deal. Expats will find that Italians like to conduct business socially. On the whole, Italy is a hospitable country that welcomes migrants, meaning expats will not find it difficult to make new relationships. Most business is conducted in English, and the language is commonly spoken in the bigger cities.

If you’re considering Italy as your expat destination, it is important to keep in mind that the country has a high cost of living compared to other countries in Europe. Of course, living costs also depend on the region of Italy in which you choose to reside. The cost of living tends to be higher in the northern Italian cities, but the standard of living is also high in these parts. Rome and Milan are especially expensive cities to live in. Expats from outside the EU may find living costs quite high. Imported items come at a high price, which may be a letdown for expats who wish to buy goods from their home country. Fuel and electricity is also expensive.

Spain's culture incorporates a lot of music

Accommodation too is priced high, and the apartments tend to be old and small, with minimal furnishings. However, they are maintained well and it is upon the owner rather than the tenant to conduct repairs if needed. The good news is that food in Italy, apart from being delicious, is also very affordable, and there are plenty of inexpensive supermarkets located across the country, even in the smallest towns.

Expats with children will find that Italy has a high standard of education and state-provided schooling is free. Even in the early stages of schooling, students receive a comprehensive education that includes sciences, arts and history. Schools also provide healthy lunches to students. International schools are located in most Italian cities.

One complaint that a number of expats living in Italy have is that the roads are unsafe. This is why many avoid driving and rely on public transportation instead. The traffic rules can be confusing, and Italian drivers are sometimes aggressive. Even walking on areas that are marked as designated road crossings can be dangerous, as drivers may refuse to stop. However, fortunately the Italian public transport system is punctual, affordable and efficient, especially in the cities.

If you’re moving to Italy to work, you may see some tough days, as it is not easy to secure a job. Even jobs that were previously occupied mostly by expats, such as hospitality jobs, are scarce at present. This is why it is advisable for expats to find a job in Italy before they relocate.

Healthcare is of great importance to expats, and expats living in Italy can expect the best of medical care. Public hospitals adhere to high standards, and even the rural regions have qualified doctors and other medical staff. Another advantage for EU citizens is that healthcare is also very inexpensive.

Italy has a thriving nightlife scene

Since Italians are so social by nature, the country has a thriving nightlife. Between the months of May and September, a great deal of outdoors entertainment takes place. Nightclubs in Italy tend to incorporate the changing seasons as well, and usually offer separate entertainment for summer and winter.

Italy is a Christian country with majority of the population belonging to the Roman catholic church. The church of Rome has traditionally been an important part of the government and public life. Even today, the catholic church maintains close ties with the state and exerts considerable influence on Italian society.

Spain As An Expat Destination

Like Italy, Spain is a popular expat destination. It is especially renowned as a retirement destination on account of its warm, pleasant climate, affordable accommodation and high living standard. Many expats come to Spain to start tourist businesses such as opening clubs and cafés. The expat life in Spain will suit you if you prefer a relaxed lifestyle. Expat families will find that the country is extremely family-friendly, and that the locals are warm and welcoming. Spain’s coastal towns serve as ideal locations for those who like a quiet life.

Professional expats need to be aware that the job market is still not very lucrative, and that incomes tend to be lower compared to other parts of Europe. Since it is hard to obtain employment and a work permit, it is advisable for expats to secure a job before they move to Spain. The lower salaries in Spain are partly offset by the lower living costs prevalent in the country. Although Spain has a lot in common with the rest of Europe, it retains its unique culture. As in Italy, interpersonal connections play an important role in daily life.

As an expat, you can expect your living costs in Spain to correspond with your preferred lifestyle. Those who adopt a lifestyle similar to the locals will find that they can save a lot more than they could at home. Spain, like Italy, offers affordable food and there are plenty of options to choose from. However, housing can be expensive in the cities and utilities are also expensive.

The standard of education in Spain is high, and public schools are free. Expats can send their children to these free state schools, but they have to be registered with the local municipality. The Spanish government makes it compulsory for children between the ages of six and 16 to attend school. Expats usually prefer to send their children to international schools, of which there are a number in Spain’s larger cities. However, expat parents should be prepared to pay the high fees charged at international schools.

Spain's standard of education is high

Most expats will be familiar with the Spanish concept of siesta, a short afternoon nap taken usually after lunch. It is common in destinations where the weather is warm. However, the siesta is in fact an import from Italy, and the Italian word for it is riposo. Whether you move to Italy or Spain, the siesta may take a bit of getting used to, especially if you are unfamiliar with the concept. Almost everything shuts down during siesta time, while many banks and government offices stay closed in the afternoon. This makes it hard to get any work done between 2pm and 5pm. However, in the bigger cities like Madrid, professionals and businesspeople tend to usually skip the siesta.

Spain has a reputable healthcare system and has both public and private medical care facilities. Expats with a Spanish social security number are entitled to free or subsidized healthcare.

Expat women in Spain will likely have a hard time adjusting to a patriarchal element in Spanish society, which is evident in behaviors like cat-calling, commenting on women passing by, and staring. This is especially prevalent in the rural areas.

Another obstacle expats may have to face in Spain is the bureaucracy. Spain has 17 political regions, each with its own laws, making it quite a task to navigate the Spanish bureaucratic waters.

Business may operate at a slower pace than the one you are used to, and contract negotiations can feel tedious and lengthy. A great deal of time is spent in examining every section of the contract so that it is clear to both parties. However, once contracts are signed, expats can expect them to carried out efficiently and by the book.

Like Italy, Spain is also a Roman Catholic country. The government does not officially back the church, but its influence is evident across the country. Despite religious ties, Spanish society has evolved and witnessed much social change in the form of legalization of same-sex marriages and abortion on demand.

Have you lived in Spain or Italy? Share your experiences in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!

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