Zach Stafford, Milan

Who are you?

My name is Zach. I am a financial advisor based in Milan, Italy. I am from Surrey, I graduated from Portsmouth University, and I am a huge sports fan. I run and moderate a Facebook group that helps people with UK & Italian pensions.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Geneva in 2014, straight out of uni, and then to Italy a few months later, with the dream of combining my passion for Italian culture and my ambition to work in international finance.

What challenges did you face during the move?

This was my first ever job, and my friends were all doing the ‘normal thing’, whereby they got a four-bedroom house in London and took jobs in the city. I knew that if I wanted to achieve my goals, I’d have to sacrifice this social aspect. I asked friends a few years later if uni or London life was better. They confirmed that London life was better, which was challenging to hear, as you feel you might have missed out on a lot. I also missed my family and home comforts. These were the biggest challenges, as, ultimately, they are the only things you can’t change or bring with you.

How did you find somewhere to live?

When I moved to Geneva, I just kind of turned up and for a while had nowhere to live. After a week of sofa surfing, I moved into a small room above a pub, which was a favour by the landlord, as I had a beer in there after work once. It was very noisy, not particularly clean, and although I appreciated the favour, I knew it wasn’t going to be long-term. So, once I knew I was moving to Milan, this experience gave me the foresight to make sure I had a permanent, well-kept and personal space. I found my first residence in Milan by being very pro-active on the Facebook groups, where current tenants said they needed someone to take over their contracts.

Are there many other expats in your area?

I now live in a gated community in North Milan, and there are a few internationals in the building. I play football with an expat team, and we have over 100 nationalities that have participated.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Very good, actually, as although my main friendship groups here are expats, the vast majority of my clients are Italian. So, I strike a good balance of local business and an international social life, with some cross over on both sides.

What do you like about life where you are?

How laid back everything is …

What do you dislike about your expat life?

How laid back everything is … and the language barrier sometimes can be tough. Plus, I miss British country pubs! My next ambition is to open one here!

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

I think that British efficiency is some way ahead of other parts of the world in terms of instant gratification, when sorting financial affairs or personal ones.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Learn to roll with Italian life and not to resist. Take an intensive language course (eight weeks full on). You will appreciate it, later down the line. Get your finances in order – there is an extra layer of complication, being an expat, so take local and regulated advice. Don’t get trapped in the bubble – make sure you LIVE in Italy, not just work here.

What are your plans for the future?

I’d love to grow my Facebook group to 1000 members and then trademark the brand to provide impartial free advice, regarding UK pensions, to those not just in Italy, but all over Europe. I am in the process of buying a property here, and from there it will be citizenship, dogs, marriage and babies.

If you have a UK pension and live in Italy, you can join Zach’s Facebook group, UK Pension – Italy, for information and a private consultation.