They like to say ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’, but that’s not going to solve every problem you encounter as an expat in Italy.
For one thing, the Italian economy is still sluggish following the global economic dramas of 2008. Ten years on, the government is saddled with debt and unemployment is high. There is an exodus of bright young things, as ambitious Italians seek opportunity elsewhere. Over half a million have quit their homes to start again in more vibrant economies such as London or Berlin.Unfortunately, the country is stumbling through the third dip of a cycle of recessions.
Dissatisfaction with the state of the nation was graphically illustrated by the general elections, which were held in early March. Italy’s long running two-party system fractured into a myriad of groups who placed themselves on the further reaches of the left and right. This splintering has resulted in the anti-establishment Five-Star party taking the most votes, but not the parliament. A hung parliament adds to the uncertainty about Italy’s future.
In terms of expat living, the picture is a little rosier. Whilst not a stand-out performer, Italy is not rock bottom. In the 2017 InterNations Expat Insider Survey, Italy was listed 60 of 65 as an expat destination. The country fails to break the top 20 compared to 65 other nations for leisure options, personal happiness, travel and transport, health and well-being, and safety and security.
The country scores similarly for a whole host of topics including ‘settling in’ and ‘ease of doing business’. The report does, however, reflect well on the friendliness of Italians toward their new expat neighbours.
These findings are backed up with anecdotes of expat grumbles as they encounter troubles and trip-ups during daily life in Italy. Whether it’s the struggle of excessive paperwork, pesky language barriers or cramped living quarters, expat exasperations are widespread in Italy. We’ve put an ear to the ground to find out what infuriated expats the most and what solutions have been used to fix them.
Registering With A Doctor
As one expat posted on Expat Focus’ Expats in Italy Facebook group: “I am tearing my hair out trying to get a Tessera Sanitaria and register with a doctor here in Italy.”
The Tessera Sanitaria is the card that allows anyone residing in Italy to access the country’s national health service. This card gives holders free access to the healthcare system, but getting the card requires a minimum fee of EUR€387 and a fistful of supporting documents.
In theory, the process should be completed in a few easy steps. Firstly, visit the local health authority office to check eligibility for a health service number or SSN (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale). After this, the required forms can be filled in at a local post office.
Once you’re at the post office, you will need to present your Italian tax code (codice fiscale), which can be obtained from the tax authority. This allows you to pay the annual fee, the receipt for which you will need in the next step.
Head back to the local health authority armed with the following documents and a sense of humour:
• The receipt from the post office
• Your passport, including any permits or visas required
• Codice fiscale
• Documents certifying your place of residence
• Any other documents specified on your first visit to the health authority.
You may be waiting for a long time just to see an official who is quick to send you away if you don’t have any of the required documents. The people you speak to may not speak English, so taking an interpreter along is a good idea.
You will also be asked to pick a doctor of your choice from a list of approved physicians, with no more information than their name and practice address. Prior research into doctors who can cater for your needs and offer appointments in a language of your choice is essential.
This process can be complicated by an unhelpful, unsympathetic bureaucracy that is inflexible if you need extra support.
Getting A Bank Account
Much like registering with a doctor, getting a bank account in Italy can become a whirlwind of paperwork and frustration.
Some employers will insist on you having an account with an Italian bank to pay salaries into. Banks offer special accounts for non-residents, but they are subject to restrictions in terms of what can be paid into them.
Anyone working in the country can get a resident account if they can produce a passport, proof of address in Italy and proof of employment. It is wise to shop around and ask for advice first, as some accounts can have nasty surprises hidden in the small print.
Some expats have reported that it is easier and cheaper to keep their accounts elsewhere in the EU.
Buying A Car
If you are intending to stay for in Italy longer, buying a car is a great way to strike out across the country and explore the stunning countryside.
However, buying a car in Italy is no Sunday drive.
First off, ensure you have a licence that is valid for Italy. Anyone with an EU driver’s licence is automatically covered, and all others can be swapped within a year of arriving in the country without the need to re-sit a test.
It’s often easier to buy a new car instead of a second-hand one. In 2009, the government subsidised a scrappage scheme that took many good older cars to the yard.
Head to a dealership and find the vehicle you are after, but be ready to present the usual codice fiscal, residency documents and proof of insurance.
Even with keys in hand, you need to ensure that the car is registered with the office of motor vehicles, pay car tax (bollo) and notify the Italian automobile club before you can drive anywhere. Plus don’t forget to pack a high-visibility jacket in there too!
What challenges have you faced living in Italy? Share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!