Many expats in Italy are drawn to the low-key lifestyle of small towns; others opt for the cultural opportunities and amenities of the cities. In between are the medium-sized cities that offer a bit of both. In short, Italy has something for everyone. Whatever your taste, the cost of living in Italy is not as high as many expect. Many tourists are under the impression that Italy is expensive. And, of course, if you have a cup of coffee on St. Mark’s Square in Venice, all your fears are likely to be confirmed. But the truth is, outside the tourist hot spots you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy la dolce vita (the sweet life).

Obviously, how much it costs to live in Italy will depend on your lifestyle and where you choose to settle. Housing costs in the cities are, of course, higher; by choosing a small town you’ll save a lot on real estate, which is your primary expenditure. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing quality of life, because even in provincial cities there are cultural events, historical sights, and an authentically Italian way of life.

Real estate prices vary, from as little as $20,000 in a village in the south, to multi-million dollar villas in Tuscany or Lake Como. Of course, there is everything in between, and desirable medium-sized towns often offer comfortable apartments from about $65,000 to $125,000. Even towns within an hour of the cities will have some habitable homes in this price range. Farmhouses naturally cost more, given their size and land. Count on spending $200,000 and up for those—and you’ll likely still have to invest in some restorations—though the southern regions offer more bargain options. Rents in a provincial city will range from about $400 to $700 for a furnished apartment. In small towns you can find rentals from $300 and up.

Aside from housing costs, the living expenses in Italy are fairly consistent around the country. You’ll always find upscale, expensive restaurants as well as budget-friendly, family-style eateries no matter where you go.

Here’s a sample of regular monthly expenses for two people and some prices on staple items.

ExpenseU.S. $
Rent (two bedroom apartment)$650
Utilities$220
Gasoline, insurance and maintenance for one car$300
Property Taxes$30
Shopping$150
Dining/Entertainment$150
Healthcare$40
Groceries$250
Transportation$39
Total$1,829

Utilities

Water: The water supply (acquedotto comunale) in many parts of the country is controlled by private/public partnerships. Individual homes are metered and normally billed every two months. In apartments, water costs may be included in the rent or charged separately. Country properties may be on a private well. Prices vary significantly from commune to commune and are usually levied on a progressive scale.

Electricity: Electricity bills are usually issued once every two months, and charges vary depending on the number and type of electrical appliances used in the home. Many Italian homes run on 3kW, which is far less than Americans and Britons are used to. So running multiple appliances at the same time can trip your supply. You can, however, easily upgrade to 4.5, 6, 10, or even 12kW.

Gas: Gas may be more cost-efficient than electricity and can be used for both cooking and heating. If you buy or rent an apartment, you may find that the system is centralized and the gas supply may be part of the spese (general expenses) shared by all occupants of the building (condominio). More often, it is independent, and therefore paid according to consumption.