Move to Italy: Enjoy La Dolce Vita (the Sweet Life)

Move to Italy

Italy has one of the most desirable lifestyles in the world. It is an ideal place to move to for Americans looking for a permanent, or even part-time retirement.

The country's most attractive features include healthy fresh food, a simple, easy-going lifestyle, and a world renowned healthcare system open to most expats after six months.

But the laidback lifestyle and excellent healthcare are only two of Italy's many great features. From the picturesque Dolomites of Northern Italy to the thousands of vineyards dotting the hills from north to south, and the beaches surrounding the entire peninsula, Sicily and Sardinia, Italy is the place to find your dream!

Many people believe Italy is expensive, and in tourist areas, this can be true. But you can live la dolce vita, without spending a small fortune—it‘s all in where you look!

Below is a step-by-step guide to creating your new, healthier, less-expensive lifestyle in Italy.

Getting An Italian Visa

If you want to spend longer than three months in Italy, you will need to apply for a visa, many ex-pats choose the Elective Residence Visa.

You will need to go online to the Italian Embassy website and begin a five-step process. The website is in English and is easy to follow. You will be prompted to select the Italian Consulate that will approve your visa, pay any fees due, (they are adjusted every quarter), and arrange your appointment.

While each Consulate may require different information or fees for the Italian Elective Residence Visa, in general, you will need:

  • One national Italian visa application form

  • Original photocopy of your valid driver’s license or state ID

  • Two recent passport-sized photos

  • A letter stating the reason for your stay in Italy

  • A documented and detailed guarantee of substantial and steady economic resources. $3,440 per month per applicant) including but not limited to (within three months of application

    • Bank accounts

    • Brokerage accounts

    • 401K, 403B, Roth, or pension statements

    • IRA statements

    • Social security statements

    • Real estate rental income

    • Annuity income

    • Documents of business ownership

  • A signed and dated rental agreement, or proof of housing ownership with the Italian “agenzia delle entrate.”

  • A certified copy of your marriage certificate.

  • Money order or cashiers check for all applicable fees

  • The return form for your passport and other personal visa information.

Within eight days of arrival, you will need to register with the local police department and apply for the Permisso di Soggiorno—the legal document allowing you to stay in Italy.

Bringing a Pet to Italy

Cats and dogs can travel from the U.S. to Italy as long as they have the following:

  • A valid Veterinary Certificate (stating owners details, a description of the animal, details of identification, and vaccinations)

  • A valid rabies vaccine. If the rabies vaccination was the animal’s first vaccine then it must wait for 21 days before entering the country. There is no time delay with booster injections; providing there is proof that the booster was administered before the last vaccine had expired.

  • A tattoo or a microchip (compatible with standards ISO-11784)

Finding Your Home in Italy

The best way to find a residence in Italy is to travel the country and see firsthand the places you might like to live. Initially, renting is advisable to allow you the freedom to change locations should your travels find a more suitable place to live.

For short-term rentals, consider the following sites while you are traveling:

If you would like to rent longer term, many agencies in Italy have people who speak English. Agencies work only with the homes under contract and do not exchange information, so using the internet to search always helps.

If you find a suitable area to explore further and stay for the long term, a rental agreement usually is two to four years. With a four-year lease, you will also find most owners agreeable to a clause allowing you to move after two years.

The following websites are great ways to explore an area, find a suitable rental, an agent who speaks English, and even the process for purchasing a home should you find the perfect home.

Alternatively, Google Italian real estate and see what comes up. If you don’t mind jumping into construction in a foreign country Google $1 Italian homes, too.

Moving Your Household Items to Italy

Moving to Italy is easy once you understand the old phrase—less is more!

Most of the time, when you buy a home in Italy it comes furnished. Italians seldom take their furnishings, leaving most essential items behind, but this is case-by-case. Always ask what will be available.

Italian Customs Officers, Dogane, are very thorough. Every box and every item must be accounted for, listed, described, and can be taxed. Therefore, it is wise to move used, personal items, not new items or things that can be purchased in Italy. The Italian Customs Authority is protective of their country’s economic well-being and wants you to purchase what you need in Italy. Ordinarily, much of what you need to buy is available at less expense in Italy than the cost of shipping and customs duty.

The customs information forms in Italian are time-consuming and detailed. But once the documents are complete, your shipped items are delivered intact and complete. The average delivery time is three to four months from the date of shipping from the U.S. to the date of delivery to your location.

Banking and Finance in Italy

Americans can do their banking at an Italian bank provided they have a visa, permesso di soggiorno, a local Identification Card, and a tax I.D. number or codice fiscale.

The initial interview can be daunting if you are in a smaller town where not everyone speaks English. However, most banks have a branch where someone speaks English.

Electronic banking and funds transfer is easy to accomplish as Italy has an agreement with the U.S. government known as FATCA, or The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

The top banks in Italy in order of size are:

  • Intessa Sanpaolo

  • UniCredit

  • Bank of Italy

  • Cassa Depositi e Prestiti

The U.S. Banks that have offices in major Italian cities are:

  • Citigroup

  • JP Morgan Chase

  • Bank of America

One of the nicest things about banking in Italy is that the U.S. Government has a direct deposit system for your Social Security checks with the Italian Government. This allows your monthly social security deposit to go direct from the U.S. Treasury Dept to many Italian Banks. This avoids all bank fees and uses the Treasury Department’s exchange rate with the euro.

The electronic banking system in Italy is rapid, efficient, and easy to use. Once you have an account, your electronic banking card, and your pin, you will find most stores will accept your bank card for purchases.

A treaty with the U.S. details that Americans cannot be double taxed with both U.S. and Italian taxes.

A Checklist for Your Move to Italy

  • A scouting trip to the regions of Italy you are most interested in. While on the trip, note the prices of rentals, homes, meals, food, gas, and the everyday cost of living.

  • Find the Italian Consulate for your area and begin to collect the information you will need for your visa. Keep copies of everything your plan to put in your visa package.

  • Begin studying Italian. The more you know, the more manageable your transition will be.

  • Pick a date to visit your Consulate for the personal interview.

  • Decide on the type of visa that fits your situation best.

  • Find a home or apartment to rent in the area you are interested in. Get an original copy of your lease and your codice fiscale for the visa package.

  • Buy a six-month to one-year health insurance policy for your first year in Italy. Once you have lived in Italy for six months to a year, you are eligible for the national Italian healthcare system for a minimal fee.

  • Finish your visa Application and allow three months for the return of your visa, passport, and Airline tickets.

  • Decide what you will do with your household objects: throw away, gift, sell, or put in storage.

  • Realize that you are about to start living “la dolce vita!”

If you are one of the lucky people who see your future in Italy, the trickiest part is often deciding where to live. There is such a variety of scenery, climate, food, wine, customs, cost of living, and lifestyles in Italy that this decision can seem overwhelming. But the easiest way to approach Italy, is to find an area that makes you feel at home.

There is a place for you in Italy, whether it has mountains, lakes, a cool climate, the sunny heat of the Adriatic, or the Mediterranean Sea.

Each area has its specialties of pasta, wine, bread, truffles, chocolate, desserts, and cooking styles. Start your search with what you love the most, and you will find the retirement of your dreams in Italy!

The Logistics of Moving to Italy

Moving may be the single most bewildering task you can imagine. But once you set about the job, it is not as cumbersome as one might think. English is studied by every Italian in school for three years, and is widely spoken in most cities and in many small towns, too.

Expat communities are all over the country, and you can start your exploration by googling “expat organizations in Italy.”

Transportation is readily available by train, bus, or rental car, and international flights are available in most large cities, multiple times per day.

You may also find that once you have arrived in your chosen location, you don’t even need a car. Neighborhoods in Italy are often designed for ease of living: from food to the pharmacy, most things you need are available locally.

Move to Italy for the Climate

When it comes to the weather, Italy really is a land of contrasts. In general, it has one of the best climates in Europe, but conditions can be quite varied. In winter, the Italian Alps are likely to be cold with crisp, blue skies and enough snow to keep skiers satisfied. On the other hand, Milan is often fog-bound and the Po Valley can be quite cold and damp, too. For the best winter weather, look to the Italian Riviera, the Amalfi coast, and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. All enjoy a mild winter climate. Obviously, the farther south you go during the summertime, the hotter it will get…and the deep south can be very warm, indeed. In Apulia, the heel of Italy, even the sea temperature averages 82 F in August.

Why I Moved to Italy

By Valerie Fortney Schneider


Why did you move to Italy? That’s a question I get all the time and I wanted to take a few moments to explain to you why we made the move from the United States to Italy.

It wasn’t just one revelation that brought us here. It was a series of things. So, I wanted to give you a little bit of an idea about why that happened and why we chose Italy specifically. We weren’t unhappy in our lives in America. We were living in New Mexico, a little bit north of Albuquerque, with a very nice house and a nice mortgage to go with it. We had good jobs… and a good level of stress to go along with that.

We were enjoying a lot of the aspects of our lives in New Mexico. But we started evaluating what we really wanted from our lives. There were months of stress, and my husband had a very stressful job in particular, and we knew that we needed to make a change. We weren’t quite sure exactly what that would entail at the time, but we started conversations about what we were doing, where we wanted to be, and how we wanted to live our lives. We started looking at how we were living, working 50 weeks out of the year so that we could enjoy two weeks of vacation time. We wanted to do more living and not put off everything until an unforeseen retirement in the future. At the same time, there were several things happening within our circle of friends and family that made us realize the brevity of life. So that was another big factor that made us accelerate the process. And we wanted more control over our job situations. We wanted to have a little bit more of our own destinies in our hands, so to speak.

In the meantime, we were also making our first trips to Italy. We traveled here and I fell in love with the country immediately, from the day our plane landed in Rome. I was smitten with Italy and its history. I have a degree in history so for me, this is better than Disneyland or any other place you could possibly imagine. To be able to see all of these historical sites in person, up close and personal. But my husband, it took him a little bit longer. He liked a lot of things about Italy, but he’s a very outdoorsy kind of person. And so, he wanted to vacations more in the national parks. But we did start coming to Italy more and our trips started getting longer until we started making inroads in terms of what it would be like to live here. We started talking about it more seriously, spending time in one place, and evaluating what it was really like to live in a town in Italy. And we really liked what we saw. We liked the culture, the pace of life, the emphasis on social interaction, and how people gather in the piazza, and we liked the food, of course. So that really convinced us, along with these other things that were happening in our lives that we wanted to make that leap from the U.S. to Italy.

It was going to be just a year in the beginning. We just sold our house and we thought, okay we’ll spend a year’s sabbatical and then we’ll decide what we’re going to do with the rest of our lives. And that one year turned into two and then we went back to the U.S. for one year. That clearly wasn’t going to work after living here. So we were organizing things yet again and came back to live here in southern Italy. We have been here for 10 years now.

So what keeps us here? It’s not just the piazzas and the beauty that surrounds us. There are so many things about Italy that we really love. We love the old-world atmosphere. We like that Italy dwells on their history, that everywhere you go, there are historical sites that are currently still being used and that life and history collide, so to speak, here in Italy. We love the culture and all the different things you can do, the traditions that continue one for centuries, the festivals, artwork, and everything else that entails. You can go one hour from our home and have a completely different landscape, from mountain town down to the seaside, with different things to look at and completely different foods to taste.

Which brings me to the food, of course. Italian food is famous as one of the best, I think the best, cuisines in the world. And I know a lot of people will agree with me on that. It’s the one kind of cuisine that most people can agree on when you decide to go out to eat. So to see how they prepare things, to take all of those fresh vegetables and all the produce and turn them into these works of art on the table is wonderful. It's also never boring because every region has its own specialties. So no matter where you go in Italy, you get to taste something different. So the foods that we have here as traditional fare in our region of Basilicata is different to what you’re going to have in Rome, Tuscany, or in other regions. It's exciting when you're traveling around, to be able to taste all these different dishes and see how they prepare things and the different focus that they use in each region.

But for me, it's really the people. The Italian people are warm, welcoming, and friendly, and that is really what won us over and what keeps us here. We really love the community that we have found here. People are so welcoming to us in our region, in particular here in the south. They have a saying that “hospitality is sacred” and they really mean it. So they take you by the hand. They lead you into their houses. They offer you a coffee. They really want you to experience the best that the region has. But they just have this innate warmth to them that really make you a part of their family. So that's something that has really touched us. It's something that we find is so wonderful to be able to be a part of the community where we live. We've been included in weddings and different events and ceremonies. We're watching the children of our town grow up and go off to college. We just get to participate in the life here. And that's something we never really had in the places we lived in the U.S.

So that's why we moved to Italy and why we stay here.