Pizza, cheese and wine every day, wandering on little cobble streets, gelato for lunch, pasta for dinner, music everywhere, slow and relaxed life, Italians are never in a rush, everything is easy. The Italian dream. That’s how most imagine living in Italy is like. But is it really?
I’ve been living at Reggio Calabria, a small town down at the bottom of the Italian ‘boot’ for over a month now and let me tell you what I’ve learned so far.
Oh my lord I thought bureaucracy was awful in Cyprus after I’ve lived in the UK for 10 years, but so far Italy is the winner by a mile.
Setting up a bank account is a nightmare, especially if you don’t have a permanent address or if you do but it doesn’t ‘match’ your nationality.
First of all, you need a translator as nobody speaks English (more on that later), then you have to physically go to the bank, which still happens nowadays (although with most large banks you can set up an account online, at least in the UK), so fair enough. But, be prepared.
In order to open an Italian bank account you need a ‘fiscal code’ first (the equivalent to the NI number in the UK). To get that fiscal code you have to fill in a form and apply, in person of course, at ‘Agenzia delle Entrate’ (Italian tax office). Therefore first step: Get the fiscal code (then an Italian phone number, -see reason below-, and then go to the bank to open an account). You will also need some official documentation (if there’s a mismatch between your address and nationality) stating your NI number.
Also, it’s highly recommended to get an Italian phone number before you get an account. The bank I’m with will send you your PIN through SMS for free OR you have to pay an additional 5 euros (to the 23 euros fee to set up the account) to send it to you through the post.
Bear in mind that for some providers e.g. TIM it takes 24 hours for the sim card to be activated, so I’d suggest getting the SIM card a few days before you head to the bank in case something goes wrong (which can easily happen).
Sorting out the internet is not straight forward I found. The flat I live in doesn’t have a router, I don’t even know if it has a landline set up. The only option was mobile internet. I got a MiFi device (mobile wi-fi) for 40 euros and a data SIM card, 14,99 for 50 GB a month. So far so good, though TIM customer service is not the best, topping up after the first month didn’t work and I was overcharged and when I asked for a refund I was asked to send a fax (we live in 2019 for God’s sake, who uses fax?).
Non parlo Italiano. The most common phrase I’ve used so far. Living in a small Italian town has its perks but also means that very few people, even in shops, speak English. My advice: learn Italian as soon as physically possible. (PS TV is also in Italian, everything is dubbed, thank God for Netflix).
Renting is cheap compared to other Italian cities (I pay 450 euros for rent plus electricity and gas), though salaries are generally low. Financially it would have been much better to share, but I’m too old and fussy.
Rubbish collection, when, what, how? In a huge contrast to bureaucracy and archaic systems in place, (as well as horrendous traffic) Southern Italians are keen on recycling, which is awesome, though ever so confusing. Some days are only for organic/food waste collection, others paper and cartons, then multimateriale (cans, plastic etc) and indifferenziato (still unsure what that is) and each bin it’s a different colour. It took me a while to get used to it and remember to regularly check the schedule.
Local cuisine is as great as you’d expect. I don’t have much free time as you might be aware if you read my previous post on the life of a newly qualified EFL teacher, but so far I’ve tried the local pizza and Sicilian arancino and canoli. De-li-cious.
Food shopping can be expensive, if you don’t live near a Lidl. I pay more than I thought I would on groceries and some things you’d find for a pound or less in the UK (or Cyprus) you pay 3-4 euros here e.g. baked beans.
Amazon Italia is not as good as Amazon UK. Most products are more expensive than expected and the range is limited compared to Amazon UK.
The Chinese shop is the place to go for a rather random but large selection of affordable items from Christmas decorations to stationery.
What dance/yoga/art… lessons are you talking about? I’m not sure if this is due to location or the size of the town but for whatever reason, other than shopping and an escape room I recently discovered there’s not too much to do in the city in terms of hobbies, not that I have time anyway, but I’d love to have the option. Plenty though outside the city (or if you take the ferry to Sicily). If only driving was easy in this crazy country!
Drugs are ridiculously expensive. I paid 14 euros for Nurofen Cold and Flu!! I had no idea that you can get the same drugs but ‘unbranded’ cheaper. Of course pharmacists avoid telling you that so you buy the most expensive ones, so make sure you ask for Tachiflu instead or Tachipirina (paracetamol) or take some essentials with you.
Public transport is not the best around here, so be prepared to walk,-don’t even think about cycling, even if the town was not that hilly, you will almost certainly be hit by a car-, or if you drive you’ll have to get used to risking your life daily getting hit by another car and endless hours stuck in traffic-. Italians are infamous for their terrible driving and that is actually very true. Please remember, very rarely cars stop at crossings, check carefully before you even attempt to step on the street.
Other little things I discovered:
Certain cities e.g. Palermo (where I stayed for two nights) charge City Tax for hotel stays, 1-3 euros per person per night depending on hotel stars.
Haircuts are dirt cheap. I paid 12 euros for a decent haircut.
Some things are difficult and/or expensive to find in a small Italian town e.g. kettle, Chocolate Digestives, avocados, WHERE THE HELL ARE THE AVOCADOS?e
Italian time is similar to Cypriot time ie noone is in any rush, expect delays to the hairdresser, supermarket, meetings, I won’t even comment on post etc.
People are a bit nosy and loud but quite friendly, caring and always offer to help, which I love. Some of the kids in my classes, although they only know me for a month, they give me a hug every time after each lesson, one girl drew a little sketch of me and I had plenty of fun conversations and laughter with my older students.
All in all it’s been a mixed bag so far but I love the experience, getting to know a city by living in it. I’ve only been here for two months, I’m sure I’ll find out more as time goes by and when I do I’ll post an update.
I hope this might help anyone considering moving to Southern Italy. Feel free to share your experience on the comments, I’d love to hear how it’s been for others!