Or, are you planning an extended stay in Italy?
Hollywood has helped build a heavily weighted view of living in Italy. While I liked “Under the Tuscan Sun” (Diane Lane is one of my favorite actors) for the sheer entertainment value, I found it a bit sugar-coated (unlike the book). Yes, there were hurdles and tests for Frances, but still it all happened just a little too magically – thanks to the Hollywood “spin” to make sure audiences walked away satisfied. Don’t get me wrong, there is a LOT of magic to be experienced when you live here, but there is also a lot of red tape and bureaucracy, and laws change frequently and unexpectedly. I’ve found things that seemed to be a “no-brainer” in the U.S. to be quite difficult here. For example, the Italian postal service is incredibly unreliable and unpredictable. If you want to raise your estimation of the U.S. Postal Service significantly, just come to Italy and try to post a letter back to the States.
You might think I’m trying to scare you away. I’m not. I’m just a big believer in due diligence and full disclosure when it comes to factors that can influence a major life decision. Italy IS an amazingly beautiful and endearing country, for countless reasons. However, many people make the move here, only to feel sideswiped by the non-romantic practicalities of living here. Disillusioned, they retrench and head home. I’d hate for that to happen to you.
All the hard work associated with making Italy my home has been worth it, thus far. My heart has been in it from the get-go, and I felt reasonably prepared with the intestinal fortitude needed to deal with a long list of logistics and regulations.
So, here’s my advice based on my experience and my personality, starting with #1, which is….
Have a dream, but pair it with a well-thought out plan.
When The Secret came out, a lot of people thought they only had to dream, and imagine something happening. I believe that is only half of the formula. The other half is the hard work of researching, planning AND doing. Do a vision board (I did) if that helps, and make a list of the details of your ideal life in Italy. Then, start a notebook, and research all the requirements of getting residency (or a long-term stay permit – a permesso di soggiorno), and all the practicalities of living in Italy once you have arrived. There are several good websites with information for potential expats, but I felt like I had to wade through information that didn’t pertain to my particular situation. I needed to know what living in Italy would mean for an American, not for an EU citizen. Believe me, there are some big differences.
Develop a realistic timeline for yourself, with enough flexibility in the timing, should you run into a snag and need to course-correct your efforts. For example, a crucial step is getting your visa from the Italian consulate, and that may not happen as you plan. You may get your visa right away, or you may be waiting for weeks to receive the Italian Consulate’s response.
Spend sufficient time in Italy to get a real feel for living there.
Many people base moving to Italy on a vacation mentality/experience. I’d recommend coming to Italy for frequent trips, and for longer stays so that the vacation euphoria wears off, and some normality sets in. Get a sense of really interacting with the people in your potential community. See how you are doing with the language. Spend time in Italy during the less ideal times of the year. In many rural settings, the winters can feel pretty isolating – which is good if you like hibernating and nesting, but could be deadly if you are extremely extroverted. Of course, if you’re living in a city, that’s a different story.
Understand what will be required of you once you have “landed” successfully in Italy.
I find that many people gloss over this part. The list of things is doable, but the list is lengthy, and includes many things that are legal requirements. For many things, I’d advise educating yourself as to the
time requirements (e.g. getting an Italian driver’s license, which is discussed at length in several of my posts).
Make sure you have a financial plan for the quality of life you envision in Italy.
Again, people often neglect this part. Ask yourself what type of life you envision in Italy. Do you want the same living standard that you have in the U.S., and does your vision involve lots of travel once you’re here? Or, do you plan to scale down and simplify your life (which can be quite freeing for many people). Regardless, doing a spreadsheet with anticipated expenses is a good idea. If you’ve done your research for all the practicalities and responsibilities, you’ll be able to put together a realistic picture, and then see whether it scares or relieves you. You may be one of those people who is flush with financial resources, with money to “burn”. This hasn’t been my case, so a careful financial plan has helped tremendously.
Have a Plan B.
For some folks, knowing they have a solid Plan B is essential AND comforting, especially should the experience they’ve envisioned not come to fruition. For many people Plan B is an escape plan back to the U.S. For me, I have followed the advice of my oldest sister, who advises, when making a bold life change, “Take an irrevocable leap.” I took that leap, leaving my job and many familiar forms of security. Even though I don’t have a detailed plan for hightailing it back to the States, I know I can return if necessary. For my partner and me, our Plan B was something that emerged after living here for a year. Our Plan B has been an enhancement, or addendum, to our base plan. We decided to live primarily in Rome during the winter months, while staying in verdant Umbria in the warmer months. I learned, from experiencing my first winter in rural Umbria, that I need more cultural and artistic stimulation than is available in our rather isolated locale in Umbria. This has turned out to be the perfect balance.
Have fun and be flexible.
Perhaps this harkens back to having a Plan B, but I look at this from the perspective of one who has suffered the effects of trying to control too much in life. Moving here has helped me tremendously with this life lesson. A former boss, and incredible mentor, has a philosophy towards work and life which included “Do the best you can, and be unattached to the outcome.” In my experience, Italy is indeed a country that requires you to “let go”, while continuing to do your best. For me, I’ve found, by letting go, some pretty damn wonderful things have materialized that wouldn’t have come about if I had been rigid in insisting how everything came into being.
In closing, I’m still a bit of a novice as an American expat, and I’m sure, with a few more years under my belt, I’ll be able to share more perspectives about living in Italy long-term. In the meantime, I hope these nuggets of advice will be helpful for you. I’d love to hear from you if you have questions or if you want me to elaborate on anything I’ve written.
Happy dreaming and planning!!!!