The cost of living in Italy
If you are contemplating moving to Italy from the UK or the US then a question that gets asked of me frequently is ‘What is the cost of living like in Italy?’ or ‘How much do I need to earn to maintain my lifestyle or to be comfortable?’
I have my own idea of comfortable which includes such brands as Ferrari, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, but if yours are a little less extravagant then we’ll aim for that! (I’m only joking by the way!)
Please understand that living in Italy is probably no different from most other countries in that prices and availability of services are going to differ depending on whether you live in the city or the country, closer to the seaside or a lake, or there may be a North – South divide (like Italy and the UK) in terms of income levels. So if you decide to venture south then there may be a sacrifice of sorts, it may be that the public services, amenities, job opportunities, transport links, etc. are not as good their northern counterparts but at least in the south the people are friendlier generally. In the north the systems work, there are better and more services available but the standard of living is higher.
If you want a more concise breakdown of living expenses per city in Italy then there is a really good website called Numbeo that tackles this really well and also gives you the ability to compare one city to the next. In addition, it shows you property prices, crime rates, healthcare, pollution, traffic and quality of life; some of which might be important too you (after you’ve narrowed down areas to move to based on best ice cream and cheapest cappuccino in Italy!).
Let’s have a look at some of the main expenses that you will be most concerned about if you plan on emigrating to, moving to or living in Italy for a time.
Firstly, are you buying or renting? Based on experience I would arrange a short term rental for a while
before purchasing a property just to ensure that most of the boxes are ticked (right area, right schools, right neighbours, etc). There are likely to be the odd obstacle here and there and if you are renting it’s easier to jump on a plane if you feel that you can’t hack it! When we first got to Italy I had my heart set on a lovely ‘remote(ish)’ villa with land, some vines, olive trees and nice pool. Had I bought that initially it would have been a mistake as we were too remote for the kids and so arranging play dates became a nightmare. Thankfully we had arranged to rent this for a while and this all became apparent during the first few months. Be prepared for the unexpected, although I was contemplating renting for a while after a few months a ‘little gem of a house’ came up in a village with some other kids (and a pool) and all my plans of a Tuscan villa went out of the window!
I think it’s safe to say that depending on your standard of living presently and whether you want to maintain that here in Italy will dictate where you stay and what to look for. I find that generally accommodation and property prices are keener here than abroad. If you are looking to buy a house then they should be cheaper or more affordable than in the UK. Where we live, in the north Tuscan countryside, there are lots of ‘hobby homes’ or ‘fixer-uppers’ being purchased by foreigners (mostly Americans, British, Germans, Dutch and Russian). There are also some derelict homes for €40,000 – 50,000 if you are that way inclined. There are also a number of mortgage brokers in your home country who will finance a purchase here as well as some in other European countries (we were originally looking to arrange one with BNP Paribas (France)) but once you are resident here it is pretty easy to arrange a mortgage through your bank.
If you are looking to rent in Rome or Milan or any big city then a room in a shared apartment (flat) is going to cost you around €350 – 600 per month. In a small town you might get an entire apartment for that! Please bear in mind that most Italians live in apartments and NOT in detached homes or villas! A decent apartment outside of the city will start at €850 per month.
2. Public Transport
Public transport is pretty cheap and very good in Italy. A standard bus ticket in a city centre is around €1.80 and some city’s have the metro Brescia, Catania, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Rome. These are also reasonably priced and cheaper in comparison to the UK generally. Train travel from town to town or city to city are very affordable for example, from Milan to Rome (6 hours return trip) would cost €72, a similar journey in the UK would be from London to Newcastle and would cost (£70 or €95) . More information can be found at trenitalia.com (they have an English site). Generally shooting around the country via train is more affordable and enjoyable than many other countries.
Fuel in Italy is definitely more expensive than in America but only slightly cheaper than the UK. Out of town and on the autostrada (motorways/highways) you are looking at about €1.26 per litre and in the busy towns about €1.12 per litre.
Car insurance is mandatory in Italy and is fairly expensive. For example for the average for an adult driver in the south and the middle of the country is €750 per month and up north this drops to €547 per year. Insurance for new drivers can be quite prohibitive. A novice driver pays on average €2,800 but it can be as high as €9,000.
Buying a car in Italy is comparable to the UK market, not the cheapest. So, all the money you saved on your €1 espressos and €4.50 pizzas is swallowed up here!
Grocery shopping is quite comparable to the UK. There are certain products that are cheaper, particularly home-grown vegetables (these will be significantly cheaper if bought at any of the markets in the surrounding area) but anything that is imported is going to be more expensive. The concept of ‘price wars’ doesn’t exist here like it does in the UK or US where the major chains try to outdo their competition and so drive the prices down. That said, without this concept in place prices remain fairly reasonable. Discount stores like Lidl are making a mark and shopping around can certainly keep the monthly grocery bill down (no different to most countries I guess). Once again, there is a north-south divide, the south being cheaper (the chains prices across the country are not standard) and whether you are in the city or in smaller villages will have an impact on prices. A couple could get by on between €250 – €400 per month and a family anywhere from €500 upwards.
Eating out for me was one of the biggest surprises. We have always enjoyed eating out and to be fair the quality of the meals have been from the sublime to the ridiculous, here I feel there is a good consistency, generally speaking we range from good to exceptional. Food is their world. But the surprise I’m referring to is in the prices. A meal at one of the chains in the UK would easily be over £100 for four of us. This is not the case here. We have three local pizzerias and a margherita pizza would be €4.50 on average, a spaghetti Bolognese about €5.50, a litre of house wine about €3.50, a litre of water about €1.00 and a coffee at €1. The cover charge (tip) is generally about €1.50 per person in such establishments and a bit more expensive elsewhere (tipping really only occurs if you believe that the service was exceptional). You will pay the cover charge regardless and can’t really complain if the service is bad as the bread put on your table is also part of this cover charge. To be honest I don’t think I’ve ever had the need to complained about bad service, ‘ probably because we have got used to things being a little more relaxed here than in many other countries in the world. Its also nice to know that there are no expectations here so If you don’t leave anything extra you won’t be chased down the street or have abuse thrown at you.
So a quick meal here comprising bread, pizza, wine, water and a coffee plus cover charge could be under €30 for four.
Pranzo di lavoro which is a worker’s lunch ranges from €8 – €12 per person for a 3 course meal comprising pasta, meat dish with vegetables, sweet (dolce) a bottle of water and vino dell casa (house wine). I don’t put a measurement against this as many establishments will offer a litre without batting an eyelid.
5. Healthcare in Italy
Healthcare is FREE in Italy and the emergency rooms, or A & E in the UK, are well staffed. Getting registered is pretty straightforward so long as you are a resident. As a tourist you may have to pay up-front and then get re-imbursed when you get back home. Travel insurance that we have used in the past that are pretty trouble-free and we found to be affordable and customisable is through a company called Atlas Travel. If you are ever looking to bolster your health insurance and don’t want to do this with an Italian company there is expat insurance available through insurance companies such as HCC Medical. Compared to UK and US this is relatively inexpensive.
Please bear in mind that there are certain products that you would be accustomed to buying in the supermarket or drugstore abroad that are only available over the counter at a pharmacy like paracetamol and ibuprofen. The price is pretty shocking too. However, in comparison prescription drugs are usually cheaper here than abroad. You win some, you lose some!
Once again if you are in the city and are connected to the main gas supply then your utilities will be significantly cheaper than someone like ourselves who are in the country and rely on gas provided via the storage tanks. You could probably get away with under €2,000 per year for utilities but a larger family in the country is likely to pay around €4,000 plus per annum.
Some other important day to day items…
a. Espresso or Cappuccino (80c to €1.20)
b. Medium beer – half litre (€4.00)
c. Small glass of wine (€1.50)
d. Half a litre of house wine (€3)
e. A litre of house wine (€5)
d. Breakfast €2.50 (comprising cappuccino €1 and €1.50 for a croissant or brioche)
e. Water (1 litre) anywhere from 15c to 50c at a supermarket
f. Cinema (€7.50 per ticket)
g. Theatre (€12.50 per ticket)
h. Night club entrance (€15 – €25)
i. Museums & Art Galleries (€4 – €15)
Generally speaking a nett salary of €1,200 – €1,500 per month would see you quite comfortably in a city and better off than most Italians. Bear in mind that if you want an extravagant holiday , a bigger car than normal, fancy clothes then you will need more, and again we are focusing on families renting here. Having a mortgage will of course mean that you will need more in terms of earnings, depending on how much of a deposit you have and what size of mortgage you have.
Worth a mention…
We find clothing quite expensive in Italy but we do understand the Italians are willing to spend more money on quality clothes and will mix these articles around (mix n match) quite effectively. So in the long run it probably works out to much the same. But with certain European brands entering the market like H&M and Zara this should drive the prices down.
If you have anything else to add please let us know by leaving a comment below and we’ll update our post or respond to you as soon as possible.