What's it really like living in Rome? Costs, language, FAQ

May 15, 2019

I've been living in Rome for about a year in total now, and I still get asked every time I meet someone: why are you here?

Sure, to anyone outside Italy living here seems idyllic. Pizza, pasta, good wine, sun, sea, sand... we all know what Italy is famous for. But beyond the rosy picture that tourists have of the country, the reality is pretty different. The economy is tough, politics are unstable, many young Italians choose to leave because jobs are few and far between. So, I thought I'd give an honest rundown of what it's really like living in Rome.


First things first...

Ok, so this is a big one. When I initially moved to Italy I didn't speak any Italian at all - and to be honest, that makes everything a lot more difficult. For finding an apartment (see below) you have to rely on the landlords speaking English, struggling your way through Italian bureaucracy to find the legal requirements (this means a Codice Fiscale, which is like our National Insurance number, which you can't sign a contract for anything without.) Likewise, signing a phone contract, internet, etc. All of this is difficult, and knowing even a little Italian will really go a long way at the beginning.

Finding somewhere to live

Next up, finding somewhere to live. Apartments in Italy *tend* to be fairly outdated, or very basic, and often come unfurnished, so if you're looking for something nice it will take a while - there is a lot of demand. Looking for apartments on Facebook (marketplace, or expat groups) or Kijiji (their version of gumtree) can be a lot easier for foreigners than trying to deal with an estate agent, who, as in many countries, take a huge cut. 'Singolo' rooms mean a private double, instead of a room with a single bed as we might expect, and 'doppio' is a shared room with someone else.

Jobs

Ah, here's the tricky part. It's no exaggeration to say that jobs here are fairly scarce, and if you don't speak fairly reasonable Italian this is limited to teaching English. (A lot of schools say they want a qualification, but often just being a mother tongue speaker is enough). Extra money can easily be picked up by doing private lessons with kids or adults, where you can charge anything between €15 and €35 an hour.

I got pretty lucky with my job, because my background is in writing and content. Loads of Italian companies have English language sites and often look for an English language consultant, or someone to translate their content or create English content on an ongoing basis. A great place to look is UN agencies like the FAO and the WFP, who have their headquarters in Rome and work in English. They often have jobs available but they're very competitive and (this I know from experience!) take a VERY long time to finalise. Usually contracts are offered on a consultancy basis, for periods of 6 months to a year.

Tour companies are also huge here, as you might expect, but bear in mind that to be a fully qualified tour guide you have to take an exam.

There are several different types of contract, the best of which being a "contratto indeterminato", which has no end date and entitles you to full employment rights. These are famously hard to get, with companies preferring to offer the "contratto determinato", which is usually a fixed duration of between 6 and 12 months, before if may or may not get renewed. This is another reason why job stability is so hard to come by. "Apprendistato" contracts are also favoured for younger people, which is basically a paid 'apprenticeship' - it is lower paid and gives the company a tax break.

Salaries tend to be much lower than the UK or the US. A full-time, paid internship may be between €600 - 800 a month, with Apprendistato contracts at around €1100. In general, anything over €2000 (before tax) is considered to be very good going. If you do find a high paid job, expect to work long hours!

Costs

Whether or not you consider Italy to be expensive really depends where you're coming from. In general, coming from the UK, I find rent, transport and eating out much less expensive, but supermarket shopping and things like the hairdressers, doctors, etc to be higher.

In general, rent for a single room in Rome varies from between €400 to €600, without bills.
A studio apartment would be between €750 and €1100, depending on the area.

Travel costs are low, at €35 for a metro pass that entitles you to unlimited metro, buses, trams and local trains for an entire month.

Gyms are, for some reason, expensive and they often offer 'deals' but only if you can pay a year upfront. I pay monthly at a franchise, Anytime Fitness, for €50 - which is actually one of the best deals I could find in my area.
Food

Food culture is, obviously, super important here and the biggest question I get asked from people back home is - how are you not huge?! Italians are VERY picky about the sort of foods that can be eaten and when, and have many, many rules... which I like to break on a regular basis. What I really like about it, though, is that the focus is really on pleasure. There aren't many fad diets, over conscious gym foodies, vegans, chia seeds etc - just good quality, fresh, and therefore healthy, produce.

General rules include:

- Only eating pasta once a day, and usually for lunch. It's more common to have a light meal in the evening, such as meat and vegetables, salad, a soup - but this is something I usually ignore, as being English, I love having my main meal in the evening.

- No cappuccinos after lunch. Many say not after 12, but in my experience that isn't really true - it's perfectly ok to have one late afternoon on a cold day, or if you don't fancy something alcoholic, but just NOT after a meal!

- Pizza is a treat, not something you'd eat regularly. It's usually preceded by 'fritti' - fried things such as zucchini flower and rice balls, which is something I don't really get. Pizza is heavy enough on it's own for me, but that could be because I'm not a great lover of fried things anyway!

There is very little interest, in my experience, in foreign food - chinese is probably the most popular, but it's not done particularly well here.
It's not all bad - here's some random things I love about living here!

I think throughout this post I've given a fairly realistic view of Italy which is that unfortunately, unless you get pretty lucky, it's not the easiest place to live in. That being said, there's a ton of things I love about it:

- I really love the summer 'beach culture', which is a massive part of the summer months. Many families from cities move to the beach for the entire month of August, if not longer, and it's common to hit the beach at the weekends too. This is so different to England for me, and makes it feel like I'm on holiday for the entire summer instead of just a week abroad!

- Going out & the bar scene. Not being a massive fan of expensive drinks or long club queues, I really like Italy's nightlife. Drinks and cheap and I've never had to queue for a long time for a club, of which there's loads of options - from trash to pop to house and warehouse parties, there's everything for really reasonable prices.

- Relaxed outside atmosphere. I really like that, especially in the warmer months, everything happens outside in the piazza - lunch, dinner, drinks, students sitting on the steps and having a beer, kids playing, which is something we don't really have in the UK (cold weather, amirite.)

- Lots of public holidays! And I mean, lots. And Italians often take the 'bridge' day too, which means that if a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, you could take off the Monday/Friday and it would be pretty acceptable.

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