Are you thinking about living in Italy? Are you already living in Italy but not sure which city to choose as your home? Over my last 17 years in Italy, I’ve lived in three very different cities of very different sizes:
As a reflection on the lessons learned in these three cities as a foreigner, I will share my personal experience and my perspectives on the difference between living in a small city as opposed to a big city in Italy. I hope my perspectives will help you make your decision about where to live in Italy. If you want to find out the six reasons why it’s better to choose a small city—at least in the beginning of your stay in Italy—keep reading!
Of course, there’s a certain appeal about living in a big city, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want to live amongst the glitz and glamour of Milan, or the culture and history of Rome?
Yes, these are two amazing cities that can also be wonderful places to live. But as an expat, when you’re first getting yourself established in Italy, you can ease into Italian life better, get your Italian documents easier, and have a better quality of life and work-life balance, when living in a smaller city.
Now, just to be clear, I am not talking about a small town of 3,000 people or even 30,000. I am referring to a small city: one that is big enough to provide ample opportunities, cultural events, and social life, but isn’t so big that is swallows you up and becomes overwhelming.
As a general guideline, we could say a decent-sized small Italian city could be one with population of between 80,000 to 130,000. I will give you some examples at the end of this article. But first, let’s see the reasons why it’s better to settle in a small city than a bigger one.
Like many places in the world, the cost of living in Italy is very different between small cities and big cities. When I first came to Italy, I was living in Vicenza, I was working as an English teacher.
I was able to earn a decent living, and there was a healthy balance between salary and living expenses. Well, in 2005 when I moved to Rome, I found that rent was double the rent in Vicenza, and the salaries were less and even half in some places. That meant I had to work more, commute more, and pay more, which ultimately brought my quality of life down to the point where I eventually moved back to Vicenza.
Now, all these years later, I am still living in Vicenza, and the cost of homes is so reasonable that I was able to buy two apartments here. I wouldn’t even attempt to buy ONE apartment on my budget in a place like Rome.
When you first arrive in the land of pizza, pasta, great wine and wonderful culture, you may or may not speak Italian. I myself spoke only about 5 words back when I first arrived here back in 2004.
In that situation, finding your way around and completing everyday transactions can be a challenge. But it’s not just about the language. When first moving here, you may or may not have a car straight away. That’s why you need to keep in mind that Italian public transport is… well, not the best. There are frequent scioperi (strikes), delays, and buses stop running early, like 8 pm in many cases, and in general it’s just not very well connected.
When you’re first trying to get your feet on the ground in Italy, this may put a damper on things. But in a small city like Vicenza, you don’t need a car, and you don’t need public transport. You can reach everything in 5-10 minutes on foot or by bike. When I moved to Rome, however, it took hours, a lot of waiting and connecting from one form of transport to another, and a lot of headaches just to get to and from work. I was exhausted at the end of every day.
When you first arrive here, it’ll take some time to get your permesso di soggiorno, or residence permit. This often means waiting in long lines at the Questura, and visiting many other offices like the Comune and the Agenzia delle Entrate.
Now, if you’re anything like me when I first moved to Italy in my 20’s, I didn’t have heaps of money to pay an immigration agent, so I did all the paperwork and running around myself. It was a very time-consuming process, which of course was worth it 100%! But I did this, thankfully, all in Vicenza, where it was easy to get from place to place, and as it is a small city, the offices of the immigration authorities were not super overcrowded. In other words, you are not just a number, but a person in a smaller city.
Keep in mind that Italy is a highly relationship-oriented society, so one of the most important things for establishing a fruitful life here is having a healthy social and professional network.
You can achieve a lot in Italy by having a good, solid network, and this is the Italian way! A network is so much easier to build in a small city than in a big city. There are many less degrees of separation between people. In Vicenza, because it’s a small city, it’s very easy to get frequent invitations to friends’ homes, dinner parties and pizza parties.
As a side note, you also don’t have to worry too much about getting home late after one of these social events because remember: it only takes 10 minutes to get home from any part in the city. By contrast though, when I was in Rome I found that it took hours to commute back and forth just to meet up with someone, and then it was quite difficult to build up a good network. It takes a really long time in a big city.
This is tied to the previous point. Because it’s easier to build a network in a small city, it’s also going to be easier to find jobs or change jobs.
It’s very different from some countries where you get a job purely based on merit. That also happens in Italy, and your qualifications will be valued, but often you have a better chance of getting jobs through people you know. Also, in smaller cities there are fewer people to compete with. As an expat, you will likely have some unique abilities and even language skills which can land you a good job, and smaller cities have fewer people with similar skills to compete with.
If you have a business, building your client base and your reputation will also be much easier in a small city. It will take less time to visit clients, or potential clients. Keep in mind that Italians obtain different services largely through word-of-mouth referrals. I used to run my own language school, and 99% of my clients came through personal referrals. Other forms of advertising simply don’t work in Italy, because people rely on recommendations from trusted friends. News about you and your great services or products will spread more easily when you live in a small city.
I have had absolutely no problem with going around by myself, even late at night, in Vicenza.
By comparison, there is much less crime in the smaller cities in Italy than the bigger ones. Of course, crime can happen anywhere, so the general rule of thumb is to be careful and be sensible. However, there is much more personal security in a small city like Vicenza.
Now, I will give you some examples of smaller cities in the population range of 80-130,000. Remember obviously I haven’t personally lived in all these cities, so please don’t consider this an endorsement from my side. They’re just examples, and this is by no means an exhaustive list; there are many more cities in this category. In any case, if you’re considering any of these places, please go check them out and see for yourself.
By comparison, some slightly larger cities are:
So those are my 6 reasons to live in a small city instead of a big city in Italy. I hope this article helped you in some way, and I wish you all the best of luck for setting yourself up in beautiful Italy!