As British Nationals living in Italy, we have faced an enduring series of challenges and unknowns since Britain voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016.
Just as we were beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel, we have quickly found ourselves in a historic phase for humanity with an unseen and unpredictable enemy potentially changing the way we live at least for the foreseeable future.
We remain optimistic. Whilst the press and mainstream media are consuming our attention with coverage of COVID-19, we believe that this is a time to remind ourselves of the wealth of positives Italy has provided for those of us who are fortunate to be able to call home our adopted country.
In this first of a series of personal stories, we have invited David Nield MBE to provide us with a snapshot of his own life in Italy and some of his tips for overcoming the challenges.
A LIFE IN ITALY
I am lucky. No, I am really, really lucky. I am semi-retired and living in Italy. I receive a UK pension paid monthly in the UK and work part time as a Teacher of English as a Second Language (TESL) here in Italy when it suits me. My wife and I live in rural Umbria and we have a beautiful home with some land. We grow our own olives for oil, we keep chickens for eggs and occasionally poultry for the table. We have a large vegetable patch (“orto”) and fruit trees, soft fruit bushes, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. Best of all, I have an old, small, red tractor and some other toys to look after the property. This makes us fairly self sufficient. So yes, we are literally living ‘the good life’. Of course it is good but also hard work especially as I started here with no practical knowledge of the skills needed but everyday there are new challenges and usually I enjoy overcoming them.
Living in Italy is great. The people, the food and the wine (oh yes the wine) are fantastic. We have a wonderful life but there are some pitfalls. The bureaucracy is painful, the language barrier can be daunting and making real Italian friends is harder than you would think. So what would I recommend if you want to live in Italy?
Beating the bureaucracy. Remember the first response from your “Comune” (local town hall) will be ‘No’. Italian civil servants are not there to serve the population, they are there to ensure that Italian laws are applied and are personally liable for mistakes. They have a good job (“un lavoro fisso”) which is a job for life and although the pay is frankly terrible and their enthusiasm levels are rarely high, it is a good job! So to answer ‘no’ means ‘no change’ which is good for the system because your local bureaucrat has not changed anything and so has not made a mistake. The system does work but you need perseverance and patience (which will be tested).
There are many websites to help you navigate the system and personally I like “Curious Cat Expat” (curiouscatexpat.com). A good starting point for all the documents you may need is their ‘Checklist Getting Legal in Italy’. Of course for Brits this is changing with “BREXIT” but you still have until December 2020 to get the ball rolling and here are the key things you need to do:
- Register with your commune.
- Apply for an ID card from your “comune”, which is useful but not usually valid for travel outside Italy.
- Apply for a “Codice Fiscale” from the “Agenzia Delle Entrate”. This is needed to buy a car, house or simply exist legally here.
- Apply for a “Tessera Sanitaria”, a health card for gaining access to the Italian health system. Your EHIC (European Heath Insurance Card (the old E111) is for emergency cover only. You may need evidence that you have paid National Insurance Contributions in the UK (or in another EU country).
- Change your driving licence to an Italian one. This can be done at a local driving school and will need a doctor’s certificate but this can also be done at the school.
Finances. I do earn money here in Italy. I work when I want to and am wary of ‘working on the black’. I might be lucky but sod’s law says if I fail to follow the rules I will be caught. So I have four things to keep myself in the money:
- A bank account. Generally, very expensive. I have friends who pay the bank every time they ask for some of their money. We have an account with the Post Office (BancaPosta). It provides all the services we need and the new App lets me pay routine bills on line. I even have a PrePaid Debit card. Italy is slowly moving to contactless and other services but here in Umbria cash is still king.
- A good accountant (“commercialista”). Yes of course you can fill in your own tax returns but I found this painful in the UK. In Italian with Italian legalese? No thanks. Vital, and of course they can also help with house purchase documents and provide advice.
- Money Transfer. My British pension is paid in the UK. Sometimes I do need to move money into Euros. Originally this was a slow paperwork driven process. Today there are lots of websites and Apps. I use “WorldFirst”, the process is relatively simple and my money arrives securely in a couple of days.
- Financial Advice. When I finished work I had some money to invest. I intend to continue living here but I am not confident to play the markets on my own and frankly I am not interested since I just want my money to be there if I need it. What I wanted was a financial advisor based in Italy working for a company that understands and complies with UK and Italian fiscal laws. I found Unity Financial Partners (unityfinancialpartners.com). Based in Rome, they provide a full range of financial services. They have set up my savings in a tax efficient way, legal in both countries, and have provided excellent advice. This aspect of my life is important but it does not excite me and having some clever chaps sorting it for me is great.
Well these are the key, practical things that I think you need to do to move here. Of course learning the language is important too, even a few expressions help you settle in. Finally, BREXIT. It will change some things but the UK Embassy, BritishinItaly.com and Thelocal.it websites, BBC Radio 4, newspapers and my advisors keep me posted on what we need to consider and any actions we will need to take.
I wrote this before the whole COVID-19 thing but we have been fine here. The Italians in Umbria have been so disciplined in following the lockdown rules and we are now coming out of this slowly. The frustrations here and arguments have been the same as in the UK. I hope this wonderful country can get itself back on track. Anyway, I’m off to cut some wood or prune the olive trees or just tinker with “my oh so lovely” tractor. Yes, I am so lucky.
David is a retired British Army Officer and has made his home in the beautiful Umbrian countryside near Perugia.
Italy has been hit hard by the effects of Covid 19 and so this is a good time to share experiences and knowledge which will help us to pull through together.
We would love to hear from you.
If you would like to share your own story of your experience of living in Italy as a British National and offer our community some tips and suggestions on how to best enjoy all that Italy has to offer, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be in touch.