28 September 2016

Rebecca Hughes - Expat in Italy

Rebecca Hughes - Expat in Italy

We’ve had the chance to talk to Rebecca Hughes, 23, a Scottish expat who has moved to Italy alone. Ms. Hughes who has been living there for almost two years, now works as an English teacher.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I’m from Edinburgh, Scotland.


Q: What made you move out of Scotland?

A: I started a love affair… with Italy! As a child, we had many family holidays in Italy, which prompted me to learn Italian at school. Then studying art history at university rather sealed the deal and after a Masters, I went straight off to Italy to savour all the culture, language and food possible.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I’m now living near to Venice, very convenient for my artistic interests!


Q: How long have you been living in Italy?

A: It’s almost my two year anniversary of moving to Italy, which I will celebrate Italian style with a lot of prosecco.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I moved alone, but I am now living with my boyfriend. I recommend looking for flatshares when you first move as living alone at the start can be a little overwhelming!


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I certainly miss my family, but luckily my Dad is also rather enamoured with Italy so, being retired, he and my Mum hop on planes fairly frequently to visit. I don’t miss home too much, but I do make sure any visitors bring me tea or Scottish tablet or anything I’m craving! I  travel home for important events like Christmas and make sure I’m present at all the family milestones– I think the first Christmas I don’t go home will only be when I’m married with children! And obviously talking to friends and family on Skype rather than just sending messages helps.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: I love Italian people, and I love the contrast to the British. If a train is delayed, that’s a cue for a carriage-wide conversation, and eye contact is certainly allowed! Italian grandmothers will make you feel like you’ve been part of the family for years, and will express their love through mountains of food. In general, people are ready to chat and will welcome you easily if you yourself are friendly and don’t only socialise with other expats. 


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Italy? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: Making friends with other expats is the easy way out. However, it is a good idea at the start because there will be so many new and strange things you really want to dissect with another expat! You have to be patient to make your Italian friends, and I found just being continuously friendly and ready to accept any invitation, as well as improving my Italian, was the way.


Q: How does the cost of living in Italy compared to your home?

A: On the whole, it’s a bit cheaper. Supermarket shops, takeaway pizzas, coffee and that kind of thing are cheaper. Train travel is a lot cheaper, and there are good offers for monthly passes on buses and trains (if you move to Venice getting a monthly pass for the vaporetto should be the first thing you do!). On the other hand, I’ve found relatively few free cultural attractions, and of course, you have to be careful not to be ripped off in restaurants in touristy places.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: An espresso is 1 euro while a cappuccino ranges from 1.20 – 1.50.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: For a starter and a primo piatto (generally pasta) plus ½l of wine, water and coffee you’re looking at about 20-25 euros per person.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: If it’s fish you’re after you can pay upwards of 40 euros a head. Personally, I much prefer the simple, family run restaurants in Italy where you can get equally as good food without the pretentious presentation!

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: In a supermarket, a decent bottle of wine is 3-4 euros. A packet of cigarettes is around 5 euros.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Italy?

A: You really need to be able to speak Italian well, or get an Italian or fluent speaker to help you. Their banks and bank accounts work pretty differently from in Britain, and there are lots of extra charges, for example, to withdraw money from a cash machine not owned by your bank. It’s important to be able to read and understand the small print!


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Being Italy, if you have to do anything involving bureaucracy schedule in about a 5-hour window. Luckily I didn’t have to get a Visa or work permit, but just getting my residency alone took about 2 hours. An Australian friend of mine who holds an Italian passport had a ridiculous experience trying to convince Italian authorities she did actually have Italian ancestors. I’d advise making sure you have all and more evidence and paperwork ready before starting on any applications, and perhaps ask if there is an English speaker in the office.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Italy is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Having had European citizenship up until a little while ago (!) visiting doctors or hospitals hasn’t been a problem. It should be noted though that you pay quite a lot for visits, and often not very officially. The most recent time I went I actually handed the money straight to the doctor himself, which felt really strange!


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or Italy? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: I didn’t secure health insurance, but then again as a European citizen getting treatment is relatively straight forward. 


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Italy? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: I watched all sorts of YouTube videos and read blogs about having a capsule wardrobe and making sure things match, but in the end, I decided just to take the clothes I really love that make me feel comfortable and confident! Then if I needed to buy anything else, well I’m in the home of fashion! I packed pretty lightly and managed to get everything into my hold bag on the plane. I’ve actually ended up doubling my wardrobe here… I’d say it’s more important to bring things you can’t buy here, such as anything sentimental, or food you love. I’ll be bringing back coriander on my next trip!


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: As most expats tend to find, the biggest challenge has been making friends that are Italian. I have many people that I say hi to and have a brief chat, but I only started making real friends when I began to speak Italian with more confidence.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Italy?

A: Well apart from the art, the food, the wine, the sunshine, etc. I particularly like the variety of this country. From north to south and east to west everything changes – you have German-speaking villages with Austrian architecture and sachertorte in the north, you have the elegant lakes with famous villas in Lombardia, you have a multitude of dramatic castles topping hills in Tuscany, you have the utter chaos and delight of Naples and then the stunning turquoise sea in Sicily.  And then there’s everything in between! On the negative side, I’ve found the easy-going nature of Italians also creeps into working situations such as making contracts and informing you of timetables or payment details. I am now very careful to ask up front exactly what and when I’ll get paid to avoid nasty surprises!


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Venice is a dream destination for most travellers, but if you live there, or nearby it can be pretty exhausting constantly battling with tourists. I read lots of blogs and locals’ advice on where to go in Venice to avoid the crowds (I’ve written about lots of these on my blog), and I recommend doing the same! But I also love to escape the cities to places like the Colli Euganei, with excellent wine, or little villages which can be found on http://www.borghipiubelliditalia.it/ website or also on my blog! In the summer I follow the Italians and escape to the sea or the lakes.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Not at the moment! I’ve got so much left to explore here first, like the south of Italy and Sardegna.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: 1. Learn Italian well and have the confidence to speak it! Not only does this help vastly with making friends that aren’t only out to take advantage of your English, but it means you can really start feeling like you belong there – open a bank account, chat to local shopkeepers, and generally not feel anxious about everyday interactions such as going to the post office or buying tickets for public transport. Plus, you learn so much more about the culture of a country if you can speak the language well, and more than just a few words here and there - be able to have an in-depth conversation.

2. Get an Italian sim card ASAP. Italians all use Whatsapp to communicate, so you’ll want to have the internet when you’re out and about.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Italy?

A: As I live near Venice I like to read La Venessiana, whose photos will make you want to hop on a plane straight away. Bologna is another city I love which is pretty close, and Flaneur in Bologna provides a lot of information about hidden gems from private gardens to the first Syrian restaurant in the city.