5 September 2017

Toni DeBella - Expat in Italy

Toni DeBella - Expat in Italy

We’ve had the chance to talk to Toni DeBella, 60, an Italian-American expat who has moved to Italy alone. Ms. DeBella who has been living there for almost five years, now works as a writer.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I was born and raised in San Jose, California but lived most of my adult life in San Francisco and Marin County USA.


Q: What made you move out of the US?

A: The more time I spent in Italy, the more I realized that the pace and simplicity of the culture worked for me. San Francisco is a wonderful town, but it takes an incredible amount of time and effort to make a living there. It wasn’t so much that I was running away from America; I was running towards a better quality of life.


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

A: I live in the hill town of Orvieto in Umbria. After spending time here, I noticed there is a shift away from material things and a sharper focus on what really matters: Family, friends and the simple pleasures of life.


Q: How long have you been living in Italy?

A: I am coming up on my fifth anniversary in November of this year.


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

A: I live alone and I would have to say that I’m adjusting just fine, thank you very much!


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

A: Of course I miss my mom and my son, who are both in the Bay Area, but thank God for technology. I talk to my mom about every other day and my son and I text message a lot. I go home to visit them twice a year.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: I wouldn’t be living in this small town (population 4,000) if I didn’t like them because I see them all the time. Walking down the main Corso of town can be a challenge when you’re in a rush, but I am very fortunate to have lots of good friends here.


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: I’m one of those people who has never had trouble building communities and networks; it comes naturally to me. Of course, I have some English speaking friends, but I would say that I make a concerted effort to cultivate Italian relationships, because what’s the point in living in a foreign country if you don’t immerse yourself in the language, culture, and lifestyle?


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

A: There’s no comparison. San Francisco is the most expensive city in the US.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: € 90. A cappuccino is €1,20. No more expensive Starbucks swill for me!

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

A: €20, and that includes wine and dessert.

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

A: €50, I think. I prefer dining in local trattorias.

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

A: Good house wine: €6 a bottle. Really good: €15. I don’t smoke, so I have no idea how much cigarettes cost.


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

A: Because all my freelance work comes from US clients, I don’t have an Italian bank account at the moment. I pull out cash for purchases around town and pay all my bills with my debit card or online. If you need to open an account, you can easily get one through the Italian post office.


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

A: I am also lucky in that I have Italian citizenship through my grandparents, so I don’t have to worry about that headache.


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

A: Again, I’m Italian, so I’m covered on the National health system. I have a wonderful family doctor whose office is just around the corner and when I need to see him, I go to his office and wait my turn. There’s no reception desk or fancy extras, but I get seen right away. If you’re not a citizen, but are a full-time resident of Italy, you can buy into the health care system at a very reasonable rate. The best thing about the Italian system of healthcare is that if I get really sick, I won’t have to worry about going bankrupt. That’s a huge load off my mind.


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

A: See above.


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: Ha! I sold everything I own (6 boxes of memorabilia are stored at my mom’s) and moved here with just two suitcases. I travel light.


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

A: The language. I speak at about the level of a 6-year-old because I don’t have time with work to study properly, so my grammar hasn’t improved a lot. Regardless, I understand about 85% of what’s going on; 95% after two glasses of wine.


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

A: There are positive and negatives sides to anywhere you live and, of course, there are some cultural divides I will never bridge because I’m a foreigner, but I am very happy with my decision to move to Italy and I look at each day as an opportunity to grow. 


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

A: Here’s an article I wrote for Browsing Italy about Orvieto that will answer that question: http://www.browsingitaly.com/umbria/orvieto-insiders-guide/972/


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

A: Nope. I think I’ll stick around for a while.


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

A: Speak the language. Make friend with locals. Don’t insulate yourself with others from your own country or who speak the same language. Don’t buy a house before you’ve lived in a country for a few years. Don’t complain about the cultural differences – learn to adapt.


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

A: Mine. www.orvietoorbust.com. ;)