The pandemic has hit Italy’s economy and its people hard. But there have been some positives to come out of the challenges too – the need to work from home has pushed the country forwards digitally, creating a new way to live and work.
Remote working, or ‘smart working’ as it’s often referred to in Italy, has been recognised as a successful way to do business, shifting the culture with it.
With that change, new possibilities for moving to and living in Italy have opened up.
Italy wasn’t previously known for its digital agility, and many people who move to the country note the widespread internet connectivity problems. However, some Italian towns want to put paid to that and are now offering financial help to those willing to move in and set up as remote workers.
It sounds idyllic to move to a stunning Italian village and be your own boss – and if someone is offering to chip in to pay your rent, it sounds like a no-brainer.
Santa Fiora in Tuscany and Rieti in Lazio are two such towns offering to stump up funds, paying up to 50% of your rent if you’ll move there with your laptop and work for yourself.
Dozens of these so-called ‘smart working villages’ will soon be springing up in the hope of attracting new residents and reinvigorating some of Italy’s thousands of declining towns.
Locations taking part in the idea are usually quite far-flung, and so young people leave in search of employment.
The plan is to ramp up the wifi provision and get more people back in the towns, equipping them with the means to enable people to work.
It doesn’t matter what you decide to do for a living, as long as it can be done from home.
But is it really so easy?
Well, this is Italy so there’s bureaucracy to get through and of course, there are eligibility criteria.
For the Tuscan town of Santa Fiora, which now has just 2,500 residents, the local municipality is offering up to €200 or 50% of the average monthly rent for long-term stays.
It’s valid for two to six months, though, so it’s a sweetener and you’ll have to account for that in your budgeting once the help is taken away and if you want to stay.
Still, with average rent of around €300 – €500 per month, it’s an attractive prospect, depending on the remote work you can find.
The town council has launched a website to help would-be residents find their ideal home.
But you’ll have to prove that you’ll actually be going to work there, not just hoping to freeload on a summer holiday rental.
You’ll be asked to provide a document detailing what you’ll be doing there and will need to fill out an application form. And you can only get funds for the rent in the form of reimbursement, after you’ve already paid it.
The villages say they are ready to accept newcomers to carry out their jobs remotely, with newly installed high-speed fibre. Details on how to apply can be found here.
What would life really be like working from a remote Italian village?
The image often banded about when portraying schemes like this in Italy is one of sitting on your terrace with a glass of red wine in hand.
But if you’re working, the reality will probably be a bit different.
Remote, depopulated villages in Italy famously lack infrastructure such as fast or reliable wifi, shops, and public transport connections – though the organisers of the ‘smartworking villages’ scheme say participating locations will need to be able to provide certain services.
While this won’t be enough for all remote workers, it could be ideal if you need peace and quiet and would relish a slow pace of life.
Otherwise, one option is Rieti – which is closer to the capital, Rome, and has a similar deal availble – although you’ll need to stay for at least three months.
It’s a much bigger town than most taking part in the scheme, with 50,000 inhabitants, but the population has stopped growing and the council wants to reinvigorate its prospects.
Compared to Santa Fiora, the deal can be extended beyond six months, giving you even more help with your rental payments. You’re even allowed to choose a nearby neighbourhood that’s more rural, where costs are cheaper.
If you’re a freelancer, you simply need to describe your work. If you have a kind boss that will let you up sticks and move to Italy to do your work from there, you’ll need a letter to prove it.
You can find out more and how to apply here.
Other towns have previously offered incentives to move, such as Santo Stefano di Sessanio. This town gave grants if you relocated there in a bid to “give a new demographic boost to the area”, according to its website.
Aimed at attracting new residents, it was offering up to €8,000 per year for three years, paid in monthly instalments. If you opened a business, you could even get a lump sum of €20,000.
As more villages and towns pop up with financial incentives to attract new residents, Italy is making this more and achievable.
Technologically, it’s something that the government wants to make happen, with plans in place to increase the amount of high speed fibre throughout the country. That’s in conjunction with the European Union’s plans to rollout fast internet to some 202 million homes across the bloc.
Other small towns have taken their fates into their own hands by building cooperatives, such as Vetto in Emilia Romagna, which hopes to run itself and promote business from within.