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EMPLOYMENT

Will Italy really pay you to move to its ‘smart working’ villages?

Some small Italian towns are hoping to breathe new life into their neighbourhoods by luring remote workers with financial incentives. But is it really as simple as that? We look into the Italian relocation schemes on offer in Italy.

Will Italy really pay you to move to its 'smart working' villages?
Can you really get paid to freelance in Italy? Photo: Benjamin Jopen / Unsplash

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.

READ ALSO: ‘Smart working’? Here’s what you need to know about going self-employed in Italy

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.

Rustic property and being your own boss. Dream or doable? Photo: Chris Barbalis/Unsplash

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.

READ ALSO: Could Italy’s abandoned villages be revived after the coronavirus outbreak?

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.

READ ALSO: Community cooperatives: the small Italian towns taking charge of their own future

Stunning Italian landscapes for those willing to up sticks. Photo: Lennart Hellwig/Unsplash

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.

READ ALSO: Freelance or employee: Which is the best way to work in Italy?

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.

READ ALSO: Digital divide: The parts of Italy still waiting for fast wifi

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.

READ ALSO: ‘This is where I want to be’: The growing number of young Italians choosing life on the farm

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.

Member comments

  1. What visa do I apply for it I work for a foreign company but want to live in Italy (smart working, but not self-employed)?

  2. Hi,

    We are travelling from the UK to our house in Marche on Saturday, we will self-quarantine for 5 days on line with Ministry of Health order.

    My in-laws would like to come for a visit while we are there, they will obviously have to self-quarantine but does anyone know if we will have to self-quarantine again with them?

    Fiona

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STUDYING IN ITALY

REVEALED: What studying in Italy is really like and what you should expect

If you're planning to study in Italy, there's a lot to consider. We asked international students about their experiences of everything from finding accommodation to navigating unusual exam methods.

REVEALED: What studying in Italy is really like and what you should expect

What student hasn’t at least once thought about moving to a foreign country and enjoying life away from home in a new environment? For many, the object of such daydreaming is Italy.

The bel paese is known for the quality of its higher education system and its relatively low tuition fees, which range from a minimum of €900 to a maximum of €4,000 per year at public universities. 

Ranked: Italy’s best universities and how they compare worldwide

Factor in Italy’s culinary culture, picturesque landscapes and warm weather and it’s easy to see why nearly 90,000 foreign nationals move to Italy for educational reasons every year. 

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. A number of hurdles can turn studying in Italy into a far-from-idyllic experience: snail-paced bureaucracy, accommodation-related trials and tribulations, and locals’ often poor command of English are just some of the problems international students told us they’ve faced.

So, what exactly do prospective students need to know about living and studying in Italy and, above all, how can they prepare for the challenges that lie ahead? The Local asked current and former international students about their experiences to find out.

What to expect from your course

First things first, you should be aware of Italian universities’ teaching and assessment methods. If you’ve never studied in the country before, the chances of you being familiar with the country’s education system are close to zero. That’s because Italian universities have unique teaching methods, replicated hardly anywhere else in the world. 

Most of the teaching is delivered through frontal lecture-style instruction, with hardly any room for seminars or other forms of in-class interaction. Secondly, exams are for the most part conducted orally, with students asked a number of questions (usually around five) about the relevant subject.

Adjusting to this system isn’t always a walk in the park. In fact, some students say they never fully got to grips with it.

“I did my triennale [undergraduate course] at Cà Foscari [University of Venice] and I didn’t like it at all,” says Evelina Gorbacova, a Latvian national who is now doing an MA in Digital and Public Humanities at the same university.

“The system was such that you had to learn everything by heart,” she explains. “You would just go to class, write down some things and then repeat those things at the exam. That was very frustrating.”

Thankfully, Gorbacova says the postgraduate course she is currently on is significantly more practical than her triennale was, and allows for a greater level of interaction between students. 

To avoid any unpleasant surprises, students are advised to pore over the teaching structure of their chosen course before formally accepting a university offer. Usually, such information is readily available online. Should that not be the case, reach out to the university directly and ask for a detailed course handbook.

A student walks outside Milan’s Bicocca University. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Once you have officially accepted your university offer, how should you then prepare for your upcoming encounter with Italian academia?

One thing students recommend is to start practicing your oral presentation skills early on, ideally prior to moving to Italy, and, if possible, in front of a friend or a family member.

“There’s a certain technique that you need to apply to do well in Italian exams,” says Ibrahim Issa, a British medicine student at the University of Pavia. 

“You need to have this skill whereby you can just keep on talking about a subject at will or move the conversation into an area where you’re more comfortable and confident. That’s something that people looking to study in Italy should try to get used to before moving.”

While that might be easier said than done, even a small amount of practice will save you from problems down the line – whether or not you have a natural fear of public speaking.

What paperwork will you need?

For non-EU students, this is the very first stumbling block you’ll come across.

Unlike students from within the European Union, who enjoy freedom of movement across the entire bloc, non-EU students are required to obtain a student visa (also known as type-D visa) prior to entering the country.

The application for said visa, which you will have to submit to the Italian consulate in your own home country, generally entails producing a number of official documents including proof of pre-enrollment in an Italian university course, proof of sufficient financial means, and valid medical insurance.

READ ALSO: Five things to know before you apply for an Italian student visa

Owing to the rather lethargic pace of Italian bureaucracy, the biggest piece of advice students give is to apply long before the start of the academic year. 

“Bureaucracy is a bit of a nightmare,” says Issa. “Any type of paperwork or governmental process takes so long.”

“When you’re pressed for time, as an international student, it can be a really big headache.”

In concrete terms, converting the necessary documents from your native language to Italian might be the most irksome procedure you’ll face. 

“In my experience, the most difficult thing was getting my documents translated and apostilled,” Issa explains.

“That really takes ages and, if you’re trying to do everything within a specific timeframe, which I was at the time, it can be really difficult. Luckily, my dad helped me out a lot. I wouldn’t have made it without him.” 

So, in short, give yourself plenty of time and, if necessary, seek the assistance of family and friends to steer clear of trouble.

A type-D visa isn’t the only certificate you’ll need if you want to live in Italy, however. 

After entering Italy, non-EU nationals have eight days to apply for a valid residence permit, or permesso di soggiorno. The application, which usually costs around €100, must be submitted at a local post office. 

A statue of the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, outside Rome’s Sapienza University. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Students are required to submit a number of documents including a copy of their passport, visa, proof of medical insurance and university enrollment letter. 

This stage is followed by an interview and fingerprint registration at the local Questura (police precinct). Finally, after a three- to six-month ‘processing period’ (yes, we know…), students should receive their permesso, giving them full access to public healthcare, social security and education. 

While the previous piece of advice applies here too – always prep the required paperwork in advance – familiarising yourself with the Italian language, or, at the very least, Italian legalese, is the smartest course of action here. ​​

Italy’s English proficiency is second to last in the European Union, which means that many public officials are not as fluent in the language as might be hoped.

READ ALSO: Why Italians have a hard time learning English – and how things could improve

“Learning Italian will save you so much time and effort when you’re dealing with bureaucracy,” Issa says. “Going to public offices like the post office or the comune without knowing a little bit of Italian can be really, really difficult for newcomers.”

If, for whatever reason, you’re not able to acquaint yourself with the relevant Italian jargon prior to your permesso-seeking quest, you might want to ask someone you know to help you. 

“During my first year, I often had people from my collegio [hall of residence] come with me to the comune or other public offices,” says Issa. “That helped me out quite a lot, even in terms of confidence.”

If necessary, you could also ask your university’s international admissions office for guidance.

What about accommodation?

This is usually challenge numero due for non-EU nationals – and the first one for European citizens. 

According to Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index, Italy sits in the middle of the European pack with respect to rental costs. On average, renting a flat in Italy is cheaper than in the UK, Germany and France, but more expensive than in Greece, Croatia and Poland.

Monthly rent can range from €300 to €600 a month depending on the flat’s location, considering distance from the city centre and the university campus. On average, the monthly rent for a three-bedroom flat close to the city centre is around €1400, whereas renting the same type of flat in the city outskirts would set the tenants back around €900.

When it comes to finding a rental the safest available option for foreign students, and especially for first-year students, is to go for university accommodation

Mauricio Benitez, a Honduras national who recently graduated from Milan’s Bocconi University with a Master of Science in International Management, lived in a hall of residence throughout the first year of his course.

He says: “It was a great deal. Rent was 650 per month but everything – and I mean everything – was included, even cleaning services twice a week.” 

“On top of that, dealing with the university directly was much more convenient and secure than dealing with letting agencies.”

READ ALSO: Ten things to expect when renting an apartment in Italy

If university accommodation ends up being your choice, the best way to go about renting is through the university’s own channels. Keep in mind that the online registration process usually opens in late spring/early summer.

If you would rather go solo and rent a room privately (or just haven’t been able to book a place in a student hall of residence), there are a number of alternatives you can explore. University bulletin boards, student groups on social media, and student-housing websites like Uniaffitti, Affitti Studenti e Studentsville are all viable options.

However, keep in mind that dealing with Italian letting agencies and private landlords can be incredibly frustrating.

Gorbacova was accepted into Cà Foscari in the summer of 2017, but says relocating to Venice in time for the start of the academic year was no easy feat for her. 

“Finding a flat was hard. I had no knowledge of Italian at that point and a lot of people didn’t even bother to reply to my emails,” she says. 

“Sometimes, they wouldn’t even reply to my calls because they just saw a foreign number on their phone screen. I really don’t want to generalise but I think that most landlords actually prefer Italian students over foreign ones.” 

Besides having a rather ambiguous disposition towards foreign students, most Italian agencies and landlords also often require an Italian-born guarantor, making renting an arduous task for international students.

“I think that, whichever way you look at it, renting is just much, much easier for Italian students,” says Gorbacova. “When they [Italian students] are asked for a guarantor, they can just provide the details of one of their parents, whereas when we’re asked for one, our parents can’t really help much unfortunately.”

Social life and the language barrier

Before you plunge into Italian culture, you’ll need some basic knowledge of the language.

As previously mentioned, Italy is one of the worst-scoring European countries when it comes to English proficiency. In fact, it is one of just two countries (the other one is Spain) where English-language skills are classed as “moderate” rather than “high”. This means that most Italians, and especially those over 40, are not exactly fluent in English. 

While at university you will hardly need to speak any Italian – academic staff and local students generally have a good command of English – you will need to have at least some knowledge of the language to fully enjoy all the perks of Italian life.

Jeremias Finster, a 25-year-old from Nuremberg, Germany, recently graduated from Milan’s prestigious Bocconi University with a Master of Science in International Management

“Language matters,” says Jeremias Finster, a recent Bocconi graduate originally from Nuremberg, Germany. “It’s not just about becoming friends with local students. If you’re going to the supermarket or to a restaurant, or if you’re just interacting with the neighbours, being able to speak the local language improves your experience so much. It really allows you to have a different type of connection with the surrounding environment.” 

Your university will surely offer language classes, but all of the students we spoke to strongly recommend laying some groundwork before moving. This can easily be done with free online courses or language-learning mobile apps.

READ ALSO:

Once you’re in Italy, strive to be around local students as much as you can. Although it might feel quite natural for you to hang out with fellow foreign students, try to socialise with Italian nationals as doing so will greatly help you practice and improve your language skills.

“During my time in the country, I really tried to get out of my comfort zone and make friends with Italian students,” says Finster. 

“On lunch breaks, I would often join the ‘Italian group’ in the canteen. That was a great opportunity for me to not only get to know the local people but also practice my speaking.” 

If you’re not the type to bond with others over a risotto, bear in mind that there are also many university societies and activities that you can join in order to get yourself involved with local student life. Buona fortuna.

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