The biggest obstacle for many North Americans who would like to live in Italy is the prospect of finding (or rather, NOT finding) a job. When the expat bug first bites them, most assume that they’ll just show up, find a job in their chosen field, and then resume their career without any major detours. HA!
Actually, there are two hurdles to overcome: legal permission to work in Italy, and then finding gainful employment. “Gainful” being the key word there—many businesses are more than happy to “hire” you if you’re willing to work for free. Indeed, it can often seem like Italians don’t value other people’s time and expertise, acting almost offended when you tell them that you expect to get paid for writing, translation, or other services. More on that later.
My friend and fellow expat in Rome, Liz Knight, has plenty of experience with all of these challenges. She’s a lawyer by training, but her passion is for Italy and travel. Ever since her first family vacation to Italy as a teenager, she’s had an “on again, off again” relationship with the country, including several semesters abroad during college, and two expat experiences. Currently, she’s been living in Rome (again) since 2012. And she’s still hustling to piece together a steady paycheck—like the majority of the expats in Italy. She shares some acute insights about this during our podcast conversation.
Finding a Job in Italy
Part of the challenge is the economic realities of Italy’s job opportunities these days. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 3-4 years, then you know that Italy, like the rest of “Mediterranean Europe,” has been struggling to dig itself out of a long recession.
There are also some cultural forces at work here, too. For example, there’s a tendency towards socialism that drives everyone’s salary towards the fat part of the curve (a curve that’s already skewed to the low end of the scale).
As Liz noted during our conversation, engineers with prestigious Ph.D.’s only make about 25% more than a secretary at the same company. In the U.S. for example, a top-level engineer might make 600-700% more than an entry level employee. So from a financial standpoint, there is little incentive in Italy to study hard or work hard to stay ahead of the rising taxes and provide some level of extra comfort for your family.
Yet, there are other European countries that lean pretty far to the left, too, but at least the wages are higher and/or they have incredible social programs which justify high taxes. In Italy, it’s the worst of both situations: ridiculous taxes and unreliable pubic services. Things are harder still for someone without the safety net of an involved family living close by (often in the same house).
Lest you think it’s all doom and gloom, Liz will assure you that it’s not. No, in fact the positives still far outweigh the negatives. There are the often cited glories of Italy’s sublime beauty, best-in-the-world cuisine, and historical treasures. But perhaps even more alluring is that intangible magic that occurs when all the ingredients are mixed together on a perfect summer evening, resulting in a spell that bewitches your soul and causes you to make wonderful, irrational decisions—like becoming an expat in Rome. Damn the consequences and pass the vino!
But wait, there’s more! During our talk, Liz offers some of the best practical advice that I’ve heard yet for people like her and I (and maybe you?) who are determined to live out our Italian dreams. Check out what she has to say, and then get to work on the preparations long before you trade-in your remodeled 1960’s ranch-style home in North Dallas for 50 square meters of un-airconditioned discomfort in the Eternal (Infernal) City.
Liz Knight is originally from Nashville, Tennessee, practiced law in Dallas, and currently lives in Rome’s charming Ghetto neighborhood. She works for herself as a freelance attorney, alas, trying to synchronize her watch with her clients back in Texas.
If you like silliness or Italy or both, or enjoy misadventures in Random English, consider liking her Facebook page for daily news, pics, and funnies.
And if you want to “catch her in the act,” check out the Facebook Page for Rome’s Comedy Club. Liz will be performing there on 25 September, 2015 and most every “last Friday of the month.”
Click the link to check out other episodes and see my list of the best podcasts about Italy.
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I just listened to this podcast and loved it. Liz, you were right on the nose about Italy–whyyy do we just keep coming back (or staying, as in my case?), notwithstanding all the difficulties of finding a job? For some people, Italy just gets to you! I really enjoyed listening to this one.
This is my fourth listen to the podcasts and I love it. I dream about visiting Italy someday and I love the Italians and Canadian- Italians that I have met and worked with where I live in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I found the discussion fascinating around wage differences and a kind of “lack of drive” to make money…. I wonder are the wage differences that way because of more unionized environments and a focus on a social safety net. Perhaps Italians enjoy the benefits in other ways such as universal healthcare and affordable good education? I don’t know, just curious. I love the podcast, it is easy on the ears and well done.
@Frances….unfortunately almost all of the University graduates or current students I know loath the system. Law students who have to pay huge fees for books to pass their exam….which seems to be an endless, endless cycle of “if you pass the written you can move onto the oral 6-12 months later…but if you fail the oral exam, you can’t just retake it. nope. back to square one…have to re-pass the next written… (exams are graded by faculty from another city….the kicker is, many pray they’ll get sent to “easy” cities, usually in the south, like Catanzaro or Catania because supposedly they grade easier????) I’ve met a few poor souls who fell into the crap trap….failed written pt 1, tanked the oral….then failed the written their 2nd time. I’ve sat in on a few oral exams and I honestly don’t know how they do it….major props to those who don’t go insane first.
Vet students I have met hate their over saturated market….and very very low wage jobs with long hours. No real help from University profs….so many stories of “I am a year behind on my thesis because it took me that long to make an appointment with the prof….and months for them to approve my idea.” “We aren’t really allowed to share our opinions…mainly we have to just give the answers”….. The education system is kind of just part of the bigger problem sucking Italy dry.
**I meant, passed written pt 1 ^^
Frances, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m really enjoying the podcasting and I’m glad that others are, too.
Regarding the wage differences, yes, there are cultural forces at work, among other things. A sense of fairness/equality… or socialism by another word. However, despite the sacrifices for a “social safety net,” the services gained in return are, unfortunately, not to scale. Alas
A great, realistic look at living and working in Italy. We ain’t got it easy but “damn the consequences and pass the vino”. And yes, that part about taking offense if you ask for pay for work (like translation)…what’s that all about? Luckily, that does not seem to be happening so often, though I’ve certainly experienced it.
Okay, so I need to start my own LLC in the US and then maybe, just maybe I can move to Italy…now the question is how in the hell do I do that here?! 🙂
Tony, it’s not that hard. Heck, if can do it, you sure can. In Florida, it’s all done with a simple online form that takes 10 minutes and about $150, if I remember correctly.
The HARD part is deciding on what type of business to start that will “travel” well to Italy, and then making a workable business plan. The default is something in the tourist industry, but don’t hesitate to be creative and come up with something that is already aligned with your skills.
It definitely sounds possible. My question is does having that business actually “allow” me to live in Italy? What type of permission do I need then from Italy to live there? Hmmmm, inline with my skills…I am mainly skilled in education and government work…not easily translated into a successful business! 🙂