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.
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.