Living in Rome: an expat guide

The Pantheon

Rome is a city that's easy to visit and hard to leave, and as a result it has a large and vibrant expatriate community. If you're considering joining them and making your home in the city, it pays to do plenty of research in advance.

Visit Rome a few times to get a feel for the place. Think about what you're going to do for a living (a lot of people come to Rome and work as tour guides or teach English, but that can wear a little thin after a few years), where you're going to live in Rome, what your social life will be like... and what you'll do if it all goes wrong.

The advantages to living in Rome

If you're reading this, you must already have an idea of the good things about life in Rome:

  • There's the food: crisp Roman pizzas, classic Roman pasta dishes like amatriciana and carbonara, and relaxing with your friends in the evening in a neighbourhood trattoria.
  • There's the weather, with its long, hot summers.
  • The city is full of, and surrounded by, the beautiful buildings and parks, and the sense of being surrounded by living history.
  • The Italian people can be wonderfully friendly, kind, and generous.

The disadvantages to living in Rome

Rome can be a frustrating place too:

  • Italian bureaucracy is enough to drive a saint crazy: the kind of trivial errand that took two minutes at home suddenly requires three trips to council offices, endless stamps, and an exciting range of small and not-so-small fees and charges.
  • When the weather gets bad, it gets bad: those long, hot summers can get a little too hot if you're not used to them, with temperatures regularly soaring over 40° C (104° F). And when the winter comes, it really comes: there may not be much snow, but there's plenty of rain. (The London tourist board once ran with the slogan 'it rains more in Rome.)
  • There's terrible, terrible traffic. Rome's roads are both congested and dangerous. Try driving on them, and you'll get the impression that everybody's playing a game that you don't know the rules too. Or that there aren't any rules to start with. Either way, it's best to stick to public transport unless you have very good reflexes.
  • All those beautiful buildings and parks aren't always as well looked after as they could be, and it can be frustrating to watch buildings that have survived millenia crumble and take damage from neglect.
  • There's no escaping the corruption in Italian public life. Depending on what you do for a living, you're unlikely to come into contact with it directly, but it can be frustrating just knowing it's there.

Legal requirements for living in Italy

The legal requirements for expatriates living in Rome (and Italy as a whole), vary according to where you're coming from.

Citizens of EU countries can theoretically waltz in as and when they like, but Italian law still requires all foreigners to have special permission to live in the country. Whatever your nationality, you will likely need to get hold of a permesso di soggiorno (also known as a carta di soggiorno) if you're planning to stay long in Rome.

If you're American, or from another country outside the European Union, things may be a little more complicated.

Wherever you're from, it's a good idea to consult a legal expert, or at least your consulate, if you want to be sure of your likely status.