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Advice on Working in Italy

By: Paul Geraghty - Updated: 26 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
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Italy is a dream destination for many of us. Visions of sipping Chianti in a splendid countryside dotted with ancient palaces, doing the occasional bit of work while feasting on Italy’s legendary cuisine come all too readily to the mind. But are these intoxicating dreams in any way practical?

Working in Italy – The Economy

Italy does not have a dynamic economy. Despite the much vaunted “Il Sorpasso” in which Italy supposedly overtook Britain in the size of its economy in 1987 - admittedly, this was only due to the politicians deciding to factor Italy’s black economy into the official figures - it seems to have slipped a little way back since. Unemployment is a serious problem, particularly among young people.

One important thing to realise about Italy is that there are sharp differences between different parts of it. The economy of the northern half of the country is far more dynamic than the southern half, but living costs, including property costs, are correspond higher there too. In the South, unemployment in general is around the 20% level and, in some parts, it can even reach 50%.

In Italy, the black economy is also extremely important. It is estimated that around one fifth of work is done off the books and without paying any taxes. Short term contracts are also widespread. It is not uncommon to come across employers who will offer you a succession of short-term contracts, with a minimum of social protections, rather than a single permanent contract of employment. Over one quarter of Italian workers are perennially kept on these short term contracts.

English language knowledge is not widespread in Italy. It is not a country, like the Netherlands, for example, where you can reasonably expect to get by just speaking in English. Since the unemployment situation in the country is already fairly grim, you certainly won’t be doing yourself any favours by not being able to speak the language.

Learning Italian is essential, therefore, unless you plan to find work as an English teacher or work for one of the large international companies which maintain English-speaking environments.

Working in Italy - Culture

Certain aspects of the Italian work culture are very different from what we’re used to in Britain. Social networks matter more, for example, both those based on family ties and those based on personal relationships. Nepotism is common and regarded as an almost accepted part of the culture.

A job applicant may be told he is the most qualified but the position will be going to the nephew of the managing director instead. The same thing undoubtedly goes on in Britain to some extent but at least here it would be covered up. In Italy, such things are regarded as part of the normal fabric of life and so might be talked about openly.

If you settle in Italy, therefore, you should set about integrating into the culture, building up local ties, establishing networks of friends, family, neighbours and not forgetting of course the expat community. It will pay off over the long run. When you need to find a job, a flat or something similar, put word out through your social network and see what comes back.

Working in Italy – Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy in Italy is legendary, and not for its efficiency. It can be frighteningly slow to get anything processed or done. In fact, Italian government offices often offer a curious two speed system : one for normal applications which will be handled slowly, and another which receives expedited processing but for which you must pay extra.

As an EU citizen, you will escape some of the bureaucracy’s harshness, but not all. You will still need to register with the police, get a residency permit, register as a worker and obtain a codice fiscale (tax number, somewhat like a National Insurance number). Some shops even ask for your codice fiscale when you want to buy things!

Working in Italy – Conclusion

While Italy’s Dolce Vita is attainable for some, you may find earning a living there difficult. Be sure you have some kind of rare skill set or personal connections before gambling on a permanent move there; otherwise you may struggle.

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