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Where do all the native English-speaking residents live in Italy – and where do they avoid?

Ever feel like you're the only anglophone in the village? Or do you seem to hear English everywhere you go? Here are the stats on how many other English speakers share your part of Italy.

Where do all the native English-speaking residents live in Italy - and where do they avoid?
What parts of Italy are popular with English speakers? Photo: DepositPhotos

We took a look at the latest data available from national statistics office Istat to get a picture of Italy's anglophone residents.

A note on the numbers: they refer to people who have officially registered their residence with the local authorities, something all foreigners in Italy are supposed to do after three months living here (but that some don't). They don't include non-Italians who only spend part of the year in Italy, naturalized Italians, or dual citizens who've registered under their Italian passport. 

And of course, there's no way to count all the many people from non-English-speaking countries who use the language too. 

But with all those things in mind, here's what we know about native English speakers living in Italy. 

Who are the English speakers in Italy?

As of January 1st, 2017, around 5.1 million non-Italians called Italy home, roughly 8.5 percent of the country's total population of 60.5 million.

Native English speakers account for only a small percentage of Italy's foreign population. According to the last census, English doesn't even feature in the top ten languages spoken by foreigners living in Italy, most of whom come from Romania (23 percent), Albania (9 percent), Morocco (8 percent), China (6 percent) and Ukraine (5 percent).

Going down the list, the first countries where English is an official language are the Philippines and India, whose citizens make up around 3 percent each of Italy's total foreign population. They're followed by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nigeria (around 2 percent each).

All other English-speaking countries have fewer than 50,000 nationals living in Italy each, each group representing less than 1 percent of Italy's foreign population.

The United Kingdom has just over 28,000 citizens in Italy, the United States has 15,000, Ireland has 2,900, Canada has 2,200, Australia 1,700, South Africa 600 and New Zealand just 300.

The least-represented English-speaking country we could find was tiny Tuvalu: just one of the Polynesian island's citizens lives in Italy.

Where do most English speakers live?

Foreigners of all kinds are drawn to three parts of Italy – the north-west, centre and north-east – and English speakers are no exception.

Let's take a closer look.

Lombardy is the most popular region

… by a long way, and presumably for the same reason it has drawn Italians from other parts of Italy for decades: jobs. The northern powerhouse is the only Italian region that's home to more than a million foreigners all on its own and, by our estimate, around 200,000 of them come from English-speaking countries.

Italy's economic capital, Milan, is the most popular part of Lombardy by far. The city has a large Filipino population (for context: more Filipinos live in Milan alone than the entire number of Brits and Americans in the whole of Italy combined), as well as several thousand Sri Lankans and Pakistanis.

The Milan skyline. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

And roughly half of all the Brits, Americans, Irish people, Canadians, Australians, South Africans and New Zealanders in Lombardy live in Milan, though the neighbouring province of Monza Brianza, within commuting distance of the big city, is also popular. 

Industrial Brescia attracts a lot of English-speaking foreigners too, especially Indians and Pakistanis. 

But Lombardy's picturesque lakeside areas are also a big draw. Como and Varese are popular choices for Brits, Americans and Irish people (including, famously, actor George Clooney).

Rome is the most popular city

The capital might not have Milan's slick economy, but its tourism industry, large institutions and cultural cachet still make it the single top city for foreigners in Italy.

Blowing bubbles in central Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

While immigrants from developing countries tend to spread more equally across the north-west, north-east and centre of Italy, immigrants from wealthy countries are disproportionately concentrated in Rome. 

The capital is the top destination by far for incoming Brits (around 13 percent of whom choose Rome as their Italian home), Americans (18 percent), Irish people (21 percent), Canadians (18 percent), Australians (14 percent), South Africans (13 percent) and New Zealanders (16 percent).

English-speakers love Tuscany

If they're not in Rome and Milan, English speakers tend to be fairly widely scattered across Italy. But one trend that emerges is that people from richer anglophone countries are noticeably drawn to Tuscany.

Call it the Under the Tuscan Sun effect or just the natural consequence of the region's gorgeous landscapes, great cuisine and charming villas, but Tuscany is the third choice after Lazio or Lombardy for Brits, Americans, Irish people, Canadians, Australians and South Africans (New Zealanders actually prefer Veneto, but they're the outliers).

Admiring the view from Florence's Boboli Gardens. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Around 6,700 people from these countries currently live in Tuscany, more than half of them from the UK alone. Brits tend to spread out across the region, with a few hundred in each province, but Americans flock to Florence: US citizens total more than 1,100 there, making it one of the few places in Italy where Americans outnumber Brits.

While Florence is the most popular province overall, Lucca comes a close second, especially for Brits.

Brits prefer Perugia

If Florence is the dream destination for Americans, UK citizens have built quite a community in Perugia. Just over 1,000 Brits have made the Umbrian province their home, making it a slightly more popular choice than Florence.

In fact Perugia – which includes Assisi, Spoleto and other well-visited towns as well as the walled city of the same name – is the third most popular province for Brits after Rome and Milan. And given how much smaller Perugia's population is than either of those two metropoles, its British presence is that much more striking.

Picturesque Perugia. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Where do English speakers overlook?

The single province where you're least likely to hear English is the Aosta Valley, the small autonomous region in the far north-west. That's not entirely surprising, since it's Italy's least populous region and where the few residents they have are the most spread out. There's plenty to recommend it, though, not least Italy's highest peaks, hearty Alpine food, proximity to France and Switzerland, and some stunning mountaintop castles.

The other widely overlooked region is Molise, a place that even Italians tend to forget. That said, Americans and Canadians have started making inroads there: to give you an idea, the central region's US residents number over 150, compared to just 63 Brits, seven Australians and three (three!) Irish people. We've said it before and we'll say it again: Molise is one of Italy's best kept secrets.

Colli al Volturno, Molise. Photo: DepositPhotos

Other areas where anglophones are sparse include Basilicata, the poor but scenic southern region on the instep of Italy's boot; Trentino and South Tyrol, the autonomous provinces on the border with Austria that are consistently rated some of Italy's best places to live; and Calabria, another southern region so plagued by poverty, organized crime and depopulation that the government is considering offering pensioners tax breaks to retire there.

And even in regions that are firmly on the English-speaking expat's radar, there are plenty of provinces that tend to go unnoticed: more or less anywhere in Sardinia outside Cagliari, the centre of Sicily as opposed to its coast, Sondrio in the heart of Lombardy's Alps, or Prato just north of Florence.

READ ALSO: Ten things to know before moving to Italy

Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Member comments

  1. I live in Alcamo, 30 mins from Palermo, Sicily. I’ve met one other Englishman in 18 months !!!! pure bliss ha ha

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Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city

As Italy swelters in the early summer heat, writer Richard Hough in Verona shares his tips for keeping cool in the city this summer.

Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city
Photo: Tommaso Pecchioli/Unsplash

With the temperature in Italy soaring and this year’s first wave of the famed ‘caldo Africano’ sweeping the nation, a number of coping strategies can be employed to try and stay cool in the brutally hot Italian summer.

In Verona the temperature is now well into the thirties, and even through the night it rarely falls below 20 degrees.

I can’t remember the last time it rained, and there’s barely a breath of wind in the air. Even performing simple tasks, like putting on a pair of socks (to be avoided at all costs if possible), cause an alarming outbreak of perspiration. Anything as vigorous as cycling to work or going for a jog becomes an energy-sapping endeavour that inevitably results in an unpleasant sweaty drenching. 

READ ALSO: Fried eggs and sweaty underpants: 10 phrases for complaining about the heat like an Italian

With the effective use of blinds, shutters and air-conditioning, some of our neighbours and friends boast of being able to keep their house at a relatively stable 19 or 20 degrees, a feat of household management we’ve never quite managed to achieve.

Noisy, expensive and generally unsatisfying, we tend to use our air conditioning system only as a last resort and instead endure the heat of our apartment like some kind of mildly unpleasant act of self-flagellation.

Ice-cream, of course, is an altogether more pleasant way to confront the summer heat.

To my squirming delight, the local gelateria even offered me a loyalty card earlier this week. On closer inspection, I was somewhat dismayed to calculate that I’d need to consume €100 of ice-cream before I received any reward! When you consider that a cone costs as little as €2 a pop, you have some idea of the scale of the task that lies before me.

READ ALSO: How to keep cool like an Ancient Roman in Italy’s summer heat

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Iced tea is another vital source of refreshment in these sweltering days. Before moving permanently to Italy ten years ago, I had always mocked the idea of cold tea. For me tea was brewed hot and strong with a splash of milk. The notion of ice-cold, sweet, peach-flavoured tea just seemed ridiculously self-indulgent. The first summer I spent it in Verona I consumed the stuff by the gallon. It remains one of the few things that can quench that insatiable summer thirst.

Another, of course, is beer. 

Verona is well-known principally as a wine-producing region, but in the summer months that intoxicating blend of barley, hops and water comes into its own, as the full-bodied red wines of the region momentarily take a back seat. Even my wife, who never drank beer before we came to Italy, is known to enjoy the occasional birra media in the summer months. 

Some of the best birreria in town even serve their beer in chilled glasses. If you can avoid getting your lip stuck to the glassware, this is a delightfully refreshing way to enjoy the ancient amber nectar.

As the popularity of locally-brewed craft beers has soared in recent years, a number of new bars have sprung up in Verona to cater for the seemingly insatiable demand. Amongst the best of these new arrivals is the Santa Maria Craft Pub, near Piazza Erbe. Perhaps I can persuade them to introduce a loyalty card?

READ ALSO: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy – and how to suss out the fakes

Verona’s Piazza Erbe. Photo: Shalev Cohen/Unsplash

The hills above the city also provide some respite from the stifling heat below, and the Verona Beer Garden in the Torricelle hills opens every year from May to September. The Beer Garden offers the standard range of German beers and simple fast food, as well as live music, crazy golf and beer-pong, in the blissfully cool surroundings of the Veronese hills. 

This year has also seen the launch of the Mura Festival which runs from June to October. Mura is Italian for ‘wall’ and this exciting new addition to the local events scene takes place in the green ramparts of the ancient wall that surrounds the city. With everything from yoga and children’s theatre to Thai street food and arrosticini abruzzesi (barbequed lamb skewers), it’s another refreshing place to chill out and cool down after a day under the fierce sun. 

Of course, the best strategy for avoiding the heat is to leave the city behind you and head to the beach. In recent years we’ve done exactly that, exploring Sicily, Sardinia and Elba when the heat of the city gets too much. The region of Puglia, famed for its pristine beaches and crystal-clear water, has long been on our list too, but this year we’ve opted to stay local. With the ever-evolving pandemic situation, we took the decision not to be too ambitious with our travel plans. 

REVEALED: The parts of Italy where Italians are going on holiday this summer

With three months of school holidays to contend with, many Italian kids have already been dispatched from the sweltering cities, often with their obliging nonni (grandparents). We too will soon be decamping, returning this year to Bibione, a popular beach resort to the east of Venice on the Adriatic coast, where we’ve enjoyed simple family holidays in the past. 

Like many families, we’ve opted for a ‘camping’ style resort, but will be treating ourselves to a luxurious, six-berth ‘leaf tent’, fully equipped with air-conditioning, fridge/freezer and the all-important mosquito netting, as well as two sun loungers and a parasol on the nearby beach.

The only slight cloud on the horizon is that I’ll have to tear myself away from the beach for a few hours to return to Verona for the second dose of my vaccine. As long as I’ve got a supply of chilled peach tea for the journey, I think I’ll be ok. And if all goes to plan, I’ll be back on the beach in time for a quick pre-lunch dip in the cool Adriatic.

Richard Hough has lived in Verona since September 2011 and writes about the region’s history, football, wine and culture. His new book, Rita’s War, a true story of persecution, resistance and heroism from wartime Italy, is available here. He is currently writing his next book about wartime Verona.