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How expensive is life in Italy really?

Slightly cheaper than the UK but more expensive than Germany: here's what you need to know about the cost of living in Italy.

How expensive is life in Italy really?
Shoppers at an Italian supermarket. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Many people imagine living in Italy is cheap and cheerful – at least compared to living in many other countries. But how true is that?  Here we take a closer look at the cost of living in Italy.

According to a study by CEO World magazine published on Monday, Italy is 28th on the list of the most expensive countries to live in.

Number one on the list was Switzerland, followed by Norway, Iceland and Japan.

Australia was 16th, the US came 19th, Canada ranked 24th, and the UK was found to be very slightly more expensive than Italy, ranking 27th.

The rankings are based on five major metrics: cost of living, rent, groceries, eating out and purchasing power, and were created based on data on a range of living costs, such as accommodation, clothing, taxi fares, utility, internet, the price of groceries, transport, and eating out.

The data were then compiled into an index, using the notoriously expensive city of New York City  as a benchmark. New York was given an index score of 100. So a country with a score higher than 100 is more expensive than New York, while below signals that it is cheaper.

Italy scored 67.28 overall. It was found to be four percentage points more expensive than the UK for groceries, but almost eight points cheaper when it came to rent.

Compared to Germany, Italian groceries were six points more expensive, but rent was found to be cheaper overall.

Photo: AFP

However, restaurant bills are up to eleven percent cheaper in Germany than in Italy, with eating out in Italy costing just slightly less than it does in the UK and US, according to the study.

This echoes the findings of previous European studies, which have shown the cost of groceries, eating out, internet and communications to be relatively high in Italy.

Of course, these are overall figures by country and don't take into account regional variations, or the cost of living from one city to another.

The north of Italy tends to be more expensive than the south, and cities like Milan are notorious for high rents while it can be cheap to rent in small towns and villages. But even between cities and regions, the costs can vary greatly.

READ ALSO: These are the Italian cities where rent prices are rising fastest

According to data from Internations, the average rent price for an 85 square meter apartment in Italy is €800 (880 USD) a month.
 
The highest monthly rents were found to be in the northern Val D'Aosta region (€1,555 per month on avergae) and the cheapest in southern Calabria (€490 per month).
 
As for average utility costs, a bill of between €100-€150 (110 to 165 USD) for electricity, gas, and water for an 85 square meter apartment, according to Internations data.
 
Italian newspaper La Repubblica found that the average Italian family spends €2,564 on living costs monthly.
 
Of that, €457 went on groceries and €207 on transport.
 
However, overall expenses were markedly different from one part of the country to another; as high as €2,874 in the north west and falling to 2,071 euros in some parts of the south.
 
 

Member comments

  1. Where’s the link for this? Italian newspaper La Repubblica found that the average Italian family spends €2,564 on living costs monthly. It would be nice if you linked to the sources you are quoting.

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RENTING

Reader question: How can I find an apartment to rent in Rome?

The Eternal City is a popular destination for foreigners wanting to stay for a few months or even years, but finding a place to rent can be complicated. Here's where to start.

Reader question: How can I find an apartment to rent in Rome?

Question: I’m moving to Rome in the spring with friends and we’re looking to rent an apartment in a central area. Do you have any suggestions for good sources of rentals in Rome?

For those staying in Rome for just a few weeks, it’s often simplest to go with a short-term booking site like Airbnb.

If you’re planning on staying for longer than this, however, it’s probably more cost-effective to go the official route and sign a rental agreement – though be prepared to deal with a certain amount of hassle (more on this below).

Some of the most popular websites in Italy for rentals are idealista.it, immobiliare.it, and casa.it, where you’ll find a wide range of apartments for rent.

All the listings on these sites are in Italian, so it’s helpful to familiarise yourself with some key vocabulary.

READ ALSO: Ten things to expect when renting an apartment in Italy

In affitto is ‘for rent’ (in vendita, ‘for sale’). For a short-term let, you’ll want a place that’s furnished (arredato). A  locale is a room (note: not a bedroom), so a bilocale is a one-bedroom with one other room and a monolocale is a studio. 

It’s worth reviewing all the photos available and if possible the floor plan (planimetria) so you know exactly what kind of set up the house has; for example a trilocale doesn’t necessarily have two bedrooms, but might just be a one-bed with a separate living room and kitchen. 

For people beginning their search without any Italian, the English-language real estate listings aggregator Nestpick is a good option – though bear in mind you’re unlikely to find the same range of options as on the Italian-language sites.

If you’re coming with a university, they should be your first port of call; some will have a roster of trusted landlords, or can at least direct you to online forums where you can seek recommendations from current and former students.

READ ALSO: Do renters in Italy have the right to keep pets?

Facebook is also a good place to look: Rent in Rome and Rome Expats have two of the largest groups dedicated to searching for an apartment in the eternal city. If you know you want somewhere for at least a year, Long Term Rentals Italy is also an option.

As a guidepost, InterNations, an information and networking site for people living overseas, lists the average monthly rent in Rome as €1,220.

Italy’s rental contracts tend to favour tenants: common contracts are the 3+2 or 4+4, which means the rent is locked in for at least three/four years, at the end of which the renter can choose to renew at the same rate for another two/four years.

Facebook groups can be a good place to start when apartment-hunting in Rome.
Facebook groups can be a good place to start when apartment-hunting in Rome. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The contratto transitorio (temporary or short-term lease), by contrast, is for anywhere between one and eighteen months. Bear in mind it’s the landlord, not the tenant, that’s locked into these minimum time periods – just make sure there’s a clause that allows you to move out after a specified notice period.

Landlords often prefer to rent our their apartments with contratti transitori so they have more freedom to sell or raise the rent, so you may be at an advantage if you’re looking for a place to stay for just a few months.

Even with just a short-term lease, a landlord can request up to three months’ rent (!) in advance as a security deposit, and it’s common to ask for two. To stand the best chance of getting your deposit back, it’s worth taking detailed photos of the property before you move in so you have a record of its state.

READ ALSO: ‘Why I used to hate living in Rome as a foreigner – and why I changed my mind’

If you’re going through an agency, it’s also common for tenants to pay a finder’s fee of one month’s rent – all of which can make initial costs rise very fast. The silver lining is that in Rome you can (and should) negotiate on the rent, deposit, and other contract terms, and not just take what you’re offered.

Some landlords will suggest you bypass an agency and deal directly with them. While avoiding the agency fees is tempting, this can leave you in a very vulnerable situation as you have no legal standing if it turns out you don’t have an official rental contract – so it’s not advised.

It’s also important not to hand over any money until you’ve viewed the apartment in person (or had a trusted representative do so on your behalf) and confirmed the listing is legitimate. Scams are not unheard of in Rome, and foreigners are ideal targets.

READ ALSO: Moving to Italy: How much does it really cost to live in Milan?

When browsing listings, consider what’s important to you in terms of the neighbourhood and type of property – and if there’s anything you’re unsure of, it’s worth seeking out advice in online groups from people already living in the city.

A ground floor apartment on a cobbled side street near the centre, for example, may sound ideal, but if it’s in a touristy neighbourhood you may find you’re quickly driven mad by the sound of rolling luggage bouncing past your window all hours of the day and night.

Finding an apartment to rent in Rome can be a challenge, but if you put in the effort, you’re sure to find your ideal base – and move on to making the most of your time in one of Europe’s most picturesque and historically rich capitals.

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