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‘It’s crazy’: What to expect when you work for an Italian company

Disorganised, nepotistic and badly paid - is this really what it’s like to work for an Italian company? Here, we lift the curtain on what you should really expect if you sign up for a career in Italy.

‘It’s crazy’: What to expect when you work for an Italian company
The realities of living and working in Italy can come as a shock. But are things really that difficult? Photo by Tolga Kilinc on Unsplash

I heard plenty of unfortunate reports about working in Italy before I made the jump to move here. The decision to begin an Italian life was a joint one with my fiancé, so we could put an end to the long distance commuting between him in Italy and me in England.

But I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I was warned about Italy’s low employment rate – especially for women – and high taxes. I also spoke to people who’d tried life in Italy and they cautioned, that as I hadn’t learned Italian before, the language barrier would also be tricky.

READ ALSO: ‘If you move to Italy, brace yourself for things not going the way you want’

Still, I put on a positive face and was determined to do my best to make it work here.

Italy has indeed got many perks – its food and scenery is just the start – but the romantic tourist impression is different from the side you see when building a future here.

That seems obvious, but the disparity between a sun-soaked fortnight and the reality of everyday life often comes as a shock.

Some of the negative rumours around Italian corporate culture are accurate, but working for an Italian company isn’t to be totally written off either.

Above all, it’s a really good way to integrate into a new life. You meet people and make your own connections and friends, which I found to be so important for my mental health and own sense of independence.

You may encounter some major cultural differences when working for an Italian company. Photo: Christina @ wocintechchat.com/Unsplash

Whether you move to Italy alone or with a partner, working for a business gives you a routine, some roots to grow from and opens up doors for new opportunities.

But, as I found, it can be jaw-clenchingly frustrating.

Who you know is helpful but not essential

I spent around three months job searching when I first arrived. I moved to a town near Bologna almost six months before the pandemic hit, so Covid-19 hadn’t yet impacted the job market even further.

Still, I found it tough to get going. I walked around businesses and schools with my CV, as my background is in both journalism and education.

I eventually found a private school to work for, which was Italian-run but conducted all its lessons in English. It seemed a good place for me to find my feet.

I knew the work culture was different on the first day.

“You might not want to stay here, as it’s crazy,” the office personnel told me as she showed me around.

Not quite the usual HR schtick. I sniffed politely and laughed it off. I can do crazy, I thought. I spent years dealing with celebrities and divas when I worked in London.

I’d done well to get a job, so people told me. I’d landed a position despite knowing nobody and this went against the notion that finding employment in Italy is all about having contacts.

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On closer inspection, though, it turned out it was a very family-run business and if you were a relative of the founder, you got a job there.

So nepotism existed, but it didn’t stop me from getting in either.

The staff were polite, friendly and wanted to know all about where I came from and what I’d be doing there. The teachers were mainly Italian but could speak English, for the most part, so I could relax and be myself without struggling through my beginner Italian at that time.

But when it came to meetings, everyone largely reverted to Italian. They talked vigorously over each other and I just moved my head back and forth, watching the linguistic tennis.

Afterwards, I asked one of them who spoke English to give me a précis of what just happened. Despite thinking I’d found a place where I could work in English, I quickly realised you have to learn Italian to some degree – and fast.

Disorganisation is rife but you get lunch

Here’s where the famous Italian lack of organisation really shone through. Departments struggled to communicate to each other and problems cropped up as a result. Overlapping and doubling up on work, different agendas and changing everything on a whim last-minute were commonplace.

The last point is something that really pushed my buttons. I couldn’t help it. There’s being flexible and there’s what you’d call a ‘casino’, as the Italians say.

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Especially if you deliver on a lengthy project, only to be informed that it’s not needed anymore or that someone else already did it. That really got my goat.

Whether this drives you to the edge depends on your personality. There were times I got annoyed. Other times, I laughed to myself at the utter comedy of the place.

Often, I would sit waiting for a meeting to start, pad and pen at the ready, poised for making stuff happen. Then the person you were expecting arrives 20 minutes late and asks, “Have you eaten?”.

Well, you can’t think on an empty stomach, can you?

You have to surrender and go with it if you decide to get on the Italian payroll. You can’t change the culture single-handedly and you have to make peace with a different pace and customs.

It’s a culture adjustment, but there are upsides too. I mean, a girl’s gotta eat.

Forget eating sandwiches at your desk – lunch is a serious business in Italy. Photo by Keriliwi/Unsplash

Promotion and pay can be poor

There’s also the snag of pay and career mobility.

How much money you make and your career progression are key factors in deciding which company you want to work for in other countries and big cities.

In Italy, though, you quickly learn that your pay packet is often dismal and it’s really hard to move through the ranks and make more cash.

You’re heavily taxed and INPS, or social security contributions, are substantial too – even if the employer pays most of those for you.

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What you take home each month is highly likely to be a massive blow compared to what you’ve earned in the UK or US, for example.

I think that was a big stumbling block for me, because even though there is way more to life than money, you can feel undervalued and disheartened that you’ve worked so hard for your qualifications and experience, to only bring home barely what you’d make part-time back home.

Northern Italian cities are best for finding employment, but also have the highest living costs. Photo: Andrey Andreev/Unsplash

Or you think back to when you last earned a wage so low and I couldn’t. Even my first job after leaving university paid more.

The north of Italy isn’t that cheap a place to live. So as much as you can wholeheartedly believe the ‘money doesn’t buy you happiness’ adage, you still have to pay the bills and likely want enough left over to enjoy your surroundings. 

But the Italian quality of life has a value beyond your bank balance

Still, there is a trade-off and a benefit to be found in all this. The work-life balance is definitely better than what I’ve experienced elsewhere.

I’m beyond climbing the greasy pole and want to enjoy more life lived outdoors, spending time with loved ones and taking more downtime for my own health. I once experienced burnout and I couldn’t imagine working for a company that demanded 60-70 hours per week from me anymore.

That’s unlikely in Italy. The love of family time – and eating – ensures a better chance of overall health. They also have a lot of national holidays, which means you get a day off fairly frequently.

If a festival day falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, they may even do something called ‘fare il ponte’, which means they’ll give you another day off to bridge the gap and make it an extra long weekend.

For me, the better quality of life is worth pushing through the tougher aspects of working for a company in Italy.

But the holy grail is to get hold of a ‘tempo indeterminato’ contract. This is a permanent position and means you have job security. They are rare to come by – for both Italians and foreigners. In fact, I’ve met people who have had ‘indeterminato’ parties when they finally get one of these elusive work contracts.

I never did and my ‘determinato’ (fixed term) contract got rolled on a few times until, in the end, my hours got cut so much that it didn’t justify the travel costs and I couldn’t renew again.

If you manage to bag a permanent job and can focus on the benefits you get from living in Italy, such as the privilege of world-class attractions and cuisine, then it’s absolutely worth going for.

It’s not impossible to achieve and could be an exciting adventure for a few years. You might not save much cash for your next step, but you will live well and just might discover a new, more ‘tranquillo’, side of yourself.

If you’d like to share your own experience of working in Italy for a future article, please email the editor here.

Member comments

  1. This was enlightening.

    It further reinforces my opinion that doing remote work from Italy (and being paid the same as you would in the US or another relatively high-income nation) is the best (if not ideal) solution for those wanting to live in Italy.

    On the down side, you don’t get free lunch.

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BUREAUCRACY

EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s new digital invoicing rule for freelancers?

Italy is bringing in new rules from July that mean changes for freelancers on the 'flat tax' rate. Here’s what you need to know about the new ‘fatturazione elettronica’, or digital invoicing system.

EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s new digital invoicing rule for freelancers?

Italy has been slowly moving more of its bureaucratic systems online in recent years, and in many cases this has made it quicker and easier for residents to access services and get their considerable amounts of Italian life admin in order.

It was hoped that the new electronic invoicing rule would do the same for freelancers on Italy’s flat-tax regime, by doing away with the existing need to print out invoices and affix tax stamps by hand.

READ ALSO: Beat the queues: 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

But a close look at the details of the new rules shows that it probably won’t make life easier for those on the flat tax rate, who have so far been spared the bulk of that infamous Italian red tape – but now need to get to grips with a new online system.

Known as the ‘regime forfettario‘, Italy’s flat-rate tax scheme for individuals and small businesses was introduced in 2015 to encourage more commercial activity by slashing tax rates and simplifying bureaucracy.

New freelancers who choose this tax system generally pay somewhere between just five and 15 percent tax on earnings, regardless of overheads.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of Italy’s five percent flat tax for freelancers

Little has changed since its inception seven years ago, but freelancers using the scheme now need to be aware of new rules coming into force from July 1st, 2022.

How you invoice – how you send, receive and store receipts, therefore – is due to move from analogue to digital, bringing new requirements and know-how on digital invoicing software.

Here’s what’s changing for freelancers with the so-called ‘fattura elettronica‘.

Who is required to send electronic invoices?

While this was already a requirement for the self-employed on other tax regimes, those on the flat tax rate will now be included from July 1st.

They were previously exempt, but that changed under the PNRR (National recovery and resilience plan or piano nazionale di ripresa e resilienza) – the Italian government’s plan for using EU funding for post-pandemic economic recovery.

Digital invoicing is intended to fight Italy’s major problem with tax evasion, as well as to further automate accounting processes.

For now, not all freelancers under this tax scheme need to move to digital accounting – only those who received an income in excess of €25,000 in the previous year are required to comply with the new rule.

It will then extend to all freelancers using the flat-rate scheme from January 1st, 2024.

From that date, everyone subscribed to the ‘regime forfettario’ will have to switch to electronic invoicing and there are hefty penalties in place for those who don’t.

How will electronic invoices work?

Italy’s tax authority has defined a couple of notable differences between the digital or electronic invoice (fattura elettronica) and a paper invoice (fattura di carta) in its updated guidelines.

Firstly, the digital invoice has to be created using a digital device (a computer, tablet or smartphone), and secondly it has to be sent to the client via an ‘Interchange System’, the so-called Sistema di Interscambio (SdI).

READ ALSO: ‘Smart working’? Here’s what you need to know about going self-employed in Italy

Italy’s flat-rate tax scheme is going digital. Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

This electronic postal system checks whether the invoice contains the required data for tax purposes, as well as checking the verified e-address (or the so-called PEC address) of the recipient.

In doing so, the electronic invoice automatically checks that the VAT number (partita IVA), or the tax code (codice fiscale) depending on who you send the invoice to, really exist.

Once the checks are completed, the system sends the invoice to the client, which will trigger an alert to the freelancer with a delivery receipt, showing the date and time the document was delivered.

How can you send an e-invoice?

There are a few accounting software options on the market if you’re now faced with having to send electronic invoices.

Some charge a fee of around €1-€4 per month or come at a cost per transaction.

Platforms such as ‘Aruba‘ or ‘Fatture in Cloud‘, are competitive and may offer you a free trial before you deciding to buy.

The Italian revenue agency (Agenzie delle Entrate) has also created free-of-charge services to help send and receive e-invoices. These include websites as well as apps for completing the required steps, which are detailed in their guide here.

You can access their Invoices and Receipts (‘Fatture e Corrispettivi‘) portal to benefit from these free services.

You’ll either need a Spid ID (‘Sistema Pubblico dell’Identità Digitale‘), a Carta Nazionale dei Servizi (CNS) or accounting credentials known as Fisconline/Entrate, which are issued by the Agenzie delle Entrate.

You can also delegate this task to an intermediary, such as an accountant (commercialista) who would do this on your behalf, the revenue agency stipulates 

What about the Italian tax stamp?

Until now, freelancers issuing invoices under the ‘regime forfettario‘ have had to attach a €2 stamp, called a ‘marca da bollo’, to every invoice over the value of €77,47.

So what happens when e-receipts go digital and you can’t physically stick a stamp on a document? Well, that goes digital too and the Inland Revenue has issued a 16-page guide on how you need to go about it.

It seems the previously attractive ‘light’ accounting of this regime is about to get bogged down by time-consuming bureaucracy too.

Authorities will systematically check that the fee has been paid each quarter for all the invoices that require it.

As a general rule, you can see if there are any discrepancies by the 15th day of the first month following each quarter on their Invoices and Receipts portal.

You or your intermediary have until the end of that month to fix any accounting errors, but make sure to check with an accountant if you have any difficulties or need specific advice for your personal circumstances.

Once you receive your final stamp duty bill for each quarter, you can pay either via IBAN, which you set up on the portal, or by filling out an electronic F24 form – details of how to do that are included in the guide.

For further information and FAQ’s, see Italy’s Inland Revenue Agency website on the electronic invoice here.

Please note The Local cannot advise on personal cases and seeking expert financial advice is recommended.

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