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EMPLOYMENT

Will Italy really pay you to move to its ‘smart working’ villages?

Some small Italian towns are hoping to breathe new life into their neighbourhoods by luring remote workers with financial incentives. But is it really as simple as that? We look into the Italian relocation schemes on offer in Italy.

Will Italy really pay you to move to its 'smart working' villages?
Can you really get paid to freelance in Italy? Photo: Benjamin Jopen / Unsplash

The pandemic has hit Italy’s economy and its people hard. But there have been some positives to come out of the challenges too – the need to work from home has pushed the country forwards digitally, creating a new way to live and work.

Remote working, or ‘smart working’ as it’s often referred to in Italy, has been recognised as a successful way to do business, shifting the culture with it.

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

With that change, new possibilities for moving to and living in Italy have opened up.

Italy wasn’t previously known for its digital agility, and many people who move to the country note the widespread internet connectivity problems. However, some Italian towns want to put paid to that and are now offering financial help to those willing to move in and set up as remote workers.

It sounds idyllic to move to a stunning Italian village and be your own boss – and if someone is offering to chip in to pay your rent, it sounds like a no-brainer.

Rustic property and being your own boss. Dream or doable? Photo: Chris Barbalis/Unsplash

Santa Fiora in Tuscany and Rieti in Lazio are two such towns offering to stump up funds, paying up to 50% of your rent if you’ll move there with your laptop and work for yourself.

Dozens of these so-called ‘smart working villages’ will soon be springing up in the hope of attracting new residents and reinvigorating some of Italy’s thousands of declining towns.

Locations taking part in the idea are usually quite far-flung, and so young people leave in search of employment.

READ ALSO: Could Italy’s abandoned villages be revived after the coronavirus outbreak?

The plan is to ramp up the wifi provision and get more people back in the towns, equipping them with the means to enable people to work.

It doesn’t matter what you decide to do for a living, as long as it can be done from home.

But is it really so easy?

Well, this is Italy so there’s bureaucracy to get through and of course, there are eligibility criteria.

For the Tuscan town of Santa Fiora, which now has just 2,500 residents, the local municipality is offering up to €200 or 50% of the average monthly rent for long-term stays.

It’s valid for two to six months, though, so it’s a sweetener and you’ll have to account for that in your budgeting once the help is taken away and if you want to stay.

READ ALSO: Community cooperatives: the small Italian towns taking charge of their own future

Stunning Italian landscapes for those willing to up sticks. Photo: Lennart Hellwig/Unsplash

Still, with average rent of around €300 – €500 per month, it’s an attractive prospect, depending on the remote work you can find.

The town council has launched a website to help would-be residents find their ideal home.

But you’ll have to prove that you’ll actually be going to work there, not just hoping to freeload on a summer holiday rental.

READ ALSO: Freelance or employee: Which is the best way to work in Italy?

You’ll be asked to provide a document detailing what you’ll be doing there and will need to fill out an application form. And you can only get funds for the rent in the form of reimbursement, after you’ve already paid it.

The villages say they are ready to accept newcomers to carry out their jobs remotely, with newly installed high-speed fibre. Details on how to apply can be found here.

What would life really be like working from a remote Italian village?

The image often banded about when portraying schemes like this in Italy is one of sitting on your terrace with a glass of red wine in hand.

But if you’re working, the reality will probably be a bit different.

Remote, depopulated villages in Italy famously lack infrastructure such as fast or reliable wifi, shops, and public transport connections – though the organisers of the ‘smartworking villages’ scheme say participating locations will need to be able to provide certain services.

READ ALSO: Digital divide: The parts of Italy still waiting for fast wifi

While this won’t be enough for all remote workers, it could be ideal if you need peace and quiet and would relish a slow pace of life.

Otherwise, one option is Rieti – which is closer to the capital, Rome, and has a similar deal availble – although you’ll need to stay for at least three months.

It’s a much bigger town than most taking part in the scheme, with 50,000 inhabitants, but the population has stopped growing and the council wants to reinvigorate its prospects.

Compared to Santa Fiora, the deal can be extended beyond six months, giving you even more help with your rental payments. You’re even allowed to choose a nearby neighbourhood that’s more rural, where costs are cheaper.

If you’re a freelancer, you simply need to describe your work. If you have a kind boss that will let you up sticks and move to Italy to do your work from there, you’ll need a letter to prove it.

You can find out more and how to apply here.

READ ALSO: ‘This is where I want to be’: The growing number of young Italians choosing life on the farm

Other towns have previously offered incentives to move, such as Santo Stefano di Sessanio. This town gave grants if you relocated there in a bid to “give a new demographic boost to the area”, according to its website.

Aimed at attracting new residents, it was offering up to €8,000 per year for three years, paid in monthly instalments. If you opened a business, you could even get a lump sum of €20,000.

As more villages and towns pop up with financial incentives to attract new residents, Italy is making this more and achievable.

Technologically, it’s something that the government wants to make happen, with plans in place to increase the amount of high speed fibre throughout the country. That’s in conjunction with the European Union’s plans to rollout fast internet to some 202 million homes across the bloc.

Other small towns have taken their fates into their own hands by building cooperatives, such as Vetto in Emilia Romagna, which hopes to run itself and promote business from within.

Member comments

  1. What visa do I apply for it I work for a foreign company but want to live in Italy (smart working, but not self-employed)?

  2. Hi,

    We are travelling from the UK to our house in Marche on Saturday, we will self-quarantine for 5 days on line with Ministry of Health order.

    My in-laws would like to come for a visit while we are there, they will obviously have to self-quarantine but does anyone know if we will have to self-quarantine again with them?

    Fiona

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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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