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

Milan is one of the most popular Italian cities for foreigners to move to, but it's also among the most expensive. We take a look at how much you'll need to live in the northern city.

A view of Milan's Duomo.
Milan is one of the most popular Italian cities among foreign nationals. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

With its wealth of job opportunities and international appeal, Milan is one of the most popular Italian cities among foreigners.

According to the latest available data, the northern economic powerhouse is home to as many as 280,800 foreign nationals, who make up around 20.3 percent of the city’s total population.

After Rome, Milan is the second-most popular Italian destination among native English speakers, with UK and US expats leading the pack.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Milan is a much better city to live in than Rome

But Milan’s bustling job market and cosmopolitan life come at a price, with the metropolis being recently ranked as the third-most expensive Italian city to live in. 

So, how much will you really need to be able to live in Lombardy’s capital and what are the biggest expenses for residents?

Rent

While Milan has long been known for its high rents, living in the city has become possibly even more expensive over the past year.

In the first half of 2022, the average rent in Milan rose by 11.2-percent against the same period last year, with the average monthly rent currently at 20.14 euros per square metre, the highest in the region.

The asking price can even be as high as 33 euros per square metre in the more central areas of the city (Duomo, Cadorna, Cordusio, Parco Sempione, etc.).

Two tenants in a shared flat.

Renting in Milan is generally expensive, with the average monthly rent currently sitting at 20.14 euros per square metre. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

This means renting a one-bedroom flat in the city centre will set you back 1,260 euros a month on average and, while prices generally decrease the further away from the centre, renting the same type of flat in the city outskirts will still come at an average monthly price of 830 euros.

Sadly, things aren’t much better for those looking for a single room in a shared flat as rent can be as high as 620 euros in central Milan.

To see which areas of the city are cheaper when it comes to rent, you can refer to the following online map.

Bills

In the case of most tenancy agreements in Italy, utility bills are not included in the rent. 

Though bills are naturally dependent upon a household’s individual expenditure, monthly bollette – these include gas, electricity and water bills plus waste collection fees – for an 85-square-metre flat in Milan are estimated to add up to an average of 207 euros.

READ ALSO: Lights off and home working: Milan’s new energy-saving plan for winter 

That’s 31 euros over Italy’s national average, which sits at 176 euros a month. 

Groceries

The price of groceries in Italy has increased dramatically over the past few months, triggered by record levels of inflation.

According to the latest available data, Milan is the most expensive Italian city when it comes to grocery shopping as filling a supermarket cart with basic goods is estimated to set residents back 116 euros on average (that’s a 41-euro difference compared to the cheapest city, Naples).

The average Milan family spends 441 euros a month on groceries, newspaper La Repubblica estimates.

REVEALED: Which are Italy’s best-value supermarkets? 

A list of the most cost-efficient supermarkets in Milan can be downloaded here (click on ‘Scarica lo speciale supermercati’).

Loaves of bread are pictured at an Esselunga supermarket in Milan's Famagosta district.

Milan is the most expensive Italian city when it comes to grocery shopping. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Eating out

Milan residents love to eat out, with most locals indulging in a restaurant dinner at least once a week.

As in most major cities, the size of your bill will largely depend not just on the type of restaurant you choose but also on its location. 

A three-course meal for two people in a mid-range city restaurant will set you back 80 euros on average, according to Numbeo estimates, while a regular meal in an inexpensive restaurant comes at around 20 euros apiece.

Going out, leisure and entertainment

Milan is a bustling city and, as a resident, you’ll hardly ever find yourself wanting for things to do on a weekend.

Once again, the price tag of your leisure activities will be directly dependent upon what you choose to do and where, though prices are generally in line with those of other major Italian cities. 

READ ALSO: ‘It takes time’: Foreign residents on what it’s really like to live in Milan

For instance, a regular cinema ticket costs around 10 euros, whereas renting a tennis court for one hour comes at an average price of 25 euros.

Transport

Public transport in Milan is reliable and affordable. The underground (metropolitana) is by far the fastest way to get around town, though trams and buses are also available.

A monthly urban ticket with ATM, Milan’s public transport operator, costs 39 euros, whereas an annual ticket goes for 330 euros.

A number of generous discounts are available to low-income residents, people under 30 and students.

A tram in central Milan.

Public transport in Milan is reliable and affordable, with a monthly ticket going for 39 euros. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Despite the overall reliability and breadth of Milan’s public transport network, like elsewhere in Italy most locals use their own wheels – there are nearly nine registered vehicles for every 10 residents in Milan.

Aside from non-negligible fuel-related expenses, parking in Milan is fairly expensive, with tariffs starting from 1.20 euros an hour in the outskirts but reaching 4.50 euros an hour in the city centre. 

Access to the centre (Area C) is only granted to eco-friendly vehicles and there’s a 2-euro fee for residents or a 5-euro fee for non-residents.

Find further information on traffic rules in Milan on the town hall’s official web page.

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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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