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LIVING IN ITALY

Rome and Milan rated two of the world’s ‘worst’ cities to live in for foreigners

Italy’s two biggest cities once again get poor marks this year from international residents for career prospects, job security and bureaucracy.

Colosseum in Rome
Rome ranked 41st out of 50 in the latest Expat City Ranking from InterNations. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

With its stunning landscapes, good weather and culinary delights, Italy is often seen as a place where life is generally easy and relaxed.

But according to the latest study from InterNations, an information and networking site for people living overseas, life in some parts of the country is much less sweet than some people may think.

The 2022 Expat City Ranking has this year once again rated the Italian cities of Rome and Milan among the ten worst to live in worldwide for foreign nationals.

The ranking, based on a survey of nearly 12,000 international residents, placed Rome and Milan 41st and 44th out of 50 respectively this year, after publishing similarly dismal findings in previous years.

Both cities were again ranked very poorly in the Working Abroad index (which looks at career prospects, job security, work-life balance and work satisfaction) and in the Admin Topics category (mostly related to the overall performance of local administration offices).

READ ALSO: Rome vs Milan: Which is the best Italian city for students?

Milan's Duomo cathedral

Milan ranked 44th overall in the 2022 Expat City Ranking, six places removed from Johannesburg, which came last. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Rome and Milan shared the bottom of the table with Frankfurt, Paris, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Hamburg, Vancouver, Tokyo, and Johannesburg, which ranked last, earning the unenviable title of ‘worst city to live in 2022’.

At the other end of the scale, Valencia (1st), Dubai, Mexico City, Lisbon and Madrid were named the five best cities to move to.

Here’s a more in-depth insight into how Rome and Milan each fared in the ranking. 

Rome

Rome (41st overall), performed poorly in the Career Prospects and Job Security categories, where it ranked 46th and 45th respectively. 

According to the survey, 38 percent of expats living in Rome were unhappy with the local job market, whereas 24 percent stated that moving to Italy’s capital had not improved their careers.

Things were even worse in the Admin category, where Rome came last worldwide.

Here, respondents reported significant difficulties in trying to get a visa, opening a bank account or dealing with local bureaucracy, with many lamenting the lack of online government services and information.

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Finally, Rome ranked 41st for quality of life, with over one in three respondents reporting being dissatisfied with local transport services and 28 percent reporting issues with trying to access healthcare services.

On a more positive note – perhaps, the only one – Rome did well in the Ease of Settling In index as three in four expats said that they felt at home in the city and had managed to make new friends.

Milan

Like Rome, Milan (44th overall) fared poorly in the Working Abroad index. In particular, the northern city ranked in the bottom five for both work-life balance (46th) and working hours (48th). 

On top of that, over one in four respondents didn’t feel that they were being paid fairly for their work, which contributed to the city ranking 46th in the Salary category.

Milan's Vittorio Emanuele II gallery

Over half of expats living in Milan were unhappy with air quality in the city. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

 Milan performed better than Rome when it came to perceived quality of life, ranking 33rd overall.

That said, it still registered a number of lows. Notably, the city came 40th in the Environment and Climate category, with over half of respondents (54 percent) reportedly unhappy with air quality – the global dissatisfaction rate stands at 19 percent.

About one in three were also unhappy with their personal financial situation and felt that their income wasn’t enough to lead a comfortable life.

Local administration was almost as big a problem in Milan as it was in Rome as the northern city came 48th in that category. 

READ ALSO: The best (and worst) places to live in Italy in 2022

As many as 66 percent of respondents said they found it hard to deal with Milan’s bureaucracy, compared to 39 percent globally.

While Italy’s biggest cities, especially the capital, often come out poorly in quality of life indexes, smaller towns and cities generally score much better.

The northern cities of Bolzano and Trento are regularly named by Italian rankings as the best places to live in Italy, with Florence and Bologna usually featuring near the top too.

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HEALTH

Living in Italy: Five tips to help you survive the local pharmacy

From ear piercings to flu jabs, Italian ‘farmacie’ are among the most useful stores in the country, but they’re also very odd places. Here are our tips on getting through the pharmacy experience.

Living in Italy: Five tips to help you survive the local pharmacy

Italian pharmacies aren’t just stores selling prescription or over-the-counter medicines.

As a customer, you’ll find all sorts of natural remedies, basic health supplies and personal care items on their shelves. 

You’ll also be able to receive basic medical services (for instance, blood pressure checks, Covid tests and flu jabs) and some non-health-related ones (like getting your ears pierced!) in most branches. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I still get the flu vaccine in Italy? 

But, while being extremely useful stores, Italian farmacie (pronunciation available here) are also peculiar places and their set of unwritten rules and solidified traditions may well throw off newcomers.. 

So here are five tips that might help you complete your first expeditions to your local pharmacy without making a fool of yourself.

1 – Decipher your doctor’s scribbles before your trip

Much like some of their foreign colleagues, Italian GPs have a penchant for writing prescriptions that no one else is actually able to read. 

We might never find out why doctors seem so intent on making ancient hieroglyphs fashionable again, but their calligraphic efforts will surely get in the way of you trying to buy whatever medicine you need to survive. 

To avoid hiccups, make sure you know exactly what you need to get. If in doubt, reach out to your GP to confirm.

Don’t rely on pharmacists being able to figure out your doctor’s handwriting because they often have no clue either.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to make a doctor’s appointment in Italy 

Pharmacy in Codogno, near Milan

In most small towns and rural areas local pharmacies have very ‘thin’ opening hours. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

2 – Double-check the pharmacy’s opening times

If you’re from the UK or the US, you might be used to pharmacies being open from 8am to 10pm on weekdays and having slightly reduced opening times over the weekend. 

You can forget about that in Italy. In big cities, most pharmacies will shut no later than 8pm on weekdays and will be closed on either Saturdays or Sundays.

READ ALSO: Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in Italy 

As for small towns or villages, opening times will have a nice Middle Ages vibe to them, with local stores remaining shut on weekends and keeping their doors open from 9am to 12.30pm and then from 3.30pm to 7.30pm on weekdays. 

So always check your local pharmacy’s hours before leaving home and, should their times not be available online, call them up. An awkward phone conversation with the pharmacist is still preferable to a wasted trip.

3 – Get the ‘numerino

Some Italian pharmacies have a ticket-dispensing machine with the aim of regulating the queue – a concept which is still foreign to many across the country.

All customers are expected to get a numbered paper ticket (the famed ‘numerino’) from the above machine and wait for their number to be called to walk up to the pharmacist’s desk. 

Now, the law of the land categorically prohibits customers from getting within a five-metre radius of the desk without a numerino

Also, trying to break that rule may result in a number of disdainful sideways glances from local customers.

4 – You cannot escape the in-store conversations, so embrace them 

Pharmacies aren’t just stores. They’re a cornerstone of Italian life and locals do a good deal of socialising on the premises. 

After all, the waiting times are often a bit dispiriting, so how can you blame them for killing the time?

Small pharmacy in Italy

Pharmacies are an essential part of Italian life and culture. Photo by Marco SABADIN / AFP

You might think that locals won’t want to talk to you because you’re a foreigner or don’t know the language too well, but you’ll marvel at how chatty some are.

While chit-chat might not be your cup of tea, talking with locals might help you improve your Italian, so it’s worth a shot.

5 – “Vuoi scaricarlo?”

The pharmacist finally gets you what you need and you’re now thinking that your mission is over. Well, not yet.

Before charging you for the items in question, the pharmacist will ask you whether you’d like to ‘scaricarli’ (literally, ‘offload them’) or not, which, no matter how good your Italian is, will not make any sense to you.

What the pharmacist is actually asking you is whether you want to link the purchase to your codice fiscale (tax code). 

READ ALSO: Codice fiscale: How to get your Italian tax code (and why you need one)   

That’s because Italy offers residents a 19-percent discount on some health-related expenses, which can be claimed through one’s annual income declaration (dichiarazione dei redditi) by attaching the receipts of all the eligible payments.

Whether you want to scaricare or not, this is the last obstacle before you can make your way back home.

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