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Opinion and Analysis For Members

OPINION: The 'Italian dream' - Why so many move to Italy for a brighter future

Silvia Marchetti
Silvia Marchetti - [email protected]
OPINION: The 'Italian dream' - Why so many move to Italy for a brighter future
(Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Over the years Italians have fled their country looking for a brighter future but so many Americans and Britons head the other way in search of their 'Italian dream', writes Silvia Marchetti. Share your own views below.

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Centuries ago and up until the 1970s, Italian families often left their home country in search of a brighter future elsewhere, running towards what has always been the ‘American’, or Western, dream of a better standard of living.

But for some people, this migration trend seems to have been turned upside down.

I’ve spoken to many Americans and Brits who have relocated to Italy who believe that both the UK and America are collapsing and now unaffordable. In their view, nothing works anymore, life is too expensive, and importantly so is healthcare. 

It struck me how they seem to have found here in Italy the sort of dream that many Italian emigrants searched for in the past across the Atlantic Ocean, or up in northern Europe beyond the English Channel. It’s as if we’re in a topsy-turvy ‘new world’.

Scottish-American couple Sandy and Keith Webster, both retirees in their sixties, ditched “expensive” London in 2012 and moved to the remote village of Irsina, in deepest Basilicata, where they bought a gorgeous, multi-storey old dwelling with a panoramic balcony overlooking the old town.

Although they prefer not to disclose how much the house cost them, they say the renovation alone, which cost four times as much as the purchase, would have been one million dollars back in the US.

They say their rural Italian lifestyle is also much healthier, slower-paced and cheaper. Their pensions allow them to maintain a high living standard in a place where costs are relatively low.

The rural southern Italian region of Basilicata is popular among retirees and second-home owners. Photo by Guseppe CACACE / AFP

“We go out more often to eat at restaurants than when we lived in London, tour around the region, Italy, and Europe," Sandy, who hails from California, tells The Local.

“We buy fresh food at the farmers market and eat healthily, go on long walks, visit the nearby beaches whenever we feel like it. The village life is relaxing and we feel part of a tight-knit community."

Had the couple stayed in London to live out their retirement years, Keith says they would not have been able to maintain the same standards of living they can instead afford in Irsina, where multiple-course meals can cost just €30 per person at local restaurants. 

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The only less idyllic aspect, say the Websters, is that they miss eating non-Italian food occasionally, given Mexican, Chinese and other foreign restaurants are lacking. “We just have a more limited choice, but we love Italian food”, says Wendy. 

David Greene, a graphic designer who works remotely from the village of Ronciglione in the Lazio region, says he escaped the UK just in time before Brexit. He was born in Chicago but moved to the UK as a teenager with his parents, and voted Remain having deep pro-European feelings. 

In the UK “everything was falling to pieces, not just politically,” he says

“My mortgage was £800 per month, instead here I pay only €300 monthly rent for a lovely condo overlooking the valley.

“Plus, I managed to take up Italian residency, public healthcare is very efficient, and also the cost of private doctors, appointments, and examinations in Italy are very reasonable.”

David says he pays €150 euros per month in electricity and gas bills for his two-bedroom Italian home, and has a cleaner who costs him €50 a week, when he could never afford this service back in the UK.

He spends roughly €80 on food weekly at a nearby supermarket, and takes public transport to get to Rome and around Lazio on a ticket costing €24 a week.

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One of the many Americans flocking to southern Italian villages is Amy Clarke, a 50-year-old writer from New York. 

Last year, she moved to the fishing village of Sperlonga, a popular summer destination among Romans. She bought a dazzling white one-bedroom apartment of 50 square metres in the old town, tucked away in a quiet alley, for €70,000 and says a similar-sized home would have cost her nearly one million dollars in New York.

“Sperlonga may not be among the cheapest towns in Italy, given it is coastal with lots of stunning beaches. Nonetheless, I spend just €150 per week for groceries and food, and have more than enough money to dine out six times a month," she says.

The Italian seaside town of Sperlonga. Photo by Christianna Martin on Unsplash

“I buy fresh melons, tomatoes, premium olives, porcini mushrooms and local extra virgin olive oil at the farmers market, one litre costs just €10. In New York, an orange costs more than a dollar and Italian EVO? Forget it. In the US it has always been way above my budget,” she adds.

Amy, who is single, says another reason why she decided to abandon the States was the “increasing violence, the preponderance to guns with  a school shooting almost every week, and the political mayhem which was making the US a very divisive country” to live in.

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Funnily enough, Amy’s grandmother came from Naples and migrated to New York as a kid, where she then met her American husband, Amy’s grandpa.

“Gran is probably turning in her grave,” says Amy. “She escaped Naples for a better life overseas, chasing the American dream. 

“Well, I have escaped the US chasing the dolce vita dream. Italy is my New World.”

Do you agree or disagree with the opinions expressed in this article? Perhaps your 'Italian dream' didn't quite work out that way? If you'd like to share your own experience of moving to Italy, please leave a comment below or get in touch by email at [email protected]. We'd love to hear from you.

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Comments (2)

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Jay Stewart 2023/09/13 14:33
I have also retired and moved from the Los Angeles area to southern Italy (provincia di Lecce). I found a town that is near the Adriatic Sea and from my terrace, I can view the sea and on clear days, I can see the mountains of Albania and some of the northern Greek islands. Life here is very simple, the people are super friendly (even with me being an American Black person) and the cost of living for my partner and me is within my retirement budget.
Nikki 2023/09/12 19:32
We could not agree more. We have an apartment in a northern Italian city with a high (for Italy) cost of living. Every time that we go back to the US, we are shocked at the prices for groceries and restaurant meals, both of which seem to be 3x as expensive as in our “expensive” northern Italian city. The final nail in the US coffin - the last time we were leaving a restaurant in the US, a man walked in with an “open-carry” gun on his hip. We will be making Italy our permanent residence.

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