Expats in Italy: Have you thought of moving to Italy?

Every trip home to Italy I think about living the dream in a village or city here in Italy.
I have met several expats who have done just that and they share their stories: 

Italian American Expat in Florence

Italian American Rachel Vermiglio Smith Mason 
lives in Florence and is contributing to the Expat Series.   
I met Rachel in Florence while doing interviews for a blog project last year.  She generously shared her favorite pizza restaurant with me,  Mama Napoli pizzia.  

Her Italian American Story:

“I first fell in love with Italy when I was a little girl.  My grandfather, a winsome southern Italian man who  called every woman a ‘broad’, shared stories and tidbits of a magical country, a faraway from his typical American home.  As I grew up, sometime between dancing to the Tarantella and stealing my parents’ wine, Italy became my Disneyland.”

“To say I am (and was) obsessed with all things Italian is to put it mildly.  Then one day when signing up for my first college classes, I took my infatuation from childish enthusiasm to serious stalker status and declared my major as Italian language, literature and art history.”

“Since 2005, I have lived on and off in this beautiful, mystifying, welcoming, harsh country.  It is a land of contradictions, both maddeningly frustrating and achingly gorgeous. “

How long have you been an Expat in Italy?
I first came to Italy for an extended period of time when I studied abroad in 2005.  I was here for 6 months and knew then that I would be returning to live here someday.  I did return as panned and was here from 2009-2010 and again for a part of 2011.

What made you decide to no longer be a visitor, but to be a resident in Italy?
I have always loved Italy.  I loved it when I had never even seen it, from hearing about it from my family.   I loved it before I spoke the language or had friends here or a life here.  Now, I voe it even more for all of those things.  For me, at the state I am at now I really cant’ imagine living anywhere else.

Any reason you wish  to share, for selecting the city/town you live in?
I studied abroad in Florence in basically a dice roll between here and Rome.  I think the fates chose correctly, because it was love at first Cupola.  I still remember seeing the Duomo for the first time and just being in awe of the sheer size of the place.  I had never seen a church so big or beautiful.

I was a die hard adopted Fiorentina from that moment on.  In the end , it has worked out great since I have a MA in art history with a focus on the Italian Renaissance but if I am honest, I fell in love with Renaissance as I fell in love with Florence.

Did you speak Italian before you moved to Italy?
I was an Italian major in college and my family spoke dialect, so not really.   I studied a lot in school but studying and speaking are two different things.

What is or was the most difficult part(s) of expat life?
A lot of tourist say, “I could live here”  when they visit Italy but they have no idea what living here is actually like.   In many ways it is a hard life.  People work all the time, for very little pay, for example I have 5 jobs and am constantly running all over the city.

Simple tasks, like going to the doctor, calling a plumber or going to the post office can turn into all day, confusing, frustrating affairs.  Nothing is easy’ here, you have to work hard all the time- not just at your job, but at home.

I am lucky to live in a modern luxuries, but still everyday, I climb 84 steps just to return home.  I carry groceries for blocks and blocks, navigating tourists and motorini.

I wait in long, disorganized lines.  I hang my clothes out to dry, then do the wash again when a pigeon poops on them.  I deal with bureaucracy that would make any sane person want to cry and then do it again and again when they lose, misfile or “misplace” my inform.

People come here and see the beauty, the art, the food, and these are of course part of life here, but when you’re in the trenches of the day to day, there is just so much more that goes into having a real life in Italy.

What is the most rewarding parts of expat life?
So despite my long list of difficulties, I actually enjoy working 5 jobs.  Unless I am exhausted, being on the top floor of a 15th century palazzo has it’s perks, and while many of the other things I will never learn to love, I have learned to let go.  My life here is more honest and authentic than it was in the US.  Every day I do things that make me happy.

I feel like I live my life for me now, and no one else.  It’s rewarding in a way I had never found in the US.

Do you have dual citizenship with Italy?
Yep.  Thank goodness- it makes my life a lot easier.

To stay long term in Italy, what documentation is needed?
Americans can stay up to 90 days in Italy in any 180 day period, without a visa.  This means, 90 day in 90 days out.  There are a lot of misconceptions and terrible information out there saying if you leave for a few days outside of the Schengen region your clock resets but it DOESN’T.

I can’t stress this enough, it is very clear, 90 days in, then 90 days out.

You can stay any combo of 90 days in any 180 day period, but that is it.  If you want to stay longer, you need to get a visa.

Do you plan to remain in Italy long term?
Let’s just say, I have no plans to leave.  My life here is just what i wanted it to be.
Sure I wish I only needed three job instead of five, or that electricity didn’t cost more than some mortgages (add that to the dislike list) but my life is really beautiful in Italy and I don’t plan on changing it anytime soon.

Most recently as of 014, I have been living permanently in my family’s homeland and making a serious go of turning Italy into a real ‘home’.

I have also started a new website, launching soon, italianista.com.

There are a ton of expat websites out there, but I find that they are often lacking in some of the harder, meatier aspects of life here.

It’s great to know places to eat and how to do simple things, but what about the tough stuff?
I didn’t find any resources in English when I moved here so I am hoping to create a space for that online plus share aspects of Italian culture and daily life as seen from a slightly different perspective of an Italian American Dual Citizen.

Contact Rachel at:

twitter:        theitalianista
instagram:  theitalianista
pinterest:    theitalianista


Today meet Kelly Medford

Kelly is an accomplished, professional painter who I met several years ago in Rome.  She was kind to let me ‘shadow‘ her around while she was painting one day.  Kelly, as you will read in her bio at the end of this story, paints outside.  She paints in ALL kinds of weather.  
We have stayed in touch and I have watched as her reputation has grown as she has added teaching workshops in the USA and in Europe.  

 Hello Kelly, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

How long have you been an expat in Italy?

I moved to Italy in January of 2004, it’s hard to believe that I’ve now been here just over 11 years. 

Prior to becoming an expat did you live in Italy for any length of time?

No I didn’t. I did come on a landscape painting course with my teacher at the time, who suggested that I apply to study in the drawing program at The Florence Academy of Art 

What made you decide to no longer be a visitor but to be a resident in Italy?

After completing a year of drawing in Florence I realized that the majority of that year was spent focused on studying, closed in the studio. 
I wanted to stay and learn Italian, eat more good food, travel and just get to know Italy better.
I started taking my easel out on the street to paint, which seemed like the best way to accomplish my goals and indeed it’s what I’m still doing over 10 years later. 

 Any reasons you wish to share, for selecting the city/town you live in?

I moved to Rome after having spent 6 years in Florence. While Florence is a beautiful city, it is small and offers less opportunities to working artists today. 
Rome being the capital city is much larger with loads of opportunities, galleries and artists of all different genres and the big spaces just suit me- not to mention the whole aesthetic of Rome which is very different from any other Italian city.
It is where the old meets the new and everything in between.
I love the chaos interspersed with quiet found at the numerous spacious parks around the city. 

Did you speak Italian before you moved to Italy?

No I did not, not even a word. I took a couple of classes and then moved to the countryside of Tuscany for a year. Living in the countryside really helped me to learn the language, not having any other option if I wanted to communicate.
Then I took private lessons over the years in Florence. My teacher is still a good friend and wonderfully patient woman. She taught me so much and forced me to read novels, write essays and learn about history, culture and traditions in Italy. I am grateful to Lucia! 

What is or was the most difficult part(s) of expat life?   

Everyone says this, but it is true: the bureaucracy can be trying. For me I deal with a lot of paperwork in shipping paintings all around the world. You cannot imagine the various steps that go into shipping artwork! 
Also something that is difficult about being an expat is you have to learn a lot. First is learning the language, but then comes learning about the history, culture and politics and in my opinion is an important part of living abroad and understanding more about the culture you are living in. 
Being an American in Italy- or at least in Rome- I realize how we are so used to everything being “easy.” What I mean is in America you can just use your debit card everywhere or order everything online. 
Here you can still order from Amazon, but sometimes you can’t figure out where your package is and the endless hours of phone calls ensue. 
One good thing to do is observe how Italians handle these kind of situations and then when your Italian is good enough imitate them! This may sound funny, but it’s true. 
I remember the first time the postal service “lost” a tracked and insured package of mine. When I called the toll-free number the person on the other end told me that it must be stolen and there was nothing to do and promptly hung up. I literally broke down crying, the package was an original oil painting that could not be replaced, literally a one of a kind object.
So I called a friend and asked his advice as to what I should do. He laughed at how upset I was and just said, “Hey, this is Italy, just call back and talk to someone else.” And he was right, it was really that simple and I found my package with the next person I talked to.


The most rewarding parts of expat life?

I love being an American in Italy. For what I do as a painter working solely outdoors painting street scenes and landscapes on location, Italy is stunning with the largest variety of kinds of landscapes. 
The weather is great, the pace of life just right, the food is healthy and simple- it is easy to eat well in Italy.
I love the language, cinema and literature.
I also think that it is valuable to have the constant cultural exchange with Italians and other people from all over the world.  

Do you have dual citizenship with Italy?


Do you plan to remain in Italy long term?

Yes, I do. I call Italy my home and plan to spend my life as an artist here.

Some expats have joined social groups that only interact with other ‘foreigners’.  Do you spend time with other expats or Italians?   

My first years in Italy were spent with a good mix of expat students while I was studying at The Florence Academy of Art and then with Italians since I lived in the countryside of Tuscany for a year.

I’ve always had a good mix of both Italian friends and expat friends. Most of my artist friends are Italian and specifically Roman since I have my studio with other Roman artists now and have always been a part of the Rome Urban Sketchers group which is pretty much all Roman. 

You can join Kelly on one of her Roman workshopsSketching Rome Tours. Those are found on that separate website www.sketchingrometours.com

You can find additional  paintings on Kelly’s website www.kellymedford.com  where you can sign up for her blog and her newsletter.

Read about Kelly Medford’s credentials:
Kelly Medford
B. 1977 Washington, D.C)
currently lives in Rome, Italy
Kelly Medford is a classically trained oil painter specializing in Italian plein air landscapes and cityscapes.  She trained extensively in the U.S. before moving to Italy in 2005 to attend the Florence Academy of Art.  After 5 years in Florence, Kelly moved to Rome in the fall of 2010 where she took to the streets and paints daily.

Kelly shows in both the U.S. and Italy and works regularly on private commission,.  She most recently won 1st place in one of Italy’s most competitive plein air competitions Subiaco in August of 2013 as well as the St. Simon’s Land Trust Purchase Award in April 2012.

Teaching is also a part of her life in Italy where she leads small intensive workshops in Venice, Rome and Florence.  Kelly started Sketching Rome Tours in 2012 as a way for tourists visiting Italy’s capital city to see and experience it in a new ad creative way.

Her first major solo show in the fall of 2012 in Rome was entitled An American in Rome:  Stories and Paintings from the Streets.

You can see her work at kellymedford.com


As part of my Interviews with Expats in Italy series

Cherrye Moore
is sharing her expat life in Italy and the USA

I met Cherrye Moore on line via her newsletter and web site for My Bella Vita.     Southern Italy does not often receive the same attention as other tourist dense parts of Italy and I found her descriptions of the towns, villages and seaside of Calabria engaging.  
From online posts about life in Calabria, renovating a home to a BnB Il Cedro Bed and Breakfast, travel tips and Calabrian destinations an entire travel service company has emerged.  More personal updates, recipes and facts about life in Calabria are  posted on the subscription site, Questo Mese in Italia, a complementary newsletter, be sure to subscribe.

My Bella Vita Travel offers culinary experiences, yoga retreats and heritage
tours in Calabria.    This year travel events are September small group heritage tour, Calabria Yoga Retreat and Calabrian Table Tour.   Details and dates are on her web page.   Cherrye describes
My Bella Vita Travel as  ” Our company, My Bella Vita Travel, specializes in custom vacations and heritage travel to Calabria and southern Italy.”

Contact information:    http://mybellavita.com    cherrye@mybellavita.com 

Photos courtesy of Franco Muia

Our online interview:
 How long have you been an Expat in Italy?
I lived full-time in Calabria for nine years and recently relocated (at least) part-time back to Texas.
I loved living in Calabria. My husband is from there and my son was born there and it very much feels like home to me.
Our long-term “family plan” always included us splitting our time between southern Italy and southeast Texas so this recent “move” was part of the bigger plan.

Prior to becoming an expat did you live in Italy for any length of time?
 No! I had spent time as an expat just outside of Paris, which is where I met my husband, and I thought I knew what being an expat was all about. 🙂
Talk about culture shock!  
 What made you decide to no longer be a visitor but to be a resident in Italy?
My husband and I met while we were both working for Disneyland Paris and living in France.
We had “the talk” a few months into our long-distance relationship and we knew that someone would have to make the move.
I have always loved adventure and liked the idea of living in southern Italy but always knew that one day I’d want to go home (to Texas).
I grew up in a big Catholic family – I’m one of 26 first cousins – and I wouldn’t trade that crazy family dynamic for anything.
So, I knew one day I’d want to move back to Texas. Now, we are in a position that I never dreamed would be possible.
We kept our home in Calabria and recently bought a home in southeast Texas. I’m so very blessed!
 Any reason you wish to share, for selecting the city/town you live in?
It’s funny how sometimes life chooses you. I moved to Italy “for a boy.” 🙂
And that boy happened to live in Catanzaro, the capital city of Calabria.
But, I gotta be honest. The first several months were tough. Unlike more tourist-friendly towns, there is little English spoken in Catanzaro. Everything still closes in the middle of the day. We hang out our clothes to dry… .
It’s a very different way of life than I was accustomed to in Texas.
But slowly things started to change for me. I started making connections, learning the language, adapting to the differences and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
There is nowhere else in Italy I’d want to live.
 Did you speak Italian before you moved to Italy?
Very, very little. Ok. Let’s say no.
I remember though when I started feeling comfortable in Italian.
I had gone to a shop down the road from our house and I felt … light. Confident.
I couldn’t really place the feeling until I realized that I was feeling relief. Peace.
I knew I’d be able to communicate with someone if they approached me without getting flustered or embarrassed.
I held my chin a little higher and smiled as I walked.
Then, I remembered I’d gone to the store to buy Q-Tips. And I didn’t know how to say that in Italian… . 
What is or was the most difficult part(s) of expat life?   Be free to list anything from on dishwasher to the amount of time errands take….etc
Difficult?? Hmmm…, bureaucracy.
Everything taking longer than you think it should.
Not being able to make a Dr. appointment on the phone but having to go in person to make the appointment, then going in person to pay (in advance), then going again for the appointment.
Then, again to pick up the results. It was so tedious.
Also, I found it much harder to make friends with non-expats in Calabria.
Many of the Italians I know have had their same friends since childhood so there isn’t a lot of “room” for new friends.
Then, people get busy – have jobs, have kids and family and it’s harder to make a connection with people who are new.
The most rewarding parts of expat life?
I love being able to fully experience a new culture. You can read about it, learn about it and get insight while you are on vacation but living in a country exposes you to so much more. You see the good, the bad and the ugly and at least for me, I love it anyway. I have always said there are different kinds of expats. Those who know their expat life is short-term, those who make permanent moves and have their families as an expat, those who are students, moms, dads, short-term employees, etc. All of these personal elements affect our experience and each of those is rewarding and unique in different ways.
My first expat experience was 15 years ago when I lived outside of Paris. I was young and never expected to have a family or live in France any longer than I did.
That experience was fabulous but it was much different from my next expat experience, which was southern Italy.
In Italy, I got married, had in-laws, gave birth to my son, built a home – all normal real-life experiences but it wasn’t like being on vacation every day. (in comparison to my experience in Paris, for example)
Do you have dual citizenship with Italy?
Not yet, but I’m eligible. It’s on my list. 🙂
To stay long term in Italy, what documentation is needed? 
I’m not sure, I think it varies depending on what you are planning to do in the country.
I was married to an Italian so this process was different from expats who are seeking citizenship based on their heritage, people who are there for work, etc.
Do you plan to remain in Italy long term?
That’s a harder question than it initially seems. As I mentioned, we have bought a home in Texas and are planning to split our time but we also kept our house in Italy.
We have strong ties there and I don’t ever see us breaking those or not wanting to spend a considerable amount of time in Italy.
We want our son to feel Calabrese, to know his family and the culture and the language so yes, I think a part of us will be there forever.
I love Italy and I miss it every day that I’m not there but I also love being an American.
I love being close to my family in Texas and having our son in close contact with his family in the states.
Maybe that’s the best part of being an expat. Being able to have it all – to have the best of both worlds.
At least that’s what I’m hoping.
Photos courtesy of Franco Muia


My Bella Vita Travel, LLC was created by Cherrye Moore, an American travel writer who has lived in southern Italy since 2006.
The company specializes in custom vacations and ancestry tours to Calabria and regions throughout southern Italy.
My Bella Vita Travel is registered as an LLC in the state of Texas and all business, banking and legal processing is conducted in the US.
You can join Cherrye for the Calabrian Table Tour, an 8-day cooking, food, wine and culture tour of Calabria held 2-3 times a year

Published by Lee Laurino

A traveler not a tourist, searching for experiences not in travel books. Solo traveler who travels as long and far as possible sharing photos of the people and places I discover

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