When I first moved to Italy back in 1988, the employment situation and business landscape were very different, many opportunities that exist today, simply did not back then. Technology and the global market place being at our fingertips has had a lot to do with this.
When it comes to finding work and making a living in Italy – the first question you need to ask yourself is; are you in it for the long or short term? This will determine which road you should take and how much effort you need to put in. If you will only be here for a maximum of one year, then you will have no problem finding work to fund such a life experience.
Next question – will you be legal? If there is one piece of advice that I always give people, it is to not come and be illegal in Italy. What you could get away with twenty years ago is now a lot more challenging to achieve with the advent of Schengen and scanned passports at your point of entry. If you want to live and work in Italy, and you do not have an EU passport, please make sure you get the appropriate Visa before moving. Let me dispel a couple of myths immediately! In all the years, I have worked with expats and assisted them with work permits, I have never heard of someone who got a work permit to teach English. This is tied into the second myth that also needs smashing! Some people believe erroneously that employers are lining up to sponsor Non EU citizens to get work permits. This is simply not the case! This only occurs when a company is looking to hire a highly qualified individual for which they cannot find someone locally. The process is expensive and time consuming and most employers cannot be bothered.
Assuming that you are here for the long term and that you are legal, let’s look at some of your options for making a living.
Teaching English – If you are mother tongue English, or if you speak English very well, it is still reasonably easy to find a school that will give you some hours to teach, especially in the major markets like Milan and Rome. The drawback is that this work is freelance and normally does not allow for any kind of sick leave or paid vacation time. The hourly rate, plus the fact that there are large chunks of the year in which there is little or no work, makes it very challenging to really get ahead economically, given the cost of living in the major cities. That said, when I taught at the beginning of my time in Italy, I totally ran it like a business. My private students had to pay for ten lessons in advance, and the lesson was counted, if they cancelled within twenty-four hours. My corporate clients had to pay for travel time and I had a translation fee list that included emergency rates. My no-nonsense approach paid off, along with my seriousness as a teacher, I soon found myself with more students than I could handle. The main reason why many English teachers struggle is that they don’t treat what they do as a business from which they need to live well.
Work as An Employee– I know that the newspapers are filled of gloom and doom, but the fact of the matter is, there are a lot of jobs available in Italy. Now let me be clear – some of them may not be what you want to do, but if you don’t speak Italian fluently, your options will be limited for a while until you get the language under your belt. Another challenge with being an employee in Italy is that the average salary is between €1.000 – €1.200, this makes living on your own in a big city quite a challenge, given that an apartment for one, even in the less sought after areas, will be a minimum of €700. There are, of course, higher paying jobs in Italy, but getting one of those is pretty much like it would be in your own country, much depends on your experience and qualifications. Don’t forget that looking for a job needs to be a job. You need to send out at least one hundred résumés a week! I am not joking – I have known so many foreigners who gave up and left Italy because they wouldn’t put in the effort!
Self-Employment– Sometimes people look at me as if I am crazy when I say that I see enormous opportunities for people in Italy who want to start businesses. Running your own business, in any country, is not for the fainthearted, especially if you throw in cultural differences and linguistic challenges. If you would like to start a business in Italy, please listen to me when I say that you will need two professionals by your side – a very savvy lawyer and a competent accountant. Do not even think of doing it without this assistance and please don’t listen to what I call fireside lawyers on expat boards spewing out all kind of inaccurate information and advice. Do not mess around on this – great counsel will save you a lot of heartache down the road – believe me! In addition to this, with the advent of sites such as Upwork, you now have the opportunity to hire freelance people around the world to work with you on projects in Italy.
Networking – While it can be a lot of fun to network with other foreigners, don’t forget that even in the rest of the world, 90% or where you go in life depends on who you know. This is especially true in Italy, so you need to get out and network with the locals. Find Italian speaking business groups and events to attend, go, and put your best foot forward! Italians, but I think it’s also true of other people, like to do business with individuals they know or who are recommended to them.
While coaching and speaking at events, people often ask me if I think Italy is a difficult place to do business in – my answer is simple, yes, it is. However, the fact of the matter is, every country presents its challenges and obstacles for running a business and Italy is no different.
You can make a nice living for yourself in Italy, but you must remember that if will take effort and drive – without these vital ingredients, probably not a lot will happen. On the other hand, if you put in the time, see obstacles as opportunities, network constantly, I may soon be reading about you on Il Sole 24 Ore!
Article by Damien O’Farrell Coaching Services
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