Settling successfully into Italian life isn’t just a question of what you know, but who you know. There are some people that you just can’t do without making friends, says our resident writer in Italy. These are the best contacts to make in Italy.
When we first came to Italy we didn’t know anyone. But we didn’t really need to, as we found the local Italians and foreign expats very friendly and helpful. Getting good recommendations and introductions is so important when starting any type of relationship, whether business or personal. Friendships need trust, which can only be built over time, so you should always be wary of “false friends”, those that immediately act like they’re your best mate, but are mainly interested in the money you’ll spend with them.
If you’re keen to buy a home in Italy but don’t quite have the money yet, download your free guide How to Pay for an Italian property. It’s packed with ideas for raising finance, including equity release, pension “freedom” and buying with family.
That said, there are some great professionals in Italy who give after sales service beyond what you would expect and can become a valuable friend.
A fellow expat
Even if you intend to immerse yourself in the Italian culture and only mix with Italians, everyone should have at least one expat friend. Whether you are looking to buy or are beginning to settle in to your new home, it can be invaluable to find a friend who has already been through the process and is willing to share their experiences, recommendations and “who to avoid” list with you.
While still at the looking stage I’d recommend searching online for expat forums and Facebook pages specific to the province and region you are viewing. Through an expat forum we made contact with a British woman, who rented us her villa while we were viewing property and an estate agent introduced us to another couple, who we continue to compare our experiences with.
A currency specialist
When is the best time to find a currency specialist? As soon as possible! Many buyers in Italy only think about currency when they make an offer. There are two problems with this. The first is that many websites only show the “interbank” rate of exchange. This is only available to large financial institutions and as a property buyer you’ll get a percentage or two below that, which you need to budget for.
More importantly, the rate changes every day, often by a percentage point or more on one day. Over the course of the buying process you could find your pounds have lost 5, 10 or even 20% of their value before you come to buy (as happened between the spring ad summer of 2019, 2017 and 2016 respectively), sending the price of your property sky high. Talk to our currency partner Smart Currency Exchange about a simple tool that prevents that happening, a forward contract. Read more about forward contracts here.
When you move to Italy, if you have an income arriving from the UK or US, or are sending money back, you can waste a lot of money with ad hoc payments. And without fixing your rate, you’ll never know how much you’re paying or earning each time. Again, Smart has a tool for that, a regular payments plan, which most expats combine with a forward contract for total peace of mind.
Find out how you can control the risk of sending money abroad in our Property Buyers’ Guide to Currency.
Your best barista
Among ther best contacts in any Italian community will be the person who serves you your cappuccino; the “barista”. They’re a mine of information on local people and places. When we were finding our way around, we would stop for a coffee and get directions and recommendations from a barista. On one occasion we were looking for a plumber’s shop to get a quote on materials and even though the barista didn’t speak English, he telephoned a friend, who immediately drove to the café just to help us with directions. However, our favourite barista friend is the one we visit every market day. No matter how busy he is, he always gives us a big friendly welcome.
An Italian neighbour
Living in the countryside we have found that older Italians can be very enthusiastic about befriending a new neighbour. They are very generous with their homemade wine, tomatoes and advice on how to take care of the land. Lovely, except when they start blowing the horn at your gate at 7am, just to tell you it’s time to plant peas! One English couple woke early one morning and looked outside, to see their neighbour’s entire family picking their olives for them.
Our own Italian neighbour has been a good friend from the day of our property viewing, when he offered to take us around the land on his quadbike. When we were working on the renovation, he would bring us pizza and fruit. One day we arrived home from the market to find a bag of pork hanging on our gate. It became a running joke as to how many bags of courgettes he could manage to give us. We’d tell him, “there are only so many courgettes two people can eat”, but he’d laugh and give us more.
Your estate agent
Estate agents in Italy don’t simply introduce buyer to seller, they get more involved in ensuring the purchase goes through smoothly. They check the Land Registry titles and plans and look to see that the property complies with all the local planning and building regulations. They also check that relevant building plans have been approved by the local authority and make sure that the owner holds the relevant certification of habitability.
The best agent will guide you through every stage of the purchase and give help and advice regarding getting a tax number, opening a bank account, setting up utilities etc. As a first main contact in Italy, many people develop a good friendship with their estate agent and call on them for advice and recommendations for many years after purchase.
A good lawyer
It’s advisable to consult with an English speaking lawyer at an early stage to ensure you have someone working solely in your interest who can thoroughly check that everything is legal. A local lawyer will have local knowledge of the legal system and experience of dealing with estate agents and notaries in the area. It’s always good to have a lawyer on your friends list as you never know when you might need them.
We call the three specialists who will help you buy in Italy your Golden Three. We can introduce to the trusted professionals to help you buy safely.
The local council staff
Having a friend in the council offices can be very useful and get you seen quicker. It’s particularly worth being friendly towards the people who deal with residency applications and local taxes. They are usually very good about helping you fill in forms and don’t charge for this. Fortunately, our local tax man speaks English and enjoys a good chat no matter how much work he has piling up. He’ll also introduce us to the relevant person in the council offices for any other issues.
The tourist office
If you have a local tourist office it’s worth regularly popping in to say “ciao”. Often the staff will speak English and are keen to tell you all about the local area and give directions. If you are going to rent out your property, this is a great contact to make in Italy. As well as potentially sending business your way, they’ll be able to collect lots of maps and leaflets to put together a welcome pack of tourist information.
A doctor and vet
Many doctors in rural areas don’t speak English, but translation apps can be very useful. Italy has a lot of family doctors for the population, so we have found that you can get in to see one very quickly and it’s free. Doctors usually have non-appointment, wait-your-turn days, as well as appointment-only days. I have always managed to get an appointment within two days and once in there you can discuss all your ailments without feeling like you are on a time limit. This means you can get to know your doctor well.
The same applies to our local vet. His main concern is the welfare of our pet and isn’t out to earn as much as he can from us. Often, we have been to see him and he’s charged us nothing.
Hidden in garages and workshops around the town you will find some really lovely people. They’ll be great at making and fixing things or at least know someone who can. You need to be introduced to them by a local as they are often not listed on the internet.
The guy that sold us our car has a workshop and we pop in to see him regularly and invite him round for lunch. He has been a very good friend over the years, introducing us to other people, when we’ve needed something repaired. When we purchased a second hand table tennis table, he offered to pick it up in his van and refused to take any money for the fuel. When we needed some muscle to help move a stove, he turned up with some mates and lifted it for us. Other Italians he has introduced us to are also skilled at their jobs and are just as friendly and generous.
It takes time to make friends and contacts in Italy, but it’s worth making the effort, as there are some really lovely people who will go out of there way to help you.