Know Before you Go: Italy
by Rachel Carpenter - September 7th, 2022
This is part of our "Know Before You Go" series, which has useful information for military families moving to overseas duty stations.
Congratulations! You have received notification that you are moving to Italy! You are either thrilled or terrified - or, as is often the case when moving OCONUS, a little bit of both.
You might be a tad overwhelmed with it all: the logistics of a long-distance move, the planning, the reality of living in a foreign country, etc. There are plenty of people and organizations there to support you and assist with the move, but there are still so many things that you will not be prepared for.
You can learn the language, read books and blogs about what to expect in your new home, and brace yourself for the culture shock--and you will still be unprepared.
But don’t let this alarm you! Military families who have moved and lived overseas have encountered many challenges. Below, you'll find helpful advice to help you enjoy your time stationed in Italy.
Know before you go: Italy edition
Once you have orders to Italy, it's time to start preparing for your big move.
Start looking at housing NOW
Italy is unique in that most assigned personnel live in local rental homes or apartments. When we moved to Aviano AB in northern Italy, there was no base housing at all! Some bases have limited government housing, but many will not.
Before you start looking, it's important to know that Italian homes are smaller than American houses, without closets. You will also want to think about where you live and how much driving you are willing to do to your base. Start looking at rentals now to get a better idea of what your home will look like, the costs, and where you will want to live. You can start with the base website, the installation's housing office, or Homes.mil.
Speaking of housing, brace yourself for the Italian home
You might be picturing gorgeous architecture with stone details and sprawling gardens. And you might be lucky enough to swing a standalone, historical house at an affordable price! But in general, Italian homes are much smaller in square footage. The bathrooms all feature a bidet, there are no wall-to-wall carpets, and closets are practically unheard of.
Italian homes also run on 220-volt power, so your appliances and TVs might not work or will need a converter. Most people use a converter for larger appliances, but you can usually purchase small appliances locally or get them second-hand from families moving back stateside. Check your local thrift shops or base social media pages for these items!
Save up plenty of money
Moving to Italy is expensive! Even if you are reimbursed later, you will have plenty of upfront costs for utility deposits, phone service, internet, extra furniture, etc. And if you decide to buy a vehicle in Italy, prepare to pay in cash unless you buy on base or at a local, American serviced dealer.
You'll also need 220-volt appliances (mentioned above), plus options for storage.
Your out-of-pocket expenses might be surprising. Start saving now so you can jump right into settling in.
Consider your vehicle
We shipped our minivan to Italy because we had three kids and knew we needed the larger vehicle. I do not regret it, but that vehicle lived through it. The roads and parking are scarily narrow and small, and gas is much more expensive in Europe. We were okay with the idea of dings and knicks on the van (which it received), but you might consider a smaller car or one with better gas mileage.
We purchased a smaller car for commuting to work, and it was perfect. There are plenty of opportunities for travel by train or bus, and you can purchase gas coupons on base to help offset your costs.
Research the culture and customs
Italy is amazing! But life there is a huge adjustment from America. Italy is steeped in history, and it is preserved and revered. Nearly everything closes on Sundays and daily for riposo, an afternoon break that ranges from 12-4 PM.
Many businesses also close in August, which is widely known as a month of travel and rest. Italians are fast but competent drivers, and the autostrada or interstate can be intimidating.
Meals are different than in the U.S., too; I went to Italian dinners that started at 8 PM and lasted more than four hours! You will need to experience this firsthand, but it helps to learn about it before you arrive.
Learn conversational Italian
Like any OCONUS location, you will find plenty of English speakers near the base. But the further you get from it, the less English will be spoken or accepted. Since many military families live in Italian homes and shop on the economy, it is vital to have a grasp on conversational Italian. Learn the numbers, how to ask basic questions or for directions, and how to greet others.
Much like in other countries, the effort will be appreciated, and it will make your life a bit easier if you understand the language!
Join a local Facebook group
Joining a Facebook or other social media groups for Americans in Italy can be invaluable. Start by joining the group for your base, connect with other spouses, and learn about the installation and the local community.
These forums are the perfect place to ask questions: Which places are closed on holidays? Where can I find a job? Where is the best area to live? The more questions you ask, the better prepared you'll be.
Italy can be a challenging adjustment for some military families. We grew to love our little village near Aviano AB and the charms of life in the country. You will never find better food and wine, and the Italian people can be warm and inviting as you grow accustomed to life there.
Check out the other resources available on our website as you prepare for your OCONUS move.
Buona fortuna (good luck), and enjoy all the pasta you can!