Our Italian Adventure: Cost of Living
Updated: Mar 26
How we moved to Italy. Is living in Italy cheaper than living in the US?
PART 17: I thought it might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.
We are in Puglia until the end of September, then back again in the winter.
Our theme is: Cost of Living in Italy.
Step 1: If you read ex-pat blogs, you have undoubtedly read over and over again that the cost of living in Italy is much lower than in the US. But is this true? Based on my experience, yes and no.
Step 2: Yes, sometimes: It depends on where one lives in Italy. For example, the cost of living in Puglia is much lower than in Rome, Florence, or Milan. So let's not even consider these and other major Italian cities. Since we live in Galatone, a non-tourist town outside of Lecce, I can base my reflections on our experience here.
Step 3: Major expenses: what costs less. Housing is one of the significant expenses that is cheaper than in the US. In our town, a decent renovated house can be purchased for 80-90k, give or take. A place needing major renovation can be bought for 30-35k, needing another 40k to make it livable. These are ballpark figures, and they would be different if the town is on the coast or is a larger city like Lecce, but it gives an idea. In California, housing costs…I'm going to leave that one alone.
Renting for a few months vs. 12-month lease: We found that a place in Puglia might rent for 500-600 euros or more per week during high season (August), but if one leases it for 12 months, the monthly cost could go down to 400-500 euros.
Step 4: Minor expenses: what costs less. Our food shopping bill is much lower than it is back in Cali. Here in Puglia, our fruit and vegetables at our local vendors are of higher quality and cost significantly less than in California.
We found that if we eat at home more than we go out during the week, our weekly food bill is lower than in California.
Another minor expense that costs less are coffee drinks and pastries at our local cafes. When we went to get breakfast at a bar/cafe in front of the sea with some Italian friends, they remarked how expensive it was. But we looked at our bill: 2 cappuccinos, 2 croissants, and 2 glasses of water for about $7; plus, we had the Ionian sea in front of us. At Starbucks, without the sea view, the cost would be more than double.
Wine and other alcoholic beverages cost less in Italy. For example, Lecce has an outdoor bar/cafe in a beautiful area next to the historical center. We sometimes go there for an aperitive, like an Aperol Spritz. The waiter always brings the drinks with complimentary snacks (chips, olives, crackers). The drinks cost 5 euros each.
Step 5: What costs about the same: Becoming longer-term residents in Italy requires a car (unless one lives in a big city where one doesn't need one). Buying or renting a car is about the same as in the US. But then we looked into leasing a car for three months, which is what we ended up doing, using the Renault leasing program (https://www.renault-eurodrive.com/en). A new vehicle, including insurance, and manual transmission, averaged out at $21 a day over 3 months.
A car can be a significant expense to figure into one's budget.
Eating out at restaurants can add up to about what one pays in the US. Yes, the quality is much better, the food much fresher, and the taste much better. But how much one pays for a dinner here and back in California can be about the same, especially if one orders a first dish, entree, side dish, etc.
Step 6: What costs more in Italy: Gasoline is more expensive in Italy than in the US since Italy has to import all of its gas. Toll roads are also more costly; when we drove from Bologna down to Puglia, we paid about $50 for the toll road. Public transportation, however, is cheaper than in the US.
Pharmacies tend to charge much more for some over-the-counter items that one can find at a supermarket. Example: we looked for a bottle of peroxide and some mosquito repellant at our local pharmacy, then went to the supermarket the next day. We discovered that the items cost much less at the supermarket than at the pharmacy.
Insights: Depending on where and how one lives in Italy, the cost of living can be considerably lower than in the US. Purchasing produce and other foods from our local vendors, cooking at home during the week, leasing a car rather than renting, and making a 12-month commitment for our housing are some ways that our cost of living is lower than in California. Yet, our quality of life is higher.
Watch for my book coming around the 1st of the year: "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy."
More next time.