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MILAN

‘It takes time’: Foreign residents on what it’s really like to live in Milan

As Milan has ranked both highly and poorly in recent liveability surveys, we asked the city's foreign residents to share the truth on what life is really like there. Here's what readers of The Local told us - as well as insider advice if you're thinking of moving to Milan.

Is it possible to enjoy life in Milan as a foreign resident? The Local’s readers weigh in.
Is it possible to enjoy life in Milan as a foreign resident? The Local’s readers weigh in.Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

After Milan was once again ranked in the bottom five in an annual survey of the best and worst cities to move to as a foreigner (this time coming in second-to-last place), we decided to create our own survey asking our Milan-based readers for their thoughts on what life in the city is really like.

The responses were mixed: a little over half of respondents were broadly positive about the quality of life in Milan, checking the ‘life’s fantastic’, ‘I’m grateful to be living here’, or ‘no complaints’ boxes.

Just under half said they have had a difficult experience of living in the city, with around one in ten actively hating the experience.

On an individual basis, readers had plenty of useful insights into how the city ticks and how to get the most out of living in Italy’s economic capital.

Here’s what you had to say about the best and worst parts of living in Milan – as well as your advice for people weighing up whether to make the move themselves.

‘An amazing strategic location’

Those who give Milan a thumbs up appreciate its convenient geographical position and cosmopolitan feel.

“I have Italianness where I want it, and the efficiency, modernity and access of an international-level city when I need it,” says Kate, who’s lived in Milan for a bit less than a year.

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“It’s a cosmopolitan city but it is still small enough to feel manageable,” agrees James Appleton, who moved to the city in 2020. “Things tend to work, and it’s in an amazing strategic location.”

In particular, residents highlight that the city’s close proximity to nature means they can easily take weekend or day trips to a range of scenic destinations.

“Geographically it is in a superb position, near the mountains and the sea,” says resident Melanie, who has lived in Milan on and off for forty years.

Lake Como is just a short car journey or train ride from Milan.

Lake Como is just a short car journey or train ride from Milan. Photo: Anjuna Ale on Unsplash

“It’s amazing to be within an hour train ride of so many beautiful places outside of Milan,” agrees Veronica Policht, who’s spent two living years in the city.

And if you fancy going further afield, it’s also well-positioned for making international trips.

“The airports are very accessible and I really like the convenience of Linate for travel within Europe or to the UK. I think Milan is easily one of the most accessible and navigable cities I’ve ever lived in (I’m from Sydney and have lived in Hong Kong, London, Amsterdam and Tokyo),” says Nicki, who’s lived in Milan for two years.

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‘World class’ public transport

Another highlight of life in Milan, say readers, is the excellent public transport system.

“Milan’s public transportation is amazing, honestly world class,” enthuses Veronica.

It’s “very easy to get around, great public transport and bike lanes and easy to walk everywhere” seconds Nicki.

The city tends to gets a bad rap for its appearance compared to places like Florence and Rome, but several readers said they find Milan an attractive place to live. 

And when it comes to food and culture, many of you agree: Milan’s is second to none.

James cites Milan’s “food and drink options, its beautiful and underrated centre, its modern architecture” as some of city’s best qualities, while Veronica appreciates the “many cultural opportunities available”.

Pre-dinner aperitivi are considered a highlight of Milanese life.

Pre-dinner aperitivi are considered a highlight of Milanese life. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

“The food, aperitivo, architecture, parks, and art,” are all highlights for two-year Milanese resident Joshua; and Steve Geddis, who’s lived in the city for four years, agrees that there’s a “huge range of restaurants, constantly lots to do.”

So what’s not to love about Italy’s economic capital?

‘The pollution is awful’

Two negative aspects of life in Milan consistently cropped up in reader responses: the high cost of living and the elevated pollution levels.

“One of the most polluted places in Europe” is how former Milanese resident Laura summed it up, and Veronica agrees that “the pollution is awful”.

According to Paul Pontecorvo, who’s lived in the city since 2006, it’s particularly bad in the winter: “the period between Jan-Feb with no air moving and smog is dreadful…you feel it in your lungs.”

Residents say the high levels of pollution is one of the worst things about life in Milan.

Residents say the pollution is one of the worst aspects of life in Milan. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Several respondents also warned that unless you’re on a reasonably high salary, you might not earn enough to take advantage of all that the city has to offer.

“Cost of living and taxes drastically outpace average income making it difficult to do much beyond survive,” is the gloomy assessment from Kurt, who’s lived in Milan for four and a half years.

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Isibor Sunday, who has lived in Milan for four years, characterises life in the city as: “Working like elephant eating like ant.”

The high cost of rent is seen as a particular culprit when it comes to draining funds: they’re “too high and rising” says Veronica.

“Even after the pandemic housing prices are unreasonable, especially for students or anyone who’s salary is based on a fixed nation-wide standard (like university staff).”

And if you’re considering buying your own place, “the cost of buying a house is almost as bad as London but requiring a bigger deposit,” warns Steve.

‘Rainy and grey’

Other bugbears?

For an Italian city, Milan has a cold and rainy climate that some denizens find particularly unpleasant.

“It’s rainy and grey in November – it’s definitely not a Mediterranean climate,” says Kate.

Readers say Milan’s grey and wet weather leaves a lot to be desired.

Readers say Milan’s smog and weather are major downsides. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO/AFP

“The weather is awful,” agrees Marta, who has lived in the city for two years.

If you’re coming from northern Europe, though, it’s likely to be no worse what than you’re used to. “It can be a little damp in November, but only by Italian standards!” says James.

The traffic and driving culture is also considered a drawback: an “over-abundance of drivers make the streets dangerous, ugly, and stressful,” says Veronica.

Charlie, who’s lived in Milan for 14 months, agrees: “FAR too many cars and everyone thinks the pavement is a car park.”

READ ALSO: Ten things you need to know before moving to Italy

Then are some facets of the city that aren’t all that bad in their own right, but that may disappoint new arrivals who have certain preconceived notions of what it can offer.

A few of you noted although Milan is cosmopolitan for Italy, it’s less international than other global hubs.

“Don’t expect such a cosmopolitan hub as London or NY or even Paris,” was the advice from a new resident who’s lived in Milan for five months.

“It pretends to be international but it is not at all and even integrated, speaking the language and having friends there it never gives you the feeling of living in big city like London or Paris,” is the scathing review from one ex-resident of four years.

Milan: not as international as it thinks it is?

Milan: not as international as it thinks it is? Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Says Melanie, who first moved to the city four decades ago: “It has improved and become more international but the Milanese do have a small town mentality!”

And those who think Milan’s status as Italy’s most modern metropolis means they won’t have to deal with the country’s infamous red tape are in for a rude awakening.

“The bureaucracy is as bad as anywhere else in Italy,” says James; while Adam Rugnetta, who’s been a resident for five years, identifies the bureaucracy as the worst part of living in the city – though adds that “it’s the same in the rest of the country.”

Making the move

What guidance do our readers have for foreigners looking to make the move?

Make an effort to learn the language, before and after moving, was the most commonly issued advice.

Not only is the ability to speak Italian almost always critical if you want to find a job with an Italian company, “it makes a huge difference to understanding everything about the culture,” says Melanie.

“Try to speak Italian, even if you’re bad, people will appreciate the effort either way and probably reply in English most of the time,” advises Steve.

Learning Italian will ease your transition to Milan, say residents.

Learning Italian will ease your transition to Milan, say residents. Photo: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Several readers suggested exploring different neighbourhoods of the city and being open to moving around until you find the one where you feel most comfortable.

And with rents as high as they are, Veronica even suggests looking outside the city for accommodation: “Really consider if it’s important to you to live *in* Milano proper or if you could be happy living in a surrounding suburb and commuting to work.” 

Some respondents pointed out that you can feel isolated in a big city like Milan, and it’s not always easy to make friends.

With that in mind, it’s important to take the initiative when it comes to finding a community.

“Be open and outgoing, speak to people, and if you want to make new friends and don’t have school age kids, get a dog!” is what Lulu, who’s lived in the city for five and a half years, suggests.

“Join clubs for expats, the local gym, book clubs, toddlers groups etc, it will be easier for you,” says Melanie.

And if you’re new to the city and struggling?

“Don’t worry about hating it all at first,” she says cheeringly. “It takes time!!”

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LIVING IN ITALY

13 essential phone apps to make your life in Italy easier

From commuting to grocery shopping, mobile apps have made many of our daily tasks simpler. Here are the best apps to have on your phone if you live in Italy.

13 essential phone apps to make your life in Italy easier

Though some might not always fulfil their purpose, apps are essentially designed to make daily life easier and for those living in a foreign country any type of help, however big or small, is worth its weight in gold.

So, in no particular order, here are 13 essential apps for life in Italy. 

Moovit

Moovit is by far the best urban mobility app available to Italian residents.

From public transport to taxis and e-bikes, Moovit will give you a range of travel options to get to your chosen destination in the quickest possible time. 

READ ALSO: Calendar: The transport strikes to expect in Italy this February

The times where you’d need multiple apps to figure out the quickest way to get from A to B are long gone.

Enjoy

Public transport options aren’t always great in Italy, which is why you might find yourself looking for a car to hire on more than one occasion. 

If you live in Milan, Rome, Turin, Bologna or Florence, you’ll be able to do so via Enjoy.

Once you have uploaded your driving licence to the app, you’ll only need to locate the nearest car in your area and book it with a simple click. Parking at the end of your journey will be free of charge. 

Lime

If you’re not a fan of cars (or simply can’t stand traffic during peak hours), you’ll also have the option to quickly hop on a bike and cycle your way through the city.

There are countless bike-sharing services across the country, but Lime is definitely one of the most reliable ones.

Prices vary depending on where you live, but they’re generally very affordable.

Free Now

Regular Uber services are not available in Italy, so you’ll have to turn to local taxis for a ride. 

Free Now will spare you a lot of traipsing around (and a lot of roadside waving) by allowing you to summon a taxi to your exact location and pay for your ride via the app.

READ ALSO: Uber expands into Italy’s taxi market with new partnership

A taxi on an empty road in Rome, Italy

Free Now allows residents to quickly hail a taxi and pay for the ride via the app. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Other apps, like appTaxi and itTaxi, are also available.

Il Meteo

While it might not have the most creative of names – it literally means ‘the weather’ – Il Meteo is the best mobile app if you’re looking to keep up to date with weather conditions in your corner of the boot.

Aside from giving you ten-day forecasts, the app gives you updates on pollen levels, road traffic and earthquakes as well as live satellite images.

Satispay

Satispay is one hell of a time-saver when it comes to making small purchases at your local grocery store, especially if you don’t have Apple Pay or Google Pay set up on your phone.

The app is essentially an online wallet which allows you to pay by simply scanning a QR code at the relevant check-out machine. 

Other than that, it allows you to send money to your phone contacts and make a series of in-app payments, including phone top-ups and car tax payments.

The Fork

Booking a spot at a local restaurant can be a bit of a hassle at times, especially if your Italian is still così così

That’s where The Fork comes in. A couple of effortless taps on your screen and you’re booked. 

The Fork also gives you access to a number of generous discounts (as much as 50 percent in some cases) on your restaurant bill.

Glovo

If you’re craving a restaurant meal but don’t quite want to leave the comfort of your home, Glovo is one of the best options available in Italy.

Glovo services more than 450 cities across the boot and their deliveries are usually bang on time. 

Aside from delivering food orders, the service will also bring anything from groceries to medicine to flowers right to your doorstep.

Giallo Zafferano

One of the best ways to tap into the bel paese’s unparalleled culinary tradition is by downloading the Giallo Zafferano (Saffron Yellow) app.

READ ALSO: ‘Declaration of war’: Outrage in Italy over New York Times tomato carbonara

Giallo Zafferano stores over 4,000 recipes, many of which are accompanied by video tutorials, nutrition facts and historical notes.

Pizza-making in Naples, Italy

The Giallo Zafferano app allows users to tap into Italy’s world-famous culinary tradition. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

The app will also allow you to share tips and photos of your creations with other users.

Subito

Subito is an online marketplace where you can buy or sell anything from cars to real estate to home furniture.

The app has over six million ads, but searching for items is surprisingly easy thanks to the filters and categories provided. 

Also, Subito allows you to post ads for free and chat with potential buyers (or sellers) directly within the app. 

Prezzi Benzina

Though they might not be as high as they were some months ago, fuel prices are still far from the norm and even small savings can make a big difference in some cases.

READ ALSO: Where to find the cheapest fuel in Italy

You can use Prezzi Benzina (Fuel Prices) to quickly locate the cheapest petrol station in your area and get the best available deal. 

All you have to do is select the type of fuel your vehicle’s running on and enter your location. The app will do the rest. 

IO

Italian bureaucracy is notoriously tricky to navigate, but setting up the IO app on your phone will make things easier for you. 

IO allows you to message and exchange documents with any Italian public body, and gives you the option to pay for a number of public administration services from within the app.

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Remember: you’ll need SPID (Public Digital Identity System) credentials or an Italian Electronic Identity Card (CIE) to access the service. 

MedInAction

MedInAction allows you to book an appointment with a qualified English-speaking doctor within 24 hours.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to make a doctor’s appointment in Italy 

However, the service isn’t cheap – prices for house calls start at 120 euros, whereas online consultations with a GP are available for 50 euros – and only the biggest Italian cities are covered.

Also, the app is only available on iOS devices.

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