With Italy’s long Mediterranean coastline, refined cuisine, and influential civilizations, it’s no surprise that this sprawling peninsula has left an unwavering mark on western culture. Ancient ruins, colorful seaside towns, and landmark art, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t all chasing a slice of the dolce vita, but western Europe isn’t known for its budget vacations. It might be a pricey choice for a holiday, but is Italy a cheap place to live?
Italy can be very expensive, no matter where you go in the country. From the affluent north, home to Europe’s fashion capital of Milan and the most expensive city in Italy, to the sun-soaked south, with its holiday resorts of the rich and famous like the ultra-expensive Amalfi Coast, visiting Italy on a budget can be tricky.
Still, that doesn’t mean the same has to be said about settling in the Med. From food to fun, our guide looks at the real costs of living in Italy in 2023. Let’s get started.
Is Italy a cheap place to live?
With its distinct culture and cuisine, sun-drenched coasts, rolling vineyards, and cosmopolitan cities, choosing to visit Italy is easy, but what if the Western European dream didn’t only have to last for a summer?
Italy isn’t the cheapest place to vacation, and while it might still be cheaper than some places in Europe like Scandinavia, its tourist hotspots like the Amalfi Coast and Lake Como are among the priciest places in the world. However, the cost of moving to Italy could be a different story and it might surprise you just how cheap of a place it is to live.
You might have burned a hole in your pocket visiting Milan, Rome, and Venice in the past. But these international cities don’t represent the whole country, and Italy is peppered with untrodden villages and even bustling seaside resorts that don’t have to break the bank – both for a vacation, and even more so, when it comes to living costs.
Even Italy’s most expensive city, Milan, is cheaper to live in than London, Sydney, Copenhagen, New York, and Paris. In fact, Milan is only around the 10th most expensive city in Europe, and this is as pricey as it gets in Italy. Still, you’re probably wondering what these costs look like.
Italy is the 4th cheapest country in Western Europe, but there is a lot of regional variation. Milan, Rome, Bologna, Venice, and so on, aren’t cheap places to live. Unless you’re coming from another cosmopolitan western city, the prices in these destinations could come as a shock. However, there are still a lot of small towns in the south that are much cheaper than the European average.
For example, the cost of living in Lombardy is 1.23 times higher than the national cost of living in Italy, yet the cost of living in Sicily is 1.12 times lower than the national average cost of living. Let’s take a look at how this average cost of living breaks down:
|Living Expenses in Italy||Average Cost (EUR)|
As we said, this is a national average and things can look very different when you compare regions. The cost of living also depends on your personal spending habits and lifestyle choices. Those who eat out and socialize regularly will spend a lot more than those who don’t.
Although this round-up comes to around €1,400 a month, the average cost of living in Italy changes, like the average salary, as you travel down the country. As you’ll learn throughout this guide, the quality of life and the costs for such a life in Italy, all depend on where you go.
Rent and Property Prices in Italy
Rent is likely to be the biggest expense to come out of anyone’s paycheck every month. So it’s a good place to start when calculating the average costs of living in any given region. Milan and Rome are the most expensive places to live in Italy. Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean your rent will break the bank.
If you’re after a one-bedroom apartment in the city center of Milan, you can expect an average monthly rental cost of around €1,252 and €1,050 in Rome. That’s pretty similar to the price of a one-bedroom apartment in the center of Madrid, or a private room in New York. Likewise, a three-bedroom city center apartment in Italy’s capital and northern economic hub will set you back around €2,175 and €2,525 a month respectively. Which is around the same as a studio apartment in New York City or a two-bedroom apartment in outer London.
However, venture out of the center in these both relatively small and well-connected cities, and you could still live the metropolitan dream in Italy for around €750 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, and €1,400 a month for three beds. You could barely get a studio in Amsterdam or London for those prices.
Head slightly further south to some equally iconic Italian cities like Florence, Bologna, and Naples, and you could rent a city-center apartment for less than €800 a month. In fact, three bedrooms in the center of Naples go for just €1,000 a month, and if you head just outside of the city, to the sun-drenched Napoli region which is home to the Amalfi Coast and Mount Vesuvius, you could find a one-bedroom apartment for as little as €350 a month. The same goes for Sicily’s capital, Palermo.
Things get even cheaper if you choose to rent in smaller towns away from busy cities. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Italy might be €660 a month, but there are plenty of options where you can rent for much less.
But what if you chose not to rent and decided to get onto the Italian property ladder? Property is always a good investment, and even if it might not be that cheap in Italy, it can be a smarter long-term financial choice than renting.
The average price per square meter to buy property in Italy is around €1,800, that’s the equivalent of €170 per square foot, compared to around €2,400 per square meter in the UK. Buying in a city center can cost a little more, for example, property in Milan comes to around €3,500 per square meter, but that’s around 16 percent cheaper than the average price of a city center apartment in the UK, and 15 percent cheaper than in Ireland.
In fact, you’ll find cheaper housing in Italy than in Spain, Portugal, and much of France too. Italy also offers alluring incentives for ex-pats looking to buy property in the country. Such as low transaction fees, no capital gains tax, and unique promotions like Italy’s viral €1 villas, where vacant, dilapidated houses in the Italian countryside were being sold off to international buyers, with the only condition being that buyers had to promise to invest €5,000 in the refurbishment of the property within five years of purchase. As it happens, property in Italy can be very affordable.
Groceries and Eating Out in Italy
It’s not hard to eat well in the birthplace of pizza and pasta. Italy is one of Europe’s biggest food producers and you’ll find world-class ingredients being grown in every corner of the country. Food is always going to occupy a big portion of your living costs, and if you want to have your fair share of meals out, your expenses are likely to double. Again, it depends on where you go in Italy, but not all your food and drink will cost as much as it does in a Bacari bar in Venice.
Fresh Italian produce is essential to the Mediterranean diet, and you’ll find that Italians all over the country cook with many of the same essential ingredients. But that doesn’t mean it all comes cheap and some produce still has to travel quite a way.
For example, the quaint and reserved birthplace of Parmesan cheese means it’s never going to come at a low price, made in the Emilia Romagna region in northern Italy. Likewise, balsamic vinegar from Modena, truffles from Umbria, and Prosciutto from Parma all make the exports of central Italy equally exclusive. However, the iconic San Marzano tomatoes, Sicilian lemons, and other vegetables that thrive in the Mediterranean sun are cheap and abundant in the south, but getting them up north can cost a little extra.
The average Italian spends around €300 on groceries a month, which is actually slightly higher than the European average. You can find cheap supermarket chains like Lidl or Aldi, but most Italians prefer to shop local for better quality. Still, in Milan, you can expect to spend 20 percent more on groceries than in one of Italy’s cheaper cities like Naples.
Every product, from milk to local cheese, chicken, and red meat, costs considerably more in the northern financial hub, while the actual capital, Rome, is four percent cheaper for supermarket essentials, but pretty similar in cost and sometimes more expensive when it comes to alcohol, as well as fruit and veg.
Eating out is even more varied, and Italy’s high prices are something you’ve probably experienced if you’ve ever vacationed here. Yet, a meal out for two in Naples could come to around €50, half of what you’d spend in New York or London, and around €70-80 in Rome and Milan.
It’s hard to find an inexpensive meal in a popular Italian city for less than €15, but head to Sicily, Puglia, Calabria, and Abruzzo and you’ll find dishes for between €6 and €10 everywhere you go.
Getting Around Italy
Public transport is something that doesn’t cost too much wherever you go in Italy. There is a vast rail network with regional and high-speed trains connecting much of the country. Local trains tend to be cheaper and preferred for shorter distances, but this is the same wherever you are in the country.
Compared to London and Paris, single bus and subway tickets within cities tend to be more affordable too. This is most expensive in Milan, at around €2 per way, but between €1-1.50 everywhere else. A monthly travel pass also averages between €35 and €40 in every major city in Italy, this is closer to €150 in a city like London, which is the same price as a regional train pass in Italy for a week.
Taxis in Italy can be expensive, like anywhere, but are cheaper in the south, with a starting tariff of just €3, and €1.20 per kilometer, compared to €6 and €2 per kilometer in the north.
The average price of a used car also isn’t too different by region in Italy but starts at around €10,000 in Tuscany and goes up to €14,000 in Veneto – the region which, ironically, is home to the iconic car-less city of Venice. Gasoline prices are below the global average in Italy, but pretty similar to the rest of the EU, averaging at €1.6 per liter in October 2022, compared to €2.01 in the UK and €1.52 in France.
Extra Expenses in Italy
There are some expenses that don’t apply to everyone in Italy, but they could make all the difference if you’re planning to move abroad and want to uphold the same lifestyle. For example, fitness clubs can vary quite a lot across the country. A monthly fee for a gym in Milan could set you back upwards of €70, while gym memberships in cities like Naples and Rome are closer to €50, and €35 elsewhere.
Court rental in Milan and Rome for an hour on a weekend will set you back €25, and €20 in Naples. And if you want to go to the cinema, expect to pay between €8 and €10 wherever you are in the country.
A full month of daily private preschool for a child could cost around €250 in the south of Italy, but closer to €500 in Rome and €775 in Milan. While the yearly fees for an international primary school for one child average at €4,000 in Naples, €8,000 in Sicily and Rome, and €15,000 in Milan.
Living in Italy on a Budget: Our Top Tips
Living in Italy on a budget is definitely doable, and when it comes to chasing the Western European dream, Italy could be more of a realistic choice than you once thought. Italy is a cheap place to live, and even pricier places like Milan and Rome offer reasonable living costs as far as cosmopolitan cities go. Follow these top tips to save some extra pennies:
- Don’t buy a car – From strolling around the sprawling cities to hurtling across the country on high-speed rail, you don’t need a car in Italy, and with rising gas prices, it will save you a lot.
- Visit the farmer’s markets – Outdoor markets have the best local produce and cheese, wine, and pasta could all be cheaper than in your local Mercato. Look for fruit and veg which is ‘brutto ma buono’ (ugly but good). You’ll compromise on looks, but not flavor.
- Avoid the tourist menu – Touristy menus are easy to spot, usually accompanied by pictures of the food and a waiter hassling you to come inside – not to mention bumped-up prices. Look out for local spots and learn Italian to help. When in doubt, ask a local for their recommendation.
- Order coffee at the bar – Lots of restaurants in Italy charge premiums just for using the table. Now, this isn’t always a bad thing because your cover charge could include generous servings of free bar snacks like olives, crisps, and even prosciutto. But if you’re just after a coffee, drink it at the bar like a real Italian and you’ll avoid the table charge.
- Pay in cash – Like many European countries, Italy has been pretty slow transitioning from cash to plastic. Many businesses simply don’t want to pay the fees, but this means they might offer a cheaper rate if you can pay in notes and coins. Ask your cashier for a ‘sconto’ (discount) and you never know your luck.
- Don’t buy a tv – You could end up paying €100 in extra electricity bills just to power your television set, not to mention the extra fees you can expect if you plan to pay for an international provider to get all your favorite shows from your hometown. Invest in a VPN instead and enjoy international television on your laptop.
Where is the cheapest place in Italy to live?
Some of the cheapest regions to live in Italy are either landlocked in the center-North or tucked away in the south in Italy’s heal. Abruzzo and Calabria are two of the best places for low property prices, and you get a lot for what you pay in rural Italy. Puglia with its ancient villages, fruitful lands, and sun-drenched coast also offers low-cost living, and with its popularity in the high season, you could retrieve great rental yields for holiday properties. Basilicata, the instep of Italy’s boot, is also largely underrated and offers a lot in the way of lifestyle and scenery for low costs.
How much money do you need to live in Milan?
Milan is Italy’s most expensive city, but that doesn’t mean it has to break the bank. On average, you’ll need around €1,000 to live comfortably in Milan, after you’ve paid your rent. With rent averaging between €700 and €1,500 for a single person, a decent income between €1700 and €2500 a month is needed to live in Milan. The estimated monthly costs for a family of four without rent are around €3,300, and a three-bedroom apartment ranges from €1,600 to €2,500 a month.
Is it cheaper to live in Italy than in the USA?
It could be much cheaper to live in Italy than in the USA. On average, the cost of living in the USA is more than double that of living in Italy, and America’s most expensive city, New York, boasts rent prices that are 200 percent more expensive than Milan’s. This isn’t the same for every city, and some of the property prices in the USA could be more appealing, but for metropolitan appeal, Italy will come out cheaper.