Life as an Expat in Rome

Life as an expat: the highs and lows of living in Rome.

With all the history, culture, splendour and fabulous food, it’s easy for foreigners to get swept away by Rome’s particular brand of Italian charm.

But moving here permanently – or just for the short term – can present a very different reality.

A vacation of sightseeing, pasta and gelato is one thing, but negotiating all the Italian bureaucracy, cultural differences, learning the language and simply making friends can prove a tough challenge for the uninitiated.

We asked two expats who have made their home in Rome what life’s really like for gli stranieri in the Eternal City. 

Christopher Namurach, 44, moved here from the UK nearly 20 years ago after falling in love with a local. But, like many foreigners who move here, he soon discovered the Italian penchant for red tape and cultural differences that initially made settling here a long process.

“The biggest challenge was the bureaucracy,” says Chris. 

“And I didn’t speak a word of Italian when I came here. I picked it up quickly and once I had mastered the language it was easier for me to communicate. But as soon as I opened my mouth, people understood that I was foreign and I would get screwed over – being charged extra for things from drinks to rent, while getting paid at work. It was also difficult to get a contract. They think that because you’re a foreigner you’re stupid. 

“My philosophy was that the most important thing other than language was to insert myself into the culture. For a long time all my friends here were Italians. It took me 17 years before I became active on the expats scene and by then I didn’t need the help and advice they were offering, but was able to help other people instead. It gave me a feeling of solidarity. 

“I’ve made some good friends here but I’ve also had some very bad experiences. Sometimes Italians can be extremely superficial. Also, I’ve noticed that here in Rome people are only interested in what they can get from you.” 

Fellow Brit Catrin Owens, 29, has experienced a turbulent four years in the city which, like many major cities, can often be as brutal as it is beautiful.

“When I first moved here about four years ago, I completely fell in love with the city and quickly made a group of friends after attending a few Expat parties,” she says.

“I felt like I was living the dream – everyone back home was so jealous of what they saw as my glamorous life. And, for a while, that was true.

“But over the years I’ve certainly learned not to take anything at face value. The people here are lovely in general, but there is definitely a bit of a dog-eat-dog culture here. It can make it difficult to trust people. Maybe I was a bit naïve in the first year, but I’ve become increasingly suspicious of people’s motives after a few bad experiences with people I thought were my friends or being kind.

“Having said that, I’m still here because there’s nowhere else like it. Whenever I walk along the river in the evening, or see incredible monuments or inspiring artwork, I’m still as captivated as when I first arrived.”

By Catherine Evans