Captivating, fascinating, and absolutely stunning, Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and home to amazing food, arts, and culture.
The capital of Italy's Tuscan region, Florence is home to less than 400,000 residents but hosts over 16 million tourists every year, making the city vibrant with life.
Those choosing to relocate here can enjoy the impressive views of Brunelleschi's Duomo and walk through streets crowded with outstanding artwork daily.
Step 1: Choose your quarter and your team
Historically, Florence has been divided up into four quarters: Santa Maria Novella, San Giovanni, Santa Croce, and Santa Spirito.
These quarters face off each year in a tournament of Calcio Storico, an ancient game that is a blend of rugby, wrestling, and soccer. While good for creating sports teams, these quarters are a bit large when trying to decide where to live and most locals divide the neighborhoods into the areas surrounding the churches.
The neighborhoods most popular among expats are Santa Spirito, San Frediano, San Marco, and Sant’Ambrogio.
An artist’s haven located in Oltrarno, Santa Spirito is a lively blend of students, expats, and artists. The piazza is host to a daily market where you can pick up some local produce during the day. In the evening, the piazza is transformed into a lively mix of young locals and tourists enjoying aperitivo or pizza on the steps of the church.
It is located within the limited traffic zone, so don’t plan on being able to drive to your apartment here as the residential car permit is a long bureaucratic process that can take a year.
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Located just west of Santa Spirito, this is considered the coolest neighborhood in the world by some. The vibe is very similar to Santa Spirito, with lots of local artisans, but a bit more modern. The three greatest cocktail bars in Florence are all located in San Frediano, within a block of each other. This neighborhood would be my top choice for those planning to move to Florence.San Marco
Home to Accademia, and therefore, Michaelangelo’s David, this neighborhood is crowded with tourists by day but left to the residents at night. While this neighborhood is lacking in interesting dining and nightlife spots, it is well connected to public transportation. The shining gem of this neighborhood is the botanical garden, a welcome oasis of green in the desert of stone and plaster that makes up the center of Florence.
Situated along the eastern border of the city center, Sant’Ambrogio is home to the best produce market in Florence. Open daily, except Sundays, you’ll find the best tasting produce for the most economical price here. But don’t fear you need to survive on home cooking in this neighborhood, as it is home to the fabulous and famous Cibreo restaurant group. Early fall evenings at Café Cibreo are the epitome of Italian living.
Step 2: Renting an apartment
Pro tip: It’s all about the kitchen
Renting an apartment in Italy is...unusual.
For your first apartment in Italy, I recommend only looking for furnished apartments. This is because unfurnished apartments tend to come without the kitchen installed. Meaning the previous renters take the stove, cabinets and kitchen sink with them when they move and you need to install your own before you can have a functioning home kitchen.
Not exactly a project I would want to undertake right after moving abroad; much easier to just move into a furnished place with a kitchen that is ready to use.
Though finding a place to stay isn’t necessarily easy as many apartments in Florence have been converted to short term tourist rentals (thanks to those 16 million annual tourists).
For those that are still long term rentals, finding your lease term may be difficult. Typically, Italians sign an apartment lease for a term of at least three years. To get started in your apartment search, check out the website Subito, but I recommend getting an agent as navigating the nuances of Italian law is difficult even for native-born Italians.
Step 3: Embrace the history and culture
There are endless numbers of museums to visit in Florence. It also is a huge fashion city and in the summer you can enjoy outdoor runway shows. Food is a huge part of the culture here and there are so many great places to eat.
Unfortunately, there are also a ton of tourist rap restaurants (remember those 16 million annual tourists) so it helps to know where to go.
Aperitivo is one of the best parts of Italian culture and can help you adjust to the fact that dinner hour doesn't start until 8 pm (most restaurants open at 7 pm, but that is considered tourist dining hour). For those curious, an aperitivo is a pre-meal drink specifically meant to stimulate your appetite. My aperitivo favorite places are Ditta Artigionale, Santarosa Bistrot and Vineria Sonora.
Even though you'll call Florence home, don't overlook visiting some of the most popular places for tourists in Florence.
Step 4: Don't underestimate visas
Becoming legal is more challenging than you think.
Getting your permesso di soggiorno or permission to stay in Italy is a long and frustrating process.
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My husband's company has two lawyers working on getting everything in order and helping us through the process, yet we have still hit snag points and are constantly frustrated.
First, you need to work with the Italian Consulate in your home country to have a long-term visa issued. Unfortunately, the process doesn’t end there as there is a second step that needs to be completed once you arrive in Italy. Within 8 days of arriving in Italy, you must present to the authorities to request your permesso di soggiorno. After doing that, you have a full calendar year to apply for your permesso, though you should start as soon as possible since the process usually takes at least 4 months.
Despite the frustration of Italian bureaucracy, life in Italy is enjoyable.
Italians have a social culture that strongly values community. This means that there are festivals and fairs most weekends that draw huge crowds.
Daily life is affordable as food at the market and grocery store is very cheap. Eating out will cost you more, and cocktails are equivalent to big city prices, but wine is cheap and drinkable.
The take-home pay isn’t great and you usually work long hours, but the holiday time makes up for you. Most Italians get three weeks of vacation in August with an additional two weeks at Christmas. Plenty of time to explore the vast beauty of Italy, or of any of the close European countries that can be just an hour plane ride away.
My husband and I have lived in Italy for 6 months now I’m glad we made the transition. I moved abroad for love and it's been the best decision I could have made for myself and our relationship. If you're considering moving abroad for love, read this article first!
Getting out of our comfort zone and attempting to learn a new language has been a life-changing experience. Most days I don’t miss what we left back in Seattle. I’ve gotten used to my tiny kitchen and overly firm mattress. I’m grateful we brought our own down pillows so I don’t have to sleep on something super flat and hard. I wish we had a larger shower, but that’s just a reality of Italian life.
And usually, the view from my apartment windows is enough to remind me that comprising my ideal shower size is worth it.