Is Living In Italy Better Than Living In The US?

Dolce Vita vs American Dream: we navigate the main differences between Italy and the USA for expats and aspiring relocators.

People living in Italy walking down the street in Via Condotti, Rome
People in Via Condotti, Rome. Photo: Vlad Namashko on Unsplash.

Embarking on the journey of relocating from the USA to Italy or vice versa requires understanding the profound distinctions that shape daily life. In Italy, the allure of La Dolce Vita beckons, emphasizing a slower pace, rich culture, and top-notch culinary experiences. On the other hand, the USA, universally known for the ‘American Dream,’ boasts dynamic job opportunities, technological prowess, and wonderful natural landscapes. As we delve into the detailed cost-opportunity reasoning, prospective expats can gain insights by transcending stereotypes and embracing the complexity of these two distinct worlds.

Cost of Living

Though reputedly high compared to the salaries, Italy’s cost of living offers Americans a unique value proposition. Groceries may indeed be pricy, but the ritual of enjoying fresh food and espresso in a quaint café will soon become an essential part of daily life. According to recent data, the expenses in major Italian cities, such as Rome and Milan, hover around 10-15% higher than the national average. Housing costs, while variable, reflect the local wealth, with rents generally lower in the southern regions compared to the attractive north.

On the other hand, the USA’s vast economy encompasses a broader spectrum of situations. Cities like New York and San Francisco are almost inaccessible for most Italians, but midwestern settlements still offer more affordable living. These nuances between towns and regions become pivotal when considering the overall financial equation of daily life. However, the difference is still evident, so we can say that Italy can be a superb choice for US expats who have the opportunity to maintain the same income.

Winner: Italy

Job Market and Salaries

The Italian labor market, deeply rooted in small enterprises, craftsmanship, and artisanal skills, contrasts significantly with the diverse professional environment of the USA. Italy, with its emphasis on tradition, often sees higher demand in traditional job positions and sectors like fashion, design, and manufacturing. Recent statistics show Italy’s unemployment rate at approximately 8%, with some regional variations. On average, salaries are 50% lower than in the USA (with the gap widening), and the omnipresent red tape can be suffocating for enterprises. At the same time, employment still reflects a different ethos in Italy, where occupational safety and work-life balance play substantial roles, although this has changed substantially in the last few years.

In the USA, the job market, shaped by technological innovation and a service-oriented economy, showcases a varied puzzle of sectors. Fields like digital, finance, and healthcare often command high-tier salaries. Recent figures indicate an unemployment rate of around 3.5%, underlining a robust job market with less safety nets, but more flexibility and numerous opportunities.

Winner: USA

Housing, Rents, and Mortgages

From the vineyard-surrounded villas of the countryside to the suburban expanses of the metropolis, housing choices are deeply intertwined with personal lifestyle preferences. Italy’s housing market, influenced by social proximity and personal histories, often leans towards homeownership rather than renting, with some smaller provincial villages offering great opportunities and tax reliefs. According to data, the median rent for one person in Italy is around $700 per month; instead, purchasing property involves navigating a bureaucratic maze, but government initiatives have tried to simplify these processes.

In the USA, the housing market is more diverse, reflecting the country’s vastness. Median home prices and rental costs vary significantly across states. For instance, the median home price in San Francisco is considerably higher than in similarly big cities like Dallas. The average national rent across the pond is around $1,400 per month. Finally, mortgage dynamics are also crucial for those aspiring to own a home, with interest rates playing a pivotal role in this decision-making process.

Winner: Italy

Casale for people living in Tuscany, Italy
Casale in Val d’Orcia, Tuscany. Photo: Mattia Bericchia on Unsplash.

Taxes and Bureaucracy

Understanding well the two countries’ administrative offices and fiscal pressure is also paramount for a seamless transition. Italy’s tax system is characterized by multiple levels, with regional moduling and a complex web of regulations, particularly concerning the pension scheme. Here, a progressive income tax rate is in force, with the highest bracket reaching 43%. Bureaucracy, often cited as a challenge (and rightly so), involves navigating local and national offices for any kind of errands. Recent digitalization efforts aim to streamline procedures, with poor results so far. In the USA, federal and state taxes also add a certain degree of complexity to the financial landscape. A progressive federal income tax reaching 37%, combined with state-specific taxes, results in a varied tax burden, but nothing close to the pervasiveness of Italian tax laws.

Winner: USA

Security

Italy, renowned for its quiet historical centers and small borghi, boasts a generally low crime rate, which fell by 5.4% only in 2023. Data indicates that smaller towns and rural areas tend to have even lower figures, making them attractive to those seeking a tranquil living environment. However, like any country, the Bel Paese is not exempt from certain challenges, and cities like Milan may experience higher rates of petty crimes. In contrast, the American approach to security is deeply rooted in stricter law enforcement and community policing, with urban areas experiencing varying levels of safety. The USA’s vast geographical expanse encompasses clusters with notably low crime rates, often associated with smaller towns and suburban communities; yet, gun ownership is an issue that needs to be taken into account.

Winner: Italy

Family Environment and Schooling

For people contemplating relocation, Italy’s familial warmth contrasts with the USA’s individualistic ethos. Understanding the close-connection environment involves exploring societal structures and support systems. In Italy, family ties are deeply ingrained, with multiple generations often residing close to each other. Recent data indicates a relatively low birth rate, but a strong emphasis on family cohesion continues to exist. Schooling in Italy is less regionally influenced, with slight variations in curriculum and teaching methods. Good-standard public education is prevalent, with an increasing focus on bilingual programs.

In the USA, family dynamics often reflect a more self-centered approach, with an emphasis on personal realization and professional achievements. Recent data showcase an increase in diverse household structures of nuclear and single-parent families. The American schooling system, characterized by a federal framework, offers a variety of educational options, including public, private, and charter schools. Considerations such as tuition fees (higher in the US), open-mindedness, quality of education, preparation for the labour market, standardized testing, and extracurricular activities are crucial for families with school-going children.

Winner: Tie

Family living in Vieste, Italy
Family in Vieste, Apulia. Photo: Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash.

Higher Education

Italy, renowned for its century-old universities and cultural heritage, still offers diverse, good-level public academic opportunities, with a growing number of English-language programs attracting international students. The reputation of traditional faculties (such as medical school, jurisprudence, economic studies, and engineering) distinguishes Italy’s higher education system. In contrast, American colleges are globally recognized for their research-intensive labs and more diverse and competitive program offerings. The USA’s commitment to innovation and research is reflected in its expansive network of top-notch universities, making it a magnet for overseas students seeking academic excellence. As a drawback, costs are high and student loans are increasingly rising, widening the opportunity gap between family-backed and lower-middle-class students.

Winner: USA

Healthcare

The approach to healthcare in Italy and the USA is a particularly critical consideration for expats. Despite the recent budget cuts are impacting the quality of life, Italy’s universally acclaimed public healthcare system is a cornerstone of its societal values. Current data indicates a high life expectancy and low mortality rates, confirming the effectiveness of the Italian approach. Access to healthcare is generally widespread, with residents and expats covered by the National Health Service (SSN). Private options provide additional choices for those seeking specialized care. In the USA, healthcare dynamics are shaped by a predominantly private system, with peaks of excellence without equal in the world. Here, insurance plays a crucial role, with employer-sponsored plans being standard. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has expanded coverage, but medical treatment remains expensive and more comprehensive access to it remains a topic of political discussion.

Winner: Italy

Mobility

The ability to travel effortlessly within a city or a country is a crucial aspect of anyone’s life. Thanks to a generally efficient public transportation system, Italy encourages a lifestyle less dependent on private vehicles within urban areas. Extensive high-speed railway networks and well-connecting flights facilitate convenient travel, with the notable exception of the main islands, Sicily and Sardinia, which remain a bit cut off. Additionally, Italy’s compact size allows for exploration via bus routes, making it an appealing choice for those who prefer more economical services via rubber. At the same time, widespread traffic jams and expensive taxi services are a bugging part of the Italian commuting.

The USA, known for its car-centric culture, boasts an extensive highway system, offering fewer inter-state mobility options, although there is a growing interest in sustainable transportation, with more small cities investing in comprehensive public transit infrastructure. Yet, individual mobility is commonly associated with private vehicles almost everywhere.

Winner: Italy

Tram n.10 in Milan
Tram n.10 in Milan. Photo: Jeton Bajrami on Unsplash.

Cultural Scene

Italy’s rich culture, woven over millennia, diverges from the more contemporary and dynamic cultural landscape of the US. The Italian creative essence is palpable in every monument, exhibit, cobbled street, museum, and restaurant. Recent data showcases that the country has become the most influential worldwide in art, fashion, and design. Knowledge and traditions are deeply ingrained in societal structures, as it is preserving the unparalled cultural heritage. The USA, with its deeply-rooted minority mosaic, continuously draws inspiration from a myriad of sources coming from all over the world. The past decades indicate a cultural scene capable of constantly renewing itself and a solid soft-power in entertainment. Diversity is a hallmark, with each community and state contributing unique elements to the national mythology. The arts, though thriving, face unique challenges, with funding and accessibility being areas of ongoing discussion.

Winner: Tie

Lifestyle & Leisure Time

Last but not least, it is necessary to understand the shades of lifestyle in Italy and the USA. Italy’s Dolce Vita philosophy encourages savoring life’s pleasures, from meals to festive celebrations. There has been a decrease in the past high level of happiness and satisfaction among Italians, but the joy of living through social connections and sense of community remain strong. Indeed, leisure time often involves get-togethers between friends and culinary experiences. In the USA, the pace of life varies across areas. Attention to work-life balance, with remote work opportunities, is gaining prominence. Leisure time activities range from outdoor adventures and sporting events to cultural pursuits and individual hobbies in urban centers.

Winner: Tie

Conclusion: Where is Better to Live?

As the scales of comparison tip between Italy’s charm and the American dynamism, the answer to the question of where it is better to live remains purely subjective. Each country offers a unique blend of opportunities and challenges, and the choice ultimately hinges on each individual’s situations and priorities. Italy, with its timeless allure, cultural richness, social warmth, and culinary delights, attracts those dreaming of a more relaxed pace of life. On the other hand, the USA’s promise of the American Dream still resonates with those locals and foreigners drawn to a youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial environment. In conclusion, there are pros and cons everywhere, and deciding where to call home requires a careful consideration of personal values, career aspirations, and lifestyle preferences. Then, of course, if you ask us, home is where Italy is.