From Brazil to Italy: Crossing borders hand in hand

Expat interviews
  • Charlotte with fianc? in Italy
Published on 2018-06-07 at 11:20 by Maria Iotova
After two and a half fulfilling expat years in Brazil's vast and hectic Rio de Janeiro, Charlotte from Manchester, UK and her Brazilian partner moved to Italy for studies. Starting anew, Charlotte, who is a seasoned traveller and expat, is determined to make the most of her time in Italy. Life in a small Italian town may be quieter, but not without its challenges and stories worth sharing.

Hi Charlotte, please introduce yourself. Where are you from, what are you doing in Italy, and what were you doing before you arrived?

I'm a 25-year-old Mancunian (Manchester, UK), who moved to Italy in January. I had been living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for two and a half years with my Brazilian fiancé, where I taught English. We moved for my partner to begin a PhD at the G. D'Annunzio University in Pescara, Italy. I am now working as a writer and translator while continuing studying a Portuguese simultaneous interpreters course online.  

In which city do you live?

We live both on the Adriatic coast in Pescara and the historical, hilltop town of Macerata, since the PhD is split between the two cities.

What is the process of moving to Italy?

For European Union Citizens it is very straightforward — grab your suitcase and jet over.  For others, you have to navigate the Italian bureaucracy. Simply put, you need documents and money. I would say the only aspect to watch out for is how you must validate and register your visa when you arrive in Italy. Basically, within seven days of arrival you must apply for the “permesso di soggiorno”, which needs many documents and an address (yes, in just seven days). If you don't, you may have to reapply for the visa, which would be a nightmare.  

As far as moving your belongings, the postal service works pretty efficiently in Italy. We used an online shipping website and rented cars, both straightforward.

What is your favourite thing about Italy, and what is your least favourite thing?

Cliché, but I love the pizzas. I don't eat sandwiches anymore, just pizza day and night. My least favourite is the abruptness of Italians. They treat each other like brothers and sisters in an affectionate way and in a harsh way. Therefore, they haven't got any qualms about being abrupt with you, each other, their mum etc. Coming from the UK where we are known for apologising too much, this is a bit of a culture shock for me.

Cascia view

How would you describe Italy in one sentence?

A jigsaw of provincial culinary experiences, where family comes before everything else.

What has surprised you the most about Italy?

There is minimal use of English. The population, even the young people, as a majority don't speak English, which surprised me in comparison to other countries in Europe. The TV shows and cinemas are all dubbed too. We moved to Italy with about two weeks notice, so we had minimal Italian. But I say if you are genuinely contemplating the move, you should get yourself some material or apps and start practising your “Grazie” (thank you) and “Salve” (hey) right away.  

How is today's expat job market in Italy?

Honestly, I think it depends on where you are in the country. I haven't found a job in Italy, and I haven't found informal English teaching either, though there are many language school franchises. At the same time, we aren't in a permanent location, and the big metropolis are always easier for expats to find work, given the multinational companies and the necessity for different languages. However, what I would say is that Italian is crucial and without it you will even have difficulty in getting replies to emails, let alone an interview.

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in Italy, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?

To find accommodation in Italy, you need to go directly and speak Italian to the estate agents. Walk into the agency, don't do it via the internet. I got one response to all the enquiries I sent via online websites. That being said, there are websites and groups, and many advertisements on the university notice boards for each town. I would say perseverance is key.   

What are the biggest holidays in Italy?

Italy is the centre of the Catholic empire, so Christmas, Easter, and Saints' days reign above all else. In fact, each town and province has its Saint, so they will observe this respectfully as a holiday. It keeps you on your toes since a holiday will creep up on you, and before you know it all the supermarkets are shut.

What is some essential etiquette in Italy?

On the bill, they will add a coperto, which includes the bread on the table. This is essentially the tip, and you aren't expected to pay extra.  In the more touristic cities, you will sometimes see no “coperto,” therefore you should leave a tip. You pay for your meal at the till on the way out of the restaurant. The waiter will only bring the bill to the table if you ask for it. I once watched a poor Chinese couple wait nearly our whole meal for their bill to arrive. Also, pay for the ice-cream first, then choose it at the counter.  

How do you find the lifestyle in Italy?

Sometimes I get a little lost. For instance, the restaurants have strict opening times, so you can't rock up late, or the kitchen will be shut. I also think that Italians have a hard outer shell, but warm hearts. Therefore, you have to work to get into the inner circle; then you will be inundated with antipasto, wine and Amaro (Italian liquor).

road trip in Italy

How is the transportation system in Italy? How do you move around?

Travelling by train is good. If you go South-North there are train lines up the Adriatic and Mediterranean. Going West-East and your journey will take a while because of changes and crossing the mountains. Buses work well and you should buy your ticket in a “tobacco shop” before getting on and validate it on the bus. Sometimes you can buy at a higher price on the bus.

Though, we prefer to rent a car at every chance we get. You can get for as low as 10 Euro a day, and it allowed us to see all the tiny hill villages and countryside that makes Italy so special. Without a car, I think that the train fare can stack up, and the taxis are costly (there's no Uber here).

How is everyday life for you in Italy?

I begin with an Italian coffee, then study a little and write. We usually get a primi (pasta dish) from a local cooperative canteen, and in the afternoon I walk around the town. The lap of the historical city walls takes about 20 minutes max.

Do you feel that you have adapted to your new life?

Not completely — for that we will need a permanent home and better Italian. Though at least now I know how to order my carbonara and caffè lungo.  

What do you do in your free time?

Drive to tiny towns and sample the local antipasti.


Are there activities for people who enjoy nightlife?

Yes! Italians love to drink on the street. They will crowd outside a bar (I think it has to do with smoking), but only in summer. In winter, we found the streets deserted. Summer it becomes alive.

Are you looking for people? Just wander into the historical old town — every town has one, and usually there is restricted vehicle access and pedestrianised areas. Many bars and restaurants will open onto the street, setting up tables anywhere they can find space.

What new habits have you developed in Italy?

I'm not a wine buff, but I have taken to drinking with my meal. The white Italian wine Passerina is great for those like me, who find red is too rich. Also, having espresso coffee — my shot of energy.

And what old habits have you quit?

I used to play tennis in Brazil though without a car it's difficult to find clubs where I live.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Italy?

I wouldn't say it is that cheap. Rome and Florence are expensive. Where we live, in Macerata, we spend about 30 Euros on a simple meal with wine. Beer is €4-5 and the bus is €1.20.

Italian shop

What is something that you would like to do in Italy but haven't had the opportunity to do yet?

Visit Sicily and deep Southern Italy (the sole of the boot).  

Share your most memorable experience in Italy.

In Brazil the biggest party of the year is Carnival, so naturally we sought out the options available in Italy. We headed to a town called Fano, which apparently has the oldest carnival in Italy. Their tradition is that the crowd have these cones that they wave above their heads to catch sweets that the podium people throw into the crowd. It is unreal. Grown men scrabbling around for sweets on the ground and occasionally having one bounce off your head.

If you could make the move to Italy all over, what would you do differently?

I would learn Italian before landing.

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

Italians just got it right. The key is in not overindulging (I could eat gelato for breakfast every single day). Outside of Italy, many Italian restaurants leave us with the idea that it is only pizza and pasta. However, we have to realise that Italy was a divided country with separate powerful regions. On top of that, the physical barrier of the mountains meant that it was difficult for the country to be united. In this way, each separate region developed its own cuisine — be it a different type of salami, the shape of pasta, vegetables or cooking style.

In Abruzzo where we live they specialise in lamb kebabs called arrosticini. Each prices at about 80 cents, and they come wrapped in foil and are ordered by number. I also adore the Lazio fried vegetables, and rice balls called arancini, which are stuffed with ragu (meat).

Italian seafood

What do you miss the most about your home country?

I miss my family and the freedom to be able to drive anywhere I want and express myself easily.

Have you had a moment where you almost felt like leaving Italy? How did you overcome that? What kept you there?

Yes, during the snow blizzard in February/March a car rental agency refused to give the car to my partner on a Brazilian licence. I had to drive us in the snow to San Marino where we got stranded. That was a pretty stressful experience, given all other transport was cancelled. Sometimes there is inflexibility in Italy, and you have to fight for what you want.

Pescara snow

Can you give some useful tips that soon-to-be expatriates in Italy might benefit from.

Always pay and check the parking signs. They love to slap fines on — we have about six already. Don't copy Italians because we also got fines doing exactly that, so be overly cautious. At the post office, you can do everything from opening a bank, paying bills, and picking up your mail. Buy cured ham, cheese, etc. at the deli because it is much cheaper. You should brush up on your Italian for grams and kilos.

What are your plans for the future?

We will continue in Italy, but there are plans on the horizon to spend some time in the USA.

What is one thing that you will take with you from Italy?

Coffee culture and a whole lot of knowledge on wine varieties and Catholic Saints.

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