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The Real Pros and Cons of Living in Rome as an Expat

James was raised in Rome and chooses to live there despite its many little frustrations.

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The 3 Main Cons of Living in Rome

From its addicting charm to its tragic inefficiency, living in Rome is all about managing its contrast.

This article represents a street-level view of what these contrasts have been like for me for the last thirty-odd years. It isn't mean to represent an objectively true reality, there are too many factors that will influence this, but I assure you this is my reality.

This is Rome through my eyes.

I'm going to start by looking at the aspects of living in Rome that are a constant challenge to my sanity. Namely:

  1. Public Transport in Rome Is Unpredictable
  2. Getting Paperwork Done Is a Nightmare
  3. Rome Is Dirty
Taking a Taxi is a costly way to avoid the cramped, unpredictable nature of Rome's bus service.

Taking a Taxi is a costly way to avoid the cramped, unpredictable nature of Rome's bus service.

1. Public Transport in Rome Is Unpredictable

Public transport is everywhere you look in Rome except when you actually need it.

Fleets of half-empty buses grind forwards in the early morning traffic, serenaded by the continuous beeping of motorists and impatient cries of scooters trapped between cars.

Then you're at the bus stop along with thirty other people, and there isn't a single bus anywhere. If and when the bus finally arrives, you're forced to press your way inside, using your body weight and elbows to claim a spot in the corner.

It's a hustle you get used to, and an everyday source of stress you lace with a good amount of humor.

The Buses

The good news is that Rome's sprawling bus service goes everywhere, and it does so at a reasonable price (a single 100-minute ticket will cost you € 1.50).

The comfort and timeliness of your ride will vary greatly depending on the area and time of day.

While some bus stops feature placards that make a pretense of offering a schedule of when buses are supposed to pass, the reality is that it is not uncommon to find either 3 of your buses arrive at the same time, or none at all for 40 minutes.

There is an attempt at modernizing the service, and some central bus stops now have electronic signs with E.T.As.

My verdict: If you can walk (you'd be surprised how small Rome actually is once you start walking places), or take the metro or train instead, do it without hesitation. Rome's buses are often cramped, unpredictable, and generally an unpleasant necessity.

Former mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno showing off one of Rome's new buses and looking suspiciously pleased with himself.

Former mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno showing off one of Rome's new buses and looking suspiciously pleased with himself.

The Metro and Train

Given a choice, I'd take either the metro or the train everywhere. The problem is that both service maps are quite limited, although quite a lot has been done recently with regards to modernizing and expanding them.

If you are lucky enough to commute or live in an area that is covered by either of these services, you're in luck and can count your blessings.

If you are weighing your options and haven't moved yet, factor metro or train coverage into your long-term plans. It's worth paying a little extra for.

My verdict: Both the inner-city trains and the metro are comfortable and convenient choices. The problem is that their reach is limited.

Ride-Sharing

App-based public transport services appear to be booming in popularity, and for good reason. They are convenient, easy to use, and relatively cheap.

Here's a breakdown.

  • Car-sharing. I see the red "Enjoy Rome cars" everywhere and in increasing numbers. While I don't use the service myself, it appears many Romans do. Find and unlock the car with your smartphone and drive around at a rate of 0,29€/min.
  • Electric scooter sharing. Popular in the center of Rome, electric scooters are everywhere and are a fun, if slightly insane way of experiencing Roman traffic.
  • Moped renting. A little safer than electric scooters, but not by much. A good option in the summer when the heat is stifling and the traffic is demoralizing.
  • Bike renting. As much as I'd like to recommend cycling in Rome, the roads are far too cramped and chaotic to host any bike lanes. Additionally, much of the center is paved by slick and uneven cobblestones that make cycling dangerous.

My verdict: I don't use ride-sharing services myself but I know plenty of people that do. From the opportunistic car ride to an appointment to the everyday commute, it's there if you need it.

Rome Public Transport Prices

  • Bus Tickets and Passes
    Ticket prices from Rome's official public transportation website.
  • Train Tickets
    Italy's official railway website. Use this to plan trips out of Rome or around its outskirts.
  • Enjoy Roma - Rates and Pricing
    An updated list of car-sharing rates from Enjoy, one of the more popular app-based car-sharing services in Rome. you'll need a valid driver's license for this.
Get used to braving large crowds to get even the simplest of things done.

Get used to braving large crowds to get even the simplest of things done.

2. Getting Paperwork Done Is a Nightmare

Here's a little story for you that I hope sums up what getting paperwork done is like.

When I applied for a medical pass (tessera sanitaria) I received a card that didn't have my middle name.

No problem, I thought. I'll just head over to the revenue agency (Agenzia dell'Entrate) and get it fixed.

Once I got there I was told that because my middle name is only printed on my British passport, and not on my other Italian paperwork, I'd have to get those documents translated and stamped by a notary. Not only that, but I'd also have to head to the British consulate to get a written permit.

At this point, I'm tearing my hair out, but it was only the beginning of a 6-month long ordeal that still isn't completely resolved. The process of mettersi in regola, or getting your paperwork in order, literally never ends.

The Bureaucratic Grind

There are a few certainties you're going to have to get used to when wading through Italy's aging bureaucracy.

  • Every state employee seems to have a different set of standards and rules. I never get the same story twice. If you're likable or you are insistent you stand a good chance at getting things done even if you don't have the necessary documentation.
  • You're going to need a suitcase of documentation with you everywhere because you never know what they suddenly require you to prove.
  • You're never going to be sure who you need to talk to or what the official process is. There are guidelines, of course, but because Italy is now attempting to modernize, nobody really knows what they are.
  • Everyone I've met that lives and works in Rome agrees on these three points. Perhaps, if you're lucky, you'll be the first to disagree (but I doubt it).

The key to succeeding with paperwork in Italy is persistence. Yes, the state employees are often dispassionate and defensive (because they know what a nightmare the process is for everyday people) but don't take no for an answer. Don't give up until you absolutely have to.

Secondly, Italy is currently renovating its ancient paper-based bureaucracy to an online model (finally and thankfully), so always check if you can do what you need to do via Rome's fledgling state websites.

Overflowing garbage cans are a common sight everywhere in Rome.

Overflowing garbage cans are a common sight everywhere in Rome.

3. Rome Is Dirty

There, I said it.

Rome is dirty, and it's a shame, but this isn't necessarily a reflection of poor civics, and it certainly isn't wholly the fault of everyday people.

Rome is currently living a waste crisis that is front and center on the political stage. The closure of landfills and the relative inefficiency of the local municipal waste company (AMA) continue to hamper efforts to clean up the capital.

What This Means for You

In short: Overflowing trash bins are everywhere. Each with its own microcosm of opportunistic seagulls, scavengers, and even rats.

Living (or waiting for the bus) near a set of garbage collectors can mean dealing with the unpleasant smell of rotting organic material, and the stifling summer months make everything that much worse.

All of this, of course, is an ongoing health risk. Unfortunately, and despite how much I love Rome, it is what it is, and should be factored into your moving to Rome algorithm before making a decision.

Forget about the trash for a second, here's a toast to remind us that living in Rome is an amazing experience overall.

Forget about the trash for a second, here's a toast to remind us that living in Rome is an amazing experience overall.

3 Glorious Pros of Living in Rome

If you average out the pros and cons of living in Rome, the result is overwhelmingly positive.

Yes, Rome is not without its many little frustrations, but these imperfections are manageable in light of the greater privilege that it truly is to live here.

Here are three reasons I love living, working, and adventuring in la capitale:

  1. Romans Are Welcoming and Sociable
  2. The Whole City is an Open Air Museum
  3. Rome Is the Perfect Springboard to Explore the Rest of Italy

1. Romans Are Welcoming and Sociable

There is a sense, when dealing with people in Rome, that we're all sailing on the same leaky boat, even if we're busy shouting at each other.

Rome's colorful and engaging people are reflected in its extroverted culture. Extravagant hand gestures and loud banter make it easy to form an empathetic bond with the people you encounter in everyday life.

You'll get frustrated at people, perhaps even angry, but you'll never quite feel as "alone" as many other metropolises make you feel.

The Contrasts in Roman Culture

Romans are both proud and critical of their rich history. This is one of the many cultural contrasts that make the culture so fascinating to me.

There are many more examples of this kind of contrast. Here are a few examples:

  • Sporadic patriotism. Romans are generally more attached to Rome than Italy, except when it's the football world cup (and other important sporting events). Then you'll see a few freshly pressed Italian flags start to timidly appear in residential areas.
  • Political cynicism. Most Romans profess a complete lack of faith that local or national politics can address any of the problems they face. And yet political commentary is often vibrant and heated.
  • Technology versus tradition. While Romans complain about how backwards the city is compared to some of their western counterparts, they also decry the death of their tradition in the wake of modernization.

These are just three of an infinite list of issues that serve to highlight the contrast inherent in Roman culture and society.

Rome's many bars are more than a place to get coffee, but are central to most people's social life.

Rome's many bars are more than a place to get coffee, but are central to most people's social life.

What This Contrast Means for You

If you are the type of person that finds comfort in a sober, orderly existence, then perhaps Rome isn't going to work out the way you hope.

Conversely, if you thrive off a modicum of drama and a touch of chaos, Rome is a neverending source of psychological energy.

In Rome, there's always something to shout about, empathize with, criticize, and generally get worked up over. And if this sounds like fun, you'll fit right in.

2. The Whole City is an Open Air Museum

Mystery and surprise lurk around every street corner. But more than this, the city is a living, breathing fossil. The cobblestones are very much alive, and you can feel it.

I've written extensively about Rome's many amazing attractions, so I won't bore you with them (it's outside the scope of this article), but I will say that no matter how much of an expert you feel you are about Rome, there's always something just around the corner that will surprise you.

Reach Out and Touch

One thing I love about Rome is that there is no separation between the populace and its architectural history. You can walk around and literally touch the ruins.

For instance, the statues and benches of Villa Borghese aren't segregated behind glass cases. Instead, they are sat on, caressed, and even (unfortunately) covered in graffiti.

The city itself is a museum. Not just the long list of famous landmarks, but also the benches you sit on, the roads you drive on, and the walls you hop over.

What This Means For You

Are you the kind of person that draws energy from your surroundings? Does the thought of strolling down the Tiber towards the imposing presence of Castel Sant'Angelo fill you with a sense of awe? If so, then Rome will serve as a continuous source of creative energy.

The view I referenced in my previous paragraph.

The view I referenced in my previous paragraph.

3. Rome Is the Perfect Springboard to Explore the Rest of Italy

Rome's central location makes it an ideal gateway to explore the rest of the country, which you'll absolutely want to take advantage of.

Action Packed Weekends

You are less than an hour away from either a skiing holiday or the beach at any given time. The amount of choice you have with regard to sightseeing and traveling is literally mind-blowing.

To illustrate my point further, I've compiled a list of popular tourist destinations, along with how long it will take you to get there with the express trains (you can take the regional trains to save money).

Distances From Rome by Train

LocationDistance (Time)Price (Euro)

Pompeii

2h 50'

45 (Intercity train)

Naples

1h 15'

40 (Fast train)

Monterosso (Cinque Terre)

6h 05'

32 (Regional train)

Florence

1h 36'

50 (Fast train)

Rieti (close to skiing resort)

2h 31'

10 (Regional)

Civitavecchia (port)

1h 01'

4.60

Bologna

2h 23'

67 (Fast train)

Taormina (Sicilian beach)

9h 27'

119 (Fast train)

Milan

3h 40'

96 (Fast train)

Planning Your Excursions

  • Trenitalia (English)
    Italy's official railway website and app. Use this to plan your many weeknd excursions.

The Bottomline

Rome is an incredible place to live, assuming you can grind past its many little frustrations. But it is just the beginning of a larger Italian experience.

Let Rome be your gateway to Italy, and let working and living in Rome be the engine that catalyzes that experience.

They say all roads lead to Rome, but that also means that Rome has roads leading out to everywhere. And It does, so why not use them?

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 James Nelmondo

Comments

James Nelmondo (author) from Rome, Italy on July 19, 2021:

Thanks for swinging by Bill. Regarding the traffic, now you have electric scooters added to the mix. Those things are pure insanity, even by Rome standards!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on July 18, 2021:

Another interesting article, James. One of the things that has always fascinated me about Rome is exactly what you stated, that Rome is an Open Air Museum. It’s like walking around in the midst of an archaeological excavation.

The other thing I think everyone who visits the city grasps is the crazy traffic; a mix of small cars, mopeds, scooters, bikes, and tourists. It really is crazy and while I will drive in most areas of Italy, I will not drive in Rome.

As far as Rome being dirty we have experienced the heaps of trash. But, I will say that parts of Sicily seemed much worse to us when it comes to trash.

Despite it all you are fortunate to be able to live and work in Rome.

Great article.

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