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Life abroad: A Canadian expat on relocating to Italy

Having lived in Florence, Italy since 1999, Canadian expat Alexandra Korey is well acquainted with Italian life.

Here, Alexandra — author of arttrav.com — shares her experiences with living in Italy and reflects on the benefits and challenges of expat life.

Blogger Alexandra Korey, who moved to Italy from Canada in 1999, taking a sip of coffee in an Italian cafe. Blogger Alexandra Korey, who moved to Italy from Canada in 1999, taking a sip of coffee in an Italian cafe.

Alexandra Korey enjoying coffee at an Italian cafe
Source: christinejuette.com

Why did you decide to move to Italy, and how long have you lived abroad?

“I first went to Italy to do a Master’s program in 1999, and moved permanently in 2004. So I’ve been here a pretty long time — basically all of my adult life.”

What does the term “wellness” mean to you? And what are you doing, if anything, to achieve it?

Wellness is a word I associate with wellness resorts and going to the spa. I guess I don’t think of wellness as something for everyday life - I’d rather talk about overall health. Something on which I probably ought to concentrate more… I am very careful about the food I eat, and also try to find time to get the gym and play tennis — though work encroaches on my fun time all too often!”

Would you say you have a better or worse work-life balance since moving abroad?

“I don’t think I have a work-life balance per se, the scale tips heavily towards the ‘work’ part of that. As a couple without children, it’s easier to do that. In Italy in general, free time and ‘having a life’ is much more common than it is in North America, in my experience.

“This is a huge reason why I chose to move to Italy. Italians work longer hours than you would think — it’s quite normal to work 9am to 7pm in the office — but the weekends are yours to spend as you wish (unless you work in a job like mine that requires 24-hour monitoring — I work in social media). There are about five weeks holiday in national contracts, if you can get one of those, and find time to take holiday.”

How comfortable do you feel about using the public health care system in your new country?

“A good reason to choose Italy is that it has universal health care — like my home country of Canada — and for me, it’s essential. But in Italy, it’s two-tier system — there is also private care available.”

Do you know where to go to see a family doctor, how to access a specialist and how to pay for your care?

“The public system is pretty simple to use, but sometimes waiting times can be long, so having a private option, especially for specialist appointments or emergencies, is useful. The private services cost quite reasonable amounts for the most part, and if you have insurance, you’re usually covered.

“As for the public system, you register with your doctor and in my case he’s very easy to reach and get appointments whenever I need him, with no paperwork and no fees. When you’re assigned tests and specialist appointments you get a red slip and can register for some of these things by an online system or call centre. This is where I usually give up… the website never works for me, and the call centre is closed by the time I get home from work!

“While the system has its flaws, I must say this: when needed, I have always received truly excellent health care here. In terms of quality of care, compared to Canada’s, both countries are excellent. They also have their differences - I miss the proactivity of the annual physical in Canada. Here in Italy, you’re responsible for your own care, including all appointments (they don’t generally set up follow-ups for you) and even your own paperwork, which you keep and tote around to appointments.”

Since moving abroad, do you feel that mental health is better or less supported and recognised than at home?

“In my experience, mental health is somewhat a taboo here in Italy, but honestly I haven’t had much of an encounter with it. But it is a society in which grave mental health problems are understood but it’s less common for people to ‘go talk to someone’. With that said, mental health appointments are available through the public system just like any other specialist.”

How would you describe the role of the expat community compared to locals when it comes to settling into a new culture?

“I live in Florence, where there is a strong expat community, as there is in Rome. Depending on which stage of life you’re at when you move to Italy, you may find yourself socialising more with other expats.

“Retirees who choose Florence find community in the British Institute to enjoy teas and events, for example, while younger people who come and marry Italians may disappear entirely from the expat radar. An English language newspaper, The Florentine is a point of reference for the entire community.”

What would you say is the best part of international life in Italy?

“Personally, I love living in Italy for many reasons. The food, first of all, and then the ability to get out of Florence and travel in the countryside on the weekends. But living in Italy does have its drawbacks: it’s really hard to get a job and when you do, the pay is really, really low.

“That is why I don’t recommend that people of working age attempt to start a career here. If you can live here and work remotely with a good salary, it’s a great place to be (note: of course, you need to have permission to live in the European Union).”

How easy or difficult is it to maintain a healthy diet in your new country?

“One reason I love Italy is due to the Mediterranean diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are available, cheap and delicious year-round, and we base our diet very much on seasonal produce, combined with small portions of whole grains. Junk food and high-fat items are considered ‘very American’, so eating healthy here is so easy!”

Describe the role of exercise and how it differs from your home country.

“Staying healthy is easy because we walk a lot in Italy on a daily basis — just getting around to work etc (this is especially true for downtown dwellers). There are also a lot of opportunities for hiking and biking, if that’s your thing, as well as fully equipped gyms for a monthly fee, and public swimming pools to do laps. Larger cities like Florence provide more opportunities than you will find in small towns in the south of the country.”

Blogger Alexandra Korey exiting a hotel in Italy, her home since 1999 after relocating from Canada Blogger Alexandra Korey exiting a hotel in Italy, her home since 1999 after relocating from Canada

Alexandra Korey moved to Italy permanently in 2004 and operates arttrav.com blog about Italian life and culture
Source: christinejuette.com

As a seasoned expat, hopefully Alexandra’s experience with living in Italy sheds some light on what life is truly like as an expat, and will resonate with those in a similar position. You can read more about Alexandra’s experiences at arttrav.com, a blog about art, travel and life in Italy and Europe. Or, if you’re considering a move of your own, read everything you need to know about Italian life in our guide.

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