This site derives from the personal experiences of a group of US expats and Italian citizens who independently chose to live in Ascoli Piceno, Italy. Some of the posts here might apply to Ascoli Piceno and not other provinces; we’ll try to call those out. But as with anything in Italy, things are different in different provinces.
Shopping (in Ascoli)
(these lists are in no way definitive)
The two major supermarkets in the Centro are Coal and Tigre. Both offer a full range of supermarket products, although the stores are likely smaller than you are used to. Both have live butchers, a live fish vendor, and a salumi counter offering cold cuts and cheeses. Although there are packaged products in the meat department and at the salumi counter, if you are willing to wait for service you can get what you want prepared to order.
Of the two, Tigre seems to have a larger selection, but both are good. The fish vendor at Tigre is a private vendor (essentially an independent fish monger operating inside the market). The fish and meat vendors at Tigre will do special orders. Although the meat department at Tigre is pretty good, we sometimes go to Clerici, a dedicated butcher in Borgo Solestà (across the Ponte Romana). They are a family run operation and offer high quality steaks and pork chops. They don’t speak much English there, but they are friendly and helpful.
We have shopped at the Pescheria Adriano on the other side of Ponte Maggiore. Their quality is very high, and they typically have a better selection than the fish vendor at Tigre, but they are significantly more expensive.
Bruno’s, in the Piazza Roma, is open at times other places are closed (for example Sunday morning). Their house-made pastas are surprisingly good as are other selected items in their deli counter.
There are larger stores (EUROSPIN and CONAD) in the Porta Maggiore area.
Although the produce selection at the supermarkets is fine, you can get even better produce at one of the open air markets or dedicated produce stores. There is a fruit-and-vegetable market in the Chiostro six days a week (Monday – Saturday). Most of the vendors are local farmers, but there are a couple who buy produce from the local wholesale market. Prices are very reasonable. There is also a local farmer who brings super fresh eggs to the Chiostro market every Saturday. Get there early – he always sells out, often before 11 am.
Campagna Amica is a relatively new covered market on the other side of Porto Maggiore. They are open Tuesday, Friday and Saturday mornings, and offer only local products. In addition to produce, there are vendors selling beans, lentils, fresh local cheese (ricotta and pecorino) and olive oil. There is also a small butcher and a small fish vendor.
A produce vendor sets up a truck in Piazza Roma every Tuesday morning, offering a wide selection of products, most local but some from outside the area (e.g., California pistachios are sometimes available).
A produce vendor from Puglia sets up a truck in Piazza Arringo most Saturdays. Since it tends to be warmer in Puglia, they are a good source for spring produce a bit earlier than the local season.
There are also a number of small fruttivendoli all over town, typically offering a mixture of local farm products and products from other places. One of our favorites, L’Orto di Cecco, is on via Pretoriana. The owner Francesco has a farm up in the hills, and sells a lot of his own products, but he also gets unusual items like ginger root, horseradish and avocado. He speaks a little English.
Agrumi di Sicilia, near the Roman theater, specializes in Sicilian oranges, lemons and tangerines. They also sell other Sicilian products, including artichokes, pistachios, and sundried tomatoes. They are open only 8 months of year (November – June), which is roughly the Sicilian fresh orange season.
Bakeries, Pastry Shops and Pasta Stores
Furni di Usti is a small family run bakery on via Pretoriana. Their regular bread is just average, but they have fresh baked cacciananze (the local variant of focaccia) and crisp breads available most every day. Again, go early – they sell out most of the fresh stuff by noon. They are also a good source for small grocery items (milk, eggs, pasta) if you don’t want to walk all the way to the supermarket.
Manfroni Bakery near the Piazza del Popolo is also good. There are two especially good bread bakeries in town: Grano, in Borgo Solestà, and L’Assalto ai Forni, a relatively new place in Piazza Arringo. Both are very popular and often sell out (Grano seems to operative by reservation only). You can order from both via WhatsApp.
The best pastries are from Angelo. Their main store is on via Napoli on the far side of town, but they also sell their pastry at Café Damiani, in Piazza Simonetti just across from the Prefettura.
There are several stores selling fresh pasta in town, offering high quality fresh pasta at amazingly reasonable prices. Everyone has their own favorite. Our favorite is Castelli, on the via Vittorio Emmanuele just this side of the Ponte Maggiore. In addition to cutting pasta to order, they also sell tortellini and fried olives.
There aren’t many good options for buying wine in Ascoli centro. You can buy wine and beer at local markets, but the selection is limited. Vini Marche, near the train station, sells a small selection of wines from the Marche and Abruzzo. Their “bag in box” wines are particularly good value – 5 liters for 12 euro – and are surprisingly reasonable. Fortunately, you can order many wines online and have them delivered right to your door. Moreover, the whole Piceno wine making district is within 45 minutes drive.
Among the supermarkets, CONAD has a decent wine selection.
Pharmacies are small here and typically sell only a limited range of products – prescription medications, health-related products like bandages and dental products, and sometimes other products like cosmetics. We use Farmacia Simonelli, in the Piazza Roma at the bottom of via Pretoriana. One of the younger pharmacists (who I think is the daughter of the owner) speaks English.
Acqua e Sapone, on the via Dino Angelini just past COAL, is a good source for all manner of cleaning products, from laundry soap to shampoo to dishwasher detergent, with better selection and lower prices than the supermarket. They sell some housewares (paper towels, toilet tissue, plastic wrap, batteries) but no food and, despite the name, no bottled water. UniEuro, near the train station, sells small appliances like toasters, irons and blenders.
Stilcasa is a very nice housewares store that sells upscale kitchen items. There is a small branch near Piazza del Popolo that sells basic utensils, but we much prefer the larger store on the other side of Piazza Immacolata.
There is a moderately large shopping center called Lu Battente about 10 minutes by car outside of town. Their stores include Oasi (a much larger version of Tigre); a large UniEuro, a computer store, and BricoMart, a large format hardware store. It’s not readily accessible by public transportation, but there are plenty of us here with cars.
There are a lot of clothing and shoe stores in Ascoli, most of them pretty expensive. Benetton offers good value for the money. Umberto Nociaro on via del Trivio near the church of San Francesco, offers good quality men’s clothing for reasonable prices.
I have had good success buying items likes shoes and sweater in the regular street markets. Look for the ones that offer products in boxes –usually they will even let you try things on.
Villi, which is close to the Piazza del Popolo, is well known in the Piceno for their skills at knife-sharpening. They are also the go-to place for all things related to locks.
There are many fine restaurants in Ascoli – here is a selection of our personal favorites.
- Fine Dining (meat): Piccolo Teatro, Locanda Imperfetta, Desco
- Fine Dining (fish): Osti.Nati, Capriccio degli Dei
- Typical Local Food: Vittoria, Nonna Nina, Osteria di Cecco
- Pizza: La Nicchia
- There are also excellent fish restaurants in Grottammare, on the coast. We like Il Grecale and Stella Marina, both on the north side of town accessible on foot from the train station.
Garbage (or rifiuti) is always a contentious subject in Italy. Over the last twenty years, there has been much progress made in convincing people and towns to engage in recycling. But old habits die hard, and even for towns that want to recycle, it is difficult to make the economics work out. Moreover, it is generally hard to find places to put garbage now that countries like China no longer want to be the West’s garbage dump, and since the burning heaps of other folks’ garbage in the South of Italy have started to receive scrutiny.
Garbage services are paid for through the TARI tax, which itself is based on the size of your dwelling (for residential spaces). Every Comune seems to have a slightly system, and the tax rate varies a lot. We describe here the garbage/recycling system used in Ascoli Piceno.
Once a year, you are allocated a pile of large plastic bags emblazoned with the city emblem: white for paper; yellow for plastic; light brown for umido (organic waste); blue for diapers; and gray for secco (everything else). There is a schedule for putting these bags, with appropriate content, outside the doors of your dwelling after 9p the night before pickup: Monday, Thursday, Saturday for umido; Tuesday for paper; Wednesday for plastic; Friday for secco; and diapers on any of the above days. A small plastic bin (or a larger communal bin for each condominium building) is provided in which to put the umido bags (which tend fall apart easily). Watch out for holidays (there are many in Italy) when there isn’t pickup, especially around Christmas and New Years. There is an isola ecologica (a dump) close to the city center for stuff that just can’t wait. Glass and metals are supposed to go in large bins on located around the Centro.
Unfortunately, not everyone gets the message. Some don’t want to pay the TARI, and thus leave their rifiuti wherever they can. Others refuse to follow the set schedule and put stuff out to moulder when they feel like it. Still others just dump all their garbage in and around the glass/metals bins. Don’t be like any of these folks.
Here is some basic information on the legal requirements for driving in Italy.
Using your US license
Your US driver’s license is valid in Italy for a limited time (typically for short stays). In theory, an International Driver’s Permit is required. This permit is basically just a translation into various language of the material on your license card. It has no validity in its own right. You can get one at a AAA office in the US. Over the last 20 years or so, the IDP has rarely been a hard requirement. However, recently there has been some report of car rental agencies requiring it. If you get particularly unlucky, you might find a policeman who demands that one be shown.
The Patente di Guida
Once you gain residency in Italy, you have one year to obtain an Italian driver’s license. Although the police may not give you trouble for driving on an American license after a year, they are entitled to do so and might well impound your car. (Remember that in Italy, the police are allowed to stop you without cause.) Moreover, if you get into an accident without a valid license, your insurance coverage may be void. Nuff said.
Earning a driver’s license in Italy is a big deal, and is especially challenging for those not fluent in Italian. You must pass both a theory and a practical driving test.
For experienced drivers from the US, the theory test is the biggest hurdle. The test is given only in Italian (or in German or French if you happen to live in a specific provinces adjoining France and Austria). It consists of 40 true/false questions that are often tricky, full of very specific detail, and written in a strange bureaucratic language more akin to a logic exam. You must get 90% correct to pass. Most non-Italian speakers wind up studying for many, many hours to practice for this test. Even Italian speakers find it difficult. After reading the material covered in the exam (a 600-page book), most people take practice exams until they reliably get only one or two wrong. A reasonable estimate is that you might wind up taking 300 practice tests.
Before taking your theory exam, however, you must obtain a medical release from your doctor and also be examined by a doctor qualified to do medical tests for driving. (This latter test is not rigorous, and largely involves the paying of a fee.) NB: If you wear hearing aids, you will be required to provide documentation from an audiologist that your devices work correctly.
In Italy, the DMV is called the Motorizazzione which typically has offices located in or near provincial capitals (and perhaps other places in populous provinces). Don’t expect to just show up and take a theory test. Tests are scheduled ahead of time, typically with large crowds of teenagers and a monitor who acts like a schoolteacher.
After passing your theory exam, you are awarded a foglio rosa, e.g., a learners permit. You now must wait a period of time (a month and a day) before taking your practical exam, and during that time you must accumulate a minimum of 6 hours of practice driving time with an adult who has been licensed for at least 10 years and who is under the age of 60 (under the age of 65 if your car happens to have a passenger-side brake pedal).
By comparison, the practical exam is easy, although that depends entirely on the nature of your examiner who, in addition to judging your driving, is allowed to ask you detailed questions about, for example, the operation of your car or the proper procedures for administering first aid in a road emergency.
There exists a thriving driving school industry in Italy. For many people from the US, it might make sense to contract with a school to take classes, get materials, conduct driving practice, and handle documentation and test setup. It won’t be cheap, of course. Expect to pay on the order of €600 for all of the above. You can, of course, arrange to do these things by yourself and there is no shortage of written an online course material. However, you might find that your practical exam is a bit trickier than if you were under the guidance of a licensed driving instructor.
Immediately after passing your practical exam, you will receive your license. Your license number will have a P at the end because you are now a neo-patentati. Neo-patentati are special in that for the first year, they must drive cars no more powerful than 55kw. Also, for the first three years, such drivers are limited to 100 km/h on the autostrada and a maximum of 90 km/h on other roads. Moreover, penalties for new drivers are double what they are for others, and driving after the consumption of ANY alcohol is prohibited. You may question whether all of these rules are strictly enforced for adult neo-patentati with years of driving experience. YMMV.
Owning a Car
(This section deals with some of the issues that car owners encounter. We won’t approach the idea of where or how to buy a car, but simply outline the requirements for making a new (or used) car legal in Italy.
We note that buying a car in Italy is much different than doing so in the US. In the US, it’s difficult to get out of a dealership without buying. In Italy, this seems not to be the case. Things happen slowly. You probably can’t drive off with a car even if you want to because the dealership will want to see an insurance contract and payment first, and these things generally must be arranged elsewhere.
If you’re thinking of moving a car from the US or other non-EU country to Italy. Don’t. Just don’t.
Registering a Car
Car registration is handled by the Motorizazzione Civile, the Italian version of the DMV. As AAA does in the US, the ACI (Automobile Club d’Italia) can help with performing this registration. In either case all cars must be added to the Pubblico Registro Automobilistico (PRA). Residence in a comune is required to register a car. As you might expect, car ownership registration requires roughly €80 in fixed fees, plus a provincial transcription tax which varies by location and the power of the vehicle. In Ascoli Piceno province, the APT is currently €4,56 per kw (measuring of the power of your engine in kilowatts). As an example, the small engine size that newly licensed drivers are restricted to for the first year is 55 kw.
This page from the ACI provides an overview of the vehicle registration process and required documents. There is an office of the ACI at
Viale Indipendenza 38/a in Ascoli. The Motorizazzione is a bit further out of town in the industrial area on Via della Tessitura.
Cars with non-Italian plates must be registered in Italy within 60 days of arrival. It is possible to register a car in Italy that was previously registered in a different country, but the documentation requirements (plus translation expense) are significant.
If you buy your car from a dealer, all of the above will probably be done for you. Once your car is duly registered, you will be in possession of a Carta di Circulazione which must be in your car at all times. You will also get a receipt with a long alphanumeric string that can be used to look up your digital ownership certificate in the PRA. Keep this safe at home because you will need it should you want to sell your car.
Insurance in Italy is for the car, not the person. All cars must have a standard 3rd party liability insurance policy (responsabilità civile autoveicoli). This provides liability coverage for damage you car does to other people or property. The terms are pretty standard and there aren’t any options that we know of. You will need such a policy before you can drive your new (or used) car out of the dealership. Expect to pay at least
€650 a year for a RC policy for a small car. In a big city, it might be considerably more.
You can also choose to buy insurance for theft and fire, damage to your car that is your fault (Kasko), or windshield damage.
A number of us in Ascoli contract for insurance with an office of Assicurazione Generali on Via Napoli. Their prices seem sensible, but we haven’t done a detailed survey. If you are coming from the US and can get a record of no claims from your US insurer for the last 5 years, this might save you some money on your car insurance.
When driving, you must keep the following three documents in your car:
- Your driver’s license
- The Carta di Circulazione for your car
- Motor vehicle insurance certificate (carta verde)
Every year, you must also pay a “bollo”, a road tax if your will. This payment is due on the anniversary of your car’s first registration (perhaps by a previous owner). You can pay this tax online, or at the ACI, or at any tabbacheria.
Starting when your car is 4 years old, a “revisione” is required every two years. This is a general car checkup analogous to a smog check in California, except that it covers more of the car’s operational functions. Certain mechanic shops that bear the moniker “centro revisioni” are licensed to perform this test. The date of your next revisione is indicated on your Carta di Circulazione.
In many parts of Italy, including Le Marche, winter tires are required from mid-November to mid-April. Buying two set of tires is a pain, we know. It may be the case that certain all-weather tires are acceptable for both seasons. You can instead carry a set of chains during wintertime, but this will not be a happy solution if you actually encounter snow or ice (which you might). If you wind up with two sets of tires, you should be able to find a mechanic who will perform tire changes for you and store your off-season tires. Mounting both sets of tires on rims makes this process a lot easier.
Many Italian cities are short on space, so parking comes at a premium. You may find that an urban parking space, whether at your dwelling or in a commercial garage, costs a fair fraction of your housing expense. Some sort of reserved space is nevertheless preferable because reliance on on-street parking can add considerable stress to your daily life. We have noticed that in some communities, individual public parking spaces are sometimes informally allocated to specific residents. If you don’t know about or abide by such unwritten customs, it might cause some neighborly discomfort. Even reserved parking spaces are often quite a lot smaller than folks in the US are used to. This is yet another reason why smaller cars are preferable for most Italians.
Most small Italian cities have designated parts of their city centers as ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato). These restrictions are often enforced with cameras that photograph the license plates of cars entering the ZTL. If you enter without permission, you will receive a hefty fine (multa) in the mail. If you try to appeal the multa, you will probably lose and then have to pay more. If the letter containing the multa doesn’t reach you right away for some reason, you might miss the payment deadline and then have to pay more. Some ZTLs don’t have cameras, in which case you most probably will only get a multa if you try to park therein.
Center city residents usually can get permits to enter and park in a ZTL if they reside there. If there are multiple ZTL zones, you will get permission only for the one where you live. In Ascoli, yearly parking permits cost €25 and can be purchased from SABA (the parking lot concessionaire) at their offices in the Torricella parking garage. Bring proof of your residence address, and place the resultant parking pass in a visible place on or near your windshield.
You will not often find police-manned speed traps in Italy. What you will find is a plethora of speed cameras, any one of which can detect you speeding and cause a ticket (multa) to arrive in your mail. (See the section on ZTLs for a discussion on multe.) Speeding tickets not only cost money, but deduct points from your license. You start with 20 points, and each regular speeding ticket deducts 4. So, a persistent speeder could lose his or her license in a single cross-country trip.
Speed cameras come in multiple varieties. Many local municipalities install them at the town limits on the main road, right around where the speed limit is reduced to 50 kph. The presence of a speed camera is always pre-announced by law with a sign indicating “controllo elettronico della velocità”. Mapping applications like TomTom have downloadable location data for cameras which cause the TomTom device to emit a beep as you near one. In rural areas, many speed cameras don’t actually work. But you never know.
The Autostrade have a much more robust system of speed cameras. On older roads, there are single point systems (or one per lane) which measure your speed one time. More advanced systems on newer roads, however, keep track of cars along long stretches of roads at multiple points and thus can calculate your average speed along those stretches.
If you take trips often, you will probably want to acquire a Telepass device for your car. This device allows you to use the Telepass lane on the Autostrade and thus avoid stopping at toll plazas. It can also be used to pay for parking in certain areas. Your Telepass account can be associated with a bank account so as to pay bills for tolls only a monthly basis. Enquire at your bank to get one. Or, you can stop at one of the Autostrade areas marked PuntoBlu,
The ACI not only provides car registration, but it also sells insurance, maps, and road incident coverage (much like AAA in the US). If you like the idea of having a number to call for help if your car breaks down, you might want to enquire about joining ACI.
Here is a quick overview of the major forms of ground public transportation in Italy with a particular focus on those available in the vicinity of Ascoli Piceno.
The advent of the Freccia system of high-speed trains in Italy ushered in a new era in high-speed transport. These trains are fast, fairly priced, generally clean, and are supported by a robust online ticketing system. For Freccia trains, advanced seat reservations are required. Buy your tickets online at the TrenItalia website, or use a third party seller such as trainline.com. The services are largely similar. Tickets purchased online, either in digital or paper form, are largely acceptable for travel.
The main lines stretch from Salerno and Naples in the south to Milano, Torino, and Venezia in the north, stopping at Roma, Firenze, and Bologna. The three grades of service (Rossa/Argenta/Bianca) are largely indicative of how many stops are made. The FrecciaRossa is therefore the fastest and has the fewest stops. A slower line stretches south-east from Bologna along the Adriatic Coast down to Bari and Lecce. For much of this length, there is only one track per direction, so delays are more likely. A newer track connects Napoli and Bari.
An alternate train service provider, Italo, offers FrecciaRossa-quality service on a few of the mainline routes. Be careful, though, because some of their routes do not reach the central stations of their destinations. And while you can buy, for example from trainline.com, a ticket which connects Italo and Freccia trains, you will not be due any recompense if you miss the connection.
Below Freccia-level service, there are also many Inter-City trains which also require seat reservations. These have more stops than the Freccia trains, and usually operate on older rolling stock.
Then there are a variety of express and local regional level trains. Generally, a train number with four digits will be faster (fewer stops) than one with five. For these trains, no seat reservation is possible. If you buy a standard paper ticket, don’t forget to punch your ticket in the yellow machines on the track platforms (even if you just bought it from the machines or agent in the station lobby).
If you are over 60, you might want to apply for a free CartaFreccia Senior card on the TrenItalia website. Holding this card can give some advantages when booking tickets.
Train service to Ascoli Piceno is rather slow. There are about ten trains a day (fewer on Sunday) to either San Benedetto del Tronto (00:45) or to Ancona (1:55) on the main Adriatic line. These trains arrival tend to be scheduled to follow the departure of fast trains on the coast line, so if you want to make a connection, you will often have to wait a maximal interval. You might find it more convenient to find other transportation to or from the San Benedetto station and pick up, or depart the train there. Unfortunately, only a few of the Freccia trains stop at San Benedetto.
Curiously, in Italy, large buses are referred to by the English name “pullman”. The etymology of the word clearly harkens back to the Pullman Company who operated railroads in the US and the UK in the late 19th Century.
Intercity pullman buses go everywhere in Italy and are a very popular form of transport. You probably can go to anywhere in Europe from a major hub like the Tiburtina bus station in Rome. It’s not the prettiest place in Rome, but it can be useful, and it is co-located with the Rome Metro. Multinational bus lines such as FlixBus are available between many Italian cities, but the regional carriers are too many to count. Most support ticket sales on the web.
It’s easier to get to Rome from Ascoli by bus than by train. There are two main routes. The Via Salaria heads directly over the Apennines from Ascoli along the route used by the ancient Romans. The road is windy and slow, but the total distance is about 50km less than the other route which takes the Ascoli-Mare Raccordo to A14 on the coast, and then follows the A24 to Rome through the Gran Sasso tunnel. Both routes take about the same amount of time. Your preference probably depends on your tolerance of windy roads.
START Spa. and Cardinali are the only two bus lines that offer the Salaria route, and those buses don’t continue on from Rome to the Fiumicino airport if you’re headed there. The coastal route is served by a large collection of bus lines: START, Cardinali, Flixbus, Gaspari, RomaExpress. Most of these lines terminate further up the Marche coastline, only stopping momentarily at Porto D’Ascoli and San Benedetto del Tronto. The coast route buses almost all visit either Fiumicino or Ciampino in addition to Rome. The trip from Porto D’Ascoli to Rome takes about 3 hours. Continuing on to Fiumicino takes most of another hour.
If you plan to get on or off the bus at Porto D’Ascoli, be sure to research the bus stop in advance because it is a gas station and is not immediately obvious. Some of the lines above offer connecting buses between Ascoli train station and Porto D’Ascoli. For those that don’t, you’ll have to find another way to get bdtween Ascoli and Porto D’Ascoli.
START Spa. offers local and extra-urban bus service around Ascoli and to between Ascoli and most of the major comunes in the area. Complete timetables can be found on their website. Bus tickets, both single tickets and long-term passes, can be bought at tabaccherie and at newspaper stands.
Ancona and Pescara have small regional airports that are about 1:15h from Ascoli by car. Pescara has flights on Volotea to Palermo and Catania, and Ryan Air to Brussels Charleroi and London Stansted and other RyanAir destinations. Ancona has similar routes, plus flights to Munich on Lufthansa. Neither airport is particular well connected to public transportation, but both have adequate parking facilities.
Ciampino and Fiumicino are the two major airports for Rome, with Fiumicino being considerably bigger and better connected. Both are roughly four hours from Ascoli by bus (3 hours by car), but only some of the bus lines stop at Ciampino. Fiumicino has huge amounts of long stay parking, both public and privately operated. There are close in parking structures as well. Considerable discounts can be had by booking ahead.
Occasionally, very competitive airfares can be had through Milan Malpensa, which has the advantage of being easily reachable by train. However, the train trip is long, and requires a change at Milan to the Malpensa Express which takes another hour to the airport on the other side of the city.
Water service is surprisingly expensive. In Ascoli Piceno, the local water provider is called CIIP (Cicli Integrati Impianti Primari) Vettore, where Mt. Vettore is the tallest mountain in our part of the Apennines.
Most water service is individually billed according to a meter somewhere in or near your dwelling. The meter reader comes very infrequently, so your bill is usually an estimate. Therefore, it makes sense for you to take regular readings of your meter and report them on the CIIP website.
(We might want to add info on setting up water service?)
In recent times, we have experienced a rather severe water shortage in the Marche, in part due to drought and in part due to reduced water flow from the existing mountain sources due to seismological activity. As of March 2020, CIIP set the water system status at Allerte Rosso livello 2, which means that all the public water fountains have been turned off. In 2019, water services was turned off in late night for a period of time, but this is no longer the case.
Although the water from the Ascoli system is of extremely high quality, much of the housing stock is old and the water systems within those houses is old as well. Of particular concern are houses or condominiums that have water storage cisterns which need to be cleaned periodically. Some such cisterns, if deployed underground, can even experience infiltration of bacteria from the surrounding environment. In some cases, a periodic professional check of interior water quality might be advisable.
Interestingly, you will not find a section dedicated to purchasing a house and this is intentional. Some of the contributors to this blog have purchased a home in Italy and the facets are intricacies are too many for this blog to appropriately cover. Thus, we will be focusing on what we recommend the most, renting. After all, buying and selling properties in Italy is not as dynamic as it could be in most parts of North America. IF you buy, selling could be very difficult. It is true that Italy does not have property taxes on your first home, but at the same time getting a loan is very difficult.
Renting a Property
Homes comes in many forms, from large estates, to single room studios. We will be focusing on the most common, which are either single-family homes or apartments in a condominium. Single-family homes are rare in the center of town, unless they are very large, and they are more common outside town. Usually, they are not part of a condominium unless they are in a gated or private community in which homeowners share ownership and maintenance costs of the grounds and any other amenity that may be present such as tennis courts or swimming pools. This kind of housing tends to be expensive.
Most commonly, you may be looking at an apartment close to or downtown (centro storico). In very small towns, probably there would be no condominium but just shared ownership of common areas (right of way), while in a larger city there will be a condominium with a property manager. Condominiums in Italy are the source of endless jokes due to the well-known acrimonious nature of their meetings. It is said that if the courts could suddenly eliminate all litigation relating to condominium affairs, the justice system would start working again. As a renter, you will not have to endure these meetings. Do not be surprised if your next-door neighbor just says hello to you or if he\she never approaches you directly with an issue. Instead, it is common to write a nasty letters to the administrator accusing neighbors of misdeeds. As we said, condominiums in Italy are weird.
Getting an Agent
While you could look for an apartment on your own, we do not recommend it. There is a lot of paperwork involved and many critical steps that only a licensed real estate agent would know how to navigate. Avoid business mediators; go for a fully licensed agent. They are usually licensed land surveyors (geometra). The agent will cost you the equivalent of one-month rent, but you could negotiate a lower fee. Finding an English speaking agent is not going to be easy, so just look for a reliable agent that others have used and then use a third party to help with any translations (unless you are fluent in Italian). This way, you get two opinions.
What you are used to at home will seldom translate to Italy. Even if you are from New York and live in an apartment building, in Italy things will be different. The agent will be your navigator and help you avoid undesirable neighborhoods, shabby buildings, or unpleasant proprietors.
The whole process is less structured than what you may be used to, but at the same time a bit confusing. There is no credit report to be filled since it will be the agent introducing you to the owner(s) and foreigners from certain countries are highly desired. A property will be shown, a monthly rent and type of contract agreed upon and then a contract signed; that is it. That will be the end of the relation with the owner unless you fail to pay rent of there are extraordinary events related to the property. This will be explained later.
There are five different types of contracts allow under Italian civil law:
- Regula contract with unregulated rent (Contratto ordinario a canone libero (4+4))
- Temporary Contract (Contratto transitorio)
- Regulated Contract (Contratto di locazione convenzionato o a canone concordato (3+2))
- Temporary Student Contract (Contratto transitorio per student)
- Free Use (Contratto di comodato d’uso)
Let me clarify right away that four and five do not apply to you. If someone is trying to sell you one of these two types of contract, they are breaking the law. Especially the last one because payment would be under the table and thus constituting tax evasion for which you would be criminally liable. Thus, let us focus on the other kinds.
A temporary contract is only valid up to 18 months and it could be a viable option if you are just trying out a town and you know that that the place you want to rent is not going to be your final one. Usually, these apartments are partially of fully furnished. Keep in mind that any other form of rental, such as what you would do with a B&B, is limited to 30 days. Thereafter, you have to move out. Moreover, to establish residency – you will have to – you have to have a rental contract. On cannot establish residency using a B&B or a hotel.
The two remaining options will be what the agent and the owner will offer you. The first one if for 4 years. If the owner does not give you formal notice at least 6 months before the end of the contract and needs the apartment back for good reasons (such as moving in himself\herself or a close family member – wanting to increase rent is a not a valid reason) then it is automatically renewed. This kind of contract allows for rent increase, but they are regulated. In essence, it is an 8-year contract from which you can rescind at any time giving a 6-month notice.
These days, the most common contract is the regulated one because the owner receives a substantial tax break on the income. These contracts are similar to the one described above, but with a duration of 3 plus 2 years. Rent increase is regulated by the government and it is minimal. In most cases, is not even implemented.
As said, if you want to break your lease, usually you must give a six-month notice. If the owner wants the apartment back, they must offer compensation and you may always refuse to move out. It will take the courts a long time to establish who is right, often years. Security deposit is usually the equivalent of two-month rent and, in theory; the owner should pay you interests on your deposit.
In actuality, if you want to leave before the six months, have the agent negotiate. Finding a good tenant who pays reliably is hard, so the owner will usually do whatever it takes to assist you, unless you are a chronic complainer. Let me spell it out, you are going to be a ‘premium’ tenant. In many cases apartments are not advertised because the owner rents only to ‘special’ people; you would be one of them.
The rental agreement will have to be recorded. This will require your tax number ‘Codice Fiscale’. So, remember that getting your tax code is the most important first step. Ordinary maintenance will be your responsibility, plus some extraordinary one. This is very different from the USA, so let us expand.
Especially for furnished or semi furnished apartment, make sure to have the agent conduct a full inspection. Once you take possession, anything broken will be your responsibility. Here are some steps before you take possession:
- Take a detailed inventory
- Take pictures
- Do a walkthrough with both the agent and the owner
- Test all appliances: heater, A/C, appliances, plumbing, shutters, keys, TV outlets, power outlets, etc.
The most expensive repair you may face is the boiler (caldaia), so make sure you receive an up-to-date inspection booklet and verify that the unit is not too old. If it is, have the owner agree to replace it. Aswe listed above, inspect all electrical outlets, TV outlets, speakerphone (citofono), heating and cooling (if present), windows, shutters and especially appliances. Check with the condominium what your responsibility is and what they cover. It could be that you have to repaint the outside shutters and that could be costly.
Once you move in, you have full use of the apartment and the owner may not come in unless you received a certified mail from the post office in which a date, a time and valid reasons for entering the premises are specified. You will have to be present because the owner will not have the keys. Entering the house without your permission is a felony.
You can make any minor modification without having to request permissions, but for anything major, you should. It is good practice to have the agent talk to the owner because this professional will be able to provide for the necessary filtering. Remember, it is not just the language: often the different culture gets in the way.
Remember that there will be additional costs for transferring utilities and those are documented in the utility section. Make sure to verify that the previous occupant paid all utilities up-to-date, or you will not be able to have the service transferred over to you. So, before closing the deal, ask for copies of the latest utility bills.
There will be two additional costs, condominium fees and T.A.R.I., the garbage tax. Condominium fees will only include ordinary costs, extraordinary, such as major repairs, will be the responsibility of the owner. Before you rent, check what the current condominium fees are. The garbage tax is not only your responsibility, but you also have to go to City Hall and change the tax bill into your name. We cover this tax in the tax section, but be prepared because it is based on the size of the apartment and it could be very expensive.
Does and Don’t
If possible, always have the agent deal with the owner. If you have to communicate, keep it to business and do it in writing. Official communications, such as your desire to leave the property, will require a certified mail.
Get copy of the condominium rules. Technically, you should get it as part of your contract, but you will not. Have someone translate it for you. If you have a pet, make sure that there are no restrictive rules. Usually they are illegal, but why getting into a controversial situation if it can be avoided?
If you are gone for extended periods, secure the apartment by turning off water and ga but especially have someone come over and check it out at least once a month.
You are not required to have insurance, but we highly recommend it. This is mostly liability insurance in case you cause damage to others. Remember that if you have a water leak and damage the apartment below costs could be very high and you, not the owner, would be liable. Spend little money and sleep well by having insurance coverage. You can also get theft insurance, but usually it will only cover a limited amount. If you have valuable items, you will have to have them appraised and documented.
Television and Movies
Italy has one of the most advanced dubbing industry in the world. Subtitles are very rare and usually only available in Italian on some channel and for some very specific programs for people with auditory issues. Most TV channels and movie theaters have programming only in Italian, but there are a few exceptions. Let us go over the option.
Television can be received via the air (Digitale Terrestre) or via satellite. Over the air requires an antenna, which is usually already present. In the case of large condominiums, this service is provided by the association. ‘Over the air’ channels are divided into three categories: unencrypted, encrypted and radio. For the encrypted channels, one needs a device and a subscription to the service.
The most common is Sky, a British company related to FOX and which only offers programs in Italian. It is not possible to subscribe to program in other languages outside of Italy. Sky broadcasts most soccer games including the Italian ‘Serie A’ league, Champion League and Europe League. I said most because now some of the game are provided by DAZN, another British company, and they are only available on the Internet. Formula 1 racing is only available on Sky. DAZN shows NBA, NFL and MLB games. Another provider is Mediaset (Berluconi) which has free channels, but also premium one which mostly broadcast movies.
There are dozens of free channels and they are provided by a government own company (RAI), by a large private one (Mediaset) and by a large number of smaller one. As far as we know, the only English option is the 8:00 PM news on RAI 1, which is subtitled in English. To see the subtitle one must have a TV that is enable for Televideo a special technology that provides digital pages on the TV looking like bulletin boards from the 80s.
RAI television is funded by an addition to the electric bill of anyone who owns a television (and the assumption is that you do).
Radio channel are all in Italian and offer news, commentary and mostly music. If you want to listen to your home radio station, just use one of the many Internet programs. We use MyTunerRadio and find it very easy to use.
With a smart TV, meaning a TV that connects to the Internet and the necessary connectivity, one can connect to Al Jazeera (Qatar), DW (Germany), EuroNews, BBC (U.K.), etc. all providing news in English. YouTube will provide access to CNN, CNBC and FOX, but not on a live feed, but rather through delayed broadcasting some of which is official and other that is pirated.
Amazon and Netflix
NetFlix is available and it has most of the US programming, plus movies in Italian. The same for Amazon Prime, though the programming available in Italy is more limited. Keep in mind that you can purchase NetFlix and pay for in the US and watch it in Italy. For Amazon, it is a lot cheaper to subscribe to Prime in Italy rather than in the US, and you get free shipping.
Viewing the US versions of Amazon Prime and Netflix from Italy requires the use of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) such as ExpressVPN (there are many other options available). Using Amazon Prime you can then get access to all the standard Amazon US content such as HBO and Showtime and Masterpiece Channel (all for a fee). And of course Amazon Prime in the US costs over $100 per year. The fee for Netflix is the same in Italy as in the US. There is a small amount of Netflix content that is US-only. You can view that with a VPN.
Both Amazon and Netflix are not technically allowed to provide US content to folks outside the US. However, because they like your money, they typically turn a blind eye towards VPN access. However, from time to time these providers, and others, will attempt to block established VPN proxies, Having a nimble VPN provider who can offer more choice and reactive deployment of new servers is a good idea.
There are US companies that provide TV over the internet. Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue and others let you watch TV without having to subscribe to cable TV, but there is a catch. Most block and traffic from and to outside the US, so you will need a VPN connection or some solution to hide your IP address.
While you may be tempted to go this route, you will soon realize that the time difference makes a difference and watching the Super Bowl at 2:00 AM is not fun. Also, provider in the US continually try to block traffic from overseas, so you will have to constantly adjust. We used an AppleTV in Italy, other have used a Google TV with success, but then eventually you will want to disconnect from the US and be more connected with Europe.
In large cities, there are offerings in English. In Ascoli Piceno we are very lucky because we have a movie in its original language with Italian subtitles almost every Wednesday afternoon. Something good about going to the movie theater is that it is a lot cheaper than the US, but the popcorn may not be completely up to par.
There are principally three different kind of gas services available, this not too dissimilar from the US. In urban settings, each apartment will have natural gas (gas naturale), also known as methane (metano). In rural settings, especially small villas, one may have a large gas canister that it refilled by tanker. This is usually Liquid Propane (Gas Propano Liquido). Wherever these kinds are not available, then a one will have to use portable gas canister (bombole).
Gas is used for cooking, producing hot water and heating the house. The heating could be via an integrated unit (caldaia) that produces hot water and heat up radiators (or floor heating) or via portable heating units (stufetta a gas).
Natural gas and propane are not interchangeable. Since they have different caloric values, appliances must be set for one or the other. So, when you are buying a new appliance (cooktop, heating unit, etc.) make sure you are buying the right one.
Note that the heating unit (caldaia) must be inspected and certified every year by a licensed technician. Failing to have the heating unit inspected may cost you a fine ranging between € 500 and € 3,000. Each unit comes with a booklet (libretto d’impianto). Failing to have such a booklet – used to registered scheduled maintenance – will cost you an additional € 500 or € 600. Each region has its own regulations, even though the law is at a national level. Check with your real estate agent before signing any lease and or buying a house.
Like for electricity, Italy has created an open market and thus you may choose your favorite and less expensive provider. In our experience, having the same provider for electricity and gas makes it easy to manage. Prices fluctuates especially because most natural gas is imported.
While electrical meters are read remotely via an electronic device, gas meters are still subject (in most cases) to manual reading. Reading happens every two or three month or never… If one does not want to see the bill go up and down, or get a onetime shocker, it is best to do your own monthly reading and report it to the provider via their Web interface.
If you have a house with gas canisters, you are in a remote area or in a very old house. Canisters, despite some urban legends, are not any more dangerous than any other kind of gas. All gas of any type is highly odorized so that a leak can be detected quickly. The only peculiar thing to notice is that the hookup of the gas pressure regulator to the gas canister – this is the device that lower the high pressure in the canister to low pressure used by the appliances – has a reversed thread. Therefore, the nut is tightened going from right to left and loosen going from left to right.
They usually come in 10 kg or 25 kg size. Check your appliance before you buy one. Providers demand a security deposit for any new canister your use. In most small towns, the reseller (bombolaio o bombolaro, depends on the local dialect) will usually install it for you but this is happening less and less as this technology is becoming obsolete. Each new canister comes with a rubber gasket to be inserted between the canister and the pressure regulator: never reuse the old one. Canisters should be turned off whenever not in use. This is not convenient, but safe. The shut off valve is right on top of the canister and easy to operate.
BBQ or Camping Gas Canisters
These are are different from regular gas canister and not compatible with the kind available in the US. The American gas regulator will not fit a European canister and needs to be replaced. Ultimately, it is best to buy everything locally to make sure that it complies with EU rules.
Land line / Internet
Ascoli Piceno has a well developed fiber-optic infrastructure, especially in the Centro. Most apartment buildings have pre-existing telephone cabling, and many such systems are already hooked into the Ascoli fiber. If this is the case for you, setting up service should be easy and only requires digital provisioning and a technician coming to your house with a modem to plug in to your telephone port. There are numerous hardwired broadband providers: TIM, Vodafone, and others. The cost should be at most 30-40 Euros per month (with rental modem), and given that the Centro is wired with fiber, bandwidth should be excellent (>100 Mbit/sec). If you live in the suburbs or countryside, your mileage may vary.
In most cases, landline telephone service is provided as part of an Internet package with a telephone plugged into your modem. You probably can buy just telephone service, but doing so is not so common these days.
Communicating with Others
WhatsApp is very commonly used in Italy, probably more so than email. WhatsApp uses cell phone numbers as identities, so having a viable cell phone number is essential. It does not have to be a local number. There are PC and iPad apps that provide a WhatsApp interface, but they require your phone to be nearby (unfortunately).
Various government functions use PEC (authenticated, privacy-enhanced email). Setting up a PEC account involves setting up an account with one of the several PEC-provider services. Basically they need to authenticate you, and they all do it somewhat differently. Unfortunately, PEC email is not compatible with ordinary email agents (e.g., GMail, AppleMail).
Another bit of security technology you might run into is SPID, which is an authenticated digital identity system. You can get credentials in this system, for example, to access mycupmarche.it, the online SSN appointment system in Le Marche. There are various SPID providers (for example infocert.it). Setting up an account again involves authenticating your identity rather carefully with the help of a third party.
You may want to arrange to use a VOIP telephone provider for international voice calls. Some VOIP providers, like Google Voice or Skype, allow you to make free calls to the US from your smart phone or computer. In some cases, there are fees involved (such as when calling a US phone number using Skype). In other cases, you need to have set up a digital phone number (for example a Google Voice number) ahead of time.
Cell Phone Service
Cell phones are almost always unlocked in Italy. When moving from the US, it is therefore important that you make sure your US phone has been unlocked by your US provider.
The most common means of obtaining cell voice/data service is to establish an account in which you arrange to deposit sufficient funds to renew your chosen services when they expire each month. You will thus have to “ricaricare” (recharge) your account periodically. These funds are also used to pay for services in excess of your contracted service. There are plenty of service providers to choose from (TIM, WIND, Vodafone, Tre, Iliad). Some providers offer attractive plans for coverage in other countries (e.g., the US) when you visit there. Others do not. You might want to check.
Cell phone providers often try to sell you additional services, some of which can be a bit dodgy. It is not so difficult to subscribe to such services by accident, thus accruing regular charges that are not readily visible. So, it’s best to check your account billing details from time to time. It may also be possible to instruct your provider not to add additional services.