Although I have been in Bra for almost a month now, I have been getting a lot of questions about what it is like to live abroad. Many fellow travelers and prospective immigrants wonder how you learn to create a new home abroad. To answer short and sweet, I know literally nothing. It is the same as traveling to a new country, you fake it until you make it and learn on the fly. What is most important to remember is that people are people no matter where you stand on a map. You will find incredibly kind and helpful people in every corner of the world, if you simply look.
Now to be fair, I have lived in Italy before. However, I came before with a study abroad program and lived with a local family. That may seem insignificant, I know I thought I would have it all figured out. Nevertheless, after three weeks on my own, I can see now how much headache I was spared. The study abroad program before did almost all of my immigration paperwork for me and with a host family I had no need to set up utilities or even shop for myself.
After being accepted into the program, the most important task was to find housing. Thankfully my host mom from Torino was able to make the calls to inquire with landlords and agencies on my behalf. Even just deciding on acceptable rent, and best location was a learning curve. After going back and forth on a few options, I finally found my apartment. The rent is 410 euros, not including gas, electricity or wifi. This was over my goal budget. However, this year was not another study abroad experience for me. I came with the mindset of moving to Italy, therefore, my focus was on a flat that checked all the boxes (within reason), at the expense of extra “fun” money in the budget.
Having my apartment before I arrived was one thing I could scratch off my list. Important since from the moment I stepped off the train in Bra, I had a to-do list a mile long (rather a kilometer long). Thankfully my landlord is one of those kind people I told you you’d find around the world. He picked me up at the train station and took me around town that first day to compete all my immigration documents.
In most places abroad, you need a visa, but that is only the key to let you into the country. In order to take up residency, you must also get a permit of stay. This was something else orchestrated for me three years ago. Without my landlord, Roberto, taking me everywhere and translating for me, these processes would have taken me a week. In the first two hours we had been to three different offices, a stationary shop for copies, and completed four different documents. Those two hours were spent filing for a fiscal code, a declaration from my host, a declaration of my arrival into Italy and the confirmation of my apartment.
Once the primary immigration documents were filed, the actual permit of stay application could be started. The first step is a formal meeting with an immigration officer, just you and about a million documents and copies. I am sure that I had this first meeting when I studied abroad, but I don’t remember it. After the meeting, you must file and mail it off at the post office. Quite the vocabulary I learned on the fly there. In true Italian fashion, you walk out with a slip with the date you must appear for fingerprinting. About a month later.
No matter your location or its current the political structure, immigration is never something to chance. It can get incredibly irritating and inconvenient to make so many copies, file a million documents, and wait for months, only to never be asked to present this proof of legality. However, it will be worth it for the one or two times you are. This is one thing to err on the side of caution. It may be easier to live many places illegally, but if you are ever in trouble, you will be happy you jumped through all those hoops.
After immigration was dealt with, it was time for the more practical parts of living. I had to file for things like gas, WiFi, and electricity contracts. Thankfully Roberto was happy to help here as well. I also had it a bit easier because I was moving in directly after another student was moving out. This meant simply switching the contracts into my name with minimal fees.
In a country that does not run on credit, almost every single bill you receive has already been withdrawn from your bank account. Therefore you need an account with money in it before they would let you make any contracts. The town of Bra is very small, but has a massive young international population from the university. So I was able to find an English speaking teller at the bank, and an account that was without fees for students.
In retrospect, I really should have changed my signature to something less intense before I arrived and made an easier email address than TheVeryHungryTraveler@gmail.com before I began. I swear I had to sign 100 different times to open that bank account. Also trying to tell an Italian “hungry” not “angry” is very difficult since to them it sounds the same. After an hour, a few misspelled words, and a broken ATM, I had an account.
The next step of the moving puzzle was changing the gas and electricity. Pretty simple with the help of Roberto, sign in 57 spots and the bill is now in your name. Keep in mind that every contract around the world is not the same. You may have additions or other hoops to jump through. For example, in Italy if you take an electricity contract you will automatically be charged for basic cable. It is your responsibility to follow up with send a special form stating you do not own a tv to drop the charges.
Finally I needed a new SIM card and a phone plan. For any long term travelers, I would highly recommend looking into a local plan. Because I knew I would be moving here for over a year, and did not have plans to return to live in the US for a while, I ended my phone contract in the United States. Even if you do not cancel your contract at home entirely, it can still be worth opening one locally depending on your time abroad.
My phone plan back home was about $50 USD a month for a few gigs of data, unlimited calling and texting. In Italy, it’s only $10 USD for 5GB of data, unlimited phone to anyone on network, 100 minutes to everyone else in Italy, and 300 minutes for calls abroad (home). Almost all texting is done through WhatsApp using data.
One of the best and most challenging parts of living abroad is the fact that everything is different. It can get extremely frustrating to deal with a language barrier or inconvenient business hours. The most important rule of traveling is to be flexible, and moving is no different. With every task you complete, it’s another lesson learnt, another merit badge of skill. Living abroad has been one of the best gifts and happiest times of my life. To be truly happy is worth any growing point.
Until we eat again, stay hungry friends!
-The Very Hungry Traveler