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Living in Rome for the Long Term

Living in Trastevere, Rome.
Another relaxing morning starting with a cappuccino in Trastevere, Rome. Photo ©

My husband and I are not trust-fund babies, nor self-made millionaires. But as readers of Transitions Abroad, we dreamed of living outside the U. S. After much discussion, research, and planning, we boarded the airplane in Houston, Texas with only two bags each. We arrived in Rome the following day to begin our plan to live abroad, learn the language, and absorb the culture. Our dream was coming true.

John was 43 and I was 38. Too old to throw caution to the wind, too young to retire, we wanted to live somewhere and not feel like tourists in city after city. I wanted to know my neighbors and understand what their lives were like. We both wanted to experience another culture but also prepare for future earnings.

John spent 25 years in television news. He decided to continue his education and study international affairs, a decision that was the catalyst for moving abroad. It would take 21 months for John to graduate. My background is in retail sales and marketing. Learning another language would open new doors for me as well.

Planning a Move

When we got serious about our plan, John began researching English-speaking degree-granting universities on the web. We started preparing our family and friends for our plans to move. We expected to be told we were crazy but received only enthusiastic responses, even from my financial advisor. John narrowed the field to four schools and began the application paperwork.

We evaluated the cities and our interest in the culture, language, etc. The final candidates were Madrid and Rome. We couldn't make such enormous changes in our lives without visiting at least once, so to put our minds at ease we planned a vacation to both cities for a final winnowing.

Choosing Rome

One of the universities in Rome filled all the requirements. We were even shown some apartments during our visit. By choosing an apartment that normally houses only one student, we were able to trim costs. We left a housing deposit for the fall semester before we departed.

Apartments in Rome.
Apartments are available on side streets in Trastevere and across Rome. Photo ©

Getting a Visa

The details on how to obtain visas in Italy are covered on the detailed website provided by the Italian government. Since I was going to be enrolled in Italian classes, we were both able to apply for student visas, which is one of the least complicated types to obtain. All the required information is laid out on the government website.

Money, Communications, and Accommodations in Rome

While we were visiting Italy, we checked to make sure our bank ATM cards could access cash (better, in fact, to do so beforehand and inform your bank that you are traveling to Italy). They did, making it unnecessary to open a checking account overseas. We withdraw a set amount of cash once a week that covers all our food and incidentals. Knowing our limit keeps us on budget.

We each have mobile phones that are recharged with cards purchased at the tabacchi, so we don't have the hassle of getting a land line, though there are many other cellular options available, including international plans and options such as using Skype on your laptop computer. The apartment we leased through the university had water, gas, and electricity included.

We did not own a home in Houston, but we did have lots of possessions — many of which we didn't need or really want anymore. We were actually giddy about selling our automobiles and looked forward to public transportation. Most errands in Rome are completed a piede, by foot, and shopping with a 2-wheeled cart is actually fun.

Learn the Language and Speak to Very Understanding Italians

In making a move like this you should learn as much of the language as possible before you depart. Italians are extremely patient and accommodating when you are trying to learn and will often try to help you any way they can. One of our understanding neighbors, Signora Molinari, kept repeating "piano, piano." Slowly it will come.

Shopping and Eating in Trastevere is a Joyful Daily Ritual

Shopping at an inexpensive outdoor mercato (market), such as Piazza San Cosimato in Trastevere, is one of the best ways to integrate into the daily ritual of Roman life, and is far less expensive than eating at local restaurants. If you have a kitchen, you can prepare your own food for a fraction of the cost, or eat out as often as you can afford in places from wood-oven pizzerias to the many trattorias with tables on the cobblestone streets.

We are sharing just a moment of Rome's 3,000-year history, but it will resonate in us for the rest of our lives.

Editor's note: See our section Living in Italy: The Essential Resources for more information on living in Rome and in Italy in general.

MARTHA MILLER writes from Trastevere, a Roman neighborhood, across the Tiber River from the historic center of Rome. More more about her experience in her book Times New Roman: How We Quit Our Jobs, Gave Away Our Stuff & Moved to Italy.

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