Work in Florence, Work Overseas in Italy, student apartment florence no agency
By: Stella Fiore (justin) 2013.01.27
Imagine a work day without an alarm clock, cubicle, Snapple or overtime. Instead, you wake up to church bells ringing in Giotto's bell tower and walk to a Renaissance palazzo where, during your lunch break, you sip a glass of red wine and plan a weekend trip to the Swiss Alps. Sound like fun?
Living and working in Florence immerses you in the artistic, historical and cultural richness of one of Italy's most beautiful cities. Just don't expect the over advertised illusion of la bella vita to be an everyday reality. Instead, be prepared to work al nero, or in the black, because most likely your job will be an illegal one. It is difficult for Italians with a university degree to find jobs; don't think it will be any easier for a foreigner. But working in Florence is possible, and can be rewarding both personally and professionally. The trick is to do it all' Americana.
Working legally in Florence is a question of obtaining any one of the elusive work visas. Unfortunately, both the independent and employment visas are nearly impossible to get. In order to work legally as a freelancer, you need a letter from an Italian company stating that they will be hiring you as a consultant before you even arrive. For the work visa, you need an Italian company to prove that no other Italian or EU citizen is qualified for the position.
What to do? Get to Florence first. Then, as a short term solution, freelance within the expatriate community or for an American company. That way, you can legally stay in Italy for up to three months without a visa as a tourist, and land projects, and hopefully a job, along the way. Offer something Italians usually don't: anything related to the Internet, skilled translating, the newest managerial, or marketing or public relations know how. Capitalize on the fact that you're an American rather than seeing it as a disadvantage.
Step 1. Do Your Prep Work
One thing goes without saying: learn Italian. You can make your way speaking English but sooner or later, you're going to have to translate your resume or speak with a Signore on your cell phone. Plus you're going to be on your own. There will be no student affairs coordinator or bilingual tour guide to find you an apartment or translate a menu. Join a conversation group, watch a Fellini film, read newspapers like Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, or a translated copy of your favorite book. If you've never studied Italian, there are countless schools in Florence just waiting for your enrollment fee.
Next, know what you're getting into. The Italians by Luigi Barzini, an in depth cultural profile written in 1964 but still applicable in many respects, is essential reading. Cultural characteristics are reflected in the workplace and the sooner you understand how people in Italy live, the better. A more recent book, The New Italians by Charles Richards (published 1994), is good for concrete statistics but has a less intimate perspective on the culture. For practicalities, your best move would be to read Living, Studying and Working in Italy by Monica Larner and Travis Neighbor. It is the bible on everything from getting a driver's license to starting a business, with useful facts and advice on finding a job, internship or volunteer work. Travel guidebooks are also helpful. Better to read any of these than something too dreamy like Under the Tuscan Sun.
Next, prepare your resume (in Italy, the CV or curriculum vitae can be longer than the standard one page resume), business cards and any other professional supplies you might need.
Make and save as much money as you can before you leave the States because you won't find high pay rates in Florence. It's a good idea to live off of your savings until you're making a steady and adequate income; the cost of living is high when compared to less touristy cities in Italy. Rents range anywhere from $350.00 to $1,000.00 per month, depending on the location, amenities and whether you prefer to share a room with a student or lounge in your own studio.
Step 2. Find A Job
Once you're ready to start looking for a job, try the Internet but don't expect much; most businesses in Florence don't use it to find employees.
An even smarter strategy is to contact the alumni office of your university and ask if any graduates are living or working in Italy. If so, send an email to set up an informational interview upon your arrival. Ask about freelance opportunities with your current job or another American company (your best bets include the travel industry, journalism, fashion, the arts and education). Open your address book you never know where, or with whom, an opportunity will turn up.
When you arrive, networking within the expatriate community is key. The lack of professional opportunities with Italian companies means the expat community is relatively small; most of the Americans you'll see will be tourists or students and staff from one of the ten or so study abroad programs. Don't let that discourage you. The up side to a small expat community is that there's little competition and a lot of people willing to help. Just don't arrive in August everyone will be on feria (holiday) and you'll have to wait a month to get the ball rolling.
A good place to start networking is with the subscription magazine The Informer (www.informer.it), an excellent resource for expat events and job postings, though most of its activities and classifieds are centered on Milan and Rome. Two groups in Florence may provide more local opportunities: Network and the American International League of Florence. Each organizes monthly meetings and social events. Vista magazine, founded by a Boston University alumna, focuses exclusively on Florence and Tuscany and offers editorial internships and freelance opportunities for writers. American universities can be another useful resource, although positions there are usually filled in house or within the Italian university system, as the University of Florence hosts some of the international study programs.
If you just want to live in Florence without advancing your career or do not speak Italian well, there are a lot of choices. Clothing stores and restaurants, especially those located Oltrarno, are always looking for English speakers. During the summer, when tourism is at its peak, local businesses need the most help. Inquire about being a bouncer or bartender at any of the bars or clubs in Florence. Nightlife isn't as big as in other Italian cities, such as Rome or Rimini, but once you meet the right people and gain their trust, you can easily work at any of the hotspots. Models for local artists and art schools are also in demand, with nude modeling offering higher pay rates. Be sure to visit the school or studio before agreeing to any sort of modeling job, and be wary of pseudo artists not everyone is the next Michelangelo.
Seasonal work is another possibility. Au pair positions are advertised for the summer and Christmas holidays and can last anywhere from one to six months. Work collecting chestnuts or helping with the grape harvest is available in Tuscan hill towns in the fall. Language schools look for English teachers in September and October. Tour director or leader positions are offered with local tour and guide companies throughout the year but especially in the summer and spring.
Register at an Internet cafe to keep up with your search. Hourly rates are relatively cheap and if you can often get a discount with your student ID card. The Internet Train (www.internettrain.it) offers fax, photocopy and printing services plus the usual office programs.
Step 3. Work to Live
Whatever type of job you land, remember to enjoy Florence while you work. The bi-monthly publications Firenze Spettacolo and Florence in Your Pocket both detail local nightlife, exhibits, festivals, concerts and even movies showing in English. Italy Daily, a section of the International Herald Tribune, features travel, politics and culture plus local and international news. Vista magazine also publishes a weekly calendar of exhibitions, fairs and concerts.
If you don't already have a guidebook or the English Yellow Pages, go to any of the English language bookstores (try Edison in Piazza della Repubblica). Look for an apartment in La Pulce, available at newsstands on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. La Pulce advertises all of the apartments, rooms and studios for rent plus real estate agencies that cater to foreigners and those looking for short term housing. You can also browse the bulletin boards at Internet cafes and university buildings for apartment listings, classes and concerts.
Preparation, creativity and flexible expectations will help you turn a daunting job market into an exciting opportunity. And then you can savor the tiramisu gelato and stroll along the Arno at sunset, which is why you wanted a job in Florence in the first place.
Photos (top to bottom) by: Akira Morita, Jeff Booth (2), Felix Petrelli