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Interview with Brynna – an American expat living in Italy

Updated 6 Jun 2024

Brynna Rao is an American expat from Cheshire, Connecticut, the middle of three sisters, and an amateur windsurfer face-planting in a bay near you. Brynna began her expat lifestyle in 2017 – first in Tres Rios, Costa Rica for five years and then in Treviso, Italy in 2022. Brynna now calls Italy home and acquired her Italian dual citizenship by ancestry, honouring her Sicilian and Neapolitan great-grandparents. Professionally, Brynna is a global brand marketer, photographer and consultant for those looking to Live Abroad Young.

Keep up with Brynna's adventures in Italy on her Instagram. You can also check out the Italian For A While blog to learn more about living in Italy. For more on expat life, see our Expat Arrivals essential guide, Moving to Italy.

About Brynna

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Cheshire, Connecticut, USA

Q: What country and city did you move to?
A: Treviso, Italy

Q: When did you move?
A: June 2022

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No actually! I've been living abroad since 2017 – first in Costa Rica for five years and now in Italy!

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/partner or family?
A: I am fiercely independent (perhaps to a fault) and moved alone. It's never lonely. Most of my travels are solo as well – I meet people along the way. Makes for great stories.

Q: Reason for moving?
A: Acquiring my Italian dual citizenship and honestly just because I love this area of Italy.

Living in Italy

Q: Have you had any low points? What do you miss most about home?
A: Getting familiar with the tax system in Italy was a doozy – especially learning about how to run a freelance business. From home, I miss many family events and milestones, especially seeing my 2-year-old niece, Violet, grow up.

Q: What misconceptions about Italy, if any, have you learned were not true?
A: Some individuals believe that Italians are abrasive and judgmental; however, to me, the people are welcoming and caring.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Italy? Did you experience culture shock at all?
A: I didn't experience culture shock; however, establishing your community is always an adjustment. I actually found some of my best friends by joining expat groups and meetups in my area. We now get together every weekend.

Q: What are your favourite things to do on the weekend? Any particular places or experiences you’d recommend to fellow expats?
A: On the weekend, I enjoy meeting up with fellow expats and Italian friends for an aperitivo, dinner, a picnic, a long walk along Fiume Sile, or a hike. I recommend attending expat events in your area or taking an in-person language class. I've easily made friends through both of those avenues. If you're ever planning to visit Venice, don't miss visiting Treviso – it's an adorable town that is a 30-minute train ride from Venezia.

Q: What's the cost of living in Italy compared to home? Are there specific things that are especially expensive or cheap there?

A: The cost of living in northern Italy is fairly high. Food and my apartment are cheaper than in the United States. I pay EUR 600 for a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment. Keep in mind that this increases drastically if it's in a larger Italian city. For groceries, I eat quite clean and food costs EUR 40 per week for me. If you eat more processed foods, then you can expect a higher food bill.

Q: What’s public transport like in Treviso and across Italy?
A: Most individuals have a car in the Treviso region; however, I enjoy walking, riding my bike, or taking the bus or train. Public transportation is exceptionally accessible, even from the smaller town I live in.

Q: What do you think of the healthcare available in your current country of residence? What should expats expect from local doctors and hospitals?

A: Obviously, healthcare is much more affordable and accessible in Italy than in the United States. I dislocated my knee while skiing in the Dolomites in January 2023 and was not billed for any evacuation or medical costs to sled me off the mountain, x-ray my knee twice, relocate my knee, or for painkillers. I only paid for supplies like crutches, braces, and medication at the pharmacy.

I would say that occasionally, the level of medical expertise and care is lacking in Italy. For example, my Italian orthopaedic surgeon recommended I return to the US as outcomes and specialisations in performing knee cartilage repairs were better with certain US surgeons. In another instance, my physical therapist's mother informed me that I was prescribed outdated medication based on current medical case studies.

Lastly, after my knee was relocated in the emergency room in Italy, I could not walk but was not provided crutches at the hospital. Before I could leave, my father had to go out to the pharmacy in a snowstorm, and I would not have been able to get the crutches myself to leave if my father wasn't visiting me.

Q: What’s the standard of housing like in Treviso? What different options are available?
A: I live in a two-bedroom apartment and I love the high ceilings, drying rack above the sink (in the cupboard), better recycling systems, and affordable rent. Typically, you either rent or own in my area. I will say that the gas bills are crazy in the winter. My gas bill for December and January was over EUR 1,000.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: I recommend the suburbs around Treviso. There are two international airports within five to 30 minutes and the area is gorgeous.

Meeting people and making friends in Italy

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: It was easy making friends in my area – it helps when you know where to look! I recommend Facebook expat groups, in-person language classes, or a local community for your favourite hobby. For example, you can join a yoga class or a golf club.

Q: Have you made friends with locals, or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: In Facebook expat groups, often there are locals that join because they speak English and want to practice. So, I've made many local friends through the expat community. Oftentimes, you can hear three languages spoken in a single conversation. I speak English and Spanish, and I am learning Italian.

Working in Italy

Q: How easy or difficult was getting a work permit and/or visa? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I moved to Italy to apply for my dual Italian citizenship via ancestry (aka jure sangunis). It was a lengthy process to acquire documents from my Italian lineage, amend a few for misspellings, and officially file here in Italy. It took over 1,000 hours of work over the course of two years to research, prepare my papers, file, and obtain my carta d'identita, passaporto, and tessera sanitaria (health insurance card). I learned about the jure sanguinis citizenship process in 2020 during Covid when I was isolating and researching where I could move next post-Covid. I found this was an option for me, given my Sicilian and Neapolitan heritage, and went for it. When I set my mind to a goal, I achieve it.

Q: What is the economic climate in the city like?
A: There is quite a bit of a small business turn around in northeastern Italy. You often see small businesses closing shop and another opening in its place. Due to high business costs and a challenging tax system, it is extremely difficult to break through.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: If you're looking for in-person work, you absolutely need a high fluency and business fluency in Italian. I work remotely from home, which is called "smart working" in Italy. As a professional digital marketer, I have two clients currently – one is a sports marketing agency in the United States, and the other is a gap year and study abroad language immersion programme for all ages here in Italy, called Italian for a While.

Final thoughts

Q: Any advice you'd like to offer to new arrivals in your current country of residence?
A: If you don't speak Italian yet and need help with government communications or logistics, hire a local translator to come to real estate viewings, appointments (even to book appointments), or to file documents – a very helpful resource! In the Veneto region, I recommend translator Elena Finco at Finking.

Elena even helped drive me to my orthopaedic surgeon appointments when I was recovering from my knee injury – I literally sat across the back seat of her car and she helped translate to ensure I understood everything at my orthopaedic visit.

If you are looking to scope out if moving to Italy is right for you, check out Italian for a While (IFA). Brian Viola and the IFA team help match individuals of all ages with the right Italian city or town for them and manage the accommodation, help with visa, logistics, and enrol you into local Italian language classes.

An IFA experience is ideal for those looking to learn the Italian language and live the Italian lifestyle. It's open to work professionals, retirees, students, and more for anywhere from one week to a full year. I visited IFA's Milan offices in April 2024 and was so impressed. Each IFA staff member has their own gap year or study abroad experience, which is why they're so dedicated to helping others experience the same thing in their home country.

►Interviewed June 2024

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