Italy is an incredible country in which to study for your PhD, with its rich culture and history there's plenty of opportunities to draw material relevant to your doctoral project from just being there.
Many may think that living in Italy is expensive. Well, first of all if your idea of living in Italy is to have your morning coffee on St Mark’s Square in Venice, you’re likely to be right. Secondly, compared to other European countries and certainly compared to destinations such as Singapore or Japan, Italy is relatively cheap. Obviously, how much it costs to live in Italy is largely dependent on your lifestyle and where you choose to study. Eating local produce and using public transportation makes living in Italy very affordable. Outside of the tourist hotspots (and therefore where you’ll get to experience a much more genuine Italian culture), you don’t have to spend a fortune. Well-known for their cuisine, Italians are passionate about good food, even in markets and small establishments. If you like to eat out, restaurants are very accessible to most budgets and you can get a decent two course meal for two with drinks for around €20-30.
Universities will provide students with long-term and short-term accommodation solutions, either directly or through arrangements with public or private organisations. Universities often have a housing office which will advise students on accommodation alternatives, such as those listed below. They will offer you legal advice service if you choose to live in privately-owned apartments and need help in negotiating, understanding and fulfilling tenancy contracts.
Not all universities offer these but when universities have their own residences, these tend to be close to the campus and provide all the facilities (social and academic) students need. In general, to be eligible for this type of accommodation, you will have to meet certain criteria of academic merit and to demonstrate financial need.
Prices for university-owned accommodation ranges from €5,000/academic year for a single room in a hall of residence or in a shared student flat to €7,000/academic year for a studio flat.
These organisations can be public and private but tend to have dedicated arrangements with universities which reserve rooms for their students.
Although this may sound unusual, this type of accommodation tends to be very well located. You may not need to be a practicing member of the order’s faith but you will be expected to be respectful of others’. If you are of the quieter type, this can be a good option, although you will have to adhere to certain rules (such as a curfew). You’ll also find a strong sense of community (generally based around a common religious set of beliefs, if that’s what you are looking for).
There may additional criteria to be eligible to reside in these residences, such as gender (some are female-only) or study-level (Masters only, or all graduate levels).
Rent for private accommodation will vary widely, depending on location and size. As an indication, you’ll be expected to pay an average €600/month for a 1-bed flat. If you are going through a letting agent, an admin fee will be charged. In addition to rent, tenants must have compulsory insurance and pay service charges (spese). Service charges usually include heating, hot water, rubbish removal, upkeep of grounds and gardens, use of lift, communal lighting and maintenance, and possibly a caretaker service. Service charges will range from €20 to €200 per month (and it is wise to ask to see a copy of the bills from the previous year).
You are strongly recommended to check exactly what is included in the rent. As a general rule, you will be responsible for utilities such as gas, electricity and water. On signing a lease, you should ask to see proof that the utility bills have been paid by previous tenants to avoid being liable.
Not all has to be done through rental agents or private landlords. Why not check noticeboards at your university for rooms available in shared flats? Also organisations such as the association “Sportello Casa” in Turin, offers international students free assistance in finding apartments and rooms in the city. Check online or with your university’s housing office if there is something similar in the city you’re going to live in.
Unless you can secure a room in a university residence, you will find it difficult to arrange for accommodation before you arrive in Italy. This means you’ll need temporary accommodation on arrival. Some regional authorities provide temporary lodgings, reserved for those with work and/or professional training commitments and for graduates attending postgraduate courses in the region’s universities.
Universities themselves may have short-term accommodation and most universities will reserve guest rooms for researchers, doctoral students and university consultants who are working or studying at the University for a limited period. This type of accommodation may also be available to visiting family members of those living in university residences). Universities sometimes enter into agreements with local hostels (ostelle) in order to guarantee accommodation at special rates. Check with the housing office of your institution.
In Italy, healthcare is provided as a public service. The public healthcare system in Italy is excellent. As non-Italian citizen studying in Italy, you can apply to have access to this service at your local ASL (National Health Care Service) to have a family doctor/general practitioner. However:
If you are from the European Union, then you can stay in Italy without any restrictions and without the need to get a student visa. You will, however, need to hold a valid identity card or passport and to register your residency with your local police station or town hall once you have an address in Italy.
For those of you from outside the EU, you will need to apply for a student visa (although in some cases if you are a full-time employed doctoral researcher, you may have to apply for a work visa under the category for Subordinate Employment which comprises researchers). This can be done at an Italian embassy or consulate in your home country. Considering the length of time needed to obtain your visa (a minimum of 3 months), you are advised to apply as soon as you have received and accepted your offer of admission which is itself required for your visa application. Below is the procedure for a Student Visa (Extracted from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website). Student visas are free of charge, although renewals (if needed), cost €60. You will need:
If you are in receipt of a bursary, scholarship or grant from any organisation, the procedure is a little different (you must select the correct Study Visa option) and you will need:
What you get is not just an Italian visa but a Schengen visa which allows holders to move freely (i.e. without having to apply for another visa) within the Schengen area. Note that the UK and Ireland are NOT members of the Schengen agreement.
A student visa (as long as it is over 1 year in duration) allows family members to apply for a visa (each will have to apply for a family visa from the home country). The procedure is simpler but there is a €60 fee.
Once in Italy, holders of study visas (and family members, if applicable) MUST register with the local authorities (at a police station or town hall) to obtain a residence permit (Permesso di soggiorno).
In order to be able to open a bank account (and a telephone or mobile phone account and even electric or gas accounts), you will need to have an Italian tax code (Codice fiscale).
The Codice Fiscale is a personal code (combination of numbers and letters) which identifies each individual person in Italy when dealing with public offices and/or administration. Your Italian Tax Code can be requested from the Revenues Agency (Agenzia delle Entrate).
Each bank will have an application procedure but you are likely to require your passport (and visa, if applicable), proof that you are registered with the local police/town hall, proof of address and your enrolment documents. Your bank at home may have branches in Italy so it is worth checking if you can make arrangements to open an account with your bank in Italy before you leave.
When opening a bank account in Italy (which you will require if you are in receipt of a scholarship, a PhD salary or payment for teaching and other activities), you should ask for a Bancomat card, which allows you to withdraw cash and to pay for goods and services. Having a debit card is not free and you will have to pay an annual or quarterly fee. Note that if you withdraw cash from a cash dispenser which does not belong to your bank you will probably be charged a small fee. Most banks open from 8:30am - 13:30, and then in the afternoon (for varying periods of times) with a lunch closure (for one - two hours).
Italy is well connected to major cities around the world and benefits from an excellent transport network. With its location in Europe, it is easy to get access to other European countries, by train, bus, boat or plane, a very useful thing if you are planning on using some of your time exploring the region. Within Italy, the rail network is excellent and with the high speed trains being available on most routes, you can move around very easily. For example, it now only takes 3.5 hours to get to Rome from Florence.
Italy’s plentiful offering of things to do and places to see needs no introduction. From the North with the Alps and the lakes to the coast and the Southern landscape, via the rich regions of Tuscany and Liguria, Italy has an amazing array of landscapes to discover. The diversity of regional food is a direct result of the landscape so if you have an interest in Italian food, you’ll find something different in each region. Even pasta shapes have regional influences! It is fantastic to watch family and friends arguing, generally involving a copious amount of hand talking, over a recipe!
Italy has numerous historic sites and natural beauty spots. Ski resorts, indoor and outdoor sports, beaches, volcanoes, hilltop villages, dynamic and fashionable cities, medieval sites and Roman architecture are just a few of the things you’ll be able to indulge in while you are studying in Italy. Another national obsession is football and whether or not you are an aficionado, why not go to a game to see what it is all about?
More than just a tourist destination, the country itself can provide you with amazing resources for your research. Environment, agriculture, nutrition, architecture, medieval and Roman history are but a few of the subjects where you can draw material relevant to your doctoral project directly from being in Italy.