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A PhD Student's Guide to Living in Italy

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

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.

Cost of living

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.

University residences

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.

Student residences (not managed by universities)

These organisations can be public and private but tend to have dedicated arrangements with universities which reserve rooms for their students.

  • ESU is a regional agency for the right to study. It manages the university halls of residences for “commuting” students who have enrolled at “local universities” and have been awarded a regional grant (which international students can apply for but which are means-tested). There are two tariffs, one full-price and one reduced (taking into account regional housing bursaries). At full rate, the cost ranges from €4,000/academic year for a shared triple room with communal facilities to up to €10,000/academic year for a single room with your own facilities.
  • Other organisations such as the ones designated “Collegio Universitario” offer small student residences with all the amenities you would expect (although the quality may vary), including libraries and sports facilities. These organisations are connected to one or several universities in their area and tend to be not-for-profit organisations. Prices will vary considerably depending on the location and the type of building (anything from €250/month for a shared double room with shared facilities to€500+/month for private rooms with private facilities).
  • CamplusCityHeart is a private student residence accommodation provider. They operate in several Italian cities and offer good standards of living accommodation and services, including cleaning and laundry services. Prices (inclusive of utilities and services) are around €680/month for a 1-bed flat to €1,300/month for a 3-bed flat.

Student accommodation offered by religious orders

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).

Private flats/apartments

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.

Temporary accommodation

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:

  • EU students must provide documents which shows their healthcare status in their home country to ensure full access to the Italian system. These documents (charmingly named forms E106/E109/E120/E121/E33/E37) can be requested from your public healthcare organisation back home.
  • Non-EU student (as a condition of their Residency Permit) are required to have a health insurance policy valid for the entire duration of your stay in Italy. This policy may not cover you for everything (for example medication costs) so once you get your residence permit, you can register for ASL to ask for a family doctor/general practitioner and receive healthcare assistance in Italy.

Visa and immigration

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:

  • Visa application form.
  • Recent passport-style photo.
  • Passport or travel document valid for at least three months after visa expiry date.
  • Proof of means of support in Italy of not less than €417.30 for each month of the academic year as demonstrated by proof of personal or family resources or guarantee of financial resources by accredited Italian institutions or agencies, local governments, or foreign institutions or agencies considered trustworthy by the Italian Diplomatic Representation.
  • Declaration of the availability in Italy of appropriate lodgings.

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:

  • Proof of having been awarded a study grant by the Italian government, recognized foundations or cultural institutes, international organizations, foreign governments or universities. Where the amount of the grant is in need of supplementation (for example if it is a fee-only bursary) and to satisfy the required amount of means of support, financial resources can also be demonstrated by proof of available means of support for the stay in Italy of an amount not less than that established in Table A annexed to Ministry of Interior Directive 1.3.2000; or by proof of personal or family resources; or bank or insurance warranty or equivalent credit document; or traveller’s cheques;  or other documentation proving the availability of sources of income in Italy (by means of bank transfer or deposit from abroad).
  • The funds necessary for repatriation, possibly to be demonstrated in the form of a return airline ticket.
  • Insurance coverage for medical treatment and/or hospitalisation, to be demonstrated by means of a consular declaration attesting to the applicant’s right to healthcare in the presence of specific agreements between Italy and the applicant’s country of origin; or foreign insurance policy or one underwritten by Italian bodies (must include emergency hospitalisation coverage as a minimum).

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).

Travelling and discovering Italy

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.

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