Living and working in Milan

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Milan is Italy's second largest city and has pretensions to be the most important. While Rome relaxes in its slow-paced and carefree attitude, Milan believes that its more conscientious hard work and status as a financial centre give it a right to capital status.

The rivalry is summed up in the joke told in Rome: &quotThe Romans used to have slaves now, we've got the Milanesi.&quot

It is true that Milan is better organised, has a more sophisticated feel and is the place where the big financial deals are put together. You are also less likely to find that the taxi driver takes you on the &quotscenic route&quot in Milan.

Lunch tends to take less time and the streets are full of people walking briskly and purposefully towards their next appointment, rather than full of tourists.

For those working in financial services and investment banking, the rivalry between the cities is of more than passing interest.

The stock market's most interesting new issues recently have been privatisation sales. The operational headquarters of many of the largest companies which have been privatised, or which will be, are in Rome.

The Alitalia shuttle is therefore often packed with bankers and fund managers headed for the capital to visit ministries and companies to discuss privatisations and bond issues.

Milan's financial district is its biggest asset (along with fashion and shopping). It is in the heart of the city with all facilities close at hand. It is also convenient for a quick flight to Rome, with the city airport only a twenty-minute taxi ride away.

The stock exchange (Borsa), investment houses, brokers and most of the big banks have their offices in a triangle between the La Scala opera house, the cathedral square (Piazza Duomo) and the castle (Castello).


This compact area, which is full of bars, restaurants and shops, makes for an intimate and relaxed environment where professionals can mingle.

Milan is the most cosmopolitan of Italian cities, largely because it is the centre of the fashion industry. The clubs and restaurants are regularly taken over by celebrities, models and designers during the shows.

Being the centre of finance and business adds to the feel that this is the Italian city with the most buzz. However, it is still a long way from achieving status as a world city. Outside the centre, it can have a distinctly provincial feel.

Milan sits in a hollow in the Po valley, surrounded on three sides by mountains. There is little wind and winters tend to be cold and foggy. In the full heat of summer the city becomes a sweltering sauna, with temperatures well over 30 degrees C.

Friends and relations are best advised to visit outside the hot months of July and August, when the Milanese wisely pack their families off to the seaside.


Italian is not a difficult language, particularly for those that know another Latin-based tongue, such as French or Spanish. However, almost all Italians who work in the world of corporate finance or fund management have enough English to make learning Italian unnecessary.

But it can be more problematic doing the shopping and everyday tasks without speaking it a little.


Milan is not particularly a city for children. The cold, airless days in winter help lock in fumes and smog created by traffic, industry and central heating. On several days a year parents are advised not to let their children play outside because of air pollution. There is also a lack of parks and other spaces where kids can let off steam.

That said, Milan is well-positioned for escape. The seaside is only an hour and a half away, some of the lakes even closer and ski resorts in Italy and Switzerland are easily reached for weekends away.

The city also boasts a good range of possibilities for schooling in French, German and other European languages. For English speakers, the Sir James Henderson School follows a mainly British syllabus, while the American School provides a more transatlantic education.

Many Italians send their children to the international schools, so there are plenty of opportunities for friendships with the locals.

There is also an International Health Centre, with family doctors, dentists, dermatologists and other specialists on hand.

Transport and Housing

A three-line underground system (Metropolitana) covers most central areas and one line goes right out of the city to country areas, including the cheese centre, Gorgonzola. There are also plenty of trams and buses.

Driving is not as chaotic as in some cities in the south. Taxis are numerous and have several preferential lanes which makes them quicker than private cars. A 20-minute crosstown journey costs $15-$25. There are several big car parks and a pay-as-you-park scheme in central areas, such as Malpensa.

Property taxes and a one-off transfer of ownership charge make buying accommodation expensive and only worthwhile if looked at as a long-term investment. Renting is often the best option.

For a three-bedroom apartment in the central area a minimum rent would be between three and four million lire a month (around $1,500-$2,000), though in some streets it can be much higher.

Living near the lakes around the city is a particularly attractive alternative. Lake Como is the nearest, although some people go as far as Lugano in Switzerland. There are also small towns just outside Milan, such as Arese, which have residential areas mainly populated by expatriates.


Milan is very image conscious. What you wear is important. Style is often more important than formality, although a tie is expected for men working in financial services and banking. Women have a lot more freedom, especially in the hot, muggy summers.

The city is well-served in terms of music with La Scala, one of Italy's best-known opera houses, the centre of events. The audiences, particularly the hard-core opera followers who sit in the cheapest seats, are famously critical of performances.

Some of the best opera singers have been booed there when they fail to perform well, but can also receive 15-minute standing ovations if they hit the right note.

Establishing a relationship with the people you come across in business is an essential part of working in Italy. Once someone &quotknows&quot you, even if only on a superficial basis, he or she is much more likely to respond positively the next time.

Formal forms in Italian are important. &quotCiao&quot is for friends and family while &quotBuongiorno&quot (Good day) or &quotBuona Sera&quot (Good evening) are expected for someone you do not know. The same distinction exists for &quottu&quot (informal you) and &quotlei&quot (formal). If in doubt let the other person make the first move towards informality.

Tax and work

Taxation in Italy is a complex tangle of rules and regulations designed to confuse even the most patient and competent. Employers should deal with all matters relating to taxation, but if this is not the case an Italian accountant will be happy to keep you right (for a price).

All foreign residents, both EU and non-EU nationals in Italy, need to apply for a permesso di soggiornio (residents permit). For EU nationals two photos, a passport and a letter from the employer are normally enough to get one from the local police station, although the application can be time-consuming.

For non-EU nationals, the application process needs to start before arrival in Italy, although employers should be able to deal with this. A work permit needs to be granted and included on a visa in the passport. Once in Italy it is the same procedure as for EU nationals, except there is a 20,000 lire stamp to pay.

For any bureaucratic problems the online publication The Informer can give valuable advice. Written in English, its editor has documented almost every conceivable topic linked to living and working in Italy.

The five best things about living/working in Milan:

Sea, mountains, lakes, nearby and cities such as Venice and Florence visitable in a weekend

Compact financial district where everything seems to be a short walk away

Music and opera

Most cosmopolitan of Italian cities

Italian regional cooking at its best in city restaurants

The five worst things about living/working in Milan:

Pollution and traffic

Not a pleasant environment for children

Lack of parks and green, open spaces

Inefficient public services


Major Financial Services Organisations:

Banca Intesa

SanPaolo IMI

UniCredito Italiano

Monte Paschi di Siena


Banca Popolare di Milano

Biggest foreign groups operating on Italian stock market:

Société Generale

Giubergia Warburg

Deutsche Bank


Merrill Lynch


Useful websites for further info on living and working in Milan:

Information sites:

Property and accommodation: (Italian)

Milan chamber of commerce:

American School of Milan:

British School:

British - American pre-school:

International Health Centre

Via S. Paolo 15, 20123 Milano

Tel: &#43433902 72004080