As an Afghan, I guess it’s pretty normal that moving to Rome has meant embracing a whole new lifestyle and that almost everything I do here is unusual to me. While Europeans or Americans would have an easier go in adjusting to life in Italy, I’m sure other Afghans or Asians, in general, will totally hear me, so keep on reading as I’m about to give you some useful tips on how to adjust to life in Italy.
We were still on the airplane we took from our Istanbul layover when I realized how beautiful Rome was. Its night view was gorgeous and made me long to see its daily counterpart. After five years, I have managed to see many Italian regions and have been exploring my new home far and wide as much as I can. And when we are not traveling, we love to navigate our own city, Rome, with our toddler.
For those who are thinking about or preparing to move to Rome, here are my tips, my experience and some suggestions, whether you come from a “similar” environment or from a more conservative background like I did. Along with practical advice, I will also share some culture-shock-related cues hoping to help you arrive more prepared.
Moving to Rome from abroad – An easy guide
Register your presence with the local police
Depending on your visa and nationality, you will have to register your presence on Italian soil with the local police within the first 8 days of your arrival. You will know about this before arriving as there is a footnote on the same application form. Usually, you will need to do that if you are staying at friends’ or family’s, while if you are at hotels’, they will take care of it for you.
In case you need to do it by yourself, you can check out this link to find the address of the police station in your area.
Get your permit to stay
Chances are that your entry visa in Italy will be, like mine, valid for three months (90 days). After that, you will need a permesso di soggiorno (or carta di soggiorno if you are married to an Italian). The process to get it might be intimidating due to all the needed red tape and appointments scheduling, but for me, it was quite smooth since my wife is Italian and knew where to go.
If you are moving to Rome, you will need to go to the Questura di Roma Ufficio Immigrazione (Via Teofilo Patini) before your visa expires to get your residence permit. There, the police will guide you through the process, takes your fingerprints to register you to the biometrics system and will give you the next appointments for more papers (for me was the transcription of our marriage certificate from Afghanistan to Italy) and finally to hand you your permit. The renewal of which can be done at your local police station (Questura or Commissariato) by paying a specific fee (bollettino) at the Post Office and, with the receipt, booking an appointment directly at the station.
Get your legal residence
Once your residence permit is finalized, you need to get your docs in order with the local municipality, Comune di Roma. Depending on what’s your district (Circoscrizione or Municipio), find your local office and submit all your documents in order to apply for the national ID (Carta d’Identità) and to register your residency address.
Once you are registered, a police officer from the municipality will come to check if you actually live there. If you are out at the time of the visit, you have a limited time slot to show up at the municipality to confirm you have received the notification.
Get your fiscal code and health card
I’m not sure how long you are actually going to stay in Italy and how your health and welfare are covered, but if you are thinking about long-term or permanent, you will need what in Italy is called Codice Fiscale, fiscal code. This is issued by the tax office (Agenzia delle Entrate) for which you also need to find your local branch (mine was the big division in Via Aurelia).
Bring your Codice Fiscale to your local health department (ASL) and apply for your healthcare card, Tessera Sanitaria, also used to access digital public services (Carta dei Servizi). A bit of red tape but once you are into the necessary steps, it all goes smoothly.
Choose your Rome neighborhood
Whether you are moving here for a long period of time or permanently for, say, family matters, or you are staying only short term, you definitely need to pick where to stay in Rome carefully.
If you are deciding where to stay on holiday, probably the city center is your best bet. But if you are actually moving to Rome as an expat, you might want to consider other districts.
We live in northern Rome, quite in the suburbs, and have no need to get downtown unless we want to. Wherever you decide to stay, you will find every public and private service as well as store you might need.
Living out of the city center has the great perk of being much cheaper and still not too far from historical and artistic landmarks. Places like the northern Monte Mario area or southern EUR will give you the vibe of living in a smaller area than the huge city of Rome.
Eating your way around the Italian capital
Starting with the way I eat, in Afghanistan not only do we have different dishes but also different eating manners. Namely, I usually use my hands or spoon and fork, while here pretty much everything (except soups!) is eaten using a fork and knife, which I used to find a bit hard.
Thankfully, I got used to it pretty quickly, and I think the delicious dishes of the Italian cuisine helped a lot with my adapting process. Plus, it’s totally OK to eat pizza with your hands, so all the better!
Rome boasts a huge diversity of different restaurants and eateries, and street food also plays a big role. From luxury restaurants to Roman cheap eats, local chefs are masters in pleasing everyone’s taste and preferences from seafood treats to Roman traditional dishes.
Make sure you read our complete guide to the best restaurants in Rome.
Adopting the Italian dress code (as an Afghan)
This requires no sacrifice at all, and I’m quite sure I can speak for both men and women. Whether you are from another Western country or from a more traditional place like me, you will soon be happy to see that in Italy, you can wear whatever you want.
Pretty much like for the eating manners, no one cares how you dress either, and this, for someone like me who’s coming from a country where everyone seems interested to see how much of your skin you manage to cover, turned out to be pretty relaxing.
As a matter of fact, if you are moving to Rome or even only visiting Italy, I recommend you save some money and do your shopping here as they have good brands, fair prices and elegant styles. There are many places to do your shopping although if you want to go somewhere to both enjoy some old Roman vestiges and spoil yourself, do pop in Via Del Corso and the surrounding Tridente streets.
Mornings are for the elder
A bit of explanation is needed here. The first mornings I was in Rome, I couldn’t resist but point out the lack of youth I was seeing on the streets, blaming the economic recession for making parents decide not to have children. As I was noticing mainly elders walking their cute little dogs, my wife explained to me that minors are not supposed to hang out in the streets in the morning, as their place is in school.
Fair enough, in Italy people definitely breed less than in Afghanistan, and kids have mandatory classes every morning.
It was only around lunchtime, after school, that I had the chance to see spoiled teenagers shouting at each other while waiting for the train to go home. There, I understood what my wife meant by referring to them as spoiled kids.
They were all aged between 15 and 18 and were smoking cigarettes, cursing each other and shouting. They had no respect for anyone. It wasn’t just one or two, almost all of them were behaving like that. Coming from Afghanistan, a country that has been at war for 40 years and really can’t afford much frills and extravagance, it was the first time I had seen such a spoiled young generation.
The public transport doesn’t live up to the expectations
One of the things you have to know when moving to Rome is that the public transport works mainly in the city center but it’s pretty unreliable as soon as you get further to the suburbs or beyond the “walls”, as Romans say referring to the historical districts.
We live close to the outskirts and it’s not uncommon to wait for some 40 minutes for the bus. Or just to give up and change means of transportation. If you are just going out for fun, not much harm, but when you have office times and appointments, this can mean trouble. When we were going to register my presence at the local police station, in fact, after waiting for almost an hour we gave up waiting for the bus and headed to the train station to continue the rest of the journey.
It did strike me though, that a young guy (definitely NOT a homeless) carrying a bag full of bottles of alcohol got on our same crowded bus. Although stinking as if he had been drinking his whole life and hadn’t taken a shower for weeks, no one said a word to him while sitting in the middle of the bus, he turned on the music on his smartphone on high volume without the earphones. He had so little balance that when the bus braked suddenly in the middle of traffic he almost rolled down on the floor but the other passengers kept ignoring him and his behavior to avoid a nasty confrontation.
For sure, more reliable than the buses are the trains, fast and comfortable.
Anyway, since the taxi is way too expensive to make it your daily transportation service unless you have a car and drive in Rome, you have no other option than to rely on public transport. The ticket is €1.50 for 100 minutes and it’s valid for one metro ride, one urban train ride and as many bus rides within 100 minutes of the first validation.
If you are staying for a long time or actually moving here, I suggest you buy the monthly ticket to the Rome transport system as it’s only 35€ and you can take anything from the metro to the train, from the tram to the buses, saving you a lot of money.
Make sure you read our handy guide to using the Rome metro.
When moving to Rome, learn some Italian
Either if you are on holiday or especially if you are moving to Rome, I suggest you learn some Italian phrases. I’m lucky my wife speaks Italian, because not everyone here speaks English, especially in non-tourist areas. Obviously, if you are here short-term you won’t be able to do a course, so learn some common words and sentences before coming, while if you are about to start your life in Italy, I do recommend signing up for a course to be able to live without the need of a translator and even take an Italian driving license.
Take an Italian driving license!
Directly linked to the above-mentioned point, if you are moving to Rome, chances are you will need to drive at some point. If you are from a country with an agreement with Italy and hold an international driving license, this will be valid for a year (mine from Afghanistan was never recognized). After that, you will still need to take an Italian driving license.
For this, you need to speak one of the three official languages in Italy, meaning Italian, French or German. Unfortunately, the theory exam is not in English, so you should better start studying Italian right now since it’s pretty tough. I surprised everyone when I passed with only one error on the first go and all my classmates (Italian) haven’t. But I remember that was a tough two months of studying, memorizing and exam-testing. I highly recommend enrolling in a driving school to have a professional backing you up and giving tips on understanding the exam questions.
Once the theory quiz is done, you are given a pink paper (foglio rosa) that enables you to drive with someone who has been holding a driving license for at least 10 years in the passenger seat. After some 8 to 10 practical lessons, you will take a practical exam. The examiner will sit at the back of the car and your instructor next to you. If you already know how to drive, this will be a piece of cake. At least, for me, it was, even though I saw someone failing there, too.
Grocery shopping in Rome
In the capital of Italy, grocery shopping is always a pleasure. If you live close to a local Roman food market (mercato rionale), I highly recommend you buy there your groceries as they usually sell locally sourced products. Otherwise, big stores like Conad, Carrefour, Pam or the full-organic NaturaSì (my wife’s favorite) are all a sound choice for finding pretty much anything.
Enjoy your new home!
Chaotic, loud, messy. Rome is all this plus gorgeous. I’ve heard many people say they would never live in Rome because too big and difficult to navigate. While this might be true, as of now, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Rome is big, indeed, but every neighborhood has a life of its own with all the facilities one may need.
On top of this, if it’s one of the world’s favorite tourist destinations there must be a good reason for it. Of course, living in Rome doesn’t mean I’m on a perpetual holiday. I have my job and we are always busy with our daily chores. But whenever we have some free time, I love getting out and enjoying the city. We have seen, explored, and photographed so much and much more is yet to be discovered. Among historical landmarks, artistic masterpieces, fantastic restaurants, great neighborhoods to dig in, and plenty of events and exhibitions, a lifetime is hardly enough to fully explore Rome.