When people think of moving to Italy, Milan is rarely at the top of their list. It’s not the prettiest of cities; it lacks the ‘old Italy’ atmosphere of Tuscan villages, the history of Rome and the warm climate of Southern Italy.
However, if you take some time to look beyond its grey, buttoned-up exterior, Milan is a great place to live. It’s the perfect base to explore Northern Italy and most of Europe, with loads of low-cost airlines flying out of Milan’s airports. It’s about an hour away from the Alps, with many skiing and hiking opportunities.
On top of that, proficient English speakers can easily supplement their income by giving private English lessons. Those with a teaching qualification (preferably CELTA, online TEFL is rarely accepted) can also find work at one of Milan’s 200+ language schools. Without a teaching certificate, it’s easy to find work posting adverts at universities notice boards. Rates for private classes usually start at $30 per hour.
As an English teacher and a freelance photographer, what we earn is more than enough to live in Milan
Accommodation in Milan
Your rent is likely to take up a big chance of your monthly budget. Renting a studio flat in a semi-central area (about 15-20 mins from the centre by metro) will cost about $600 a month, rising to $950 for a one-bedroom apartment. Avoid areas near universities which tend to be even more expensive.
These costs can be reduced by renting in Milan’s suburbs (such as Cologno Monzese, Sesto San Giovanni or San Donato), but you’ll probably end up spending your rent savings to travel to and from the city.
An alternative could be renting a room in a shared house. A double room can be had for as little as $400, and with the economic crisis, shared houses are no longer the domains of students.
All the prices quoted are for long-term rentals, typically a year or more. Short-term rentals are often much more expensive.
Renting is usually done through estate agents, who will handle the contract and deal with the landlord for a (sometimes hefty) fee. Try to deal with the landlord directly if possible – you can find rent adverts on free press mags such as Easy Milan, or online (try kijiji.it). Whenever renting, you’re always asked to pay a deposit (1 to 3 months rent) and 1 or 2 months rent upfront.
If you’re living in an apartment, you’ll be paying a minimum $150 a month for ‘spese condominiali’ (building expenses), which usually include cleaning of common spaces, building maintenance, water and heating. This charge may or may not be included in your monthly payment, make sure you ask your landlord or estate agent before signing a contract.
Other utilities include electricity (from $100 for 2 months), gas ($60 for 2 months), broadband internet ($20 a month including landline). Mobile phone charges start from $12 per month with 1GB internet – hunt around for the best deal!
Finally (and this may come as a surprise) don’t forget to haggle a little bit for your rent! I’m not talking Morocco style haggle, just give a ‘counter proposal’ when you’re quoted your monthly rent price. Typically, your proposal will be 10% cheaper than the first offer. If the advert includes the word ‘trattabile’, your counter proposal is likely to be accepted. Otherwise, you can always try your luck!
Transport in Milan
Now, let’s move onto the good news! Public transport in Milan is cheap and efficient, and if you’re living in town, there’s usually no reason to own a car or take taxis.
A monthly ticket for all public transport (metro, trams and buses) costs only $42, and a single ticket valid for 90 mins is $1.80. Check this guide to Milan’s public transport to know more about how the system works (http://www.thecrowdedplanet.com/simple-guide-milan-public-transport/).
However, public transport only runs from 5-6 am to approximately 1 am. If you’re a night owl and wish to avoid Milan’s pricey taxis, car sharing is the ideal option. The two main providers are Enjoy and Car2Go. Enjoy is cheaper and doesn’t charge a sign-up fee, but has fewer cars. Car2Go is marginally more expensive but has loads of cars, and the same card can be used in other European cities.
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In both cases, fares are charged by the minute. A 20 min trip will cost about $7, about a quarter of what a taxi would charge.
Food in Milan
When it comes to food, the sky’s the limit in Milan. The best and cheapest produce can be found at street markets – wherever you’ll be living, there’s bound to be at least one market nearby, one day a week. Alternatively, you can opt for supermarkets; Esselunga and Coop are the best. And, of course, there are several local butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers and the like, although they tend to be more expensive than markets and supermarkets.
On an average month, our grocery household budget is about $250 for two people.
Eating out can be pricey in Milan, with restaurants in the city center charging a bare minimum of $35 per person with no drinks. Pizza restaurants, Chinese and ‘trattorie’ (traditional, family run restaurants) are cheaper, usually around $20-25 per person. Here are my five favorite trattorie, all charging less than €20 ($23) (http://www.thecrowdedplanet.com/5-best-trattoria-milan/).
Lunches can be surprisingly affordable, with most restaurants (even some luxury ones!) offering lunch deals with full menus around $10-20, sometimes including even wine and coffee!
Again, this can vary from nothing at all to hundreds, even thousands of dollars a month if you have a passion for luxury clubs and opera. Sightseeing can be very inexpensive, with all churches free of charge and museums/exhibition costing a maximum of $15 per person. Theatres can be pricey, especially the famous La Scala, but there are often deals available for standing tickets.
If nature is your thing, Milan’s parks are great places for a summer picnic, or you can opt for a bike ride along the Navigli, Milan’s artificial waterways, lined with cycle paths. Or you can hop on a local (‘regionale’) train and head to Como, Mantua or Bergamo for a day trip – a return ticket to any of these destinations would be about $15 per person.
Our Monthly Budget for 2 People Living in Milan
(excluding rent as we own our place) is about $800, broken down as follows:
$250 food and groceries
$200 eating out/entertainment
$84 two monthly public transport cards
$150 building expenses
$115 utilities and phone
We’re not extravagant people and we hardly ever splurge on fancy dinners, theatre, concerts or clubs. We prefer spending our free time in parks or hiking in the mountains. As an English teacher and a freelance photographer, what we earn is more than enough to live in Milan, giving us the chance to save money for travel each month!
This post is by Margherita Ragg of The Crowded Planet! The Crowded Planet focuses on nature and adventure travel, with an eye on sustainability. Margherita and Nick are both travel crazy and living in Milan, Italy. Follow them and their adventures on their website on follow along on Facebook.