Home to haunting ruins, rich in history and revolutionary art, and known for its delicious cuisine and vibrant street life, Italy’s glorious capital is one of the world’s most visited and inspiring cities. With so much going on, moving here as an expat can be an initial challenge, but with some perseverance, you’re sure to find home in Rome.
To help you settle into your new home and navigate your way around this iconic city, here are some key things about Rome that you need to know.
Getting to know a country’s culture can be an exciting and eye-opening experience, and there’s surely no better way to immerse yourself than to try the delicious local cuisine. In Rome, this can be easily achieved, and you’re bound to enjoy every second (or every bite).
Pasta, of course, is a very well loved dish and is often served cold, like the typical Roman dish, pasta alla checca, which is made with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil leaves – perfect as a main course and ideal for vegetarians. If you’re moving with children, there are many great dishes on offer to help ease them in to traditional Roman cuisine. One such dish is oven baked tomatoes filled with rice and served with scrumptious baked potatoes – loved by kids and gluten free.
Rome’s pan-fried entrees are an absolute classic and must-try. “From supplì, a delicious croquette made of rice and filled with mozzarella cheese, to fried zucchini flowers packed with mozzarella and anchovies, to baccalà, the salted codfish fillet, you won’t be disappointed”.
You’re bound to discover all kinds of irresistible street food when wandering the winding streets of Rome. One typical culinary delight you’re sure to come across is pizza al taglio, a flat pizza cut into squares, with all manner of toppings. You’ll find it everywhere and at all times, and it will always be hard to resist.
The Roman classic that cannot be missed is the carbonara – a savoury and creamy pasta dish with egg, pecorino, black pepper and jowl bacon. Pay attention to imitations, if there is cream in it, it’s not carbonara!. A dish that’s somewhat unique to Rome, and very hard to find elsewhere in Italy, is pasta cacio e pepe, a spaghetti dish made with melted cheese and mixed with black pepper – an absolute must try.
Another unique local dish is gnocchi alla romana, very different from other types of gnocchi, this one is made with semolina and oven baked with butter and parmigiano. It’s the typical Sunday family meal – impossible not to like.
With all kinds of delicious and traditional local food available, you’re sure to settle into Rome’s culinary culture in no time.
Healthcare in Rome
Knowing how to access the city’s healthcare facilities and keeping well-informed about the country’s healthcare system is essential for expats, especially if something were to happen and you found yourself in need of emergency care. Italy’s national health service, known as Servizio Sanitario Nationale (SSN) offers low-cost or free healthcare to citizens and residents.
Italian law recognizes health as a fundamental right and anyone present in Italy is entitled to a form of healthcare. Expats in Rome can register with the national health service which allows them to access primary care at very low fees, with many services free of charge.
Expats may experience language barriers: accessing a public hospital can be a great source of stress as language barriers can be severe and it’s hard for doctors and nurses to be reassuring when they have no common language with the patient. Although, as Rome is an international city with millions of travelers and a vast community of expats, there are some private medical services dedicated to English speakers.
To avoid tourist traps, it’s important to check the reputation of the doctors and services you are contacting. As well as private healthcare options, there are associations available where you can find English-speaking doctors.
Waiting times can also be an issue, which is why you may want to consider taking out expat health insurance to avoid long waiting times and ensure you can access high-quality facilities and services.
Roman eating customs and habits
Italians consider food a sacred topic, full of tradition and unbreakable rules – because of this, it’s important to get to know a few cultural dos and don’ts when it comes to dining. Try putting grated parmesan cheese on top of pasta with seafood and see the reaction of your Italian friends – you may need to find new friends after this experiment.
In Rome, as well as Italy as a whole, eating is the heart of all social life. It’s very uncommon to find an Italian eating alone at a restaurant, instead, food is enjoyed together. Even on business trips people tend to group together to socialize during meals, and ‘breakfast at the bar’ is typically used as a chance for a quick chat at the counter with colleagues before work.
Romans usually have a light and fast lunch between 1pm and 2pm, and have a large yet late dinner never earlier than 8pm. In the summer months, dinner can even start as late as 10pm. So don’t be surprised if a restaurant looks empty around 8pm – it doesn’t mean it’s not popular, it’s just because Italians tend to eat later.
When dining out, the menu and the waiter will often guide you towards following the traditional order of dishes: starter, first course, second course with side dish, fruit or dessert, coffee, herbal liqueur to help with digestion. It’s also not polite to leave food and waiters get very worried if you do, thinking that something was wrong and you didn’t like the food. It’s better to order fewer plates and then add more if needed.
Dress code in restaurants can vary greatly, but as a rule of a thumb, if the restaurant is indoors with linen and elegant cutlery, men are expected to wear long pants and closed shoes.
What many non-Italians think of as ‘authentic Italian dishes’ are not as Italian as you may have thought, and you’ll never find them in local restaurants. To name a few: spaghetti meatballs, chicken parmesan, pasta Alfredo, pineapple pizza. If you do see these options on the menu, you can be certain it’s a tourist trap!.
Seen more as a social event then, eating is an important part of Italian culture, and something you’re sure to enjoy getting used to and being a part of when moving here.
Family life and education in Rome
Family is an extremely important value within the Italian culture. Family in Italy, extends much further than ‘immediate family’ (mother, father, children). Instead, the notion of ‘family’ in Italy, encompasses both immediate and extended family members. Italian families regularly gather together, not only for special occasions and events, but for casual get-togethers too.
When it comes to education, expats will find a large selection of public, private, international and bilingual schools in Rome.
The public or state education system in Italy is highly regarded and is on par with the standards that you’ll find in private schools, because both receive state funding. Plus, public education is free from primary school to university and is available to foreigners, so if you’re staying for the long run, you may want to opt for the public option. Not only will it help your children integrate, but they will also grasp the language quickly, because pupils are taught in Italian.
If you’d prefer your children to be taught in their native tongue for more ease, there are plenty of international schools in Rome which are of a high standard. While international schools do come at a price, your children will benefit from small class sizes and high quality facilities.
Finding home in Rome through the city’s vibrant endless streets, squares, museums and historic ruins, does come with its challenges. But with an open-mind and some perseverance, you’re sure to find yourself living like a local in no time.