Living In Como, Italy As An Expat

One of the more exclusive and upmarket areas of Italy - Lake Como - has always attracted expats and celebrities alike. Read what it is like living on Lake Como and whether it's the right area for you.

Como offers expats an exclusive lifestyle.

Como is a city and commune in northern Italy and is home to several renowned Italian hotspots. While it might not be everyone’s first choice, it has plenty to offer that you simply can’t find elsewhere.

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But what does living in Como, Italy, look like for an expat? Well that’s the question we’ll answer in this guide.

We’ll cover important topics like the best places to settle down, the cost of living, and some useful tips for buying property in the area.

What is it like to live in Como, Italy?

Living in Como, Italy, is a great choice for those who want an outdoor lifestyle with plenty of culture peppered throughout. It’s close to Lake Como, Milan, and the Alps, which gives you the best of everything Italy has to offer in one region.

The city of Como is in Lombardy, an administrative region in northwest Italy. Lombardy is also home to Bergamo and Brescia, two more popular northern Italian towns.

Living in Como, Italy
Streets of Como in a festive Christmas period

One of the biggest draws of Como is its proximity to Switzerland and the Alps more generally. This makes it a good option for those who want an Italian lifestyle but want easy connections to other European countries. Of course, the Alps offer plenty of good skiing opportunities too.

The city of Como on the southern coast of Lake Como, which is a beautiful Alpine lake. It’s a massive lake that has plenty of holiday villas along its coastline, making for a quick and easy getaway from city life.

One of the area’s main draws is its scenery. If you’ve ever visited pre-Alpine Italy then you’ll know exactly why this is the case. The rolling hills and lush greenery make a significant change from the drier climates of southern Italy, and the Swiss influence is certainly noticeable in the architecture too.

While the weather in Como is similar to the rest of northern Italy, its proximity to Lake Como keeps things a bit cooler. That said, average summer temperatures are around 20 degrees, so it’s not exactly freezing. Expect plenty of snow in the winter, though.

The city is known in Italy for its artistic and cultural heritage. Como Cathedral is a large 14th-century Gothic cathedral that draws in a large number of tourists each year. There are many other historic religious buildings worth visiting along with a range of art history museums.

What’s more, living in Como puts you only an hour’s drive from Milan, the fashion capital of Europe. Shopping here will set you back quite a bit, but it’s worth visiting the city to look around if nothing else.

In short, Como offers a different pace of life to southern Italian destinations. The Swiss influence in the area is obvious, and this also means it’s well located to jump to other European countries for a day trip or quick holiday.

Living in Menaggio

Menaggio is a town on the western shore of Lake Como, not that far from the city of Como. This makes it a good choice if you want a quieter life but easy access to all the amenities a city offers.

There are several ways to travel between Como and Menaggio. You can either take a bus along the coast or a hydrofoil ferry on the water if you fancy a more interesting journey.

Menaggio is also well connected to Milan and other cities in Lombardy. For example, there’s an airport shuttle bus that connects you with Milan Central Station, making the journey relatively convenient.

Living in Como, Italy
The elegant lakeside promenade in Menaggio takes you for a relaxing walk along blooming flower beds and colourful houses.

In terms of weather and lifestyle, Menaggio isn’t that different from Como. The biggest change is size: Como’s population is around 84,000, while Menaggio’s is just over 3,000. As you can imagine, this makes things much quieter and a bit more laid back.

Therefore, Menaggio might be the preferable option if you’re not the biggest fan of city living. However, it’s worth mentioning that Como isn’t big by city standards, so don’t expect it to be 24/7 bustle and noise similar to Rome or Milan.

Is Como safe?

Como, Italy, has a low crime rate, mainly thanks to its lower population and location on the lake’s coast. It does get busy during the tourist season, which has a marginal impact on crime rates, but overall is a safe place to live.

According to Numbeo, Como’s crime index is 26, which is very low. Every type of crime is rated low or very low, apart from corruption, which is rated moderate. However, this isn’t a particular concern because it’ll have minimal impact on your everyday life.

Importantly, too, Como is safe for walking alone both during the day and at night. Como’s crime rate is certainly lower than in larger cities in the Lombardy region, such as Milan, but is slightly higher than the smaller surrounding towns. However, this kind of distribution is fairly standard regardless of where in the world you are.

Compared with British towns and cities, Como’s crime rate almost isn’t worth considering. In short, there’s little reason to be concerned about the issue of crime if you’re considering living in Como.

The pros and cons of living in Como, Italy

Como has plenty of things in its favour for expats, but there are also some drawbacks worth thinking about. However, none of these is major and should have very little impact on your overall decision. As always, it’s useful to weigh up both sides before making the move.

Here are the main pros and cons of living in Como.

The pros of living in Como

1. Good connections

Como is well connected with other Italian cities in the area (such as Milan) and makes it easy to travel to Switzerland. Then you have the Alps for skiing, and other European countries are in easy reach for short holiday breaks. It also has a fairly reliable public transport network, including ferries across Lake Como.

2. The lake

Living in Como, Italy
Lake Como is amazingly scenic wherever in the area you choose to live. This picturesque place, Villa La Gaeta, even appeared in one of the James Bond movies.

Lake Como deserves its own consideration. It’s a beautiful spot that offers everything you’d expect: water sports, nature parks, and plenty of walking destinations. This makes it a great choice for those seeking an outdoor lifestyle.

3. Interesting food

Lombardy departs from the usual Italian cuisine (although this is still available). Polenta is big in the region, as is a range of seafood and game. It’s clearly influenced by its proximity to the Alps, but you’ll find plenty of great Italian wine to wash it all down.

4. Plenty of smaller towns to choose from

If living in a city (albeit a small one) isn’t for you then you can choose to live in one of the smaller towns on Lake Como. Menaggio is a good choice thanks to its ferry connections, meaning you still have access to amenities but without the busyness of city living.

5. Sizeable expat community

Como is a popular choice for expats, particularly those in retirement with plenty of excess cash. It certainly attracts a particular demographic of expat that you won’t find elsewhere, but this isn’t a bad thing.

The cons of living in Como

1. Cost of living

Compared to other Italian cities, particularly in the south, Como is fairly expensive. Much of this is because of its luxury lifestyle, so bear this in mind when making your selection. The cost of living isn’t vastly different to somewhere like Milan.

2. Quite a lot of traffic

Como attracts many Swiss day-trippers, even for things as simple as food shopping. As a result, traffic in and out of the city can get quite busy at peak times. Once you become accustomed to this you’ll know the right times to travel by car.

3. It’s a notable tourist hotspot

Tourism is never usually a major downside, but it’s worth mentioning. Compared to places like Rome and Milan, Como’s tourist population is minimal, but it does make the city much busier during the summer. If you think this might be an issue, consider living in one of the smaller surrounding towns.

How much does it cost to live on Lake Como?

The cost of living on Lake Como is fairly high compared with other Italian regions. This is mainly due to its location and the type of lifestyle inhabitants have built up. It’s no secret that Como is a luxury destination, and this is reflected in its cost of living.

Living on Lake Como, Italy
Beautiful views of the lake from Villa del Balbianello, another famous location in the area.

According to Numbeo, Como is only 0.4% cheaper than in London, excluding rent. Food prices are 22% more expensive in Como, although the food quality is much higher. However, this should give you a relative point of comparison.

As you’d expect, rent and property prices are much lower in Como than in London. For example, you can rent an inner-city apartment for around €730 (£624) a month, compared to London’s £1,600 (€1,900). The property price per square metre in Como is around €3,700 (£3,200) compared to London’s £10,000 (€12,400).

Basic utilities are, on average, 17% cheaper in Como than in London. For an inner-city apartment, you can expect to pay around €170 a month for heating, electricity, and so on. Internet is nearly 15% cheaper in Como, where you can expect broadband internet speeds.

Of course, living in a smaller town will reduce prices somewhat. For example, property and utilities in Menaggio will be cheaper but don’t expect a significant reduction in food prices – both for groceries and in restaurants. The trade-off for this option is that internet speeds will be lower in smaller towns because they don’t have the same level of infrastructure.

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The amount of money you’ll need to live comfortably in Como is much higher than in other areas of Italy. Expect to need up to €4,000 a month for a couple to live in the area, including rent or mortgage.

Expats living on Lake Como

Don’t expect the expat numbers you’d find somewhere in southern Italy, but Como and the surrounding lake does have a notable expat community. As mentioned, it’s favoured by expats who have a certain level of income and prefer an outdoor lifestyle. If that sounds like you then it shouldn’t be difficult to find like-minded people.

living in Como, Italy
Bellagio alleys and streets are full of little shops and restaurants… and multiple steps to get you up and down the hills! So a pair of comfortable shoes is a must.

You can always check Facebook communities for people to meet, as they can make it easy to connect and ask any questions you have before moving to the area.

Unlike larger expat hotspots, you won’t find the same frequency of meet-up events but this shouldn’t prevent you from reaching out to people. You might just find it slightly more of a challenge around Lake Como.

Where do celebrities live on Lake Como?

If you hadn’t got the picture yet, Lake Como is a fairly affluent area. Its picturesque scenery and beautiful villas attract plenty of celebrities to the area, as does its proximity to Milan. If celebrity spotting is high on your priorities, here are some to look out for.

George Clooney

George Clooney owns a villa on Lake Como in Laglio. The 22-room villa (called Villa Oleadra) was also used to film some scenes in Oceans Twelve. As you’d imagine, it’s a fairly secluded location, so don’t expect an immediate invite for aperitivo! 

Sting

Sting owns a luxury villa on Lake Como, which produces olive oil, honey, and wine. In the past, Sting has rented it out as a wedding destination, so bear this in mind if you know anyone wanting to tie the knot!

Sir Richard Branson

Branson’s villa is in Tremezzo, a small and very exclusive town on the coast of Lake Como. His villa is only accessible by water and boasts its own swimming pool, tennis court, and cinema. Would you expect any less from someone like Branson?

The best places to live on Lake Como

Como

The city of Como makes a good choice if you want everything the city offers in immediate reach. However, if you’re happy to drive, it’s worth considering the smaller towns the Como province has to offer. Here’s a list of some of the best places to live in Como.

Menaggio

As already mentioned several times, Menaggio has plenty to offer. It’s smaller and quieter than Como but is still in easy reach. Prices are generally lower but you still have the same amazing scenery and pace of life.

Griante

Griante is located around the middle of Lake Como, around 45 minutes away from Como by car. It offers some of the best views of the lake and has some interesting villas and churches that are worth visiting.

Nesso

Nesso is a small town on the western coast of Lake Como. It has a population of around 1,200 and is incredibly beautiful, even by local standards. Nesso is only 30 minutes from Como, making connections very easy.

Bellagio

You’ll find Bellagio at the meeting point between the lake’s eastern and western legs. It’s a historical town that’s retained much of its old-world charm. While it’s nearly an hour’s drive from Como, the journey itself is truly stunning.

Varenna

Varenna is technically in the province of Lecco, on the eastern side of Lake Como. It’s got a more original charm than other local towns and is often overlooked by tourists. It’s known locally for its brightly coloured houses, which look amazing in the summer.

Living in Como, Italy
Varenna, a brilliant gateway to Lake Como, lies on a railway line with direct trains to Milan, and is connected to the other lake resorts by regular car and passenger ferries.

Is it better to buy or rent property in Como?

While Como does have a rental market, much of its property is for sale. This is because sellers can charge a premium simply for location; you can expect to pay a cool €1.5 million for a nice lakeside villa in Como.

If you’re willing to renovate, you can look at spending much less money. For example, you’ll find rustico (stone houses) for as little as €20,000. Just don’t expect it to be more than four walls, however.

Somewhere like Menaggio has considerably lower prices: expect to pay around €150,000 for a liveable lakeside property. Studio apartments can go for as little as €50,000.

Where you choose to buy will of course depend on your budget. While the standard advice would be to rent an apartment while you check out potential properties, this might not work in Como.

You could expect to pay around €1,200 a week for a short-term rental, particularly in peak season. Instead, consider hopping between B&Bs in various towns; overall, this should work out cheaper.

The easiest way to narrow down your search is to make contact with a local estate agent before visiting. Many speak English because of the area’s appeal and are used to dealing with foreign buyers. The estate agent can put together a portfolio in advance, which should reduce the length of time you need to be there.

Hotel prices (and rent) will be cheaper during the off-season, but not significantly so. It might be worth visiting several times in a year to get a feel for what Como is like during tourist season.

Final thoughts on living in Como, Italy

Overall, Como is a good choice for those with particular requirements from their relocation lifestyle. Its proximity to Switzerland makes it a good choice for travellers and day-trippers. Of course, being near the Alps makes it a good choice for skiers too.

There’s a certain sense of exclusivity that comes with living in Como. While this won’t be everyone’s preference, it can be a major draw for people wanting this kind of lifestyle.

If living in Como appeals to you, it’s worth visiting surrounding smaller towns because these are an easy way to drastically reduce property prices while retaining the same quality of living. However, no matter where you choose, Como is definitely a prime destination.

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