What comes to mind when you think of Sicily? You probably think of famous films and a notorious organisation. However, there is so much more to this region of Italy than you might believe.
As the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily has so much to offer any expats looking for a slice of Italian Island life.
Sicily is home to deep history, with UNESCO and archaeological sites located all across the island. Plus, the Sicilian spin on the Italian lifestyle is very appealing, to say the least.
Think long afternoon breaks (the Sicilian version of a Siesta), a mild climate, delicious local food and wine, picturesque beaches and mountains, beautiful cities and peaceful towns.
Is Sicily a good place to live for expats?
Surprisingly, this beautiful destination is not only affordable but caters to various different lifestyles.
The cost of living is cheaper than most areas of the UK, which is amazing considering the location and lifestyle that you’ll be paying for.
For those seeking a quiet life, there are many beautiful small villages on the island. If you’re a bit more metropolitan, you’ll find yourself at home in Sicily’s larger cities. Whichever you choose, you’ll have easy access to the Mediterranean sea too.
There are many expats already living in Sicily, located in numerous spots around the island. There are also decent schools and a good public healthcare system available for legal residents. Should you prefer it, there are also excellent and affordable private health services available.
For all these reasons and more, Sicily is an excellent place to consider for expats!
Moving to Sicily from the UK
Post-Brexit, it is still possible to relocate to Italy. However, the process is not as straightforward as it once was.
All non-EU citizens looking to move to Sicily permanently will need to apply for a visa at a Consulate General of Italy closest to where you live.
To live in Sicily, you will need a Type D, long-stay visa. Once you’ve successfully obtained this visa you can enter Sicily.
Once you arrive, you will need to obtain a residency permit (known locally as a permesso di soggiorno). This allows you to stay in Sicily. You need to begin this process within 8 days of your arrival.
- For more information, read our Living In Italy Guide, Residency in Italy for non-EU citizens section
Sicily is perfect for those who have a healthy independent income (such as property) before they arrive. If this is you, you’ll enjoy an incredibly relaxing and comfortable life here.
It is recommended that if you are planning to work in Sicily, you try to organise employment before arrival as the market is not strong there. In this respect, Sicily isn’t ideal for job seekers – even if you can speak the local language.
Living in Sicily: the pros and cons
No place in the world is without its faults, and Sicily is no exception. We’ll start with the cons and finish with the positives. You will find that there are two sides to many of these factors, so a little perspective always helps.
The cons of living in Sicily:
1. You have to put up with red tape
Life is very laid back in Sicily, which as a lifestyle is great. This attitude however seeps into other aspects of life, such as bureaucracy. Certain processes may take longer than what you may be used to at home.
The Italian legal system is notoriously complicated, especially in regard to certain things like tax or property ownership. This, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t workable. It really pays to have an English speaking lawyer or accountant who can help you through it.
2. Beware the common pitfalls when buying property
When purchasing a property in Sicily, it can seem a little too good to be true. Stunning houses in an idyllic location for reasonable prices – what’s not to love?
Whilst this is all true, buying a house as an overseas buyer can sometimes be tricky. As many homes are passed down between generations, this can sometimes lead to inaccurate or incomplete records of purchase or debts.
Also, whilst many houses can have an attractive price tag, restoring these properties can be very expensive, making some ‘bargain buys’ misleading. Again, it pays to have a local representative to help navigate this process.
3. Learn the language
Despite Sicily being a popular destination for tourists, English isn’t as widely spoken as it is in all other parts of the world. In the major cities, it is more frequent, but it is less common in regional villages. It is recommended to learn some basic Italian and even some key Sicilian phrases to help you get by.
4. You will have to pay more for certain products
Certain commodities such as electricity and petrol come with a slightly higher price tag. This is to be expected given the island location.
The pros of living in Sicily
Now of course there are some downsides. However, the positives of Sicily significantly outweigh the negatives.
1. A lower cost of living
The cost of living in Sicily is cheaper than in most parts of the UK. Whether it's housing, food, or entertainment, it is a very affordable place to live. This is part of what makes life here so good. We’ll cover this in more detail later in this article.
2. A healthy and relaxed lifestyle
We’re going to preface this point by saying the lifestyle is Sicilian, not Italian – an important distinction with the locals. That being said, there is a heavy Italian influence on the culture, with Greek and Arabic hints as well thanks to the island's history. Life in Sicily is relaxed.
The people are friendly and there is a real sense of community wherever you go. It's a place where you’ll know your neighbours and others in the community – like your local grocer and butcher.
The food is fresh and the surroundings are stunning. It is a truly beautiful place to live and the lifestyle is one to match. Espresso in cafes, days spent at the beach, evenings spent with friends over a pizza – what's not to love?
3. Fresh organic food
Although we’ve touched on this already, it deserves a mention in its own right. Most of the food on the island is locally grown. Therefore not only is it cheap, but it's also fresh and organic as well, making it healthy and delicious. This applies to the wine as well. Plus, you’ll most likely buy directly from the producer too.
4. Affordable property
Property is very affordable in Sicily. Depending on where you look (especially outside the major tourist hot spots) you can get a house, apartment, or villa in a great location for a great price. Plus, when you factor in the lifestyle you’re buying into and the beauty of the island itself, it's excellent value for money.
5. Good travel connections
There are plenty of options when flying to Sicily. The two major airports are Catania Fontanarossa (CTA), located near the city of Catania, and Palermo’s Falcone Borsellino (PMO), located near the city of Palermo. Comiso also has seasonal flights offered during high season.
Regular ferries to mainland Italy are affordable and easily accessible from Sicily as well.
6. Tax incentives
Italy offers a 7% flat tax incentive for retirees moving to Southern Italy which includes Sicily. You will find more details in our guide Italian Taxes & Tax Advantages For Expats Explained.
Is Sicily expensive?
Thanks to its popularity with the rich and famous, Sicily has earned a reputation for being an expensive holiday destination. Whilst in certain parts of the island this can be the case, especially in high season, this is not the case for Sicily as a whole.
Even in major cities, such as Palermo and Catania, you can live a very affordable and comfortable life.
House prices are reasonable as are many amenities, and given that most produce is locally sourced, it's very cheap. It’s easy to find a basic cheese pizza for as little as €5, get a quality pasta dish for €7-10 and a litre of wine at a market for €2.
Is Sicily safe?
Sicily is a safe place to live. Again, Hollywood has played a significant role in the perception of Sicily as being dangerous. However, in reality, it's not so. Long gone are the days of Dons and Mafiosos.
Micro criminality is basically non-existent and it's advised you exercise the same caution you would in any other major city around the world. The small villages are even safer as they tend to be tightly knit communities.
There are certain areas in large cities, such as Palermo and Catania, which are better avoided, as is the case in any other major city.
There is still a Mafia presence in Sicily, however, they focus almost entirely on government corruption – securing large construction contracts etc. Small business ‘protection’ payments are slowly fading as well, with a growing number of businesses refusing to pay without consequence.
The safest place to live in Sicily
Sicily as a whole is considered safe, there aren’t any areas that are considered particularly dangerous or unsafe. As with anywhere else in the world, there are certain neighbourhoods or areas that aren’t as safe as others, but these are few and far between, and that is all part of living in a city or amongst a large population.
Outside of this, one thing that sets Sicily apart from other parts of the world is the sense of community. Throughout the island, it’s a place where people know their neighbours and their neighbours' neighbours.
There is a sense of trust and people look out for one another.
The people of Sicily are also known for their hospitality. They are incredibly welcoming of guests and will not hesitate to lend a hand. You can buy vegetables directly from the farmer that grows them and wine directly from the winemakers and even get to know them by name.
The best places to live in Sicily
Almost all popular expat locations in Sicily will offer you easy access to the beach and sea. Given the size of the island, many communities are located on or near the sea. You will also likely be within a reasonable drive of a beautiful beach. With that in mind, here are our recommendations:
As the capital city of Sicily, this has so much to offer expats. Excellent restaurants, bars, and so much history to explore. As a port city, it is also located on the sea – so enjoy sea breezes and visits to Mondello beach.
Walking around Palermo is like looking into a cultural melting pot, with design influences from Roman, Arab, Norman (just to name a few) on the classic Italian architecture. Apartments in the city can be bought for affordable prices, and you’ll have access to many hospitals and other essentials including an international airport.
Located near popular Syracuse, Catania is one of the major cities in Sicily. Known for its beaches, vibrant nightlife and culture, you’ll find this beautiful city at foot of mount Etna. There are regular concerts and an excellent theatre scene as well as an excellent variety of bars and restaurants.
For those seeking a more active lifestyle, Catania may be the place for you. For nature lovers, you can hike Mount Etna, or explore the Alcantara Gorges. Everyday items are very affordable and the produce is of excellent quality thanks to the volcanic soil in the area.
Seafood lovers will also enjoy the fresh market located behind the main city cathedral – you can’t get more authentic than that. Catania is also popular with tourists, meaning there is seasonal work available plus there is the Catania international airport close to the city.
Of the three major coastal cities, Syracuse is the most expensive to settle down in – the other two cities being Catania and Palermo.
Syracuse is known for its ancient Greek ruins and stunning architecture. It’s the kind of place you’ll never tire of exploring. Here you’ll have beautiful beaches that are a mere stone's throw away, and you can buy delicious local produce from the old market of Ortygia.
Syracuse is very popular with tourists so expect more traffic in high season. This is also reflected in the pricing of housing, entertainment and other items. Despite being a major city, however, life here is very relaxed – similar to that of Palermo and Catania.
For those seeking a quieter life outside of the major cities, consider the following spots:
A smaller seaside commune, Taormina offers a taste of quieter life in Sicily. Located near Mount Etna, this hilltop town is famous for its sandy beaches and the Greek Amphitheatre where performances are still held today. There are a number of expats living here already. It’s also a short distance from Catania, which means easy access to the airport.
Ragusa, Comiso and Vittoria
These smaller villages and towns are all located a short distance from one another in southern Sicily. Located further inland than the other spots mentioned, these villages offer a slightly different take on Sicilian life. All offer beautiful old towns, a sense of close community and country living.
If you need to visit the sea, you’re still within a short drive of the closest beaches and seaside spots. Given these areas are less popular with tourists, they are more affordable. So if this is an important factor, any of these villages may be the place for you.
Living in Sicily – summary
Simply put, Sicily is an excellent place for expats.
If you can look past some of the neglected buildings, you’ll see the heart and soul of Sicily are its people. This is expressed in the warm communities, delicious food and even better wine.
Life moves slower here, and it's almost infectious to relax like the locals and stop sweating the small things. The Sicilian culture is rich and full of history but more importantly, is very welcoming – ideal for an expat. So if a slice of the Sicilian good life sounds like a dream to you, perhaps this is the place for you?