Why You Should Consider Sicily
Sicily is an excellent choice for a retirement location if we compare it to mainland Italy. It is a place that is both European, and not. Sicily’s cultural history is rich and the island often changed hands and was influenced by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish and French—all of which is clear not only in the architecture but in the food and dialects as well which still maintain that harsh sound that Greek and Arabic have but has faded from standard Italian. Why so many different influences? Because Sicily is in a strategic and fantastic position as a trading hub in the Mediterranean.
There are a number of excellent locations whether you prefer living in a city, in the countryside, by the sea, or even near an active volcano. Syracuse, Catania, Palermo, Taormina…these are the major cities in Sicily. Each offers its own version of the good life.
Of the major coastal cities, Syracuse is the most expensive to settle down in. It is known for its ancient Greek ruins and stunning architecture. It’s the kind of place you’ll never tire of exploring. Its old market in Ortigia is not to be missed.
Located near Syracuse, Catania is known for its beaches, vibrant nightlife and culture. This beautiful city sits at the foot of Mount Etna. There are regular concerts and an excellent theater scene as well as an excellent variety of bars and restaurants.
Palermo is Sicily’s capital city. As a major port city, it’s also located on the sea. Design influences from Roman, Arab, Norman on the classic Italian architecture abound as you wander through the streets and alleys.
Taormina, like Catania, is located near Mount Etna. Though it is a major tourist destination the city is quiet and unassuming in the offseason. At its peak the Greek Amphitheater—with an excellent view of the volcano—still holds performances and concerts to this day.
The bottom line is that there are so many nice cities to live in that you’ll probably want to try them all out first.
It’s so relaxed, in fact, that people will sit in their cars in traffic while the person creating the traffic speaks with a friend he’s just run into on the street. Be prepared to debate between whether the proper name for an arancino is in fact arancino (around Catania) or arancina (around Palermo); this delicious, fried, rice ball snack is a point of contention between the two areas and using the wrong one in the wrong spot will get you some interesting looks.
If you haven’t already guessed, the standards for food are extremely high. Wandering through markets in Palermo or Catania you’re likely to find freshly-plucked vegetables, fruits and nuts, and fish caught just that morning. The pasta is still made by hand and definitely not to be missed.
Sicily certainly lacks reliable public transport that is available in most other major cities. That said, like other Italian cities, it is extremely walkable. Trenitalia does offer some services to other cities, but it is much better to rent a car, or own one, if possible in terms of getting around.
Because you are in the south, it is likely that to really take advantage of everything the island has to offer, you will need to learn the language. This will help to facilitate not only daily life, but also the bureaucratic side of Sicily that is its major downside.
Properties in Sicily
If you want to retire in Italy, Sicily does not have a different immigration policy than the rest of the country.
Like many other regions of southern Italy, properties are rather inexpensive, though most likely are in need of some modernization, but it is a small price to pay considering what the island has to offer. Whether you want a house by the sea, in one of the major cities, or parked right next to the looming Mount Etna, you’ll certainly be able to find a dream property.
Renting in Sicily is not as common as families owning their own property, but it is certainly an option. If possible, of course it is better to own the home or condo value-wise. In some cases there are properties listed for as low as €1, usually in areas suffering from underpopulation and the property itself is in need of repairs, but nevertheless these properties are a steal. Otherwise you can expect to pay as little as (in some cases) €17,000—it might not be in an idyllic location, but as an example, there are certainly many similar properties available. Along the coastline, prices tend to increase for many reasons, but not as exponentially as one could expect and homes, not apartments, tend to range from €90,000 to €300,000. That’s the old saying for real estate: location, location, location. Having a car, or access to one, goes a long way here and can save you a lot of money if you don’t mind driving to the beach instead of living on one; just a ten-minute drive can drastically lower the property value.
Certainly there are more extravagant homes available pushing €1,000,000+ scattered around the beautiful island, but it really isn’t necessary to spend that much to get a fantastic condo or home with all the amenities you’re used to. The best way to find a property is still to visit the place and have a look around, to get a feel of it and the atmosphere.
Because you are retired, and thus not working (or even eligible to work), the tax scheme is a bit different. Italy offers a 7% flat tax incentive for retirees moving to underpopulated regions. That 7% applies to both public and private pensions regardless of whether you are an Italian citizen or not. This is a great benefit as other workers tend to pay anywhere from 15-43% in taxes to the Italian central government, regional and municipal governments. However, there are certain financial requirements that must be met for expat retirees, though they are relatively low:
- as a general rule, a minimum threshold of €31,000 as passive income per year is applicable;
- beginning September 2020, you must spend at least €31,160 per year, if you are a single applicant but if you arrive in Italy with a spouse, the threshold for the income requirements jumps to €38,000 per year (which can be obtained from passive income).
Because of the US-Italy Totalization Agreement, a US citizen wishing to retire in Italy is subject only to that 7% flat tax, likewise an Italian citizen wishing to retire in the US is subject to the same as such treaties are bilateral and usually based on good relations between the two countries. The US and Italy have maintained a historically friendly relationship.
Sicily is a remarkable choice for places to retire to if you are considering Italy. The northern regions of Italy may dislike the southern regions, but what is indisputable is that when it’s time for August vacation, everyone flocks to Sicily—regardless of flight prices—for its low cost of living, high-quality meals, incredible beaches and friendly people.
If you would like to learn more about this topic, please read our related articles such as, Italy 7% flat tax for pensioners, Pension contributions paid abroad: purchase or totalization, Are US pensions taxed in Italy? Our 2020’S Guide and Why Italy is your next destination