Few people would call Italy dangerous – indeed, Italy is neither safer nor more dangerous than other places in the Mediterranean. Expats must apply the same sense that they would in any country. Overall, safety records are usually better in small towns and villages than in big cities.
That said, Italians do have a fondness for after-dinner strolls, which means it is usually safe to walk through most cities at night, sticking to well-lit and well-frequented streets and getting home at a reasonable hour.
General safety and petty crime in Italy
Most Italian cities are reasonably safe, especially as locals tend to get to know their neighbours. This affords another dimension of safety as Italians look after their own. The more people expats know, the more people that will be around to keep an eye out.
When it comes to cities, the most important thing to remember is that there are quartieri (neighbourhoods) that expats should avoid, especially at night.
It’s easy to get caught up in the romanticism of Italy and forget that poverty and discontent do exist. Tourists and residents alike can fall prey to pickpockets, and not speaking Italian makes for an obvious target.
Petty crime such as pickpocketing, although rare, is more common in tourist areas and can happen inside busy stores and on public transport. Another major petty crime in Italy is the sale of illegal counterfeit goods. People sell fake handbags, sunglasses and jewellery in every major city. People caught buying counterfeit goods can be fined in Italy.
Expats living in cities should also bear in mind that:
• Credit card skimming and counterfeit money are rife in Italy, so always check bills closely to ensure they are genuine, and make sure nobody is watching when entering a PIN
• Prostitution is common although organised prostitution is illegal, so try to avoid any lone and/or provocatively dressed women on the side of the road
• Taxi drivers may try to scam foreigners, so it’s a good idea to calculate the taxi fare and have the driver agree to an amount before setting off on a journey
• If expats are out drinking, they must be aware of the impacts of alcohol while staying vigilant to not leave drinks unattended as there have been reports of spiking drinks
Organised crime in Italy
One might think the mafia is the stuff of old movies but one of Italy’s biggest safety concerns remains to be organised crime.
Although most expats experience no difficulties, areas in southern Italy such as Calabria, Sicily and Naples have a poor reputation as organised crime is at its worst in these areas.
Civil unrest in Italy
Italy has been affected by civil unrest in recent times. The global financial crisis has been hard on all of Europe, but Italy was one of the worst affected countries. As such, demonstrations and strikes do occur in Italy. Upcoming strikes are generally publicised (in Italian) on the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport website and expats should monitor the website.
Basic services in Italy can be affected during periods of unrest, including the availability of fuel and fresh food. Air travel, taxi services and public transport are other sectors that are often brought to a standstill by strikes. There’s usually no threat to physical safety during these times, but protesters have been known to attack property, cars and the police. Protests and demonstrations should, therefore, be avoided as a precaution.
Road safety in Italy
Italians would say they are excellent drivers, but for expats, this might not feel true. Many Italian motorists do not stop for pedestrians, no matter where the person is or whether they use a pedestrian crossing or not.
This warning also applies to cyclists. This doesn’t mean that expats can’t ride a bike altogether but that they should remain vigilant. Wear a reflective jacket and helmet, and stay close to the footpath.
Many expats avoid driving in Italy’s cities if possible. Italians have their own driving style that can appear aggressive, and therefore unpredictable, to new arrivals. One-way streets and double parking are also common in the cities which serves to heighten a new driver's anxiety.
When travelling by car, expats should practice normal precautions, such as to avoid leaving valuables in the vehicle.
Outside of the cities, the only real concerns are speed and overtaking. Most Italians treat the speed limit as a loose guideline. The deeper one goes into the countryside, the more impatient the drivers become, so expect to be overtaken often.
Natural disasters in Italy
Flooding is a frequent occurrence, especially in Venice during winter due to high waters, and earthquakes and tremors are felt often in Italy due to the country's geographic location on a fault line. Expats can find information and advice on governmental websites to prepare and follow news updates on any issues.