17 Things Nobody Tells You About Living in Sicily

Living in Sicily was a dream of mine for a long time.

Ever since I was a kid, Sicily has always held this magical, almost mythical status in my mind.

I thought of Sicily as the ‘real’ Italy, where the people are louder, the sun shines brighter and the food is yummier.

I had nothing to base these thoughts on.

They were just my imaginings of what this little Mediterranean island was like.

When I first visited back in 2019, I discovered that Sicily was everything I’d imagined it to be, and so much more.

Not only was it hotter and louder than the mainland, but it was dirtier, smellier, grittier.

It was wonderful.

Fast-forward to 2021 and I’ve ‘lived’ in Sicily twice, for 3 months each time.

Let me tell you, if visiting Sicily as a tourist is chaotic, living in Sicily is a whole different beast.

I decided to move to Sicily and chose the capital, Palermo.

The apartment that I rented in Palermo, the bustling capital, was next to the train station, smack bang in the red light district, and the pipes stank of sewage.

I decked it out with knick-knacks from the Euro store down the road, made frequent visits to the kebab shop on the corner and learnt how to tell kerb crawlers that NO, I was not available for business!

However, there was a lot more to my time spent living in Sicily than my sketchy neighbourhood.

Sicily is every bit as incredible as you can imagine, but I would be lying if I told you that living in Sicily was easy.

It isn’t.

Is Sicily a good place to live?

Yes, but there are some things you should know about life in Sicily before you make the move.

Here are some things that nobody tells you about living in Sicily.

hilltop village in sicily

17 Things Nobody Tells You About Living in Sicily

1. The locals are very direct

As a born and bred Brit, being direct is not in my nature. Sicilians come out of the womb complaining.

If a Sicilian wants you to move out of their way, they’ll tell you. If you ask them how they are, trust me, they’ll tell you.

When you’re not used to it, it can come off as rude, but it’s not.

It’s simply a different culture, and if you want to move to Sicily, you’d better get used to it!

2. Contacts are everything

They say ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ and this really applies to life in Sicily.

One of the most important things that you can do if you’re living in Sicily is befriend your local fish monger.

Get a local to introduce you to him, answer his probing questions about what you’re planning on cooking with his produce and he will treat you well. Go behind his back and buy from another seller and you’ll never be served again.

You have been warned.

fish market
The fishmonger will be your best friend

3. Opening times are a guide

Did Google Maps tell you that your local grocery store opens at 2pm? Maybe it said that the restaurant you’re visiting is open on a Monday?

Don’t believe everything you read, especially when it comes to opening and closing times in Sicily.

Sure, the grocery store will open at 2…if the owner doesn’t have anything better to do.

The faster you decide to ditch Google Maps when you move to Sicily, the better.

4. Sicily is safe

Is Sicily safe to live in?

People moving to Sicily often have this idea of Sicily being like the Wild West, and while it is in many ways, safety in Sicily is generally not something you need to worry about.

In fact, the most dangerous province in Italy is actually Milan!

Although Palermo and Catania have higher than average rates of car theft, research conducted by the ISTAT (Italian National Institute of Statistics) found that among the 12 largest cities in Italy, Palermo had the lowest overall crime rate!

5. Don’t count on public transport

Remember how I said that business opening times should be used as a guide only? Well, the same goes for public transport timetables.

Buses do exist in Sicily, but the times (and routes!) are seemingly at random, and although they will get you from A to B, they probably won’t get you there in time.

Oh, and you have to buy your bus ticket from a tobacco shop. Why? Because Italy.

an old man cycling
This guy knows not to rely on the bus!

6. Cost of living

You might think that living in Italy is expensive, and it is.

Living in Italy that is.

Sicily is a super affordable place to live, especially if you’re living in Sicily as an American!

When it comes to eating and drinking out, Sicily is very cheap.

A pizza will almost always be less than 5 EUR, you can find bottled beer for 1 EUR in certain bars and clothing is also cheaper than most places in Western Europe.

a vegetable stand at the market

7. Property is cheap

It isn’t just eating out that’s affordable in Sicily.

Property prices are super cheap, and you can buy rustic townhouses in idyllic hilltop villages for less than 10,000 EUR! (And yes, you can also buy a house in Sicily for just 1 EUR if you’re prepared to spend money renovating it!).

8. You will need to learn Italian…or Sicilian

People in Sicily, especially the older generations or those in rural communities, speak Sicilian, which is not a dialect but a language of its very own!

It is totally different to Italian, and although most younger people speak Italian as their first language, you only have to visit a local food market to hear Sicilian being spoken by the vendors.

English is not very widely spoken in Sicily, even in larger cities like Palermo or Trapani.

9. Driving in Sicily isn’t for the fainthearted

If you’re going to be living in Sicily, you will need a car.

However, if you plan on driving in Sicily then I advise you to proceed with extreme caution.

The roads in Sicily are often badly lit and covered in potholes, and Sicilian drivers are insane.

I have seen experienced drivers on the verge of tears just trying to get out of Palermo, and if you think that your GPS has got your back then you are very much mistaken.

Oh, and another thing to be aware of is that many Sicilian drivers ignore red lights and stop signs. In fact, they tend to speed up when they see people crossing the street!

a blue vespa
I’m still shocked I never got hit by a Vespa!

10. Bureaucracy is terrible

Planning on applying for residency in Sicily? Good luck!

Sicilian bureaucracy may be the most inefficient I’ve ever seen, and I’ve lived in Cambodia!

Everything takes an age to get done, the rules are never clear (and are often made up on the spot!) and you will have to stand in the burning sun outside an office for hours waiting for somebody to see you, before they decide to close up early and leave you standing there.

Seriously, even picking up a parcel at the post office can take hours so moving to Sicily is not going to be smooth sailing!

11. Unemployment is high

Traditionally, Sicily has always had higher unemployment levels than the North of Italy (which is why many young Sicilians move to places like Milan and Turin when they grow up).

Finding work in Sicily is hard, but if you’re a qualified ESL teacher then you should have no problem getting a job. The vast majority of expats living in Sicily are English teachers.

12. Slow pace of life

If you’re a stress head who likes everything to be just so, I don’t recommend moving to Sicily!

Patience truly is a virtue in Sicily, and everything moves on island time. If you’re laid back and like to go with the flow like I do, you’ll love it. If you like everything working exactly as it should and running on time like my boyfriend does, you’ll hate it.

two old men

13. Learn to stand your ground

My boyfriend’s least favourite thing about Sicily was Lidl.

Yes, you read that right.

The discount supermarket.

While he loved the prices, what he didn’t enjoy were the queue-jumpers, the old ladies ramming their trolleys into his ankles and women pushing him out of the way and then yelling at him simply for being there!

I saw going to the supermarket as a fun adventure, a kind of game where it truly is every man for himself, but Ethan’s fragile sensibilities couldn’t cope with it.

14. It can be dirty

Infrastructure in Sicily is kinda like bureaucracy – non-existent.

I jest, but you will likely see huge bags of trash on the streets, particularly when driving in or out of a city. Black bin bags spilling over with rubbish are unfortunately a common sight in Sicily, and the locals hate it just as much as you.

You can read more about why this is here, but garbage on the streets is an unfortunate reality of life in Sicily.

15. Locals aren’t as scary as they look!

If you see two Sicilians yelling at each other on the street, don’t panic! They’re not fighting. They’re just talking.

Raised voices, frowning faces and wild gesticulations are common practice in Sicily, and it is very rare that there is anything more to it than just simple enthusiasm.

On my street food tour of Palermo, our guide Marco actually told us that the time to really worry is when a Sicilian is talking in a low voice and smiling at you!

16. Sicilian food is not like Italian food!

Sure, Sicilians eat pasta, but that’s about the only commonality between Sicilian food and Italian food!

With Spanish, Greek, Arab and even French influences, Sicilian gastronomy is rich, varied and differs massively from place to place.

From seafood couscous in San Vito Lo Capo and Favignana to sickly sweet confectionary in Erice and Militello, and even offal in Palermo, there is something for everyone in Sicily.

Cannoli – tubes filled with sweet ricotta and sprinkled with pistachio

17. Sicily is the best place on earth

Despite the trash, the painful bureaucracy and the random smells of sewage that seem to come out of nowhere, Sicily is one of the most special places I’ve ever been and if you’re thinking of relocating to Sicily, go for it!

With passionate people, 300 days of sunshine a year, breathtaking architecture and white sandy beaches, Sicily is truly the soul of Italy, and if you can get past the little annoyances, your patience will be infinitely rewarded.

Living in Sicily – Pros and Cons

Pros of living in Sicily

  • The weather – duh!
  • Cost of living is a lot lower than almost anywhere else in Western Europe
  • The pace of life is slower and more relaxed than elsewhere in Europe
  • Sicily is small, so you can explore the whole island easily
  • You’re never too far from the beach
  • Sicilian food!

Cons of living in Sicily

  • Bureaucracy is a nightmare and everything takes an age to get done
  • Corruption is everywhere
  • There are issues with trash on the street due to lack of funding
  • Lots of buildings are very old and need work doing (which can be difficult to get done in Sicily!)
  • You need a car to get around
  • You need to speak Italian to get by
  • High unemployment rates
  • The traffic/crazy drivers!
  • The airports are not the best for international connections

Living in Sicily | Final thoughts

I hope that I’ve managed to paint a realistic picture of what the realities of living in Sicily are like for anyone thinking of relocating to Sicily.

Property websites are keen to talk about the beaches and the climate but won’t touch on the more irksome side of Sicily. Nowhere is perfect, and we shouldn’t expect it to be.

Everywhere on the planet has its pros and cons, and Sicily is no different.

Is Sicily a good place to live overall?

For me, yes.

The positive aspects of living in Sicily vastly outweigh the negatives, and if you have a thick skin and a laid back attitude, you’ll do just fine.

As always, if you have any questions then please don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments section below.

I’m no expert on the topic by any means, but I have spent my fair share of time on the island, and I like to think that I know a thing or two about la dolce vita in Sicilia.

Until next time,


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27 thoughts on “17 Things Nobody Tells You About Living in Sicily”

  1. I keep seeing articles talk about the big cities in Sicily and the south of the island in general but no one seems to talk about the north of the island with the more mountainous areas and the towns around there. Do you have any experience in those areas? If so, how do you think it would be living as an expat there?

  2. Hi Jezebel,

    thank for the post! Very interesting and real thoughts, I’m right now thinking of moving to Sicily too.

    How did you manage to find an apartment in Palermo? How easy/difficult this is? Better do it on site upon arrival?

    And another question, I’m debating between Palermo and Catania. I’m inclined towards Palermo more, cause it’s bigger and more people live here – so more chances to meet friends and socialize. But what about activities (besides beaches) – where do you think more things (festivals, museums, exhibitions, events) happen, in Palermo or Catania?

    Thank you 🙂

    1. Hey!

      Personally I think it’s definitely better to go and view apartments in person, it’s very easy and you can check out the area too (there are some streets I would avoid, hence why it’s better to go and see for yourself).

      As for your second question, I don’t have too much experience in Catania but in Palermo there are lots of museums, Teatro Massimo, festivals (including the annual couscous fest in nearby San Vito Lo Capo), and lots of events for expats such as language exchange, a book club, pub quizzes, live music etc. It’s also very easy to meet people and make friends in Palermo.

  3. I love this post!! I live in Florida now, I work and live here. But when I will retire, I am considering to move in Sicily. I thought about Marina di Ragusa or Trapani. I am originally from the North of Italy, but it’s totally different than the South of Italy.
    I still have about eight years to work. Then I really am into Sicily too.
    Ciao 🙂

  4. Greetings,
    Nice to hear some real truths, I appreciate your candor!
    How does the weather differ in Sicily between the N, S, E, and W? Also, how is the internet and phone service as I am in sales and work from home, although I will be retired by the time I get there? Thanks in advance for your time and knowledge!


    1. Hi,

      The weather is fairly similar all over the island as Sicily is so small. The internet is generally good in the cities, although I’m not so sure in more rural areas. I’ve never had a problem with phone signal.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Hello and thank you for this article! I am of Sicilian descent but all my family has passed on and I never knew how much of my personality reflects my heritage! I cried as you described Sicilian people…like me! I live in central USA and have been crucified for being straight-forward and real. No one gets me here and maybe I should go “home”. I have been researching how to attain dual citizenship (looks pricey, unfortunately) and check it out. Maybe even semi-retire there. Thank you again for the authentic insight.

    1. Becky. Same. I never felt I belonged in the U.S. Now, even more so. What state are you in? You can apply for Jur Sanguinis. I am looking at Portugal and Spain as well but just heard we can become citizens through ancestry in Italy.

  6. Living in Sicily: Don’t.

    If you want to live in Italy, stay in the mainland, and avoid anywhere south of Rome

  7. I bought a home in Sicily over 10 years ago. I had been going to Sicily every summer since I was a year old (my parents are from Sicily) to visit family. I now go every year with my 4 children who have grown to love their ancestral homeland as much as I do. Everything you have said is spot on! It can be a culture shock for someone coming from the city, but once you let island life take hold, it is really hard to go back to your old life back in the city. I spend 11 months just waiting to go back!

  8. Malcolm Wesley WREST

    Great and honest insights! Thanks! Cycling anywhere amounts to a ‘death-wish’ then?…, given the poor driving standards, you speak of! What is your opinion?
    Thanks in advance!

  9. Great info in this blog. Some of the most practical advice I have read so far.

    My only concern about visiting and living in Sicily is the language barrier. Italian (especially with the Sicilian dialect) seems difficult to learn.

    What are the locals’ reactions to tourists using Google Translate etc on their phone in order to communicate? Are they patient or do you get a light slap for not speaking the language?

  10. Am going to rent a ground floor property for my wheel chair user mum. She has severe arthritis.
    Am planning to stay for 2 to 4 months
    I’ll make sure my mum has medical travel insurance.
    I was thinking about Palermo.
    Couldn’t find a ground furnished floor property.
    Hospitals are important for me as well encase my mum needs hospital attention.
    Am looking for a decent ground floor, sun, close to hospital (in case of emergency) and airport
    We are travelling from London.

  11. Danielle,
    A retired 🇺🇸 teacher exploring the expat experience in 🇷🇺, I’m thinking of Sicily as snow bird destination. I studied in 🇮🇹, but haven’t been there in ages. Your article provided the information I needed. 90 days is just long to weather the Winter. If you ever make it to Moscow, please let me know.

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