Living in Sicily – 19 Things Nobody Tells You About Moving to 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. My great grandparents were Sicilian, and I always had a yearning to visit this island and connect with my roots.

I thought of Sicily as the ‘real’ Italy, where the people are louder, the sun shines brighter, and the food is yummier (spoiler alert – it is).

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



Fast-forward to 2021 and I’ve ‘lived’ in Sicily twice, for 3 months each time, as well as visiting for a month at a time on several other occasions.

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

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.

Across from my apartment was an overflowing dumpster that seemingly never got emptied, there were always cockroaches in the stairwell, and I had to frequently give the middle finger to kerb crawlers who assumed I was available for ‘business.’

dani enjoying a cocktail at a rooftop bar in palermo
Celebrating my 28th birthday in Palermo, 2020


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

Living in Sicily is every bit as incredible as you can imagine, but I would be lying if I told you that it’s always easy.

Is Sicily a good place to live?

Yes, but there are some things you should know before you make the decision to move to Sicily.

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


Living in Sicily – Everything You Need to Know


Pros and Cons of Living in Sicily


As with anything in life, there are both pros and cons of living in Sicily.

While I adore Sicily, it certainly has its flaws, and I believe that it’s important to be transparent about them.

I’ll get into each of the points below in more detail later, but here are some of the pros and cons of living in Sicily, at a glance.


Pros of living in Sicily

  • The weather – duh!
  • Cost of living is relatively low
  • Property is affordable
  • The pace of life is slow and relaxed
  • Sicily is small, so you can explore the whole island easily
  • You’re never too far from the beach
  • Sicilian food!
  • Violent crime is very low


Cons of living in Sicily

  • Bureaucracy is a nightmare!
  • Organised crime/corruption
  • Lack of infrastructure
  • Lots of buildings are very old and need work doing (which can be difficult in Sicily!)
  • Having a car is necessary
  • It is necessary to speak a little Italian
  • High unemployment rates
  • The traffic
  • Sicilian airports are not the best for international connections
la vucciria palermo
Enjoying the nightlife in Palermo


19 Things Nobody Tells You About Living in Sicily


1. The locals are very direct


Having grown up in the UK, being direct is just not in my nature.

Sicilians, however, are as direct as they come.

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 (and it might not always be good!).

When you’re not used to this, it can seem like they’re being rude, but they aren’t. They’re just honest.

Being super direct is a huge part of Sicilian culture, and if you want to move to Sicily, you’d better get used to it!

dani learning how to make sicilian food
Being told where I was going wrong at a cooking class in Sicily


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.

When I took a street food tour in Palermo, my tour guide told me that one of the most important things that you can do if you’re living in Sicily is befriend your local fish monger.

Seriously.

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 always treat you well.

Go behind his back and buy from another seller and you’ll never be served again.

You have been warned.


3. Opening times are a guide


Did Google Maps tell you that your local grocery store opens at 2 pm?

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 might open at 2…if the owner doesn’t have anything better to do, that is!

Opening times (and days!) are only ever a guide in Sicily, and if you’re used to getting reliable information from Google Maps, think again.

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

rocky basile palermo
Rocky Basile in La Vucciria market, Palermo. There when he feels like it.


4. Is Sicily safe to live in? Yep!


People moving to Sicily often have this idea of Sicily being like the Wild West, and while Sicily does have a problem with organised crime, this generally affects businesses rather than civilians and expats.

In fact, according to Statistica, the most dangerous province in Italy is actually Milan, with Sicily not even making the top 15!

Violent crime in Sicily is incredibly low, and the homicide rate in Italy is among the lowest in the world, according to NationMaster.

The only problem that may affect expats in Sicily is car theft, with Catania having the fifth-highest rate of stolen cars in the country, and Palermo coming in ninth.

For a much more comprehensive breakdown of safety in Sicily, check out my article about it.

dani wearing a diamond crown
Trapani, 2022. The biggest danger here would be me dropping this 80,000 EUR crown.


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. Sicily 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!

The overall cost of living in Sicily is very low, especially when it comes to eating and drinking out.

A pizza will almost always be less than 5 EUR, you can find bars selling bottled beer for 1-2 EUR, and public transport is also very affordable.

a vegetable stand at the market
The market is the cheapest place to buy groceries in Sicily


7. Property is cheap


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

Property is incredible cheap, and you can buy rustic townhouses in idyllic hilltop villages for less than 10,000 EUR!

According to Idealista, Sicily is the third cheapest region in Italy to buy property (accurate as of February 2024).

And yes, you can also buy a house in Sicily for just 1 EUR if you’re prepared to spend money renovating it!

If you’re not looking to buy property in Sicily, you’ll be pleased to know that rent is also very cheap.

I rented a one-bedroom apartment with a roof terrace in the centre of town for 400 EUR, and a room in a shared house for 200 EUR (bills included).


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!

Sicilian 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.

However, if you learn a bit of Italian, it will certainly help. English is not very widely spoken in Sicily, even in larger cities like Catania or Trapani.

cefalu sicily
My first visit to Cefalu in 2019


9. Driving in Sicily isn’t for the fainthearted


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

With that being said, I advise you to proceed with caution.

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

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 (ask me how I know).


10. Bureaucracy is terrible


Planning on applying for residency in Italy? 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!

I never applied for residency in Italy, but I have countless expat friends in Sicily who have been through the process, and I don’t know a single person that didn’t find the process frustrating and painfully inefficient!

Sicilians also love to complain about the bureaucracy – I think they’d be quite disappointed if it suddenly improved, and they had nothing to moan about!

a group of people eating in a vineyard
Who needs bureaucracy when you can have lunch in a vineyard?
Castellammare del Golfo, 2022


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, and if you’re moving to Sicily in the hope of finding work, you will definitely struggle.

One exception is if you’re a qualified ESL teacher. The vast majority of expats that I’ve met in Sicily are English teachers.

Of course, you can also work online. The digital nomad scene in Sicily is in its infancy, but I predict that Sicily will be a popular digital nomad destination in the coming years.


12. Slow pace of life


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, I don’t recommend moving to Sicily!

erice sicily
The sleepy streets of Erice, 2022


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 yelling at him simply for being there!

Personally, 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.

If you want to live in Sicily, you need to learn how to stand your ground, especially against fierce Sicilian nonnas in Lidl.


14. It can be dirty


Infrastructure in Sicily is like the 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 (although I noticed this far more in large cities than more rural villages and small towns).


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 simple enthusiasm.

On one of my early trips to Sicily, my tour guide said 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.

Not only is there a lot of variety, but everything is locally-grown, fresh, and delicious!

There isn’t even a word for ‘organic’ in Sicily, because everything is organic!

cannoli
Cannolo with pistachio sprinkles in Palermo


17. You will always be a foreigner


It doesn’t matter how long you live in Sicily, or how good your Italian is; you will never be a Sicilian, and the locals will take great pleasure in reminding you of that.

That isn’t to say that Sicilians aren’t extremely welcoming and hospitable people – they are – but there will always be an invisible barrier preventing you from fully being seen as ‘one of them.’

palermo
Me standing out like a sore thumb with my Sicilian friends.
Palermo, 2019


18. Sicily is not Italy


Well…it is, technically, but Sicilians don’t see it that way.

Sicily wasn’t part of Italy until 1861, and Sicilians remain fiercely proud and independent people.

Sicilians do not consider themselves to be Italian.

They identify as Sicilian, through and through, and woe betide you if you try to convince them otherwise!


19. Sicily is the best place on earth


Despite the trash, the 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 | Final thoughts


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

Property websites are keen to talk about the beaches and the climate, but gloss over the not so glamourous side of Sicily.

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 not some kind of immigration expert, nor do I work in real estate, but I have spent a lot of time in Sicily, and I like to think that I know a thing or two about la dolce vita in Sicilia.



Further Reading


I have written extensively about Sicily, including detailed guides to various cities and towns on the island.

Below, you’ll find my Sicily articles, which you may find useful!


General Sicily travel articles


Palermo articles


Catania articles


Other Sicily guides


That’s it for today! As always, if you have any questions then don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments section below, and I will get back to you.

Until next time,

XOXO


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35 thoughts on “Living in Sicily – 19 Things Nobody Tells You About Moving to 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 ๐Ÿ™‚
    Anna

    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 ๐Ÿ™‚

  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!

    H

    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 ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ teacher exploring the expat experience in ๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ, I’m thinking of Sicily as snow bird destination. I studied in ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น, 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.
    Respectfully,
    mm

  12. Have been living in Palermo for almost 10 y. Before lived in Belgium, Netherland, Germany, Hungary and Malte. Despite of many cons I don’t see me living somewhere else than in Sicily. I alwais say as soon as you come to Sicily or you accept many strange things and you will be happy, or it’s just not your island. So Sicily is MY ISLAND.

  13. Very nice unvarnished article.
    I have been to Sicily twice, found family in Naso, ME and my Great-grandmotherโ€™s birth record in Siculiana, AG. In the process of pursuing a 1948 case for dual citizenship and retiring there soon.
    I too am worried about the language challenges, but I have 2 years to overcome them. Fingers crossed

  14. Thanks for the insights… Going to be spending next February based in Palermo, so I have 11 months to learn a bit of Italian. I just received my copy of “Learn Italian for adult learners” and now after reading your article, I’m even more enthused to dig into it. Ciao!

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