Rome really is a great city to visit, with great food, good weather most of the year and loads of stunning architecture and attractions to visit. But could someone actually move to Rome more permanently and live there without needing to speak any Italian? Can you get by in Rome only speaking English?
Whilst it may be possible to live in Rome without knowing any Italian and only speaking English, your opportunities and lifestyle will be restricted and limited doing this. It is recommended to learn Italian for longer term stays in any part of Italy, to broaden social and work circles and also to make dealing with government officials and agencies easier.
Having lived in Italy for several longish stretches myself, I can confirm that while there are English speaking “hot-spots” where tourists go, with Rome being one of them, English is nowhere close to universally spoken in most parts of the country. And you WILL run into problems dealing with “the system” in Italy if you speak literally zero Italian. Therefore, having some Italian will really be useful and I would consider it effectively necessary to live there long term without difficulties.
Let’s look at the issue of Italy and English/Italian in more detail.
How Widely Spoken Is English In Rome?
Rome is a massive tourist destination, the top one in Italy and one of the major ones globally. With attractions like the Colosseum and the Vatican, it’s the third biggest EU tourist city, receiving 7-10 million tourists a year, with at least a couple of million of those from English speaking countries (USA/UK/Australia/Canada).
Therefore Rome is well equipped to receive English speakers, and English is actually quite widely spoken in all the central areas of Rome tourists go to.
- Tourist shops
- Attractions (English spoken, plus English language leaflets)
- Restaurants (at least enough to take your order).
- Tourist Information centers
- Walking tours of Rome available fully in English.
- Younger people under 30 will especially be able to speak English. Older people may struggle a bit.
Basically, for short holidays, tourists never report any problems getting by not really speaking Italian. At best, just having a few basic please/hello/thank-you (which are very easy to pick up anyway – see below) is plenty sufficient for short stays in Rome.
Of course, as you move outside the central areas, and into smaller shops/cafe’s/suburbs, English is less spoken, in line with most of the rest of Italy. Only around one third of the Italian population as a whole speaks English, and even then often only basic. In the central parts of Rome, this maybe moves up to around 50%, because of all the tourism.
But still often only enough to do their job. Truly fluent English speakers are actually hard to find among the general population of Italy, and are usually restricted to highly educated professionals/academics.
Most other Italians – in Rome or elsewhere – can only speak a basic level of English if they are proficient, which is why it’s usually better to learn Italian regardless – see further below.
Can You Live In Rome Without Speaking Italian?
Going on holiday to Rome for one or two weeks is one thing – millions of people can and do go there for short trips and get by fine only speaking English plus a few Italian words. But moving there permanently is a whole different matter. Could you actually live in Rome as an expat and not speak any Italian?
It could theoretically be possible to move to Rome and not speak any Italian, but this is not recommended, since it will severely limit your opportunities and ease of daily life. Realistically, it is necessary to have some Italian proficiency to deal with problems that will arise in daily life moving to any foreign country.
In other words, you could totally live in Rome, especially the central parts, and get by doing the absolute basics without speaking Italian:
- Shopping – you can just fill your trolley up, tap you card or hand over cash, then it’s “ciao” and move on.
- Eating out – Again, English is widely enough spoken you can order food fine just speaking English or pointing.
- Transport – Again buses are easy – just feed coins into those machines on the bus and get a ticket. Train stations do have signs in English as well, and some staff will speak English.
But this is a pretty limited life. Anything more in depth than that, or just dealing with the (famously bureaucratic, slow moving) system in Italy, you’re going to be much better off if you can speak some Italian.
Here are some problems or things you’ll encounter in daily life living in Rome long term, that you’ll navigate much more easily if you know some Italian:
- General state admin/paperwork – getting your tax “codice fiscale” card/number or “permesso di soggiorno” (residence permits) or other visa stuff – It’s going to be hard to do this only speaking English. From personal experience, not many staff at these centers speak English.
- Opening up bank accounts
- Possibly getting loans, mortgages, credit cards (contracts likely only in Italian)
- Setting up mobile phone/internet contracts (only in Italian)
- Setting up utilities contracts (gas/electric/water).
- Getting your car fixed if you drive
- Getting broken AC fixed (especially in summer)
- Buying property
- Signing long term rental agreements
- Opening up businesses
- Going anywhere outside the main center of Rome, or anywhere else in Italy where English isn’t very widely spoken (like countryside areas)
For any of these things, plus other “stuff” that will come up where you need to interact with local person who may not speak English in order to get something sorted, you realistically need to know some Italian to make your interactions easier.
For sure, there are probably expats who just muddle through with a few basic Italian words, plus miming/pointing and using Google Translate when needed. But most will find it much easier if they learn the language and can have at least a basic interaction to convey something in Italian.
Can You Work In Rome Without Speaking Italian?
The answer to this is more clear cut. Whilst it does receive a lot of English speaking tourists, Rome is not as English-language friendly as other European cities like Barcelona or Lisbon or Marbella, where you can live and speak English all day long if you want to.
Living day to day might just about be possible (but limited) without speaking Italian, but working there you’ve got next to no chance.
In almost all cases, it would not be possible to work in Rome without speaking some Italian. An exception might be working for an international company that conducts most of it’s business in English, but even in these jobs, it is likely that some Italian proficiency will be expected.
You can always check vacancies for international companies there – Amazon, PwC, Accenture, Deloitte, IBM, Ericsson-Worldwide and Proctor & Gamble are just some multi-nationals based in Rome.
But even with these jobs, if there’s any interaction at all required with local people who may not speak English, some Italian will be required, since it’s not as widely spoken as some other international cities where working only in English is more feasable.
Another sort of possibility might be English language teaching (British School or TOEFL style courses), but even then, you really still need some Italian to converse with absolute beginners who are just starting to learn English.
You could also set up an expat-focused business, but this is more common in countries like Spain which already have a large British expat community. Rome doesn’t quite have that same expat feel, though of course there are some English speaking people living there.
Pretty much anything else, especially working for Italian companies from people I know there, you will definitely need Italian. Anyone who is aware of those rare opportunities in Rome where you can work only speaking English, get in touch on the Contact page. But as far as I know, those jobs are next to impossible to find in Rome.
Should You Learn Italian Anyway When Moving To Rome?
The answer to this is pretty clear. Although it would be technically possible to get by living in Rome without speaking any Italian, your life would be so limited and restricted, and getting problems sorted would be so difficult, that you really will find it much easier to learn some Italian for longer term stays there.
As well as being good etiquette anyway – locals always appreciate the efforts of even a few basic words – it will just help you get problems resolved much better. Expats who move to foreign countries where English isn’t widely spoken anyway and do learn the local language almost always say that while it was a challenge at first, they are very glad they did it, because it opened up so many more opportunities for them.
- More social opportunities and the chance to make Italian friends.
- More opportunity to embrace Italian culture, such as TV, news, theater, movies etc (English language films played in Italy do tend to have an annoying, loud Italian voice dubbed over them, which is a negative).
- More work opportunities if this is what you’re looking for.
- Easier to set up local businesses and gain Italian clients.
- Easier to sort out tax and other regulatory paperwork.
- Easier to get daily maintenance issues/repairs sorted.
Having tried to learn Italian myself, I can confirm it’s not the easiest language to learn – it moves very fast and can be hard to pick up initially – but it can still be done and probably takes 1-2 years of living there to get to some level of fluency (this time frame can be shortened by taking classes – see further below).
But the bottom line is that living in Rome, learning Italian is strongly recommended.
Some Basic Italian Phrases To Get Started
Even if you’re only going to Rome on a short holiday or scouting for places to move long term, it’s still a good idea to have some basic Italian phrases handy, since it will help you get through interactions a bit easier, and is also a bit more polite as locals always appreciate tourists making a small effort with basic courtesies.
See the embedded video and table for some of the more basic Italian phrases to uses which will help you to get by in hotels, restaurants, shops and bars, plus as a starter for further learning.
|How are you? (formal/friendly)||Come stai/sta?||Com-eh sty/sta?|
|Fine, thanks||Bene, grazie||Beh-ne grat-see-eh|
|Please||Per favore||Per favoor-eh|
|Sorry||Mi dispiace||Me dis-piar-chey|
|Sorry/excuse me (informal)||Scusi||Scoosi|
|Do you speak English?||Parla inglese?||Parla inglay-sey?|
|Speak slowly||Parla lente||Parla lentay|
|Where's the bathroom?||Dov'e il bagno?||Do-vay eel ban-yo?|
|I'd like this please||Vorrei questa per favore||Vorrey kwesta per favoor-eh|
|Take out/eat in (for food)||Porta via/mange qui||Porta via/manje kwee|
|1/2 beers please||Uno/Due birra(e) per favore||Oono/doo-ey birra(eh) per favoor-eh|
|1/2 tickets please||Uno/Due biglietto(i) per favore||Oono/doo-ey billyetto(i) per favoor-eh|
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Tips For Being Understood in English In Rome
If you do have to resort to English when in Rome, the chances are that the person will not be very fluent, so you will have to take steps to make sure you are properly understood. Here are some general pointers:
- Speak clearly and slowly.
- Use simple, easy to understand words – no slang or clever words.
- Use simple, short sentences, don’t go off on tangents or rambles.
- Try to speak in the simple present tense – “I go to …..tomorrow” instead of the more complex conditional or future tense (I will go to…. tomorrow.). Italians understand and speak in the simple present tense best
Useful Resources For People Moving To Rome
Here are links to some other resources to help with common daily life issues living as an expat/worker in Rome or Italy in general:
- Rome Blogs – Rome doesn’t have quite the expat community or feel of some other places in Europe, but the Expats Living In Rome blog and also the Rome Actually Blog has some good content in living there, plus see here and here for two decent blog articles on life in Rome.
- Italian Classes – See here for an excellent page on in-person and online Italian classes available in Rome for all abilities for a reasonable price.
- Visas – Like Portugal, Italy does have a Golden Visa Program, which offers an easier path to residency than the standard routes. However, a sizeable investment into Italy is required to get it. See here for more.
- Schools/Kids – See here for a good guide for international schools in Rome. Plenty of choice but definitely not cheap.
- Banking – If you’re using a foreign bank card to draw out euros at an ATM in Italy, you’re likely to get stung with high fees. See our guide on some good multi-currency card options to spend in euros for free, and also withdraw money from ATMs cheaply in Euro-using countries.
- Phones/SIM Cards – Many phones are locked and won’t accept foreign SIM cards. For getting a working local SIM card and number in Italy without spending loads of money, see this article.