After graduating from university, I decided I wanted to do some travelling. So, when two of my friends suggested I accompany them to Florence, where they would be studying Italian for five months, it seemed like a great opportunity. The three of us could share a small studio, thus cutting costs; I’m European, so no working visa was required; and I’d get to spend several months in Florence, one of the most beautiful cities in the world!
The only problem was I had no money. Nada. Like, a few hundred pounds before my overdraft was maxed out.
Did I go anyway? Yes I did. Of course, studying Italian was out – there was no way I could cover the costs of tuition or living expenses without having saved up first. I would need a job. I knew I wanted to write, and could make some money freelancing, but I didn’t want to rely on this as my sole source of income. I wanted to pick up some regular part-time work while I was there, so that I had enough to eat and pay rent.
So that’s how I found myself in Florence, in the late summer of 2012: unemployed, with enough money to last a month tops, and not speaking any Italian.
Was it stressful? Hell yes. I hated those first few weeks. But, it all came right in the end.
Let me tell you how it’s done:
1. Assess your Options
So, you want to work in Florence. The most obvious question to ask before you arrive is: do you speak Italian? Obviously, if you have a working knowledge of Italian, then a lot more jobs are going to be open to you – especially in a popular tourist destination like Florence, where bilingual waitresses, tour guides and bar staff are the norm.
If you do not speak Italian, however, all is not lost – there are still options. I was proof of this. Common roles for English speakers in Florence include nanny, language tutor, tour guide and artist’s model. Hell, you can even be a street artist if you have the talent and the appropriate ‘permisso per artiste de strata’. But you’re going to have to think about whether this is the kind of work you want to be doing before you head out there – there’s no point being in Florence if you’re going to be miserable because you hate children but could only find a job in childcare.
If you’re not from the EU, you’re going to have factor in visa requirements as well. My understanding is that unless you have an employer willing to sponsor your working visa, they’re pretty hard to get. This leaves non-Europeans with two options: either come on a student visa, which allows you to work up to 20 hours a week (my friends studied Italian at this school and would highly recommend it; there are also a lot of courses focusing on art and art history, not to mention insanely cheap university courses), or come on a tourist visa then hope and pray you can find an employer who will sponsor you to convert it into a working one. If you’re not bilingual and/or an experienced professional in your field, I wouldn’t hold your breath on this one. Of course, the unspoken third option is to work illegally doing cash-in-hand work of the sort that I’m going to go on to describe. Obviously, this isn’t recommended, although I can’t say that I didn’t see it happening.
2. Get Ready
Once you have an idea of the kind of work you’ll be pursuing, make up a CV following Italian conventions, both in Italian and English (if you’re not fluent, have someone who is proofread it). Make sure you include your Italian address and phone number (if known – otherwise update your CV as soon as you arrive in Italy), and information about your nationality and visa status.
Not long before you go, you can start perusing the classified section in The Florentine, Tuscany’s leading English language paper and a veritable goldmine of useful information. This will give you a taste of what jobs are out there. You can also post your own ad for free, advertising your services – more on my own experiences of this time come.
3. Move to Florence
Be brave. Come with enough money to keep you floating while you find your feet (in my case, this was enough for around one month living frugally, with about £100 leftover for a flight back to the UK if needed), then dedicate yourself to job hunting once you’re there and can talk to people face to face. You’re unlikely to secure a job, especially a non-professional one, without being there in person – although you might be able to arrange a few meetings or make some contacts prior to arrival, which is always nice.
If you haven’t sorted out accommodation in advance, either because you’re going to look once you’re there or because you’re seeking work with accommodation included (fairly common for au pairs), then book a room somewhere for at least the first two weeks, perhaps a month. That’ll be one less thing to worry about for the time being.
4. Get Out There!
Once you’re in Florence – get job hunting. Explore the city, look in windows and on notice boards, talk to people in places you’d like to work: bars, shops, restaurants, tourist sites, whatever. Networking is your friend. Advertise your services in coffee shops, the library, in schools, on social media. Make job hunting your full-time profession.
Now back to my own experiences: I don’t know if I was just incredibly lucky, but my experiences of job hunting were actually fairly painless. I decided to focus my efforts on looking for work as a part-time nanny and artist’s model. I was actually already fairly experienced working as a life model (yes, that is the nude one, but there’s also portrait modelling if life modelling isn’t for you) so thought beforehand this would be how I’d make my money, and merrily printed off some (fully clothed) photos which I went and stuck on the notice boards in the many Florentine art schools with notes advertising my availability and experience… and I got some work, but not that much. Certainly not enough to live off. It turns out whereas in my home town life models were fairly thin on the ground, in Florence there are more than enough people ready to give it a go!
It turned out that the childcare was a lot more profitable. I placed an ad in The Florentine advertising my key selling points (TEFL-qualified, experience working with children, native English speaker, BA in English) which went live a few days after I arrived – and I was inundated with emails from interested parents. I met a few who lived within walking distance and whose proposed working hours suited mine, and within two weeks of arrival had a regular gig lined up looking after two Italian boys, aged seven and nine, working about 15 hours a week. It was a pretty cushy job that left me with ample time to write and explore Florence, and just enough money to live on (although remember I was sharing a studio with two friends – that saved a lot of money, but was cozy to say the least!). Again, I’d like to emphasize that perhaps my experiences were a fluke – but overall, it was pretty easy.
5. Enjoy Florence!
If you find a job that leaves you with enough money, time and energy to make the most out of living in Florence, then fantastic. If not – keep your ears open and an eye out for other opportunities.
Of course, sometimes things don’t work out as you planned. If you end up not finding a job, or hating the job you have found, or just not enjoying having to work when you want to be enjoying Florence, then that’s OK. At least you’ll be able to go home with your head held high knowing that you tried – and you picked up some valuable life experiences and got to spend at least a month in Florence en route.
Have you had experience living and working in Florence? Please share them below.