Saturday, 4 January 2020

Two Months in Italy - Living La Dolce Vita

I had the good fortune to spend two months in Italy with my partner during the last quarter of 2019. It was nothing short of an eye opener from many angles, of which the most relevant one to this blog would be that of cost and lifestyle arbitrage. 

We spent one month in the region of Puglia (southern Italy) and another in Umbria (central Italy), and the conclusion from a cost perspective is that living life in those regions in Italy is way cheaper than in Singapore. Here's a summary of the breakdown in costs. 


S$915 per pax on economy class via Turkish Airlines, with a stopover of four nights in Istanbul. 


This was c. S$1,750 per month for a private ground floor apartment with an adjacent outdoor space (garden / farm) through AirBnB. 

Indoor space was roughly 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, and outdoor space was so bountiful that I find it hard to put it down in numbers. We had long term stay discounts of up to c. 20%. 

One thing to note is that gas is charged separately during winter months in Italy. For our 2nd month in Umbria, it started to get pretty cold and necessitated the use of some heating. This cost an additional EUR80 for that month (c.S$120). 

Car Rental 

This was c. S$650 per month. The places we stayed at weren't exactly well connected by trains and public transport. It necessitated the use of a private vehicle. To minimize any chagrin from my partner, I decided to rent a private car instead of hitchhike, ride motorcycles or bicycles :) 

We rented a car from Hertz via a car rental broker (AutoEurope / Kemwel) with full insurance for 2 months. It was a small manual economy class car (FIAT Panda / 500) that was suitable for ferrying 2 people. 

On the Ground Expenses

These included visiting tourist sites, groceries, eating out, fuel, buying stuff, etc. This came up to a total of c. S$1,300 per pax per month. 

It was about c. S$950 per pax per month in our first month in Puglia, and rose to c.S$1,650 per pax per month in Umbria. Why is there a remarkable difference here? 

A large part of these expenses stemmed from groceries and ristorante meals. 

During our first month in Puglia, we spent more time at home cooking and less eating out. The ratio of home cooked meals to ristorante meals was probably 2:1. 

This decreased to 1:3 or 1:4 in our 2nd month in Umbria, probably because food and wine in Umbria was so delicious that we decided to spend more time and monies enjoying them, and the cost of living in Umbria is higher than Puglia, roughly by about 20 to 30% or so, which largely explains it.

That said, even the most expensive ristorante meals didn't break the bank. I reckon the most we actually paid for a meal out was c.80 EUR (c.S$120), and that was with the full works that included antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti, dolce, cafe and of course vino. 

And we had some really great meals at some great restaurants (especially in Umbria) at such good value that it has shown me that Singapore prices for eating out are really quite over the top. Perhaps more towards that of Swiss prices but without the same standard. Put your hands up for the Swiss standard of living (or rather, prices), anyone? :p 

One case in point was when we hit a famous ristorante in Montepulciano for bistecca. They charged us EUR42 (c. S$65) for a 1.2kg Sirloin, and it was grilled to perfection. I'm not sure whether one can even find such a deal in Singapore's overpriced F&B market, but do let me know if there is a comparable deal available. 

Separately, I found fuel cost to be pretty steep in Italy. The car ran on unleaded petrol (senza piombio benzina) of E5 (think RON95) quality. The cheapest fuel was EUR1.50/l (c.S$2.25/l). I think this is more expensive than Singapore, and possibly the only thing more expensive than Singapore (putting aside gas prices and taxes).  

Diesel was about c.10% to 15% cheaper but though diesel cars cost 10 to 15% more to rent. 

I'm not quite sure whether diesel run cars are more efficient than petrol run cars, but I do know that the FIAT petrol run cars aren't exactly the most fuel efficient ones, when comparing to the usual Japanese / Korean makes. 

General Thoughts

Those two months in Italy were certainly a god send. Amongst other things, it showed me that price and lifestyle arbitrage can also be found in developed countries, perhaps more in the southern and eastern parts of Europe. 

This little jaunt has shown that it is certainly possible to attain European standards of living with lower than Singapore costs of living, especially when  major costs such as housing, transport, and food is cheaper than Singapore. 

In addition, the food was so fresh in Italy, where farm to table seemed to be the standard rather than something to be marketed and sold more dearly. Not to mention the abundant space, fresh air, and warm hospitality. 

We didn't quite venture much into the usual tourist haunts, and were the only Asian couple in a largely European demographic most of the time. Also, our limited , or rather, non-existent command of Italian didn't quite hamper the hospitality we enjoyed, and even in quiet areas in various small towns, there was no point in time where we ever felt unsafe. 

Looking back, I do wish that either one of us could speak Italian. That would have facilitated interactions more easily, and perhaps we could have been able to form deeper connections with our AirBnB hosts, and the people around us. 

That said, I do feel that the only drawback for living such a lifestyle in a foreign land, though while certainly a value play in my book, is that it lacks a viable form of sustained community. 

Sometimes, it's nice to have deep conversations with different people in person. The internet, and wine, can only do so much. 

But maybe I'm just being picky, because I would have done this trip all over again. However, I'll do so with a better grasp of Italian the next time round. :) 


  1. Wow how did u manage to get 2-mth leave? And will you consider to stay in cheaper part of Europe during your retirement?

  2. Hi there, I have been unemployed since Sep 2018. So I have some flexibility to determine what I want to do. Yes, geographical arbitrage is always a consideration, but one of the downsides is a lack of community and closeness to loved ones. It's nicer to FIRE together with loved ones (family / partner).