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Jobs in Sicily for Foreigners
For non-Italians seeking employment in Sicily

Related pages: Living in SicilySicily FactsTravel FaqsInvisible SicilyExpatriate Links(Real) Jobs Wanted!Job PrefermentsSicilian Culture

Jobs and money.Let's begin this page with a raw, candid reality check: In early 2012 it was reported that Italy's national "youth unemployment" rate – people under 30 who are actively seeking jobs – was 30%, and in Sicily it was estimated at closer to 40%. Unemployment for Sicilians over 30 was estimated at 24%. In December 2012, it was reported by ISTAT (Italy's national statistics agency) that general unemployment in Italy was at its highest level in thirty years. The last few years have seen an exodus of young Italians, with around 100,000 going to Australia each year – perhaps close to a million have arrived in the true Land of Oz in the last decade, comparable to the number of Romanians now living in Italy. Finding a job in Sicily is difficult for Sicilians, and even moreso for foreigners. But the fact is that Sicily's mild climate and leisurely lifestyle are difficult to resist, and nowadays people everywhere like to exchange cultural experiences. In response to people who email us about job opportunities or living in Sicily, our editors decided to encourage two of our writers (one from Palermo and the other from Catania) to deal with the issue of employment for foreigners in Sicily. There's obviously a substantial difference between vacationing (or even studying) in Sicily and actually working here. As with other social topics on this website, these are generalities; our observations and suggestions may differ from those offered by other sources, or from your personal experience. In the interest of being pragmatic and helpful, we won't pull any punches...

Corporate Appointments
Foreign Military
Teaching English
Tour Guides
Au Pairs
Travel Writers
Starting a Business in Sicily
Info for Expatriates
Sicilians' Attitudes & Foreign Workers
A Realistic View (feedback)

Legally, you must have a stay permit to live and work in Italy unless you are a European Union (EU) citizen. In practice (if you aren't an EU citizen), this permit is difficult to obtain unless an employer sponsors you. Getting a student visa is easy enough, but it won't permit you to work here. A number of articles on this site describe living and work conditions in Sicily, where the unemployment rate has been higher than twenty percent for the last fifty years. This is no secret! Nobody who lives in Sicily or reads the newspapers here would ever contest the facts – it's that simple. It is largely due to the lack of work in Sicily that Sicilians still emigrate. Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, England, Germany and Scandinavia have large Sicilian immigrant populations, and the vast majority of these Sicilians leave our island in search of employment opportunities superior to those available in Sicily. Today's Italians may not be proud of this fact, but it's the truth. Even in Milan, opportunities for foreigners are few. Meritocracy is not an important word in the Italian vocabulary; "recommendations" (preferments) are the order of the day, and in the workplace things like sexual harassment of female employees are so commonplace that they should be considered the rule rather than the exception. The employment situation in Sicily is difficult at best, and shows no sign of improving any time soon. For this reason and others, a foreigner seeking work in Sicily should expect to encounter a certain degree of overt resentment from some Sicilians. Let's take an objective look at the kinds of employment foreigners typically seek in Sicily. We don't want to take a negative tone, but neither do we wish to mislead you. We've met foreigners whose aspirations to find employment in Sicily have turned into nightmares.

The books and websites that foster false hopes in the minds of job aspirants are especially deplorable. We can't prevent their publication of deceptive "advice" but we can (strongly) advise you to make an informed decision.

For what it's worth: ISTAT figures may contradict ours because their standard ascribes the status of "full employment" even to an adult who works only one day of the year and earns virtually nothing, while those not "actively" seeking employment are not considered "unemployed." Many Sicilians are "underemployed" on a part-time basis and Italy has no minimum wage. In fact, Italy has what is estimated to be the highest level of emigration for employment reasons of any G-8 nation, and suffers a Brain Drain because even jobs for highly-trained applicants are few.

Corporate Executive Positions
Foreign managers in foreign corporations with offices in Italy are increasingly rare, while Italian employees abroad are becoming commonplace. Even the American government staffs its consulates and military bases with local Italians for positions which do not involve national (American) security. Incidentally, very few of the American personnel at United States consulates are foreign service officers; most are support staff or employees of allied agencies (Social Security, etc.). The few multinational companies which may hire non-Italians at larger offices are based in Milan and Rome, not Palermo or Catania. You won't find much in Sicily.

Foreign Military Personnel
By treaty, the spouses and children of American military personnel cannot legally work in Italy except on the military bases to which they are assigned. In Sicily, this law applies to the relatives of personnel stationed at Sigonella (the US naval air station) near Catania. The spouse or child of a NATO officer stationed in Italy may be employed by an Italian company if he or she is a citizen of an EU nation.

Teaching English
The books and websites that tell you it's easy to find a job teaching English in Palermo, Catania or elsewhere in Sicily – or in Italy generally – are not telling you the whole story. In practice, most positions available are low-paying teaching jobs with small private schools. That may be suitable if you're simply looking for the chance to spend some time in one of Italy's warmer and sunnier regions, but the better schools do require teaching credentials of some kind. High school and university positions are almost impossible to obtain because bureaucracy, recognition of foreign credentials and job availability create unnecessary complexities for even the most qualified candidates. The native speakers of English hired as lettori are not full-time tenured instructors; their positions are renewed by contract annually (with luck) and their salaries are poor. Many of the teachers in small private schools are native speakers of English from abroad. In Sicily's public schools, however, it is not unusual to encounter Italian teachers of English who can barely speak the language. Not surprisingly, many Italian adults enrol in courses at private schools after years of unsuccessful language study in high school. Anybody seeking a position teaching English in Italy should speak at least some Italian (this depends largely on the teaching method your school uses) and should enjoy the unique social art of teaching.

Tour Guides
We get a lot of requests for advice on how a foreigner (non-Italian) can get a tour guide position in Sicily. Our best advice is to forget about it. It's virtually impossible – and often illegal. Here's why. In Italy, the government certifies both tour leaders (accompagnatori who lead groups by bus from one city to another) and licensed tour guides (guide turistiche who are recognised specialists in the history of certain regions' historical sites). Some leaders are certified as guides for certain regions (Sicily, Sardinia, Florence-Tuscany, Rome-Lazio, etc.). Tour leaders and tour guides must be licensed (region by region) by the government tourism regulatory agencies (assessorati). In times past, regional tourism authorities (the usual political appointees) sometimes attempted to reserve these certifications for relatives or friends lacking university degrees. Today, however, most licensed tour guides in Italy have achieved as much education as a university history professor to get where they are. They must take an exam (given only once every five or ten years) to be considered for certification. The exam requires extensive knowledge of history, art, architecture and anthropology, and fluency in Italian and at least one foreign language. You must be an EU citizen to sit the exam. No legitimate tour company or resort in Sicily will hire or recommend a guide who lacks the proper credentials. Most guides are women but a few exceptional ones we know are men. Here in Italy, there's also a peculiar social aspect to these coveted jobs, which pay better, and offer better work conditions, than any other professional field dominated by females. However, the personnel who work shifts "on location" at specific archaeological and historical sites (such as the Agrigento, Segesta and Siracusa sites, Monreale cloister, Palermo's Palatine Chapel, Taormina's amphitheatre), perhaps offering guided visits of these locations, are not licensed tour guides but low-paid hourly workers who, in the vast majority of cases, cannot even speak a foreign language – though speaking a foreign language fluently is an essential requirement for licensed guides in Italy.

Au Pairs
One should distinguish between au pairs and full-time nannies or housekeepers. Most of the au pairs here in Sicily are young women (under 24) from England, Scandinavia or Germany. A typical work term lasts about six months. We must stress that a candidate should only search for such a position through a reputable international agency, of which there are rather few in this generally unregulated field. Even recommendations through friends are not always a reliable approach. In any event, it is extremely important to know the host family reasonably well (personally rather than merely through correspondence) before coming to live with them. The dynamics of family life in Sicily (even "typical" marriages) may differ considerably from that to which a young woman is accustomed in her own country. Obviously, the candidate should feel perfectly comfortable in this environment before considering becoming an au pair, even for a brief period. Naturally, this is a highly individual choice, but unless all these conditions are met, being an au pair here in Sicily (or perhaps anywhere) is generally discouraged. As regards housekeepers, distinguished from au pairs, Sicilian newspapers have run numerous stories about the exploitation of (in particular) Romanian women, reporting what can only be described as extreme mistreatment.

Travel Writers & Photographers
We often receive requests (usually for a job, free research or free advice) from aspiring or "professional" travel writers or photographers. Best of Sicily's staff provides travel writing, photography and research as a paid consulting service and we work with various publishers. Some writers and travel agents ask us for paid "familiarization trips" to Sicily. These "junkets" are rarely available from any source, and certainly not from Best of Sicily! Most of the professional travel writers who come to Sicily are paid by major publishers abroad. Many of the best-known authors already live here; Ellen Grady and Mary Taylor Simeti come to mind. Realistically, there are not many employment opportunities here in this field.

Starting a Business in Sicily
While certain types of business are reasonably simple to establish in Sicily – speaking here of bureaucracy involved in things like obtaining business permits – opening a "bricks and mortar" business (a shop or restaurant, for example) can be a challenge. Despite the efforts of organizations like Addio Pizzo (Best of Sicily is a member), Mafia protection money, the extortion of periodic payments from store owners, is still a reality in larger cities like Catania and Palermo. Incidentally, the Chinese owners of stores in Sicily selling clothing and other products from China pay protection money to two criminal organizations – the Sicilian Mafia and the Chinese one. Bizarre as this all sounds, we're not making it up; it's all been reported in the press and in books. Organized crime aside, the Italian government and labor (trade) unions make it costly to hire anybody and almost impossible to fire them, even for just cause. And there are dozens of issues involving business start-ups that would require hundreds of pages to consider in detail. The success (profitability) of your Sicily-based business is more than just a simple question of hard work. For most foreigners, the service and professional sectors offer a better chance of success than retailing, agriculture and industry, moreso when the clientele is not exclusively local. That includes areas like tourism, but even there it's not too healthy to entertain unrealistic expectations.

Information for Aspiring Expatriates
Our links page mentions a few sites oriented toward the interests of expatriates in Italy, addressing practical concerns as well as more philosophical (social) ones. Nowadays, with the internet, satellite television (in Italy Sky is the main service) and affordable air travel, living abroad is a real possibility. The point of our comments here is that it's easiest for those who need not rely on local sources of income. See our expats' page for very general information.

Sicilians' Attitudes and Foreign Workers
Considering the economy and chronically high unemployment rate on the island – and the fact that many university graduates never even practice their chosen professions unless they search employment outside Sicily – it may be understandable that some Sicilians are envious, or perhaps just a bit resentful, of foreigners who find opportunities here. The African exploited as an illegal construction worker or the Romanian working as an underpaid houskeeper may not inspire such reactions, but a highly-trained, university-educated foreigner just might, especially if she is doing a job for which a Sicilian feels qualified. Our point is that such reactions may be more frequent, or at least more overt, than what you would encounter elsewhere; despite the many Italians living and working in the US, UK and Australia, some Italians in Italy dislike the idea of competing against foreigners in the local job market.

A Comment About This Page
"I'm an American who has lived in Catania for eight years and after stumbling upon your web site, I felt compelled to give you my opinion regarding the Jobs in Sicily for Foreigners page. After years of struggling in the practically non-existent job market here (I feel I could write a book about it), I was struck by how wonderfully (and refreshingly) accurate your information is on this subject. Too often I read glossed-over accounts of job possibilities for foreigners written by self-interested tourist board-sponsored organizations, which never paint the real picture of just how excruciatingly difficult it is for a foreigner to make a living in Sicily. One thing I might suggest you add to your info: In addition to the overall difficulty of finding a job and the low pay, one should also be informed that there are quite a few unscrupulous employers and sometimes just getting paid is a problem!"

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