by Karolina Kułakowska
Starting life in a new city and country, independently, can be quite overwhelming. When I came to Rome, I had no idea what life was going to cost. How much does it cost to go out? How much are groceries? How much is rent? Now it has been three years since I moved to Rome and started studying at La Sapienza University med school. The most important thing that I have noticed is that even though this city is the capital of Italy, life here does not have to be as expensive as some people might think it does.
In this article I will break down all the costs that you need to know about before you start studying and living in Rome. I will give you some tips that I have gathered throughout those three years, so that you can save some money while living in the Eternal City. Much of what I write here about Rome applies to all Italian cities, with some small adjustments. Milan is slightly more expensive, and many cities, particularly the smaller and more southern ones, are considerably cheaper.
- Tuition fees
At La Sapienza, tuition fees for foreigners vary depending on income. If you declare an ISEE – a statement about your family’s financial resources – your tuition fee will be lower. The maximum you have to pay depends on where you come from.
Developing Countries (list here): Total fee per academic year: €500 (or three installments: part 1: €150, part 2: €150, part 3: €175) plus regional fees: €140
Other Countries: Total fee per academic year: €1000 (or 3 installments: part 1: €300, part 2: €350, part 3: €350) plus regional fees: €140
There is an additional fee of €16. So, if you are in the category of Other Countries and do not declare an ISEE, your fee for the whole year will be €1156 in total.
You can pay the tuition fee all at once, or you can divide it into three installments. You will have to pay at least the first installment as soon as you get accepted (in order to confirm your place).
- Accommodation costs
In general, it is quite uncommon to live in dorms when you study at La Sapienza. Most students rent out a single room in a shared apartment. The cost can be anywhere between €400-550 a month. It is also possible to live in a shared room (cheaper) or to find a whole apartment just for one person (higher price).
The costs also may vary depending on the location and other bills. If the apartment is located close to the university – in neighborhoods such as Piazza Bologna, Tiburtina, or San Lorenzo — or close to the metro, the price might be higher than that of apartments further away.
As for bills, there are two options. For some apartments, you pay rent with all bills included, while for others, you have to pay rent and bills separately. For example, rent might be €400 plus bills, meaning that the total will be around €450. The bills that the landlord may charge for include electricity, gas, heating, internet, and a maintenance fee.
La Sapienza has more information about housing and food costs.
- Public transport
- Short-term tickets: BIT (Biglietti Integrati a Tempo; “Integrated Time Ticket”)
A BIT costs €1.50 and is valid for 100 minutes from first validation. It is good just for a single journey on metro and train urban routes, even if you change lines, as long as you do not pass through turnstiles. You can buy a BIT at ticket offices of the ATAC (Agenzia del trasporto autoferrotranviario del Comune dei Roma, the regional transit authority), authorized points of sale (for example tabacchi convenience stores), or ticket machines.
- Long-term tickets: valid for unlimited journeys on all buses, trams and metro lines
Monthly card: €35. If you buy a monthly card via one of the indirect ATAC sales channels (for example, tabacchi), there is an additional cost of €3. The monthly card is valid during the charged calendar month. You therefore get the best value if you buy one on the first day of the month.
Yearly pass: €250. Valid for 365 days from the purchase date.
- Groceries and shopping
There is a great choice of supermarkets in Rome. The most popular ones include Carrefour, Lidl, Auchan, Coop, Tuodi, iN’s Mercato, and Conad. There are also many independent markets selling, among other things, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Of course, everybody spends a different amount of money on groceries. This depends not only on where you buy your food, but also what you buy. Despite this, groceries for one person cost on average somewhere between €30 and €50 per week.
Shopping for stationery or furniture does not have to be expensive either. There are many second-hand stores, like Mercatino, where you can find home products for very cheap. In addition, there are multiple all-purpose stores that sell basically everything apart from food. Rome also has markets open on certain days, for example at Porta Portese, which is open every Sunday morning. At these markets you can find many home products for as cheap as €1!
- Restaurants and going out
Going and eating out are quite a large part of the university lifestyle, especially here in Rome.
There are many nice restaurants and bars in the city center, as well as in the Trastevere area. Generally speaking, restaurants in the center are be more expensive than those in university areas such as Piazza Bologna, Viale Ippocrate, or Trastevere. In the center, you might find pizza and pasta that costs around €10, whereas in the university areas, it can be half that price. The center tends to be more expensive because of tourists.
My personal favourite is the street Viale Ippocrate, where you can find numerous restaurants and a variety of cuisines. For as cheap as €5 you can get an entire pizza with a soft drink (at Solo Pizza or Pizza dai Cinque) or a delicious burger (at Fuori Corso) or incredible greek gyros (at Mythos).
When it comes to food we cannot forget about aperitivo. This is a typical Italian way of having a drink, accompanied by either snacks or an all-you-can-eat buffet. Aperitivo is a perfect solution for evenings out. The cost can be anywhere between €5 and €15, depending on the drink ordered and the food that the restaurant or bar offers.
- Going out in Rome
Popular student areas are Piazza Bologna, San Lorenzo, and Trastevere. All three are full of bars and pubs with affordable prices. Going out to the city center, however, means a beer for about €5 and a drink for around €10.
- Monuments and museums
- MIC Card
The €5 MIC (Musei in Comune) card gives unlimited access to city-run museums for 12 months from the date of purchase. It is only for permanent residents of Rome, both Italian and foreign, as well as temporary residents such as students. It is not be available to tourists.
- Free Sundays
Every first Sunday of the month, the entrance to many museums and monuments is free. Some examples are the Colosseo, Foro Romano, and Galleria Borghese . Every last Sunday of the month, the Vatican Museums are free.
- Rome museum night, La Notte Dei Musei
Occasionally, museums are open at night, and the entrance is from 8 PM to 2 AM (last admission at 1 AM). The ticket costs €1 only.
- Student discounts
In general, students are entitled to discounts on regular working days at museums and monuments.
- Phone plan and bank account
- Italian phone number
Getting a new SIM card and a new phone plan is necessary for getting an Italian number. The most popular Italian phone companies are WIND, TRE, Vodafone, TIM, and also recently, Iliad. There are many phone plans available, and some of them are directed at students and young people. The cost depends on how many GBs and minutes are included in a plan. Many of them are around €10 per month.
- Bank account
Italy has a wide variety of banks. If you are under 26, UniCredit offers a prepaid Genius Card for free. In addition, there are no charges for withdrawing money from a Unicredit ATM using the Genius Card. The bank has a branch at the university.
Of course, for studying, books are one of the most important tools. You may purchase many of them new online or from bookstores around the university, or used ones from older colleagues. Also, La Sapienza has a great online library, which you can access free of charge. Many of the required books are available there. Most books are in the €60 to €100 range. Some are needed just for a semester or a year, and some for a few years. Every semester there are a few new subjects — so costs may pile up. Using electronic versions of books, or buying used books for a significantly cheaper price, are some of the ways you can cut down costs.
So, that’s my overview of living cheaply in Rome. It is a world-famous city, and you might think it is therefore expensive – but you can live on a low student budget, with a bit of strategizing. In my next post, I’ll fill you in on how you can finance your tuition and living costs.
Erik Campano is a graduate student in Umeå, Sweden, studying the ethics of artificial intelligence in medicine. He formerly was an academic consultant to the English-language medical school of the University of Turin. Erik completed his Bachelor’s of science in Symbolic Systems (cognitive science) at Stanford University, and then he worked for about eight years as a radio news anchor, before moving to biomedical scientific study and research at the University of Paris and Columbia University. Erik grew up in Connecticut, is a citizen of the United States and Germany, and his family is a mix of Filipino, Italian, and German.
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