When Peta Lowry looks from her window she sees a beautiful valley and the Apennine Mountains.
“I pinch myself looking at the view and think, ‘Wow, I am in Italy!’
“I still can’t believe we are actually living here.”
Since 2009, Peta, 54, and her husband Ian Sinclair, 63, have been living in the beautiful hilltop Italian town of Soriano nel Cimino, 80 kms from Rome.
Rich in history, the area is known for its Etruscan ruins and hot springs. Olive and hazelnut groves surround the town, and the forested hills with their many rivers and springs provide a refreshing escape during hot summer months. Romans have been coming here since ancient times in search of fresh air.
The town is also famous for its chestnut festival celebrated in October with a medieval parade, music, historic reenactments, traditional feasts, and lots of roasted chestnuts.
“When we moved here from Melbourne, the original plan was to stay for six months or two years maximum. Eight years later we are still here,” says Peta.
“We run two small businesses focused on helping local Italians and communities fulfill their dreams either of moving to and working in Australia or of learning to speak or improving their English.
“We also operate the Australian Cultural Centre Italy, which provides support to Australians wanting to come to Italy and promotes all things Australian in Italy, including Aussie Rules Football.”
Peta and Ian made the move to provide bilingual education for their now teenage sons, but it has turned into so much more than that.
“Italian is the second most commonly spoken second language in Australia after Chinese, so we thought our sons would be able to use their second language when they got back.
“But then we ended up deciding to stay on and on…”
The couple thoroughly planned and prepared for their trip.
“It took us seven years to budget, plan, and save money for our two-year trip. We sold our house to get enough money to come over.
“Then, when we realized that it could be a longer-term thing, we thought we’d better start making money because we had only a certain amount of savings.”
Peta decided that their English-language skills and contacts back home were the couple’s best assets and so suggested they start a business providing consulting services to Italians interested in relocating Down Under.
“I’ve got quite a large network back in Australia because I worked in corporate businesses for nearly 30 years doing various jobs from merchant banking to environmental sustainability. Now I use those contacts to help my Italian clients.”
As an independent consultant, Peta provides services to Italian individuals, students, travelers, and businesses, as well as to Australians coming to Italy.
“I love what I do because it is so diverse and I am helping people to reinvent their lives and find a better way.
“My first clients, an Italian family that I helped to move to Australia in 2010, have just gotten their Australian citizenship. The whole family—the grandparents, son, daughter, their partners, and their children—all relocated to Perth, where they now are running two successful businesses.”
So far, Peta has helped 60 clients relocate to Australia.
After a while, Australians started contacting Peta asking if she could help them move to Italy for longer periods than the typical three-month stay.
“I work with local authorities to see what quotas are open and how to get a visa. My pricing is case by case, as everyone has different requirements.”
On the back of the consultancy business, Peta and Ian set up English services centers. People began coming to them to practice their English or to have something translated.
“From that,” Peta explains, “grew our second business offering more structured English study, translation of documents and emails, etc.”
Ian is in charge of the five centers in the nearby small towns where 100 students are enrolled.
The businesses have not only provided Peta and her family with a steady income, but they have also allowed her to qualify for an autonomous worker visa (lavoro autonomo).
“I was the first Australian to get a lavoro autonomo visa here,” Peta explains.
“It hasn’t been easy. We had to start from nothing. But now we are at the point where we are getting a lot of requests. It is all word of mouth. Our happy clients recommend us. Every day there is some new opportunity,” she continues.
Peta admits that speaking Italian has been a challenge and that one of her main regrets is not learning the language before coming to Italy. However, the language hurdle has never stopped her from finding business opportunities.
“I don’t speak fluent Italian. I have enough Italian to get by speaking all in present tense. But it is surprising how many Italians understand English when you speak slowly.
“From the beginning, all the proposals I have written have been in English. If somebody needed a document in Italian, I would get it translated. But we often would sit together and use Google Translate to communicate.”
Peta even manages to sell lack of Italian as one of the reasons potential clients should work with her.
“Always turning negatives in the positives!” she explains.
“My reason why I don’t speak Italian is that I speak English to my clients. If they are serious about going to Australia they need to speak English. Otherwise, they won’t survive and get a visa.”
Peta’s advice to expats who want to move to Italy is simple:
“A lot of people come to Italy and think they want to try and change it… to make Italy like where they have come from. It will never happen. You just have to do things the way they are done here and get on with it. Otherwise you’ll end up miserable.”
The lifestyle transition was very easy, says Peta.
“My husband and I spent nine weeks of our honeymoon touring Italy on motorbike. We had a good connection with Italy and made friends quickly.”
In their spare time the couple explores new places, dines out, and spends time with friends. There are many expats in the area.
“A few weeks ago we went to the housewarming party of an American friend who had bought a house here. This weekend we will be going to Umbria to see Australian friends who are over on holiday.”
Living in rural Italy is easy on the pocketbook.
“Back in Melbourne we would easily spend between AU$200 and AU$250 a week on groceries.
“Here we average about 50 euros per week… less than half what we would be spending in Australia. Monthly we spend around 1,200 euros, including rent, utilities, phones, internet, car, fuel, and groceries,” says Peta.
Going out for a meal is affordable, too.
“Our favorite restaurant is Gigi’s Pizzeria, where we get great pizzas (either eat-in or takeaway) for four of us for 12 euros.
“We have our daily morning tea at one of our three local cafés. My husband’s caffè latte is 80 cents, and my pot of tea is 1 euro.”
Peta is happy that their small businesses have enabled them to stay in Italy indefinitely and to become their own bosses.
“I love the freedom to choose to do what we want and to be flexible with our time. If I need to take time off, no one is asking why or how long or when I’ll be back to work.
“It is very different from my experience in corporate Australia.
“For us, life here is as good as we imagine life gets.”