Learn How to Retire in Italy From American Expats Who Actually Did It

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| Fri, 01/22/2021 - 00:50
view from town square

Have you been contemplating a move to Italy? Perhaps you have Italian ancestry and would like to apply for dual citizenship based on your bloodline, or through marriage. What if you could meet your long-lost relatives in the old country and purchase property there? All these things are possible, and you can learn how from an American couple who recently retired in Sicily.

In her book, Over the Sicilian Moon, Barbara (Barbie to her friends) describes exactly how she and her husband, Ken, did it. If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of life abroad, get your copy now so you can learn what to expect and how to avoid pitfalls.

A Life-Changing Conversation

Over the Sicilian Moon is a true story that spans 16 years, starting in 2004 when Ken first learned about dual citizenship from a chance encounter with a stranger. Moving abroad was not something they had ever considered. In fact, the thought of leaving the United States for anything more than a two-week vacation wasn’t even on their radar. At that point, neither of them could speak the language, knew anyone in Italy or had ever even visited the country.

sicilian moon

But all that changed a few years later when Barbie successfully acquired dual citizenship through her maternal grandfather, simply because she could. Holding an Italian passport presented a whole new world of possibilities that she was compelled to pursue, beginning with a trip to Sicily to locate her cousins. 

Unfortunately, all contact with relatives in Italy were lost when Barbie was very young and her aging mother couldn’t remember the names or contact information for any of them. But with a lot of research and a bit of luck, her tenacity paid off and eventually she discovered a whole posse of cousins!

Just as a freak conversation with a stranger set them on a trajectory they never could have anticipated, so did meeting long-lost relatives. Nervous and unsure of what to expect, Barbie and her husband were warmly greeted by dozens of cousins who hosted a family reunion, complete with balloons, an enormous feast, and a cake that read “Welcome Home” in diced pistachios with a lemon filling. They returned every year after that, falling over-the-moon- in-love with the island a little more each time. It was just after the second trip that they decided to retire overseas and initiated a five-year plan to make it happen. 2020 was going to be their year!

None of it was Easy

Their story includes all the mishaps and adventures of getting dual citizenship, locating relatives, buying and renovating a farm and finally, moving abroad. Navigating the infamous Italian bureaucracy was a nightmare, as was waiting what seemed like an eternity to have their citizenship officially recognized. But that was only the beginning. 

Like most Americans, Barbie and Ken had not planned well for retirement. Pensions from their government jobs and social security benefits would be mediocre at best, so they began hosting a guestroom on Airbnb, as well as other side hustles, saving every penny.  But would it be enough? What about the dollar-to-euro exchange rate? And taxes? There were so many things to learn, including the language. Online classes were helpful, but Barbie was frustrated by her slow progress. 

ken and barbie

Purchasing property from abroad was challenging, taking over two years to finalize. The farm was in an ideal location close to Taormina and the Ionian Sea, but it had been neglected for 20 years and was in terrible shape. Now approaching their sixties, the couple wasn’t sure they had what it would take to bring the old place back to life. 

villa for sale

The Year 2020 

When 2020 finally arrived, Barbie and Ken were eager to retire from their jobs, sell the house and make the big move they had been meticulously planning for five years. All their hard work and sacrifices were about to be rewarded. They had overcome countless challenges and accomplished the seemingly impossible. Most of their belongings had already been sold or given away and their retirement papers had been submitted. It was a thrilling time.

But they couldn’t have anticipated or prepared for what happened next. The pandemic was just starting to dominate the news. Italy was one of the hardest-hit countries and international travel was forbidden. Was their dream about to unravel?  They had to decide whether to wait it out, which could possibly delay their move for years, or speed things up and try to get in front of the crisis. They chose the latter.  

On July 3, 2020, which happens to be exactly 20 years after the day they first met, Barbie and Ken successfully began their new life in Sicily. She wrote Over the Sicilian Moon to encourage and inspire fellow Americans of Italian descent, and especially those from Sicily, to embrace their heritage and consider visiting the homeland of their families (when travel is permitted again). “If you come with an open mind and an open heart, you will not be disappointed,” she promises.  

Barbie and her husband are now living their dream life on a beautiful farm, complete with an outdoor pizza oven and on-site bocce ball court, livestock, and an array of fruit trees. They plan to open their doors to guests on Airbnb who wish to experience a Sicilian Farmstay hosted by American expats. 

How did they do it? No spoiler here, you’ll have to get the book to find out.

bocce ball

Over the Sicilian Moon is available on Amazon. Here’s what some readers had to say about it:

“It is easy to daydream about running away to an exotic island and refurbishing a beautiful villa, but very few actually pull it off! Like a classic novelist giving you glimpses into an autonomous imaginary world, Barbie drops the reader into Sicily every year for a few weeks to tease you with great expectations and great disappointments! You get to laugh and cry along with Ken and Barbie as they persevere on a wonderful journey into the surreal disfunction of an ancient land and culture …” – Cat

“Very well written, I couldn't put it down! An incredible story in historic times (COVID-19), I was fascinated to read how it ends. The perspective and lessons were priceless. If you're thinking of a move to Italy, read this immediately.” - Scott

“This is a great story about patience and persistence in the face of huge odds. Barbie has a dream and gives you the story of how she made it work! Very inspirational!” - Anonymous

“This is a wonderful book! All the hoops to jump through and waiting involved in getting Italian citizenship and buying a small farm in Sicily, combined with meeting relatives and making new Italian friends … A well written story with a happy ending.” - Anonymous

Follow this link to purchase Over the Sicilian Moon.

For more information, follow this link to Barbie’s website