By Tamara Hardingham-Gill, CNN
(CNN) — After dealing with the death of her mother, losing her job of 10 years and finalizing her divorce, Barbara Barto was at a crossroads in her life.
The 62-year-old, from Fort Worth, Texas, who had been working as an office manager, struggled to find another role and felt as though she had passed her “expiration date.”
Barto decided that now was probably the right time to retire, but was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to live comfortably afterwards due to the rising cost of living in the US.
An avid viewer of the Home & Garden Television (HGTV) channel for years, she’d often dreamed of packing up and moving to another country, but hadn’t ever had the courage. However, she realized that it was likely now or never.
“I’ve never been one of those people who just pick up and move and do adventurous things like that,” Barto tells CNN Travel, before explaining that Italy, where she’d briefly visited in the 1980s, was high on the list of countries she’d like to live in.
“So I thought I’m getting to that age, might as well try it out and see how it will work out for me.”
In 2020, Barto began attending regular webinars hosted by A Home In Italy, a company that assists foreigners with buying property in the European country, to figure out whether such a move would even be feasible.
“I put pencil to paper and saw that I could afford it, and it was going to be more affordable than living in the United States,” she says.
“Because everything’s more expensive there. When I put the numbers together, I saw I could live there more comfortably with my retirement and the inheritance that I have. And I thought, ‘Well, why not?’”
In April 2021, Barto traveled to Italy to begin searching for a home. She viewed around six houses, before choosing a property just outside the village of Palombaro in the region of Abruzzo in southern Italy.
“I found the house immediately,” she says. “So I was only out here one time. I got lucky.”
Barto agreed to buy the three-bedroom home, which came with around two and a half acres of land filled with around 200 olive trees, for 123,000 euros, which worked out to $123,000 as the conversion rate was $1 to the euro when the sale was completed in late 2021.
“You couldn’t buy something [like that] in the United States for what I paid [for it],” she says.
According to Barto, the company she’d been working with took care of the paperwork, and she found the process pretty simple.
To qualify for the Elective Residency Visa, a long-stay permit for non-EU citizens who intend to take residence in Italy, she had to have medical insurance and provide various bank statements and financial information to prove that she had enough “passive” income to support herself while living in the country.
Once everything was finalized, Barto started making plans for her big move to Italy.
“It was kind of surreal,” she says. “It’s a strange feeling, packing up your life and moving over somewhere different. So I felt kind of sad but excited at the same time.”
In October 2022, Barto returned to Italy to begin her new life.
“My younger sister and my ex-husband came with me and helped me get settled,” she says, explaining that she and her former husband “get on very well.”
Barto says it didn’t take her long to get used to life in Abruzzo, and the locals made her feel at ease straight away.
“They came over and greeted me with coffee and cake,” she says.
However, Barto was initially very nervous about driving in the country.
“Italians are very intimidating on the roads,” she says. “And of course, this is a mountainous area. So you have a lot of twisty turns, and mountain roads and little roads.”
Thankfully, she’s gotten used to this over time and says it’s “just the norm,” for her now.
“I’m real easy driving,” she adds. “I don’t let anybody intimidate me. I figure well, they’re gonna go around me eventually.”
She’s found life in Italy to be far more affordable than in the US, and says that most of her necessities work out less expensive.
While Italian residents don’t pay property taxes on their main residence, non-resident property owners are required to pay a local property tax.
Barto is unsure whether she’ll have to pay taxes on her home, but says she’s confident that it will be less than what she was paying in Texas.
“My money goes a lot further here,” she adds. “Groceries are a lot cheaper here. You save a lot more money here, which I like.”
Barto has also found that she’s more adventurous in Italy, and spends much of her time exploring the country, relying on buses and trains to get her around.
“You can travel to different places on the train and the bus, which you just don’t have in Texas,” she says.
Cheaper living costs
“You don’t really have to get out and drive. You can park your car at the train station and jump on the train and be in Rome in three hours, or Venice in four or five.”
When she was living in the US, Barto says she didn’t really go very far and “sat around a lot.”
“Being that I was retired, I wasn’t really doing anything,” she says. “Because you didn’t really have a lot to do.
“And it’s so hot half the time in Texas in the summer, you can’t really go out and do anything. “Here, it forces you to get up. I’ve always got something to do. And I find things to do.”
Barto keeps tabs on what’s happening back home through online newspapers and admits she’s sometimes disheartened by what she reads.
“Crime has gotten so crazy over there,” she says. “Texas has one of those open gun laws and there’s just way too many angry people with guns. I don’t miss that at all.”
Although she hasn’t been able to visit home since moving to Italy, Barto is planning to return to the US for the festive holidays.
She’s very much looking forward to seeing her family, as well as visiting her old neighborhood and eating all of her favorite foods.
“Mexican, BBQ, Indian, one of my favorite hamburger restaurants, chicken fried steak, Chinese and a good thick steak, all things you can’t get around here,” she adds.
While she’s picked up some Italian, Barto still finds the language difficult, and mainly relies on Google Translate when it comes to communicating with Italians.
“If I go to the bank, and I need to make a withdrawal, I’ll type in, ‘I would like to make a withdrawal’” she explains.
“And, I’ll sit there and practice in the car several times. So [that] when I get into the bank, I can tell them what I need. And they’re pretty easy to understand.”
Barto goes on to explain that she has the words written out in Italian in front of her whenever she needs to call her hairdresser to make an appointment and repeats them several times before dialing.
“When they answer I’ll just say it real quickly,” she adds. “So I’m getting it. It’s funny because now when I make a hair appointment, they always laugh and say, ‘Oh it’s Barbara from Texas.’”
Barto says she’s also struggled to get used to the fact that the local shops and restaurants are shut during the daytime.
“If you want to do anything, you’ve got to either do it in the morning or you have to wait till after four,” she says, adding that she sometimes finds herself caught short.
“If you don’t feel like cooking in the United States or any other place, you can just get in the car and go get some fast food.
“That doesn’t happen around here. So you’ve got to adjust to that.”
After living in Italy for almost a year, Barto says she feels at home and hopes to remain in the country permanently.
“If I have any really big health issues that I can’t have taken care of here, then I would go home,” she says. “But for the most part, I’m going to stay here.”
Non-citizens with Italian residence can register with the Italian National Healthcare System to access Italian public healthcare, although an annual fee may be applicable depending on the circumstances.
Barto has met many other expats around the country since moving there almost a year ago and is often amazed by the amount of people who’ve left their lives behind for Italy.
“There’s a lot of single women that have done it, besides me,” she says. “You talk to them, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve been here for 10 years,’ and they’ve all settled in really well.
“It [moving to a different country] helps you get out of your norm. To put your big girl panties on and try something different.”
One of Barto’s favorite things about her Italian home is the view from her balcony, which looks out at the Maiella mountains.
“I really enjoy living here. I love getting out and looking at my balcony views,” she says, stressing that this is something she never takes for granted.
“I know a lot of people say that, but I really do. It’s very different when you wake up in the morning.
“You’re like, ‘Wow,’ every day. It’s a different scene every morning.”
An earlier version of this story included a photo that was misidentified as the village of Palombaro. The image has been removed.
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