In the late 16th century it was fashionable for young aristocrats to travel to Florence as part of their Grand Tour of Europe, marking the end of their classical education. Travel was both arduous and expensive then and limited to the privileged classes. What a difference a few hundred years make! Now, travel to Florence is a possibility for any student who is willing to plan carefully and budget wisely. 

A relatively small and easy-to-navigate city, Florence is a mecca for students who want to experience that city’s art, architecture and history along with all the joys of a vibrant student life. Of the city’s total population of 400,000 about 60,000 are university students! 

To calculate the long-term worth of studying in Florence (or just about anywhere else in the world), consider the results of a study by IES Abroad, an organizer of study-abroad programs since 1951: IES alumni’s starting salaries were $7,000 higher than college graduates generally; 97% of its alumni found a job within one year of graduation, compared to 49% of respondents in the general college graduate population, and 84% felt that studying abroad helped them build valuable job skills. 

As William Gertz, president and CEO of the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), notes: “A period of study abroad is just what employers are looking for these days. It will help the student to stand out from the pack and will be a resume builder. As the world becomes more interdependent, global citizens are needed.”

What’s the best program for you?

Italy is, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE), the second most popular destination for U.S. students studying abroad. (For a general guide, read Study Abroad: Budget for Italy.) Many of these students choose to study in Florence. Because of the city’s popularity, you can expect to find an impressive number of study options in Florence. First, though, you need to decide what kind of program will be best for you – independent study (usually the least expensive but the most complex to arrange) or study with a program sponsored by a university, a consortium of academic institutions or stand-alone study abroad organization. To help make that decision, consult the go-to source on the subject,  “A Student Guide to Study Abroad,” co-published by IIE and AIFS.  

For a menu of available programs in Florence, check out IIE’s Passport, Studyabroad101.com (listings plus ratings) and gooverseas.com, with more than 50 listings for Florence, some with reviews.

A sponsored program in Florence

To give you an idea of the cost of a semester of study in Florence, we’ve chosen as an example a program coordinated by AIFS: The per-semester price tag of $14,295, without meal allowance, includes tuition for up to 18 credits at the Richmond Study Center (courses taught in both English and Italian); trips to Rome, Venice and Siena; a week of culture and language orientation in Rome (spring semester) and Marina di Pietrasanta (fall semester) and the 24/7 services of a resident director. All this with a meal plan costs $15,995.

Budgeting tips

Spend your money on experiences, not things, is the advice of students who have been there. As Catherine Harger, an AIFS in Florence alum, put it: “I would tell anyone going abroad that their money is better spent on food, activities, museums or trips rather than souvenirs to bring back to the States. I can’t imagine trading the time and money I spent exploring Tuscany by bus and train for a few extra clothes or knicknacks.” Megan Harris, who was on the same program as Harger, suggests: “Determine your musts and set aside money at the beginning of the semester for those activities. My time studying abroad in Florence changed my life in immeasurable ways, and you really can’t put a price tag on that.”

Is Florence an expensive city?

According to Numbeo, consumer prices with rent included are about 45% lower in Florence than in New York City; Expatistan puts Florence’s cost of living at 25% below Chicago’s. 

Harris has good advice for holding costs down: “Give yourself a weekly budget, allowing for exchange rates and ATM and foreign transaction fees, and try your best to stick to it.” (Read Top Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fees.) She adds that having either a valid student ID, a photocopy of your student visa, or an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) will get you “often generous” discounts at museums, hostels, etc. “Avoid the touristy areas in Florence….Think and act like a local and your wallet will thank you.” 

Some typical prices in Florence

To give you an idea of some of the actual expenses that you will encounter during your time in Florence, we enlisted the help of two AIFS staffers in Florence, Monica Giovannini and Mari Knutsen. 

[All prices are current as of February 2015. They have been converted to U.S. dollars, using the exchange rate of $1.13 for one euro.]

Airfare: Expect to pay about $1,300 for a round-trip from New York City to Florence, going in September and returning in January. A recent search on STA Travel listed a fare for $1,000 for the same time period. 

Airfare from Florence to London: Season matters but for good deals, compare prices of low-cost airlines such as Easyjet, Ryanair and Vueling. A recent Vueling search came up with a fare of $88 each way to London in February.

Housing: Housing for students in Florence (and in Italy in general), is very different from the United States. According to EU statistics, 73% of Italian students live with their families while studying. The concept of supplying housing on or near campus is almost nonexistent in Italy. If you will be arranging accommodations on your own, a shared apartment is best. Expect to pay around $500 each per month (without utilities and Wi-Fi) to share an apartment in the center of Florence, which is why students who don’t live with their families usually rent outside the city.

Rental agencies that specialize in short-term stays advertise in The Florentine. To find someone who might want to share an apartment with you, check out easystanza.it and Firenze.bakeca.it.

Cell phones: To economize, don’t rent or sign up for any contracts that require credit-card billing; buy prepaid minutes instead. You can buy a cell phone in Florence, or if you have one that will work in Europe, simply buy an Italian SIM card with a new number. With an Italian number you will avoid charges for incoming calls. A decent phone will cost just under $70 and an Italian SIM card with prepaid minutes as little as $17. Adding minutes is easy at phone centers, ATMs, tobacco stores, supermarkets and newsstands.

Gym membership: Gyms are small with limited facilities and often out-dated equipment, but they do offer classes in aerobics, Zumba, Pilates, yoga, spinning, etc. Gyms outside the city center often have swimming pools. Students are usually offered a three-month membership at a discount ($170–$260). At sign up, all gym members must present a medical certificate of good health – it’s the law.

Dinner splurge: Try the Golden View Open Bar restaurant in the historic center of the city where your meal will cost about $56 but the view of the Arno will be spectacular. Budget from $34 to $67 for a typical Florentine meal of Fiorentina steak, coccoli (fried dough) with Tuscan ham and stracchino cheese at Trattoria da Garibardi or Restaurant il Latini.

Lunch on the go: For a quick and delicious panino – the Florentine version of a sandwich – try Gustapanino ($4 to $5.60), or for pizza, Gustapizza ($5.60 to $9), both in the Piazza Santo Spirito. A popular go-to spot for hungry Florentines is the Mercato Centrale where you can pick up fruits, cheeses and breads for a picnic or sample dishes prepared at the stalls on the top floor of this imposing 1874 market building.  

A drink with friends: Get together for a trendy aperitivo (drink and buffet-style finger food) at a local corner bar or the roof terrace of an elegant hotel: from  $10 to $17, depending on just how trendy you want to be.

Espresso, at a café with Wi-Fi: If you’re going to sit at a table to drink you’ll pay $3.60 and up. Locals are more likely to get their espresso at the counter for $1.25, and typically won’t hang out in the café.

Ice cream: Try the handmade gelato; avoid the neon colors and the giant stacks. The minimum for two flavors is about $3. Try GROM, Carapina and Mordilatte, all in the center of the city. 

Bus: There’s no metro in Florence; a bus ticket valid for a 90-minute ride is $2.30.

A film: You’ll pay $10 for a ticket and most films will be dubbed into Italian. The Odeon in the city center is one of the only places to see original sound movies.

Train to Rome and Milan: A one-way ticket on the high-speed train ranges from $21 to $57, or more. Plan ahead and you can get advance purchase discounts at trenitalia.com.

A haircut: For men, $25, and for women twice as much but it may be possible to get a 10–20% student discount.

Shopping: Avoid the touristy places and go instead to the winding streets of the Oltrarno area (beyond the Arno) for authentic Florentine crafts and antiques. Consider a piece of jewelry from the shop of designer Angela Caputi; bracelets, earrings and necklaces range from $33 on up to hundreds. The outdoor market in Piazza Santo Spirito, open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. has everything from fresh vegetables to gift-worthy household items, shoes and quite fashionable clothing. 

Note: For more details of life in Florence for students – from accommodations to banking to best places to study (It’s called “study abroad” not “party abroad,” so let’s find some places to get that homework done, shall we?) – check out these tips as well. 

The Bottom Line

By planning carefully, doing your research, consulting with study-abroad experts on your campus and talking to just-returned students, you can follow in the footsteps of 16th-century aristocrats and study in Florence. But unlike those aristocrats who went before you, you will likely need to work for a living, so when you’re calculating whether investing in a stint abroad is worth it, always consider the positive career value that it will add to your resume.

 

 

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