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Italy: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Italy

Prior appointments are essential. Visitors should remember that ministries and most public offices close at 1300 and it is not possible to see officials in the afternoon, except by special appointment. Business attire is smart with a suit required for men and women, and a tie for men and stylish accessories for women. The odd designer label does no harm.

Greeting takes the form of a handshake (social kissing is reserved for friends and family) and business cards are exchanged. If possible, it is best to have one side printed in Italian and one in English, and all company literature should be provided in Italian. Business visitors should always refer to Italian associates as lei (the polite form of tu), unless informed to do otherwise, and colleagues should be addressed by their surname and academic/professional titles respected.

Although some of the Italian business community will speak some English or French, Italian is the dominant language. Italians always appreciate a visitor who tries to speak their language, however poorly. It is often wise to take the precaution of employing an interpreter, to minimise the degree of misunderstandings.

Personal relationships are extremely important and it is unlikely that decisions will be made before trust has been established between the two parties. Business lunches provide the ideal opportunity to build relationships and small talk is an essential part of any business meeting.

Very often meetings will start late and run over and it’s not considered impolite to turn up after your appointed hour, unless for an important meeting.

Business tends to be more formal in the fast-paced Milan than in the more southerly cities of Florence, Rome and Naples, where business is often conducted over long lunches.

Office Hours

In the North, standard office hours are Monday-Friday 0900-1700, with an hour-long lunch break, while in the South there is often a two-hour lunch break during office hours of 0800-1900.

Economy

Italy has a diversified economy with high gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. Traditionally agricultural, Italy industrialised rapidly after 1945, to the point where less than 4% of the population is now engaged in agriculture. The majority of these live in the south of Italy, which is substantially poorer than the rest of the country. The principal crops are sugar beet, wheat, tomatoes and fruit (especially grapes, many used for wine, of which Italy is a leading producer).

As with most western European economies, the tourism industry now enjoys a major position alongside other service and manufacturing industries such as financial services, automobiles, fashion and design. Italy continues to rely heavily on the export of manufactured goods. Its particular strengths are in advanced manufacturing techniques and systems, high-quality design and precision engineering. Most industrial raw materials and more than 75% of energy requirements are imported.

Since 2000 the economy has been sluggish at best, and Italy was hard hit by the effects of the 2008 economic crisis and the subsequent Eurozone crisis. Between 2007 and 2011 the economy shrank by 6.76% with public debt rising to 120% of GDP in 2012 and unemployment to 10.8%. However, the majority of Italy’s public debt is owned by nationals and the country’s high levels of private savings and low levels of personal debt make it one of the safest among Europe’s struggling economies.

Italy's budget deficit was 1.9% in 2017. Average inflation in 2017 was 0.7%. The unemployment rate of 2017 was 11.2%. Public debt rose to 132.0% in 2017.

GDP

US$2.307 trillion (2017).

Main exports

Engineering products, textiles and clothing, production machinery, food and beverages, motor vehicles, transport equipment, and tobacco.

Main imports

Engineering products, chemicals, transport equipment, energy products and minerals.

Main trading partners

Germany, France, China, USA, Spain and UK.

Keeping in Touch in Italy

Telephone

Telephone kiosks only accept phonecards, which can be purchased at post offices, tobacconists and some newsagents.

Mobile Phone

Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies. Coverage is good.

Internet

Florence, Rome, Trento, Comiso, Venice, Milan and Bologna have instituted city-wide Wi-Fi hotspots, and the majority of hotels, airports, railway stations, B&Bs and even farmstays now offer free internet access. In most towns internet cafes also offer access at €5 to €13 per hour.

Media

Italy's newspapers are strongly regionalised, with many papers produced in Milan. The press is free but ties with politics can be strong - notably in broadcast media. Rai, the public broadcaster, has been subject to political influence and the vast Gruppo Mediaset media empire is controlled by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Among the most important Italian daily newspapers are Corriere della Sera (Milan), Il Messaggero (Rome), La Repubblica (Rome), La Stampa (Turin) and Il Mattino (Naples). 

Post

The Italian postal system can be subject to delays. Letters between Italy and other European countries usually take 3 to 5 days and sometimes 1-2 weeks to arrive. Stamps are sold in post offices and tobacconists. In the Vatican City, stamps issued are valid only within its boundaries.

Post Office hours

Mon-Fri 0830-1730, Sat 0815-1345. Smaller offices may close at midday during the week.

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