A digital nomad's quick guide to budgeting life in Sicily
Cummari shares its secrets to why it is so affordable to be a long term traveller in Sicily.
For digital nomads wanting to live in Europe, Italy is one of the cheapest countries to base, outside of Spain. Portugal used to be one of the more affordable countries as well, but with the recent tourism boom of the last five years, prices in Portugal are quickly rising.
Compared to the rest of Europe or mainland Italy, the cost of living in Sicily is low. To live in Sicily, digital nomads, south workers, or long term travellers should budget 1,500 - 2,000 euros a month. This includes money for housing, food (including dining at delicious restaurants), local travel, and excursions around the island (most of which are free as Sicily is rich in nature and architecture, so most costs are only associated with museums).
The main cost-saving aspect of living in Sicily is the food. The best part about this is that as soon as you step onto the island, the quality of food increases while the price decreases. A normal grocery budget for a traveller in Sicily per week is 20-30 euros. This includes wine, cheese, and proteins etc.. Sicily is ideal for travellers who like to eat local, slow and seasonal. Sicily has been the “farm” of Europe since the Greek and Roman Empires ruled the island, historically for olives, grapes, and grain. The various ecosystems of the island make it perfect for growing delicious tomatoes to exotic fruits like mango and avocado. And of course we can not forget to mention the budget-friendly, award winning DOC Nero D’Avola and Etna Rosso wines.
The area around Volcano Etna and Catania is particularly rich in minerals. This makes the Catania province a perfect place for foodie travellers to experience what fresh, quality fruits and vegetables really taste like. Eating out in Sicily is easy on your bank account, especially if you keep it simple. For example; shop at the outdoor market in Catania where 1 euro will get you an entire bag of peppers or pears or eat out at a pizzeria where a margarita pizza and glass of wine will only cost you 10 euros. We recommend seafood lovers go to the fish market under the old port bridge of Catania. There you can buy daily fresh local fish from the Ionian sea, budgeting around 4-5 euros per serving. When you feel like dressing up or crave a special meal try the raw fish tasting menu at the seafood restaurant MM! - where you only need to budget 25 euros (and perhaps 5 euros more for a special glass of wine or prosecco).
Take away/Sicilian Snacks
Busy digital nomads' schedules often do not match the Sicilians' break. When you miss standard meal times, another delicious and cheap Sicilian dining alternative is “tavola calda.” Tavola calda ranges from 1 to 2 euros and includes items such as miniature pizza, mushrooms and cheese wrapped in phyllo dough or the famous arancini. Most cafes in Sicily (called bars in Italian) sell tavola calda take away (to go) from 11am to midnight. If you are a night owl, you can find bakeries in the middle of the night that sell fresh tavola calda and croissants (cornetto) from their store window.
Another cost-saving aspect of living in Sicily that digital nomads love is the ability to use multiple coworking spaces. Coworking locations in Catania are very flexible, allowing digital nomads to book for just one hour at a time. For example, Open Creative Workspace, a gorgeous converted warehouse near Cummari, only charges 1 euro per hour for a working space. Similarly, Verso Coffice, our favorite cafe in Catania, offers a desk in their quiet room for four hours for 2 euros. You can also open your laptop anywhere in Verso's cafe and sit for free while you sip your Aperol Spritz.
We are well aware that most digital nomads are coffee lovers. Yet another benefit of living in Sicily is that an espresso will run you anywhere from 70 cents to 1 euro. If anyone charges you more than one euro for an espresso in Sicily it would be a sin, and you should immediately call a hunky Carabinieri for help. If cappuccino is more your thing, be aware that in Italy it is also a crime to order a cappuccino after 11 in the morning.
There is so much to explore in Sicily! Digital nomads are encouraged to not limit themselves to one city and get out and explore the island. Sicily has cheap trains and buses that allow for digital nomads to travel the island easily. When it comes to exploring, there is no better place to base than Catania as it offers the most direct train and bus connections around the island. From Catania's city center you can take a bus to the “Lungo Mare” soft sandy beach for 1.50 euro. You can also get to Palermo (the other side of the island) on a comfortable express bus for only 15 euros. For 10 euros one way, you can take a fast train from Catania to visit Ortigia (the former capital of the Greek Empire) or Taormina (one of the most picturesque cliffside towns of Italy).
Where travel can get very expensive is renting a car, but that is the same cost as anywhere else in Europe. Taxis from the airport are also a bit expensive (around 20 to 30 euros) as there are high airport fees for the drivers.
If you want to rent a private room in Sicily that includes a proper workspace with all amenities included (such as at Cummari), you should budget 900-1,200 euros a month. If you want to move to Sicily for a full 12 months, rent can be as cheap as 400 euros per month. The downside is that full-year leased apartments come without basic appliances or kitchens (normal in Italy). If you come to Sicily short-term (under a month), you should expect to spend anywhere from 25 euro to 60 euros a night for a room in an Airbnb (before fees). It is important to note that Airbnb's in Sicily are often very basic, lack proper workspaces and/or quality internet - so it is always best to ask ahead and read reviews carefully.
You might ask yourself, why is the cost of life lower in Sicily?
As the Sicilians would say “we have less, but we have more.” Sicilians themselves live on minimal salaries and budgets, with an average salary for a professional with a master’s degree at 1,500 euros a month. Therefore, the cost of restaurants, transport, and general shops reflect such budgets. If you want to dig deeper into why Sicilians might have “less” than other Italians we would need a historian to go into detail about how the Kingdom of Italy began to move the wealth of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (the area from Naples to Sicily) in the 1860s to northern Italy.
The most important element to focus on for anyone considering living in Sicily is the “more.” When Sicilians say “we have less, but we have more,” the "more" they are referring to is the gorgeous island, the diverse history and culture, an abundance of fresh local products, incredible weather, and access to the Mediterranean and Ionian seas.