When in Rome (and other Italian cities), Uber or a white taxi?
First things first, Italy remains a fairly regulated market when it comes to transport. Cabs (white and clearly marked) are still the pre-eminent form of non-public transit. They're numerous, available and charge metered rates (with various supplements). Rome Uber is the new kid on the block, which means it still flies mostly under administrative radar. Uber rates are generally higher than cab rates but there's wiggle room, depending on driver and route. The Italian app works pretty much like its American counterpart and English is (mostly) spoken. So far, so good.
Realistically speaking, however, cab travel still remains your best bet. It's quicker, cheaper, and drivers (generally) know what they're doing and rarely cheat (yes, of course, there are bad apples). A cab is still what you want if you're stuck someplace in the city and want to get home. They're still Italy's chicken soup, so to speak. Most companies now have their own apps, led by 3570, Rome's largest cab coop.
Cab drivers don't have the overhead of Uber cars, often upscale, gas-hungry Mercedes. They also don't pretend to give you a boutique experience. They're hackers in the old sense.
Deregulation may yet come to Italy, putting Uber rides, rates and availability — more to the point, accountability — on par with cabs, but we're not there yet. For now, if you're a stranger in a strange land, take a white cab, whether at the airport of from your hotel.
Let Uber and its ilk flourish in deregulated markets where they've all but replaced cabs, in particular the U.S.
What are property taxes like for Italian homeowners?
For decades, Italy's first home property taxes were well below the European norm and laughably low compared to rates in big American cities. Under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, first home property taxes were briefly abolished. That changed dramatically with the 2008 financial crisis. Both state and local taxes soared.
Now, annual first home taxes in cities such as Rome and Milan varies between 0.4 and 0.7 percent of the assessed value, depending on size, location, age, and type (apartment, villa, historic venue, etc.) and socio-economic bracket (working class and "refined" are among the categories). Local service fees (including garbage collection) are factored in.
What that means in practice is that a family of four in a 150 square meter owned apartment located in a non-prized area of Rome will usually pay between €200 and €600 annually (there's June and December installment). Upscale first homes can bump up against the €800-1,000 mark. Rental prices will reflect these costs.
Woe to those who own several urban properties, however. That's where real estate taxes can bite hard. The owner of prized second home in Rome's or Milan's city center may pay as much as €5,000 a year. Though these costs still fall far short of rates in cities such as Paris, New York or London, they're in constant flux, meaning that all potential buyers need to check with accountants regarding their ongoing tax bills.
As a U.S. citizen, what should I expect when I arrive in Rome when it comes to baggage and customs?
First the plus side: Rome's Fiumicino Airport (officially named Leonardo da Vinci) is among Europe's easiest to clear customs-wise if you're a U.S. citizen. Remember to get into the NON-E.U. or ALL PASSPORTS line for obvious reasons. Generally speaking it's not a difficult line to negotiate — unless, that is, a flight from Nigeria or Morocco or some similarly "dubious" destination (in Italian eyes) touched down just before you (or a full flight from Beijing, since Chinese tourism is on the upswing). If that happens you're in for a long wait in cordoned-off lines that can run 10 rows deep. But Asian and African flights don't tend to land in the early morning hours, which are the bread and butter of American arrivals.
Customs agents are in numbered booths, much like American entry points, with an agent at the front of the line directing traffic. Since Italy and the U.S. are on cordial terms, you're unlikely to get the kind of third-degree commonplace when entering the U.S. or the UK. Italy survives on tourism, with American visitors an essential part of the formula.
Baggage claim is very much the minus side. Expect to wait between 30 to 90 minutes. Sometimes the carousel moves but remains empty for an eternity (still showing bags from previous flights). So-called "priority" or business class passengers do not fare much better. However, once you do get your checked bags there's rarely any further hindrance. Head for the green "nothing to declare" side and you're on your way.
Some days are worse than other. Customs malfunctions (backups, disorganization, low personnel) and baggage handler snarls (strikes or slowdowns) can be exasperating, and no app will give you the lowdown.
But the lack of vetting that has become the TSA-normal in the U.S. can make some arrivals a breeze. If you have only carry-on, you're basically home free. Remember that these remarks apply to incoming flights from the U.S., most of which touch down between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. Arrivals later in the morning or in the afternoon are another story as lines and waits grow.