Top 5 Things American Expats in Italy Bring from Home

I’m closing in on my first full week back in the bel paese and have just finished unloading my loot. With my creative airline connections and day-long London-based layover, I not-so-voluntarily had to reduce my amount of American-flavored imports.

But some things always make the cut.

Here is a quick pic of some of the food items that made my list.

Top Things American Expats in Italy Import

Earlier this week I was asked to report to you guys what American items I bring back with me when I visit Texas. Well, aside from the obligatory edibles, there are several other staples that will remain forever on my “to buy” list.

And I am not alone. Other American expats living in Italy stock up on their favorites when relatives visit, when friends send packages or when they are state-side and I asked them to weigh in.

Here are the Top Five Things American Expats in Italy Import from Home

Ziploc Bags – Oh yes, Italy has a version of the plastic sandwich-style bag that one could use for … well, for … for carrying peanuts to the beach, maybe? I don’t actually know what Italians use their little plastic bags for, but trust me, folks, these aren’t Ziploc. This was actually the #1 response from the people I polled and is always – always – on my list.

English Language Literature – Or to quote one of my favorite American expats in Umbria “English language anything!” I know how you feel, Judith, I brought four books back this go around – and 3 mags.

Over-the-Counter Medicine – Pills such as Aleve, Advil and NyQuil, or generic versions of said meds, are a top priority for most American expats in Italy. Ibuprofen has recently hit the shelves of my neighborhood pharmacy here in Catanzaro disguised as Vicks Flu Medicine, but weighing in a whopping €12 euros (for 12 pills) importing these bad boys is still a money-wise option.

St. Ives Apricot Scrub. I have to admit I was surprised this one made the list. I mean, it is always on my list and I always bring an extra stash for my pal down the street, but I was surprised other American expats agreed. Long live St. Ives!

Clothes – I know. We live in Italy and Italy is one big fun-filled shopping experience, right? Well, uh no. Wrong. Many expats I know prefer to shop at home. Clothes here tend to be odd-fitting, too tight or hugely overpriced. Shoes are a priority for me and I have another expat friend who loads up on blue jeans when she is the states.

Other interesting items American expats like to bring back to Italy are regional food favorites, such as Velveeta cheese and chili powder for me, marshmallow cream for my pal, Michelle and Cream of Wheat packets for the globe-trottin’ Miss Expatria.

What about you? If you are an expat, what things do you bring from home? If you aren’t an expat, what would you miss the most? Please share … and have a great weekend!

25 Responses
  1. I think you got all of mine on the list. The only other things I bring back are refills for my faucet mount PUR water filter.
    I thought about buying one of those when I was home last month. Glad I didn’t. I would hate to add something else to the “must get in America” list!
    Mary’s last blog post..Boxes

  2. I absolutely second the Ziplocs! It’s like some sort of guilty pleasure for me. Especially the gallon-sized ones. 🙂
    Oh me, too! That is my favorite size, as well. I am so cheap with them, too. I save them and save them and reuse them. I refuse to wash them, though. THAT is going too far!

  3. Hi Cherrye,
    I’m not an expat (yet), but expat friends in Italy asked me to bring them dryer sheets from the US. That’s what they missed…

    And the ziploc baggies! Italian friends were so taken with mine that they kept them and washed them out to use again…

    I enjoy your blog; I found you through nyc/caribbean ragazza girl…

    Ciao, Dana! Welcome. Dryer sheets are another good thing. We have a clothes dryer but don’t use it *that* often as it takes HOURS to dry clothes/towels. However, in the winter we use it much more often. I just told my hubby we FORGOT dryer sheets. I gotta see if my mom can send me some!
    dana’s last blog post..Two Very Simple Things/Due cose molto simplici

  4. casalba

    Good post. Strange, that I also buy clothes and shoes when I go back to London – for the same reasons you mention. I also bring back over the counter medication – in my case: Anadin and Neurofen. Used to bring back Tobasco too, but have since found it here!

    As for the dryer sheets, I don’t have as much use for the dryer as I did back home. We shipped it over, but I’ve probably used it only twice ever since. However, they make great “air fresheners” when you put them in shoes you are packing away for some time. So, yes, I still get some when I go back home.
    My mom had some lavender dryer sheets when I was home last month. They were fab! Those are the ones I want!!

  5. Funny how we all seem to be posting things about the food we miss from home.

    Top of my list: Kraft Peanut Butter – only available in Canada.
    Campbell’s Cream of Tomato Soup – yes it can be found here but at E5 a can.
    And – dare I admit it – CheezWhiz – yes I know its processed cheese food, whatever that is, but I love it on Saltines… oh there’s another thing.
    See, CheezWhiz is kinda like Velveeta with a spout. I get it … I get it!
    Willym’s last blog post..Miracolo!

  6. No longer an expat, but if we ever do cross the pond again (to stay, not simply visit) I will bring with me all of the things you listed, absolutely! Especially the books. On a side note, I really love Italian food, but on occasion I missed mexican food like crazy. I never did find a great salsa (with fresh cilantro) over there. That would have been nice. But I did use piadina in place of tortillas for our burritos. It was pretty good, with homemade salsa!
    I hear you on the Mexican, Amber. Uncle Bens now makes tortillas that are pretty good and I had to learn to make my own salsa to go with them. In fact, we had nachos last night!
    Amber’s last blog post..I heart art!

  7. Avery

    I just brought back secret deoderant and crest toothpaste! I usually stock up on jeans too- I can get a decent pair of levi’s for $45 where a similar pair here costs over 100euro. But this last trip I came back with loads of baby clothes for my 10month old. Waaaaay less expensive than here in Rome and way cuter too!
    Oh Levis and baby clothes are crazy-expensive here. I also bring deodorant … I don’t like Italian brands AT ALL!

  8. Marmie

    Come home, Cherrye…..where you can find all of
    these things, and more. Do you really want me to
    send you something thru the Italia post? REALLY, come on……
    p.s. Bring Peppe, too!
     I might want you to send me some dryer sheets. We forgot them. 🙁 You can disguise them as a letter and no one will be the wiser!

  9. i’m not an expat, but i know what my buddies in italia ask for…advil, cinnamin gum (my instructor’s weakness!) & DVD’s of american shows like ‘scrubs’…bless their hearts, they are kind in their requests, remembering that i backpack it! i find that the room i gain by emptying out their treasures is room for me to take my own home!
    Oooh, cinnamon gum IS great! Yum. So are jelly beans and hot tamale candy. That is nice of you to bring stuff when you come over. I know your expat pals appreciate it!
    qualcosa di bello’s last blog post..thoughts from the hearth…

  10. This is a great post- I think it should be more detailed so that if any of us happen to go to Italy we know exactly what to bring our American friends!
    Ha! Good idea. Although I think it is safe to say Ziploc bags and English-language books or magazines are always appreciated! We also talk about flavored coffee creamers (for when we get American coffee cravings) and I know a lot of expats who request chili seasoning.
    susan’s last blog post..Transcending: Words on Women and Strength by Kelly Corrigan

  11. I am in Australia as I write this so have 7 weeks before flying back to italy…plenty of time to shop for stuff. I am with you on the clothes as I cannot find anything to fit in Italy – especially bra’s or evening dresses for a wedding or something. I am going to bring heaps back of the above. Actually I am shipping myself a box full of clothes since it is cheaper to send them, then to buy them in Italy (Also my aunt works for a clothing label and got the clothes free!)
    I am bring back headache tablets as they cost a fortune for some reason in Italy…and of course chocolates which you cannot get in Italy. Gosh – the list just goes on!
    You are already in Australia? I thought you were in Calabria until the end of Jan! Well, I think clothes is now #1 on the list of things we all bring back with us. Sad, isn’t it?? I always feel guilty for over-shopping when I am in Texas … what can you do?!? Have fun in Australia!
    Leanne in Italy’s last blog post..Visiting Policastrello – my dads village

  12. j

    Well maybe it is different for guys and maybe also where you’re from. I got some really nice things in Florence and thought the selections were better than in Cleveland.

    I even bought a pair of shoes and a hat in CZ…I just had to. The shoes I might wear to an inaugural party some friends are having Tues. evening…tux and evening gowns only!
    I think the main difference is between being on vacation and living here. When I used to come on vacation I always bought cute things, new shoes, etc. and I loved the food. When you are here for extended periods, though you can’t justify “splurging” on expensive clothes or shoes that you know you could find for less $ in the states. Also, no matter how great the food is here, you start to miss the variety we have in America. This may be even more so for expats like me who aren’t Italian-Americans and didn’t grow up eating pasta as often as we do now.

  13. A few years back Miss Italia was over 6 feet tall. I think all Italian clothes were instantly re-patterned to fit her. I bought some exercise pants last autumn that had to have 10 ” cut off the legs! I am taller than a lot of Italian ladies my age and not all that short compared to their daughters and granddaughters, so who fits those pants?
    I’m always amazed at the lengths of things here, as well. I am just 5’2″ but I am taller than many people I know here in southern Italy. I don’t get it …
    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..Alive!

  14. Joanne at frutto della passione

    I always get ziploc bags too, here are other must haves:
    Canadian real maple syrup
    French vanilla coffee
    brita filters
    spices not available or hard to find in Italy
    cheddar cheese
    specialty bakeware
    Very similiar to my list, too. I brought back the french vanilla creamers (the liquid/non-refrigerator kind) and I’m loving them! I also bring Velveeta and we bought a small baking dish and spices! *SO* funny!
    Joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..Barilla Website of the Month January 2009

  15. Cheetos! Esselunga used to have Campbells Cream of tomato soup for less than 1 Euro a can but stopped carrying it. Pickle relish, Buffalo wing sauce, canned bamboo shoots, Minor’s Chicken Base and Oregon Chai tea mix. The really nice thing Obama could do is once a quarter open up the military PX and commisary to Expats in the base areas who don’t qualify to normally shop there. Won’t that stimulate the US economy? I know I would be happy to drop a couple 100 $$$
    Great idea! I’d love to spend $ there, as well. There is a store called Lidl that we LOVE here in CZ. I saw buffalo wing seasoning there the other day!! And I love cheetos, too!!
    Martha’s last blog post..New Post Office Experiences

  16. Anna R

    On all the trips I have made to Italy to visit relatives, I enjoyed every new sensation and taste knowing that I was only there for a short time. I was a bit homesick, momentarily for my family, but reminded myself that I was there to bond and create special memories with my other family that would have to sustain me for months and even years until I could make another trip back to the land that is always calling to me. Who needs peanut butter and ziploc bags when you are surrounded by the best food in the world grown by loving hands, hands that hold your hands and hug you like there is no tomorrow?
    There is no arguing that Italian food isn’t some of the best in the world … but many people, even though we love Italy, miss things from our home countries. I think that is normal. It isn’t an insult to Italy. We can love both of them!

  17. Rick B.

    Taco seasoning/crunchy taco shells. Good salsa.

    And Anna has a point… There is no food like what you get in Italy. But, we humans are creatures of habit.

    Just found your site today, it’s awesome. Having lived in Southern Italy for 2 years, I can relate! I’m excited that a business opportunity will bring me back for a couple of weeks this Spring.
    Definitely taco stuff … what was I thinking forgetting that!?! Ha ha Where were you in southern Italy? I bet you are excited, it is bellissima here!

  18. It’s too funny . . . Friday morning as I was packing to come back to France, my dad looked in my suitcase and kind of raised an eyebrow and said, “Ziploc bags? Are they much cheaper here?” I said heck they’re not even available!!! So I love that Ziplocs were your first thing, and i sent him the link.

    I ditto your thought on the clothes. yes, if you’re on vacation, Italian (and French) garments are lovely, but if you just need jeans and t-shirts and don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, hello Ann Taylor loft and Target!!! My mom had to hem something like 7 pair of pants the night before I left . . .but that’s basically my shopping for the year.

    Also, I’ve found substitutes for most products here, but I always buy up a bunch of trial size deodorants and toothpastes!

    And I brought back Reese’s peanut butter cups, to which my husband is now addicted (clever aren’t I)!!

    Would have loved to have brought some maple syrup but didn’t want to risk it exploding in the suitcase!
    Oh that is funny about your Ziplocs. My hubby loves Reeses Pieces now, so we bring back those, too. I also considered the maple syrup but … oooh, what a mess that would be!

  19. Lois C.

    Hi Everyone! This is fun to read for all of you missing home – but I have a reverse question – my 15 yr old daughter is heading there on an honor band trip – we are Canadian which makes the exchange to Euro crazy – what are her best buys in Italy so she can have some keepsakes, gifts to bring home and not break her bank?

    Thanks so much for any advice!
    Ciao, Lois! I sent you an email about this, as well but I suggest she hit the local outdoor markets. They are also full of fun, affordable things she can buy both for herself and as presents to other people. There will also be “souvenir stands,” but the markets will offer a more authentic, “local” experience. I hope she has fun!

  20. Al

    Can anyone help me find a store, ideally in northeastern Italy, where to buy American coffee? Apparently, all big US companies don’t directly export beyond Canada, and I cannot handle my crave anymore…

    Hi Al. I’m not really sure what they have up north, but have you checked some online stores? I’ve had good success ordering things through

    1. Expat Grocer

      @Al, Not sure if you’d had any luck. We’d love to support you. Expat Grocer, ships American Foodstuffs to Expats across the Globe., is your one stop shop for expat essentials. We’ve not created a Coffee Package, as yet, but let us know your request, and we’ll take care of you!

  21. kat

    Ciao! I am traveling to Italy as a study abroad student. I have been reading threads everywhere about what gift to bring your host family but no one has really offered any good advise about what Italians love in America that they can’t get. I’m from Wisconsin/Minnesota if that helps! REALLY appreciate any advice!

  22. Leslie

    Hello. My son’s inlaws are Italian and will be visiting the US over Christmas. I wanted to see if anyone could offer me some ideas of what to get them for Christmas. I’ve never met them, but would like to get them something nice and thoughtful. Any suggestions?


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