Danielle Leite has been living in Florence since 2015. Having moved to various countries in her lifetime, she set up a business called Move to Florence, a relocation service that uses her connections with lawyers and agents as well as a wealth of experience to make sure every move goes as smoothly as possible.
So where are you from? How did you come to be in Florence?
I was born in Brazil, then at 15 I moved to the UK for my dad’s PhD. I finished school there, did my degree in Social Sciences with Psychology, got married, and I had my first child. After I’d been in the UK for 16 years, we moved the family to Paris, where I had my second child. We stayed there for seven years until my now ex-husband said, “Let’s move to Florence!” And I thought, Why not?
Just out of the blue?
Well, he changed jobs, so we moved for that. One of my sons is still in school here, so at least for now, I’m staying. I also have another reason: I’ve started my own business!
How did that start?
During the lockdown I was working for a charity and they asked if I would continue as a volunteer. I couldn’t do that.
You need money, too!
Right? I was going to ring the gas board and say, Sorry, I’m a volunteer now. Can my gas be free? But I didn’t think that would go down very well. I felt really lost, but I find when I have a big problem, a long walk often solves it, so that’s what I did. At first, nothing was coming to my mind, then when I was about 200 metres from home, the idea came to me. Everything fitted together and made sense, because moving to Florence was something I had done for myself, I had helped friends get here, and I already knew so many people.
You already had the resources.
That’s it! It was perfect. I was overwhelmed by how easy it felt. It never felt like I was alone. I was learning a lot by myself, reading up on marketing, learning about websites, figuring out how to build a team, but all my friends and contacts were very generous with their time, advice and resources. Then moments of serendipity would happen and I would meet someone who knew someone.
Florence is like that. You end up with connections to everyone because everyone knows each other. It’s how I found you when I needed housing two weeks before my student placement.
I’m so happy I could help you. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to, but when you said you might not be able to come, I was thinking, I cannot allow this to happen to this person who has this dream. So, I just started asking around and somebody came up with something.
I’m so grateful. I imagine you work with other students, but what kinds of clients generally come to you for help?
Actually, my client base is not normally students—you’re the only one! I normally work with English-speaking expats who make the decision to move here and either don’t know where to start or need a competent, reliable team behind them. If you contact me, you’re contacting someone who has done this plenty of times before.
There’s a trust in your level of expertise. That’s so useful when accessing resources is so difficult from abroad. I suppose that’s the point of your business.
The idea is to make your move to Florence less stressful. I won’t ever say I can make it stress-free because that would be the biggest lie that I could ever tell you. It’s not possible. When you move here, there are so many requirements that never cross your mind for the simplest of things. For me, there was nobody who could tell me what I needed to do. I was in a desert, it was sink or swim, and it was so complicated. Why does it need to be this difficult? The answer is very complex, yet simple at the same time. Because Italy! In the end, I realised I was never going to change the system, but I can try and make the experience considerably less painful for others.
It’s complicated and the situation keeps changing. For us, as British students trying to do work placements here post-Brexit, they’ve started rejecting visas.
Yeah, and this is the thing. I was in Rome in a meeting with one of my immigration experts and he was telling me that sometimes rules change every week, so you’ve got to be on the ball.
Are there other difficulties? I feel like we have to mention housing. What’s your take on the current situation?
There is a big problem with housing in Florence at the moment. It started in spring when there was a huge influx of people. Whereas last year you could have a wish list and find a property very easily, this year there aren’t many options. It’s a problem for people like students as you know, and people who are coming to work here.
It’s tough. In a city as amazing as this, it’s inevitable that people are going to take the opportunity to come, but it’s a shame that they’re all doing it at the same time.
It’s been caused by the pandemic because everyone who would have come in the last few years is coming now. Let’s hope that it normalises, because then things will be easier.
Is your job rewarding, despite the difficulties? It must be nice when people arrive and it all works out.
It’s so wonderful! There’s one family who are only here for a year, but they want to enjoy every second. As soon as they arrived, it was like watching your baby walk and run. They dived into it with such gusto and within a week, the children were going on playdates. I thought, Wow, this is how you do it. I’m lucky because it takes a certain kind of personality to want to do this kind of thing, so my clients are super positive, happy people. I can honestly say that I enjoy 99% of my job. It’s rewarding, interesting, invigorating, and I meet amazing human beings. I also get paid, so what’s not to like?
Is that what inspires you to do it?
I do it because these people have a dream, and every dream is a risk. Without anybody guiding you, you can fall flat on your face. All the little things are going to amount to something big. If I can kind of take those little things away, so all you end up with is living that dream, then I’ve done my job.
That’s a lovely working philosophy: making dreams come true! Do you have anything else you want to mention?
I feel so grateful for this job and the generosity of people. I always want to do a better job, so I’m constantly working on having better resources. It’s funny, when I arrived, I never wanted to look at these types of things again, but I made it my mission to be the one doing the work so you don’t have to. So, you can come here and slip comfortably into a really cool life that you can truly enjoy.