Italy’s Permesso di Soggiorno Explained
Moving to Italy? Benvenuto!
I wrote a separate article on the visa process that comes before the Permesso, so if you’re reading this because you’re researching moving to Italy, you might want to start there. (I also wrote one on making sure you really do want to move here.)
The (In)Famous Permesso di Soggiorno
If you’re reading this because you’re about to make the leap, a top to-do list priority on after you arrive in Italy is to get your jetlagged self to an Ufficio Postale branch for a “Permesso Kit” before your 8th day in the country. Permesso di Soggiorno = permit to stay, and it’s a legal requirement, not a nice-to have. In addition to replacing the visa you just got (tranquilla…you’re upgrading), it’s essential for things like opening an Italian bank account and getting your tessera sanitaria (health card) for the Italian health system.
The time from application submission to pickup varies, even within regions. For example, Florence and Lucca are both in Tuscany, but in Florence, it can take eight months (!). Meanwhile in Lucca, it’s more like five weeks, including fingerprinting. Why? Math(s). Rome processes the applications, but the questura does the interviews and issues the cards. Bigger city (349,296) vs. smaller (88,822) = suck it up, buttercup. (And take snacks…see below.)
I won’t vilify it too much since I’m waiting for my renewal and don’t want to jinx myself, but it’s a rite of passage among immigrants and expats. Sometimes it’s utterly exasperating. And no one makes it through the process without a story or three, so it’s a weird badge of honor.
After You Fill Out the Permesso di Soggiorno Application
After you complete the permesso paperwork, go to a local tobacco shop (kid you not) and purchase the marca da bolla (€16 holographic stamp) required for the first page. Gather ALL the documents specified in the instructions. (Some are what you submitted for your visa.)
Do not give them the originals—make copies. DO take the originals with you when you drop your packet off at the Ufficio Postale in case they want to check them. Be prepared to pay approximately €140 in cash and guard the receipt they give you with your life.
You’ll also get a printout with your questura (police station) interview appointment date and a few other details. Do not miss this appointment. It’s mission-critical to living in Italy legally. Take all of your documents (originals + copies) and passport with you to your appointment.
At the Questura, Firenze Edition
In Florence, you go to the questura, get a number from the poliziotti at the door (they vet you), and stand in line until they let you in. Which they do according to your number, so DO NOT LOSE IT. You may have to stand in line for an hour, even with an appointment, so just breathe and chill.
Once you’re inside the building (woo-hoo!), find a spot to keep yourself occupied until your number flashes onto the display board. (FYI, this can take three hours.) Go to the sportello (window) number next to it. Show them the documents they ask for and answer their other questions. (“Si, certo!” is the only acceptable answer to whether you like Napoli.)
Pro tips: Wear comfortable clothes/shoes, take snacks, water, a power bank, and pee beforehand. There’s no immigrant toilet, but you can leave the building and come back after you’re one of the in crowd. (For tips on finding a WC and other toilet etiquette, I also wrote Peeing in Italy.)
Impronte Digitale (Fingerprints)
Your first Permesso requires you to be fingerprinted, which you may have to come back for. If so, hang onto the document they give you at the window with your photo and appointment time. (It’s usually within a few days.) Again, do not miss this appointment.
FYI, fingerprints are one time you won’t have to stand in line outside the questura. Very nicely tell the poliziotto at the door “Buongiorno, sono qui per un appuntamento per le impronte digitali per il mio primo permesso e la sua collega mi ha detto di non stare in fila e di dirle di farmi entrare.”
Picking Up Your Permesso
In an ideal world, your Permesso will be ready two weeks after you’re fingerprinted. You’ll get an SMS message telling you when to pick it up. The retrieval process is generally an expedited version of your first appointment.
But not everyone lives in an ideal world. If you’re one of them, it can feel like trying to move a glacier with your pinky finger. An immigration attorney is your best hope, and yes, that’s the link to mine. Glitches happen (especially in Florence), so help is essential. And hey, you’ll be a pro when you do it all again ten months later. (You start the renewal process two months before your Permesso expires.)
A Final Note on the Permesso di Soggiorno and Residency
The Permesso is referred to as a residency permit, but it’s really just your permit to stay in Italy. Actual legal Italian residency is a different thing with a separate application process. So, you can live in Italy legally with the PdS, but you’re still considered a resident of your country of origin. To make a confusing thing more confusing, you CAN, however, be a resident of the comune you live in, which you do via a Dichiarazione di Residenza form. In fact, it’s required for things like having utilities in your name. It also establishes your tax residency. Your PdS supersedes the rest until you’ve lived in Italy for five years. That’s when you get to apply for real residency, with all the bells and whistles. After ten, you can apply for Italian citizenship. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 🙂
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