Moving to Italy: the Italian Visa and Permesso di Soggiorno Process
So, You Think You Want to Move to Italy…
Actually, you probably don’t, and I wrote an article about why that I recommend anyone considering moving here read. If you already know you truly belong here in the depths of your soul, then nothing I say will change that, but you’ll be better prepared for the realities of the immigration process and your first year in Italy. She’s beautiful but depending on the day (or hour), Italian life ranges from blissful to amusing to isolating to areyoufuckingserious?
When you visit, you get the highlight reel. When you live here, you have to take the shit with the shinola, which can be hard for immigrants and expats at times. Italians can be pushed to the limit too…alarming numbers have exited the country in the last decade, leaving it with a “brain drain” that’s an actual crisis in some regions. This article is mostly informational rather than subjective, whether you’ve already decided or you’re still on the fence. The first step anyone who moves here has to take is the same, which is getting a visa. The second is getting your Permesso di Soggiorno…permit to stay: the visa just gets you in the door, but the permesso is where things get real
The Visa Application Process, 101
The visa process I’m about to give a simplified rundown of is American, specifically from the vantage point of a US citizen. The visa types are equivalent in most non-EU countries because the Italian government is always the one who issues them, but they’re not identical, so if you don’t reside in the USA (or territory thereof), you’ll need to do your own research to augment this.
But let’s say that you do (pick a state, any state) and want to move to Italy for longer than 90 days. (You can stay for up to 90 days on a tourist visa as long as you don’t work for an Italian company in Italy while you’re here, and there’s an apartment market specifically for this, but you will not be considered a resident. Also, if you already work remotely for a company in your home country, you can absolutely continue to do so while you’re here, just like you can anywhere else in the world.)
Applying for a Long-Stay Italian Visa (for US citizens):
Register with the Italian consulate (currently Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and San Francisco, which also oversees Hawaii and Alaska) that has jurisdiction over your legal US residence (where you get your mail, and yes, you have to provide proof via a driver’s license or other accepted document). Please note that the Italian embassy has nothing to do with visas.
Pick a visa type based on your life circumstances, goals, income, etc. Your choices include a study visa (not just for the 18-22 crowd or art/uni students…you can also study Italian, go to culinary school, etc.), an ER (elective) residency visa (for the retired and those with trust funds or other passive income sources, freelance, work, medical, and a few more that are less common.
Make an appointment with the consulate’s online system AND email them directly. As of October 2021, the SF consulate has this message on its visa page: COVID-19 ADVISORY: We would like to inform all VISA applicants that, during the Covid-19 pandemic, if you need apply for a national visa (any visa longer than 90 days), you MUST write an e-mail to the Visa Office at email@example.com. This e-mail must include your nationality, your city and state of residence in the USA, your intended flight date, and the type of visa you want.
Once your visa type is green-lighted, download the long form visa application (or whichever one they tell you to use) and print, fill out, and gather EVERYTHING the instructions and/or consulate staff say you need (some documents have to be originals, so this step can require patience, especially if you’re waiting on anything from Italy). Also, molto importante: you will need to include an apartment lease/contract or proof of other accommodation for the entire duration of your visa, no exceptions.
Italians typically prefer to make these types of agreements in person, so be prepared to make an apartment-finding trip before you submit your visa. That said, it is possible to rent an Italian apartment from the US (I did it), but it’s risky, so if you go this route, proceed with caution. There are global fraud rings that have infiltrated otherwise legitimate websites and platforms, so at a minimum, so a video call (and record it) and verify as much as possible before handing over your identity documents.
Go to a notary to sign the application and any other legal documents you’re submitting.
Put the application, all of the accompanying documents (make copies first, especially of any originals!!), YOUR PASSPORT (yes, the real one), a cashier’s check made out to “CONSULATE GENERAL OF ITALY” for the stated amount (currently $136.80/long-form or $59.00/study), and a USPS Priority Express Mail envelope with a prepaid label addressed to YOU (with the Consulate as the sender) folded so in half so it fits into a second USPS Priority Express 9×12 envelope and mail it to the address in the instructions exactly as it’s given.
If you’ve forgotten anything or the consulate needs additional documentation on anything or has questions, they’ll let you know (but don’t forget anything). If you included everything they asked for and meet the requirements, your passport will arrive in approximately two weeks with your visa already in it on one of the pages.
Buon viaggio/buon lavoro/in bocca al lupo!
P.S. While you’re at it, apply for a codice fiscale at the same time (but with a different envelope), which is the Italian equivalent of a social security number. It’s required to conduct life in Italy, from renting an apartment to obtaining healthcare or a grocery discount card, and also done through the consulate. (Here are the SF instructions.)
The (Infamous) Permesso di Soggiorno:
Disclaimer: this is NOT legal advice, just a (very) simplified outline of the Permesso di Soggiorno (permit to stay) process, which legally replaces your visa. (Tranquilla…you’re theoretically upgrading.) It can be exasperating depending on where you live, but it’s a legal requirement, not a nice-to have. It’s also a rite of passage among immigrants and expats, so the card itself is a weird badge of honor.
The timeframe from application submission to pick-up varies, even within regions. For example, Florence and Lucca are both in Tuscany, but in Florence, it can take 9+ months, while in Lucca, it takes more like 5 weeks, including fingerprinting. Why? Simple math: applications are processed in Rome, but the local questura (police station) handles the interviews and issues the cards, so bigger city (349,296) vs. smaller (88,822) = suck it up, buttercup.
The permesso makes a lot of essentials possible, like opening an Italian bank account and getting your tessera sanitaria (health card) so you can participate in the Italian health system. You’re required to submit your application within 8 days of your arrival, so as soon as your jet lag wears off, go to the Ufficio Postale and ask for a “Permesso Kit” (any branch, though they may send you elsewhere if they’re out).
After you’ve filled it out …
Once it’s completed, you go to a local tobacco shop (yes, really) to purchase the 16 € stamp required for the first page of the application. Then you gather ALL of the documents listed in the instructions, which will be a lot of the same things you submitted for your visa application, but do NOT give them the originals – make copies to submit. DO take the originals with you when you drop your application packet off at the Ufficio Postale in case they want to check them, and be prepared to pay approximately 140 € in cash. (You’ll get a receipt – guard it with your life.)
You’ll also get a printout with your questura interview appointment date, Permesso number, and a few other details. DO NOT MISS THIS APPOINTMENT. When the day and time arrive, take all of your documents and ID with you. Also, take snacks and water and wear comfortable clothes/shoes.
At the Questura
The way it works in Florence is that you go to the questura, get a number from the poliziotto/i at the door after they verify that you’re supposed to be there, and stand in line until they let you in the building, which they do according to your number. DO NOT LOSE THIS NUMBER while you’re standing in line.
Once they let you in, find a place to sit until your number is called. (Fair warning, it can take three hours.) When your number flashes onto the display board, it will have a window number next to it. For your first Permesso, you have to be fingerprinted, which may happen that day, but most likely, you’ll have to come back, so hang onto the document they give you with your photo and appointment time on it. Again, DO NOT MISS THIS APPOINTMENT. (FYI, this is one of the few times you won’t have to stand in line outside the questura.)
I honestly don’t know if there’s a bathroom available for immigrants to use, so definitely pee before you get there! (I also wrote an article on Peeing in Italy for general pro tips on that.)
Picking Up Your Permesso
In an ideal world, your Permesso will be ready two weeks after your fingerprint appointment. You’ll get an SMS message telling you when to pick it up. The retrieval process is get a number, wait in line, sit and eat your snacks/people watch until your number is called, go to the window, and pick up your Permesso. (Basically a repeat of your first appointment.)
Not everyone lives in an ideal world. If you end up being one of them, I strongly recommend you hire an immigration attorney. (And yes, that’s the link to mine…he’s really good.) The Permesso di Soggiorno is a document that’s critical to your existence in Italy, and while glitches are common, on the rare occasions something goes really wrong, you’re going to need help. Plus, you’ll avoid feeling like you’re trying to move a glacier with your pinky finger.
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