Moving to Italy: the Visa-Permesso Process
So, You Think You Want to Move to Italy
Actually, you probably don’t. I wrote an article on why that I gently nudge anyone considering moving to Italy to read. If you know you belong here in the depths of your soul, fantastico. If nothing else, you can prepare for the realities of immigration and your first year. Italy is beautiful, but Italian life can range from amusing to areyoufuckingserious?
When you visit, you get the highlight reel. It may sound dreamy, but when you live here, you have to take the shit with the shinola. That can be hard. Even Italians get pushed to the limit. The country has a “brain drain” crisis from so many Italians exiting the country in the last decade. Whether you’ve already decided or you just started thinking about it, the first step anyone who moves here has to take is the same: getting a visa. The second is obtaining your Permesso di Soggiorno, which replaces the visa once you’re in Italy.
The Visa Application Process, 101
The simplified visa rundown I’m about to give you is from an American POV. The visa types are equivalent in most non-EU countries since it’s the Italian government who issues them, but if you don’t reside in the USA (or territory thereof), you’ll need to augment this with your own research.
But let’s say that you do (pick a state, any state) and want to move to Italy for longer than 90 days. FYI, 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. (There’s a short-term apartment market just for this, but you won’t be a resident.)
If you already work remotely, you can likely do that while you’re here just as you could from anywhere else, but check with your employer and home country to be safe. As a PSA, due to IRS withholding laws, 90% of “remote” jobs with US companies actually require you to be on American soil the majority of the time. Some even require you to be physically located in certain states. Ideally, you want to avoid breaking laws when you move here.
Applying for a Long-Stay Visa, Part 1
Moving to Italy starts with registering online with the Italian consulate* that has jurisdiction over your legal US residence. (Where you get your mail, and yes, legal proof is required.) The Embassy represents the Italian government in the US to cultivate political alliances and maintain trade relationships. It conducts the diplomatic business of the Ambassador. The consulates are the Embassy’s administrative branches that get shit done.
*The ten consulates are in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and San Francisco. (Along with Northern California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, SF also oversees Hawaii, Alaska, and the US territories of Guam, Samoa, and Midway/Mariana Islands.)
Next, you pick a visa type based on your life circumstances, goals, income, and family situation. The three most common are:
- The study visa, which is not just for the 18-22 crowd or art/uni students. You can also do things like go to culinary school or study Italian. (I did the latter.)
- The elective residency visa, for the retired, trust fund babies, and those with investment or other passive income sources. The caveat to this visa is that you cannot work, in Italy or anywhere else.
- The freelance* visa, which requires a Partita IVA (i.e., a business tax number). Its sister version for remote workers, the digital nomad visa, is still being finalized. *Freelance = professionista libero in Italian. Also, see above regarding location requirements for remote US jobs.
Less common are the subordinate work, medical, family, religious, research, sports, civilian employee, military dependent, and the investor visa. (Yes, you can buy your way into the country.)
The EU Blue Card
Rarer still is the Blue Card, a European Union visa issued by the Italian government that has its own application process. (You need an attorney, HR advocate, or both to navigate it.) The gist is that it’s a special two-year visa for highly skilled/educated workers. The consulate in the US verifies your apostilled education documents, whichyour school’s registrar sends directly to the Attorney General of the state your school is in. The AG stamps them, and then you have them sent to a certified translator of your choosing, who translates your transcript(s) and diploma to Italian verbatim, then notarizes the translated versions.
The translated documents are then sent to the consulate with their apostilled English counterparts. Once the examiner verifies that your education and GPA meet the Blue Card requirements, they issue a “Dichiarazione di Valore.” This clears the way for the company you’ll be working for to show the local authorities it needs you for the job instead of an Italian..
Applying for a Long-Stay Visa, Part 2:
Back to our regularly scheduled visas though. Once you choose, you make an appointment via the consulate’s online system. You should also email them directly unless the website directions say otherwise. The SF consulate has had a message on its visa page since 2020 that says anyone applying for a national visa (> 90 days) “MUST email the Visa Office. Include your nationality, city and state of residence in the USA, intended flight date, and the type of visa you want.” (I got a reply the next day with additional instructions and the green light to apply.)
Once you’re cleared to proceed, download the long form visa application. Print, fill out, and gather EVERYTHING the instructions and/or consulate staff say you need. Some documents have to be originals, which can require patience if you’re waiting on something from Italy. (Consider it a warm-up for living here. 🙂
Molto importante: you’ll need to include an apartment lease contract or proof of other accommodation for the entire duration of your visa, no exceptions. (It doesn’t have to be paid for up front, just show that you’ll have a roof over your head in Italy.)
Renting an Apartment in Italy
Italians prefer to make these types of agreements in person (it’s seriously how things get done here), so you may need to make an apartment-hunting trip will before you submit your visa application. It is possible to rent an Italian apartment remotely from the USA (I did it because I had to due to COVID restrictions), but it’s risky AF.
If you go this route, proceed with caution. There are global fraud rings that have infiltrated legitimate websites and platforms like Airbnb, and they are good. Bare minimum, do a video call (and record it) to verify as much as possible before handing over your identity documents. Money shouldn’t change hands before you sign a contract, so being asked to advance anything is a red flag.
Being asked to transfer funds to a non-Italian IBAN number is an even bigger one. Italians and foreign residents use IBAN numbers for everything from paying bills to transferring money between friends in Italy. Initially, freely giving out your account number feels weird, but it’s only for putting money IN. The entire banking system is based on IBANs, so businesses typically include them on their websites.
Applying for a Long-Stay Visa, Part 3:
Once you have everything compiled, go to a notary to sign the application and any other legal documents you’re submitting. If the notary probably isn’t familiar with the Italian way, anywhere on the page is fine. (And when in doubt, notarize it!)
Next, you need two USPS Priority Express 9×12 envelopes. One is for the application, required documents*, YOUR PASSPORT (yes, the real one), and a cashier’s check made out to “CONSULATE GENERAL OF ITALY” for the stated amount (May 2022 = $136.80/long-form or $59.00/study). The other envelope needs a prepaid label addressed to YOU with the Consulate as the sender, which you’ll have to fold in half so it fits in the first envelope. Once it’s ready to go, mail it to the address in the instructions exactly as it’s given.
*Make copies first, especially of signed originals!!
Arrivederci e Buon viaggio/Buon Lavoro/ in Bocca al Lupo!
If the consulate has questions or you forgot something, they’ll let you know. (But try not to forget anything.) Otherwise, as long as you meet all the requirements, your passport will arrive in 7-14 days with your visa already placed in it.
P.S. While you’re at it, apply for a codice fiscale (but with a different Priority Mail 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. It’s also done through the consulate, and also a number you’ll give out freely. (Unlike a SSN that you have to guard with your life, it’s unique to you.)
…e Benvenuto in Italia!
The (In)Famous Permesso di Soggiorno
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’ve Filled it Out
After you complete the application, 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
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.)
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.)
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: get a number, wait in line, sit and people watch until your number is called, go to the window, and pick up your Permesso. Basically, an expedited repeat 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), but if something goes wrong, 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 Residency
The Permesso di Soggiorno is referred to as a residency permit, but it’s really just your permit to stay. 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. 🙂
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