Moving to Italy: the Visa Process
So, you think you want to move to Italy…
I wrote an article on why you probably actually don’t that I encourage anyone considering it to read. Even if you know you belong here in the depths of your soul, it can help you prepare for the realities of immigration and your first year.
Italy is beautiful, but when you visit, you only get the highlight reel. As dreamy as it seems, you have to take the shit with the shinola when you live here. That can be hard. Even Italians get pushed to the limit…so many young people have left the country in the last decade that we have a “brain drain” crisis.
Whether you’ve already decided or just started thinking about it, the first step everyone has to take when they move to Italy is getting a visa. The second is obtaining your Permesso di Soggiorno (permit to stay) which replaces your visa once you’re in Italy. You have eight days to submit your application to the Ufficio Postale and it’s what you renew every year if you’re staying for more than one. (Until you qualify for a Carta di Soggiorno, but that’s a topic for a more advanced article.)
A basic overview of the Italian visa application process.
The simplified rundown I’m about to give you is from an American POV. The visa types are equivalent in most non-EU countries since the Italian government issues them, but you’ll need to do your own research if you don’t reside in the USA (or territory thereof). Spiacente.
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. There’s a short-term apartment market just for this, but you won’t be a resident.)
If you already work remotely, you can potentially do that while you’re here just as you could from anywhere else, but check with your employer to be sure. PSA: due to IRS withholding laws, 90% of “remote” jobs with US companies actually require you to be on American soil most of the time. Some even require you to be physically located in certain states. Ideally, you want to avoid breaking laws or unexpectedly losing your job when you move here.
Applying for a Long-Stay Visa: Part 1.
THE ITALIAN CONSULATES
Moving to Italy starts by registering on the website of the Italian consulate with jurisdiction over your legal USA residence. (Where you get your mail, and YES, legal proof is required.) FYI, the embassy conducts the diplomatic business of the ambassador, who represents the Italian government in America to cultivate alliances and maintain trade relationships. It’s too busy doing high-level political things to mess with visas. Those are handled by the consulates, which operate as the embassy’s administrative branches. Meaning they’re the ones who get shit done, including processing, approving, and issuing visa applications. That makes them your new best friends, so be nice/respectful/patient.
The consulates are located in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and San Francisco. (SF oversees Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Samoa, and Midway/Mariana Islands along with NorCal, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.)
THE MENU OF VISAS
Next, you pick a visa type based on your 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.
- The elective residency visa, for the retired, trust fund babies, and those with investment or other passive income sources. The caveat is that you cannot work, in Italy or anywhere else.
- The freelance visa, which requires a Partita IVA (i.e., a business tax number) with a separate application process and its own set of terms and conditions. Professionista libero = freelance in Italian.
Less common are the subordinate work, medical, family, religious, research, sports, civilian employee, military dependent, and the investor visa option for those wealthy enough to buy their way into the country.
Re: the “Digital Nomad” Visa
There’s been a lot of hype around the digital nomad visa proposal Italy signed into law in April 2022. It’s theoretically a sister version of the existing freelance visa, but for remote workers, and it sparked much excitement amongst those looking for an easier way to move here than a traditional visa.
But…slow your roll, e’rybody. The ONLY thing it approved was the visa’s existence…the mechanics, logistics, and specifics are all TBD. Also, the law states that the visa will be for those “who carry out highly qualified work activities through the use of technological tools that allow them to work remotely, autonomously or for a company that is not resident in the territory of the Italian state.”
The European Blue Card visa (more on that next) uses similar language, so it sounds like the digital nomad visa could require a Dichiarazione di Valore (declaration of valor). It’s another consular process that formally validates your education, which becomes the basis of determining whether your profession/experience meets the criteria that make you “highly qualified.” In other words, it will NOT be a “have laptop, will move to Italy” visa. Not by a long shot.
And frankly, I’m a hard no on adding to the already overloaded immigration system that has most of us going without a valid Permesso for three or four months of the year because that’s the soonest appointment for getting the new one when our old one expires.
The EU Blue Card
Rarest of them all 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, which your 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. Once that’s done, THEN you can move to Italy.
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 take patience if you’re waiting on something from Italy. Consider it a warm-up for living here. 🙂 Also, make copies of originals!
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
Making agreements in person is 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 had to do it because of 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. It’s normal to be asked for a copy of your passport, but being asked to advance any money before you sign a contract is a big red flag.
Being asked to transfer funds to a non-Italian IBAN is an even bigger red flag. For the unfamiliar, IBAN stands for International Bank Account Number, and Italians/Europeans use them for everything from paying bills to transferring money between friends. Freely giving out your IBAN may feel weird at first, but it’s only for putting money in. Businesses even 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 (make copies first, especially of signed originals!), your actual 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. Mail it to the address in the instructions exactly as it’s written.
Arrivederci e Buon Viaggio/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.)
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