Since Schengen Zone rules limit most non-EU visitors to 90 days in Italy out of any 181-day period (see Part One on this topic: “The Schengen Zone and Why it Matters:” twopartsitaly.com/blog/2019/2/25when-90-days-is-not-enough-a-long-term-stay, longer stays require the visitor to obtain a visa and a permesso di soggiorno. For those of us “of a certain age” (i.e.: retirees) the type of visa is an elective residency visa. Most of the information I am sharing about this visa applies to citizens of the United States, Canada and Australia and is based on my experience of obtaining a visa in the U.S. as well as information gleaned from multiple sources.
The first thing to know about obtaining a visa is that it must be obtained in one’s home country before departing for Italy. It is not possible to apply for or be granted a visa after arriving in Italy. For most of us planning elective residency, this means one trip to Italy to find an apartment, obtain a codice fiscale (the tax code required to sign a lease) and register the apartment contract, followed by a return to our home country to apply for the visa and await its arrival before returning to Italy. Not an easy (or inexpensive) process. The second thing to keep in mind is to make multiple copies of everything submitted for the visa - documents, application, passport pages. The electronic systems in Italy don’t seem to talk to each other and share information, so the application for the visa is separate from the later application for the permesso di soggiorno.
So, where to begin? First, determine which Italian Consulate is designated for your home region or state. As an example, in the United States, New Mexico residents apply through the Los Angeles consulate while residents of Colorado apply in Chicago. Residents of British Columbia and the Yukon in Canada apply in Vancouver. These regions are set in stone. You’ll have to prove that you live in the assigned consulate’s region as part of your application. Then, find the website for your specific consulate. It will list requirements for the visa and - just to make the process more interesting - the requirements may vary from one Italian Consulate to the next. Follow the list carefully as the documentation required is specific and none of it is optional.
Next, make an appointment at the consulate as soon as you decide you want a visa. There are often significant wait times for appointments and it is usually required that applicants appear in person. In some (lucky) cases, an Honorary Consulate who lives in a city within the consulate’s territory may be able to verify the documents and send them (along with the applicant’s passport) to the appropriate office. This worked for Judy and me. Instead of appearing in Los Angeles, the consular representative in New Mexico verified and signed each of our applications, which were then sent by Fed Ex to Los Angeles. Five days later, my passport with visa was returned. Judy’s took a little longer - about 2 weeks - and she was called by a lovely woman in the LA consulate office and asked a few questions first. Those short turnarounds were great - but aren’t guaranteed. Applications can be submitted up to three months prior to a planned departure for Italy; the safest bet is to submit as early as possible. Some consulates will require an interview, in person or by phone (if submitting documents by Fed Ex). Don’t be surprised if you are called, especially if your documentation is unclear or your situation unusual.
The elective residency visa is designed for people planning to remain in Italy long term and - this is key - who can support themselves without working. All forms of work are excluded with this type of visa - including online work, freelance, and self-employment (work visas are a different sort of visa altogether and are limited in number). Be sure to include adequate documentation of monthly non-work income as without clear proof of sufficient funds, the visa application will be denied.
Requirements for an elective residency visa include:
1. A completed application form (which can be printed from the consultate website) submitted no more than 90 days before planned arrival in Italy. All required documents must be submitted with the application, including proof of living within that consulate’s territory (i.e.: a copy of a driver’s license or utility bill with a current address), a current passport (not a copy - the actual passport), and the required fee (currently about $134 U.S. dollars). The consulate will keep the passport while processing the application, so don’t plan on traveling outside of your home country during this time.
2. Proof of sufficient funds from non-work sources - pensions, Social Security, savings and investment accounts - to support living in Italy without working. Proof can include financial statements, bank records, pension and Social Security verification letters.
3. A signed contract for a place to live in Italy (rental or purchase) for at least the full term of the visa (one year minimum). This is a bit of a Catch 22 as it means signing a lease before a visa has been granted. A bit anxiety provoking! And the place to live must be a single place - multiple short-term contracts or hotel stays are generally not acceptable. Note that in order to sign a long-term lease, a codice fiscale (Italian tax identification number) is required. The codice fiscale can be obtained through your assigned Italian Consulate prior to making the visa application or in person when in Italy before signing a lease. An experienced rental agent can often help obtain this important document.
4. Proof of global health insurance that meets specific coverage requirements, including repatriation in case of serious illness or death. U.S. Medicare does not include this coverage and is not sufficient for obtaining a visa. This insurance tends to be expensive so definitely leave time to shop around.
5. Proof of civil status (i.e.: marriage license, divorce decrees). This is especially important for women with name changes related to marriage or divorce.
The more organized the documents are the better. A good strategy is to include a one-page cover letter with a brief introduction, passport number with dates of issue and expiration, codice fiscale number, address where you will live in Italy and date that the contract begins, international health insurance coverage, and brief overview of financial resources. Next, include a page that lists every document submitted, in order. Be sure all documents are originals or certified where required and that copies are clear and readable. The goal is to make this easy and very clear for the person reviewing the application. It is essential to keep at least two copies of all submitted documents as the exact same documents will be needed on arrival in Italy when applying for the permesso di soggiorno and again for a renewal.
Visa rejections for Italy hover at around 7 percent. Reasons for rejection include incomplete documentation, overstaying a previous visit in the Schengen Zone (remember, the passport must be provided and the stamps tell the story of previous visits), a criminal history, or - and this is probably the biggest reason - insufficient funds to support being in Italy without working.
Once the visa has been approved, the next step is to obtain a permesso di soggiorno. One way to think of this is that the visa is step one and gives you ”a ticket” to enter Italy with the intent of applying for permission to remain beyond the usual 90-day limit for a tourist. But it doesn’t actually finalize the process of obtaining permission to stay. To do that, you need to obtain a permesso di soggiorno upon arrival in Italy.
This post - like the whole process - is getting long. So we’ll continue in Part Three: “The Permesso di Soggiorno.” -post by Joanne
www.portaleimmigrazione.it (site in Italian language only)