This page is a work in progress. As I find new things that I think would be useful to know I will add them.
I created this page to help people understand the ins and outs of a move to Italy. It is aimed at Americans. First off, I wish to say the information is specific to our own personal situation. Each Italian region has it’s own quirks. Each Consulate in the US has their own rules. There is no rule of thumb here. No recourse. If your consulate or region wants something you have no choice but to give it to them. So please use all the information here with that in mind.
Before and during the move
A word of warning before starting the process of getting all your cards, visas, and permits. Be SURE your vital information is the SAME for every document you have. Your Codice Fiscale, your Permesso di Soggiorno, your passport, birth certificate – It should all match exactly for your name, date of birth, place of birth, etc. We know many people, including ourselves, who have run into problems here with differences in our documents. So try hard to make them agree.
Obtaining a Visa
There are several types of Visas. If you are planning to work, your employer will sponsor you for a Visa that allows you to work. You can enter on a Student Visa. You must be enrolled in school and it allows you to work 20 hours a week. We are retirees. We opted for the Elective Residency (ER) Visa. We are not allowed to work here on this Visa.
Obtaining an Elective Residency Visa
The websites for the various Consulates list the specific items required for an ER Visa. Each Consulate or the main Embassy makes their own independent decisions on Visas, often setting different rules. You must use the Consulate designated for your area. We used the main Embassy in Washington DC. For us we each had to bring:
- One National (Italian) Visa Application Form, completely and clearly filled out, and to be signed in the presence of a Consular Officer.
- Handling visa fee (this changes so you need to look it up) must be paid in exact amount in cash, money order or cashiers check made out to the Consulate General of Italy. Some have said they wouldn’t accept cash but our Embassy did.
- Two copies of our entire passports (all pages) valid for at least three months after the visa period with a blank page available for the Visa.
- Copys or our birth certificates.
- Copys of our marriage certificate.
- Proof of enough income to live in Italy without working.
- Proof of medical coverage.
- A copy of the final sales agreement for a house or a certified lease from the landlord where you will be living.
- We did not have to, but at least one Consulate (Chicago) requires that you write a letter explaining why you want to move to Italy. A friend who had to do this said, “The official read this over carefully. We were careful to not write a letter full of cliches such as wanting to improve our language skill, or love the culture. If you have a personal connection of any kind it Italy, that would be a good point to emphasize. Family and the connections between people resonate within Italian culture.”
Item number eight means you will need to travel to Italy and buy a house or rent an apartment before applying for the Visa. I know it seems counter intuitive but there it is. We had friends who worked with a relo company and rented an apartment for 5 months from them while living in the US. This way they didn’t have to travel here more than once. This could be an option for others who will rent. If you are buying, of course, this would not be an option. I also highly recommend that you know someone in your chosen town. It can greatly help with your transition.
When you go to your appointment (everyone going to Italy needs a separate appointment) you should be very organized with your documents and highlight the pertinent information on them, you should dress nicely and be friendly. Present your documents. Answer questions as shortly as possible and do not volunteer any extra information. Be truthful.
Buying a house in Italy
Buying a house in Italy is not as hard as one might think. You don’t need anything to buy a house except a Codice Fiscale and money! The Codice Fiscale is a personal number everyone must have to buy things in Italy. You can get it from your Consulate or Embassy. I am also told you can get one online. We did ours in person.
Real Estate is not taxed if it is your prima casa (i.e. you live there as your primary house) so we pay no taxes.
Next, find a house. This is, of course a simplification. You need to first decide what region you want to move to. Then what area or town. Then the house. Some people opt to rent before buying to be sure they like their choice. That would be a personal choice.
There is no MLS in Italy. Each agent or agency handles his or her own listings. Our realtor arranged with other agents to meet us with the keys and show us properties he thought we might like.
Once we found our house we made an offer through our Realtor. In Italy you can have the house inspected but it is not like in the US where things are contingent on the outcome. It is important to trust and like your Realtor. Also, it is best if they are English speaking. Ours was British as are most of the English speaking ones here. He also helped us open an Italian bank account into which we would wire money. All realtors get 6% of the sales price. No dickering on that. He splits it with the selling agent. Our offer was accepted. You don’t need any money in hand to make this offer so don’t let anyone tell you different. We next had to give our Realtor a limited Power of Attorney so he could sign for us and go to the closing. We visited a Notaio to do this. He is a cross between a Notary and an Attorney. It was quite the show. Then we flew home to the US. Next step was to pay a 10% deposit.
Wiring money – We had 20 days contractually to pay the 10% deposit. Before we retired we opened a new checking account with USAA. We know that since they cater to the military and families they have members all over the world. My local bank always seemed unfamiliar with these procedures not to mention the exchange rate was ridiculous. USAA gives the official exchange rate with no mark-up. We are very happy with them. This all said many people have good things to say about Transferwise. Do shop around. We had the numbers our bank in Italy gave us and we called up our bank and sent the deposit. Then we waited to see if it would arrive OK.
Four days later it had arrived in Italy. We got an email from our Realtor and he arranged for the final signing of the compromesso (sales agreement). Once this was complete if we backed out we would forfeit our deposit. If the seller backed out they would have to pay two times the deposit to us. Normally once the compromesso is signed the deal should go through without a problem.
Once the deal closes you receive COMPRAVENDITA REPUBBLICA ITALIANA or the final sale agreement. It is in effect your deed. This is what you need to copy and bring to your Visa appointment.
If your house is not new you will probably want to do some renovations. We worked with a Geometra. Here is an online definition I found:
There is no exact equivalent for a “Geometra” in English as this profession with its special form is probably unique to Italy.
This job is a combination of architect, building surveyor and expert in the field of surveying. In any case this person is absolutely essential when buying a property but also when doing major renovation work or building a new house. He is a specialist who identifies, surveys and evaluates the plot of land or the property, he comments on the condition of the subsoil and refers to possible difficulties.
His professional competence is not only of a technical kind. A “Geometra” can also be of help when it comes to legal issues or tax related estimates.
Our Geometra also was a sort of general contractor with a crew of workers who could complete the renovations. You should get recommendations from someone you know and trust. There are also architects and contractors in the same sense as we have in the US. It depends on the extent of the work you need to do.
Things to do before you leave the US
Rent a mailbox from an online company (dropbox).
There are lots of companies that do this. We rented one for 2 years and renew it. You will have to forward your mail to this address. And you will want to do Changes of Address for all your mail. They receive your mail and notify you it has arrived. You have the choice of having it scanned (for a fee), having it forwarded to Italy (for a fee) or discarding it.
Moving physically to Italy
Shipping to Italy
We used a shipping company to send household goods to Italy but not big items like furniture.
Bringing pets to Italy
We elected to bring our two cats into the cabin with us. Only a few airlines do this. You need to make reservations ahead of time. Larger animals will need to go into the hold. There are companies that ship animals and deliver that you could look into as well.
There is no quarantine of animals in Italy. There are, however, several hoops you have to jump through to bring animals to Italy. It is important that you do them in the proper order.
- First get your pet microchipped at least 1 month prior to your trip. Personally with hindsight, I think you should just go ahead and do it the moment you know you are going as it is never too early.
- After that (and at least 30 days before you leave) get a new rabies shot even if they already had one.
- 10 days or less before your flight download the official dual language forms to bring a pet into Italy from the Italian Embassy website.
- Take that form no more than 10 days before you go and have your USDA certified vet fill it out. Make sure you have your rabies certificate from the shot about a month ago.
- Last go find the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services in your state. Either FedEx all your forms (Italian form and Rabies certificate) to them or take them to them for certification. Then you should be good to go.
You take all the forms with you to show when you arrive in Italy. They never asked to see ours but still…you should not take any chances with this!
Here are the links to sites with forms or information that is useful.
This is the Italy embassy information about bringing pets
This is the form that your vet must fill out – and the vet must be USDA certified.
This is the USDA site
Once you arrive
A word of warning before starting the process of getting all your cards and permits. Be SURE your vital information is the SAME for every document you have. Your Codice Fiscale, your Permesso di Soggiorno, your passport, birth certificate. It should all match exactly for your name, date of birth, place,of birth. We know many people, including ourselves, who, have run into many problems with differences in our documents. So try hard to make them agree. (I know I’m repeating myself but it bears repeating!)
Obtain your Permesso di Soggiorno (permit to stay)
You must apply for a Permesso di Soggiorno (PdS) within 7-9 days after you arrive in Italy.
To apply for the Permesso you will need:
- To go to your Italian Post Office and pick up a ‘yellow packet’ for the Permesso di Soggiorno application. The yellow is for US citizens while there is a blue packet for EU members, etc. The yellow packet has two modules and we just filled out the first 4 pages of Module 1. Depends on your dependents etc.
- After filling out the packet you will need:
- Copies of all of your Visa documents (proof of residency, financial documents, health insurance, copies of your entire passport, etc)
- A stamp from a tobacco shop – it’s called a Marco da Bollo.
- 4 passport-style photographs
- Your completed packet including all the blank pages
- The post office will require you to fill out your own invoice – bollitini. It comes in the Yellow packet.
- You go to the post office with all your materials, get a number to go to the correct window – as only certain windows at the post office handle the Permesso applications.
- Give them your materials, they flip through them, ask you for signatures, your Bollitino paying the fee (found on the Internet – it can change from year to year), they bundle everything into an envelope and they schedule your appointment at the Questura (police station) and give you a receipt (do NOT lose the receipt! Very important!).
- At your appointment with the Questura or Immigration police. You will need:
- Your passport photos – as the post office doesn’t take those
- A complete copy of your passport (Again!) and other documents used for your Visa.
- All of your post office receipts including a copy of them
The policewoman/man will take your fingerprints and process your paperwork.
When we first went to the Questura we had to sign an agreement to stay in Italy. The letter we signed is an agreement between us and the “State, in the person of the Prefect of PERUGIA”. We agreed to attend an Italian culture and civics class and pass the A2 Italian proficiency test. There is a point system. The letter clearly states that we get 16 points up front. If we do not take the class we lose 15 points. We need a total of 30 points after two years. I have found out this agreement is also regional and many do not sign one. But if they ask you to, you must comply with these rules. [Addendum: after 2 years we received a letter of non-compliance and were put on probation for a year. Presumably, we would be deported after that had we not complied. We had not taken the Civics class as it’s date was past when we signed the agreement. We had one point. So we visited the immigration office and it turned out all we needed to do was pass the A2 test, bring proof we owned a home here, and proof that we had gotten Italian health insurance. This gave us 34 points so we complied.]
You leave with your receipts and are told to check in online for when your Permesso card is ready. They send us a text message on our phone too but it’s best to check after a couple of months. If you get a text it will have a date and time to come and pick up the PdS. Otherwise you may need to call. Getting your Permesso card takes at least a couple of months and could be six months (or more).
The second appointment at the Questura is pretty short, checking your receipts again, another finger print and they give you your Permesso card. This card is good for one year from the date of your Visa so by the time you get it, it’s good for 6-10 months and you need to do the same process all over again for the annual renewal. Some areas do two years. Umbria does not. Be sure to start early enough so that your Permesso doesn’t expire. Recommended 3 months minimum.
The receipt that you get when you drop off your packet at the Post Office is nearly as good as having a Permesso. We have learned however, that you cannot travel on the receipt through another Schengen country, nor can you travel on an expired card with the receipt. If you fly out you will need to fly toor through a non Schengen country. Travel by train or car is not a problem.
After you get your Permesso you will need to get your Carta d’Identita. To do so go to your local comune Anagrafe office and pick up a form and show them your Permesso. The police then visit your house to be sure you live there. The Carta d’Identita is your Italian ID which you use when you are checking into Hotels, etc rather than showing your passport. Yiu cannot fly on this if you aren’t an Italian citizen. You cannot buy a car without this card. For us, it meant we had to lease and rent cars for 6 months. An expensive thing!
Living in Italy
Living here in Italy can be challenging. For every step you try to take you must deal with waiting, roadblocks, and returning again and again to finally get the thing you need accomplished. If you are retired, like us, you do have time to wait. I don’t pretend to know how working Italians manage this! Also, as another friend has noted, “no does not always mean no”. Many times they ask for something I don’t have with me and they shake their heads. Then go ahead and do it! Sometimes asking me to bring whatever they need back. Another frustration can be the fact that nothing is set in stone. Friends will tell us they got this or that done with only this form but when we go, we need more or cannot get what we need. Bureaucrats can make decisions randomly and you have no recourse. It is just a fact of life here.
Taxes and expenses
Go here for an informal look at what ordinary things cost here in Umbria. Umbria, Abruzzo, Les Marche and Molise are the least expensive Italian regions in the center. Tuscany is more expensive due to its huge expat and tourist influx. Cities are always more expensive. The north is most expensive. The south (Basilicata, Puglia, Campagna (parts) and Calabria as well as Sicily and Sardinia) is less expensive. But you get what you pay for. Health care is a lot worse in the south. And infrastructure.
Taxes and required payments are your responsibility to know about and to pay. Being immigrants or stranieri we don’t always know what is required. Italians, on the other hand, know about these from birth! So it is best to inform yourself by asking an Italian friend or an ex-pat who has been here a while.
Italian Income Tax
Once you obtain residency and have been a resident for one year you need to file Italian income tax. The need to file and pay is determined by “physical presence”. So if you are physically in Italy for 183 days a year you will need to file and pay. You will need to use a Commercialista to file for you, ideally, one who is familiar with filing for US citizens. I am told it is a very complicated issue and you can get differing opinions from different Commercialistas. There is an agreement between Italy and the US concerning taxes. You can google it. You are supposed to be protected from double taxation by both countries. Essentially we are taxed on our Social Security, dividends and on unrealized value of property (on investments and 401(k)s) held outside Italy. Private pensions are not taxed in Italy nor are government and state pensions. Overall taxes are higher in Italy than the US.
Energy is very expensive in Italy. It is four times as much as any other country in Europe. When buying a house, keep this in mind. Town gas, electric and water is cheaper. Many people heat with wood. We have a “stuffa” or pellet stove which helps a lot to keep this old building warm. When you buy ask for the energy rating. Older houses are not insulated. Houses are rated from A+ to G, A+ being the most energy efficient.
You must read your own meter and report it to the utilities to avoid a big bill to settle your account.
There is a TV tax which is added to your electric bill every year.
Real Estate is not taxed for the house you live in full time, or your prima casa, so we pay no taxes.
We have to pay a garbage tax semi-annually. If you don’t get a bill, inquire at your Comune.
Car tax – In our second year we found out we owed car tax! For two years! Just an example of how you can get blindsided here. So be sure to ask when you buy a car.
Buying a car
First rule…You must be a resident and obtain a Carta d’Identita (see above) from your Comune to buy a car. The rule is a result of anti-mafia legislation, I’m told. Buying expensive, “portable” property, like cars, is prohibited to non-residents.
Buying a car is not at all like in the US. First, I recommend that you not buy a used car from an individual. There are many pitfalls one of which is that you assume liability for any accident or infraction the former owner had incurred. You can buy used cars at auto dealers. There is also the concept of Kilometer 0 cars, essentially demos. You get them from dealers. They have warranties etc., they just have some miles on them. You can also buy a new car at the dealer…you just can’t do it fast. To buy new you normally have to order a car. It takes about 3 months to receive it. You must be an Italian resident with a Carta d’Identita to order or buy a car. The dealers do not keep inventory on their lots thus you can’t just buy a car quickly.
Car insurance is more expensive here. If you can join USAA they insure cars for Americans. Prices higher than the US ones but good responsiveness should you need to make a claim. You’d need to be a veteran or descended from one to join.
New cars have first inspection due in 4 years. After that it’s every two years.
One price you pay to live in Italy is that the US has not adopted a reciprocal policy with Italy to convert our US drivers license to an Italian one. I think I understand why now. Because we don’t have US driving licenses. We have a State license and there are fifty of those. When you change States you have to get a new license. In other countries it is issued for the Country. So, unless we come up with a national license we can’t get reciprocity. This means you can drive on your US license or an International one for ONE year after residency. After that you must take the Italian test. Much has been written about this but in a nutshell, you can study online to take the written test. It is VERY technical with trick questions and all in Italian. You can take the written test on your own. BUT you cannot take the practical driving test without enrolling in a driving school. The costs run around 500€. If you have managed your written test on your own then you only have to take 6 hours of behind the wheel training. If you have not done the written test it is very time consuming (and more costly) with much lecturing and still six hours spent driving with the instructor behind the wheel. Then your instructor takes you to take the test in the Autoscoula car. Usually manual transmission. All of this must be done in spite of the fact you’ve been driving many years. And you blow this off at your own peril. Your insurance is null and void in case of an accident if you have not gotten your Italian license and they can and do impound your car. Plus large fines.
Italian medical system
If you are an Italian citizen or married to one you get your medical care for free. If you are an immigrant you must pay. Here is the latest information on payments. This information is from www.doctorsinitaly.com:
“Currently, the annual contribution is €387.34 for an annual income between 0 and €5165.00. The rate (“aliquota percentuale”) for an income exceeding €5165.00 and up to €20,658.28 is 7.5% rate, while it’s 4% for amounts exceeding €20,658.28 and up to the limit of €51,645.69.
Without regard to the gross income, the amount of the contribution cannot be less than €387.34 or higher than €2.788,86 with the currency exchange rate applicable at the date of the application.”
This said, it varies from region to region how much they charge. Quite a few just charge the minimum without a proof of income. Impossible to find out unless you know someone in your target area. Welcome to Italy.
You must have your Permesso di Sogiorno to sign up. You sign up at the beginning of the year at the Azienda Sanitaria Locale (ASL). You have to pay your money at the post office and bring the receipt back. You will then get your medical cards in the mail. If you sign up in mid-year you will still pay the full annual amount. If you are unlucky, as we are, your permesso will expire sometime in the middle of the year so you can only get the card until the expiration date. This means you have to return when you get your new Permesso to get the rest of your year coverage. It seems every year our Permessi expire so we take the ever-important receipt from the Poste back in and they extend it for us.
When you sign up you choose a doctor who will be your primary care physician. You should already know who you want when you sign up. Ask around. All appointments to this doctor are free. All prescriptions you get from the doctor are covered and are usually free. The doctor writes prescriptions for procedures as well as medication. Then you take the prescription to your farmacia where they will give you an appointment. Sometimes you have to go to the health department for the appointment to be made. (You pay a fee for any special tests you get, i.e., blood work, EKG, etc. The fees for care are nominal. My blood work cost 15€. Colonoscopy was free. Mammogram was free.) Then, on the time and date you go for the test. On the appointment sheet it says if you owe anything. If so you pay in the hospital before the test.
There is a down side as sometimes it takes a long time to get an appointment for a test. If you don’t want to wait you can always go “private” and pay for it. This is faster. Also, before you are covered you can always go to a doctor on your own as well. You pay the doctor at the time you visit him/her.
Sometimes I want to go to a specific doctor or specialist and my doctor will arrange an appointment for me. This would be “out of the normal system” or private pay. I pay €150 for a consult with specialist. I also went “private” for an MRI I needed quickly. I went to a clinic. It was €126. I had a total knee replacement last year. I wanted to chose the doctor. I paid private to consult with him, then he put me in the system. 8 months later I had the operation. It was totally free.
So the difference is, if you go through the system, you get any doctor available i.e., no choice. And you have to wait, sometimes a year for a test. Although the colonoscopy was free my husband had to wait 11 months. If you are in any hurry then you go private and pay, or go private, pay and they put you into the system.
Going to the Doctor
I felt the need to tell you about going to your primary care doctor, at least here in Umbria. It could differ in other areas. It is very different from the US. Our doctor has published office hours five days a week. Usually two hours a day. Here, you don’t make doctors appointments. You go during the hours. There are no staff, no receptionist. But the doctors cell phone number is prominently posted for you to call anytime. Let me know if that would ever happen in the US! When you enter the lobby there are usually a number of people ahead of you…and multiple doctors use the same building. So you must ask, “who is the last for [doctors name]”? Someone pipes up so you know you go in after he/she leaves. We found only one English speaking doctor in our town. I felt, with important stuff like my health, that I wanted an English speaker. My doctor is not proactive. You must manage your own health. I decided to get blood work done and an EKG for baselines. She gave me prescriptions for these tests which I took to the Farmacia. They are in charge of making appointments with other doctors for tests and procedures. After the tests they give the results to me and I have to take them back to the doctor who reads them and, if there is any problem, will tell me and we would discuss any actions that need to be taken. Quite different. Also, I have to retain all my records myself. Doctors do not keep files on individuals. So I bring all necessary tests and information when going to the Doctor.
I have strong opinions on living in a non-English speaking country and not trying to learn the language. If you don’t want to put the effort into this then you should just stay home. It is the respectful thing to do. Most Comunes have nearly free Italian classes (I paid 10€ a year) for stranieri. Starting with the basic A1 level and going to A3. They also administer the A2 proficiency test to comply with the agreement you sign to stay here. There are also numerous private classes you can take and also on the internet via skype.
This all said, almost 5 years in and I’m nowhere near fluent. It takes time and effort and guts. I don’t have the guts. I avoid Italian conversation. This is probably the biggest mistake English speakers make, not to get to know Italians and speak in Italian. I’m still working on it 🙄
When we moved to Italy we changed our investments address to our Italian one. If you do this you will no longer be able to invest in Mutual funds or bond funds. Nor will an advisor be able to help with anything related to investing. In hindsight I would have just changed the addresses to the Dropbox address. After a lot of research we found out that Schwab has a British presence and will service investment accounts for Expats. It is the only one I know of that will.
Once you are residents be sure to change your Italian account to one as a resident. They really sock it to stranieri on fees.
I also highly recommend you keep a US bank account, and that they are used to international transactions
FBAR and FATCA
Look into FBAR and FATCA rules for expats. You have to declare any bank balance here over $10,000. So when we purchased the house and cars we obviously were above that amount. Due by April 15. After all our big purchases were made I try to keep less than that in the account so I won’t have to file.
TV, Netflix, movies, phones
Sign up with one of the companies that provide DSL into your house. This will give you Internet. Italy is a third world country when it comes to internet speeds. You learn to live with it.
We stream movies but not in HD. It cannot be supported. For movies and TV shows we use a VPN. It masks your location so you can pretend to be in the US. But Netflix just started cracking down on people sneaking into the US sites this way. Netflix recently came into Italy but it is woefully meager in its offerings. Copyright rules I guess. But do keep your US account. And we have Apple TV which provides all the latest miniseries from the UK and the US etc. Of course you have to pay for them but we are really happy to have access.
We use Skye for satellite TV. We watch Italian TV to improve our Italian. There are some good game shows in the early evening that we love on RAI One. We get a lot of English language programs including news. We also get the History channel and NatGeo. These cost extra. I will mention, the costs for satellite TV are much cheaper than in the US.
When you arrive take your unlocked smart phone to one of the providers (TIM, Vodaphone…) and sign up for a plan. Then we buy minutes as needed. You can also purchase a phone and plan here.
I use Skype a lot especially to call 800 numbers in the US. It is the only way to access them from here. I also FaceTime with my friends.