Living in Italy – Speaking Italian Requirements

Living in Italy Requires Speaking Italian

Living in Italy Requires Certification of Speaking Italian at the A2 Level

If you are contemplating living in Italy, or if you’ve already arrived, be prepared to demonstrate proficiency in speaking Italian as part of the residency process.

I’ve just received my official certificate stating that I passed the level A2 proficiency of speaking Italian. When the results were first available online, I held my breath and, after seeing I had passed with a 90% score, I muttered “Grazie Dio” (Thank God). Woohoo!

You might be asking “What’s the big deal?” Let me explain…

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Considering Moving to Italy?

Or, are you planning an extended stay in Italy?

Hollywood has helped build a heavily weighted view of living in Italy. While I liked “Under the Tuscan Sun” (Diane Lane is one of my favorite actors) for the sheer entertainment value, I found it a bit sugar-coated (unlike the book). Yes, there were hurdles and tests for Frances, but still it all happened just a little too magically – thanks to the Hollywood “spin” to make sure audiences walked away satisfied. Don’t get me wrong, there is a LOT of magic to be experienced when you live here, but there is also a lot of red tape and bureaucracy, and laws change frequently and unexpectedly. I’ve found things that seemed to be a “no-brainer” in the U.S. to be quite difficult here. For example, the Italian postal service is incredibly unreliable and unpredictable. If you want to raise your estimation of the U.S. Postal Service significantly, just come to Italy and try to post a letter back to the States.

A blue-themed restaurant just in front of the Pantheon in Rome.

A blue-themed restaurant just in front of the Pantheon in Rome.

You might think I’m trying to scare you away. I’m not. I’m just a big believer in due diligence and full disclosure when it comes to factors that can influence a major life decision. Italy IS an amazingly beautiful and endearing country, for countless reasons. However, many people make the move here, only to feel sideswiped by the non-romantic practicalities of living here. Disillusioned, they retrench and head home. I’d hate for that to happen to you.

All the hard work associated with making Italy my home has been worth it, thus far. My heart has been in it from the get-go, and I felt reasonably prepared with the intestinal fortitude needed to deal with a long list of logistics and regulations.

So, here’s my advice based on my experience and my personality, starting with #1, which is….

Have a dream, but pair it with a well-thought out plan.

When The Secret came out, a lot of people thought they only had to dream, and imagine something happening. I believe that is only half of the formula. The other half is the hard work of researching, planning AND doing. Do a vision board (I did) if that helps, and make a list of the details of your ideal life in Italy. Then, start a notebook, and research all the requirements of getting residency (or a long-term stay permit – a permesso di soggiorno), and all the practicalities of living in Italy once you have arrived. There are several good websites with information for potential expats, but I felt like I had to wade through information that didn’t pertain to my particular situation. I needed to know what living in Italy would mean for an American, not for an EU citizen. Believe me, there are some big differences.

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Tips for Getting Your Italian Visa

Italian Visa

With my Italian Visa successfully in hand, I had the official “green light” to begin my journey as an expat.

This is the crucial step in either moving to Italy for good, or for going for an extended stay. But, you won’t be going anywhere in Italy for such an extended stay if you don’t procure your Italian Visa.

I obsessed about this, and I spent countless hours online combing though information trying to find out EXACTLY what I would need to guarantee success. Some information was pretty black and white, and other information about requirements and the approval process was discouragingly “grey”.

Firstly, you need to determine which type of visa for which you want to apply. Student visas are fairly easy, as long as you have plenty of documentation regarding your place and course of study, your length of stay, and documentation of your place to live. Work visas are pretty hard to get, unless you are being sponsored by an Italian company or a U.S. company doing business in Italy. Again, lots of documentation. Remember, the economy in Italy has been pretty dicey for the past several years, and jobs aren’t in abundant supply. As you might imagine, the Italian government wants to do its best to prevent foreign interlopers from snatching jobs away from Italian citizens. Understandable.

Then there is the elective residency visa, which basically states you are coming to Italy NOT to work, and that you have sufficient financial resources to live without becoming a burden on the country. This is the grayest of all requirements, because there is no published criteria for the threshold of required financial assets, and those requirements seem to be much higher when applying for your Italian residency visa, than applying for your permesso di soggiorno (stay permit) that takes over from the visa once you have settled in Italy.

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Why You Need An Italian Driver’s License

Italian Driver's License

Be sure to get your Italian driver’s license during your first year of residency.

Before you read this, please remember the phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Ok?

If you are American and planning on moving to Italy and becoming a resident, you’ll need an Italian driver’s license. If you’re from the EU, you’re home-free, as your license will be good here – though the polizia will tell you you need to have it converted, which is a fairly easy and straightforward process. Not so for Americans. No agreement exists between Italy and the U.S. and in Italy you are starting at square one, which means you are treated the same as an Italian high school student getting his/her first license.

The good news is that during your first year of residency, you can continue to drive using your U.S. driver’s license, as long as it is paired with an International Driver’s license, so be sure to take care of that before arriving in Italy. This buys you a year to plan to drive legally while going through all the steps related to getting your Italian driver’s license. That is a very good thing since you won’t feel as though you have a metaphorical shotgun pointed at your head.

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Your Italian Driver’s License and Your Car

Italian driver's license and your car.

Your first year of having an Italian driver’s license imposes some restrictions on the car you drive.

These two topics, getting your Italian driver’s license and your car, may seem to be marginally connected. WRONG. I dodged a bullet on this one, thanks to coincidence. Let me explain….

Prior to moving to Italy I confess I was lax in my “due diligence” in understanding and connecting the dots regarding getting an Italian driver’s license and buying a car in Italy. In no way did I expect that my Italian driver’s license would affect the my choice of car. Basically I  had “lucked out” by going for a Fiat Punto, after establishing residency and while still driving with my U.S. driver’s license. You see, once I had my Italian driver’s license, I discovered the following: For the first year, a new driver (to Italy) isn’t allowed (legally) to drive a car that is deemed to be too powerful for someone who is such a novice. Yes, I can hear you saying “But, I’ve been driving for so many years in the States.” Too bad. With your new Italian driver’s license you are put in the same class as an 18-year old on the roads of Italy for the first time.

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Do I Keep My U.S. Driver’s License?

Once you are the proud owner of an Italian driver’s license, you may be asking yourself “Do I keep my U.S. driver’s license?” I must stress, and add a disclaimer, these are only my opinions and thoughts, and you are responsible for following the laws specific to your own situation.

Once you become a resident of Italy, and after your first year, you are required by law to be driving under the authority of an Italian driver’s license. Then, you will have a decision to make regarding your state driver’s license from the U.S. If you are maintaining a residence (especially if you own property) back in the U.S., along with your Italian residency, it might make an easier argument for keeping your U.S. driver’s license. If you don’t have a residence or own property back in the States, you might be walking on shaky ground if you renew your U.S. driver’s license. Many states expect you to surrender your license when you have established residency in another state or another country, and after having obtained a license in your new state or country. Some states even require that you sign a statement, when renewing a license, that you are not resident elsewhere.

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