Preparing for the Diversity of Italian Bureaucracy

questura, Italywise

The office of the immigration police.

If you’re planning on moving to Italy you’ll be dealing with bureaucratic processes that are significantly different from your home country – especially if you’re coming from the States. So, at a basic level, I believe it’s important to wrap one’s head around this and prepare accordingly. I’ve found many Italian newbies are caught unawares by the added layer of complexity and confusion of Italian bureaucracy in the different provinces.

Before bringing my life to Italy, I understood the country was only recently unified (1871). I anticipated language (dialect) and cultural differences by region, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the diversity of Italian bureaucracy. Thankfully everything worked out, but I certainly would have tackled this differently if I had it to do all over again.

Many bureaucratic requirements are consistent nationwide, but how they are administered can vary considerably.

I urge you not to zoom past this fact of Italian life and decide to “wing it” when you get here. Otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for frustration, and kicking yourself for not having done an additional layer of research about the region in which you intend to reside.

For instance, if you thrive within a bureaucratic process that is more buttoned up and predictable, you may want to consider living in the provinces that are known for those qualities. You may want to avoid areas that function a bit too “organically” for your tastes, and with less precision and speed.

Let’s take the Questura, the immigration police, for example.

In some provinces you may find yourself queueing up and waiting hours, even though you have been given an appointment. You may also find that the processing time for your permesso di soggiorno painfully slow (in some places it can take six months processing this document which has to be renewed annually). Here in Treviso the questura is one of the biggest offices I’ve visited. I was there for my carta di soggiorno (permanent residency). I had an appointment but I didn’t now what to expect when I arrived amidst a sea of probably over a hundred other people waiting their turns. I checked in with a receptionist (not always the case with other questuras), and within a minute my number came up indicating which window would process my request.

I was in and out of the questura in less than half an hour. And, my carta was promised within a forty-to-sixty day window (emphasizing the probability of being closer to forty days, and expressing outrage if it came to sixty).

With Italian bureaucracy, weigh the pros and cons of the provinces when making your decision of where to live.

Provinces handle and fund their administrative offices differently. If you’re in an area in Italy known for its raw beauty, rural lifestyle, and sparse population, you may find the trade off that the bureaucratic offices are not as well funded or staffed. Other wealthier, and more populated areas, can have more predictable and efficient functioning. Bottom line, it varies.

You may also find yourself paying different fees for the same services in different regions.

Research the area/s in which you are considering residing.

You’ll thank yourself later for this – especially if you don’t like surprises. The biggies in the Italian bureaucracy includes your questura, your local comune (consider it the town hall where all your registrations reside), the ASL (where you apply for the tessera sanitaria). See if you can connect with expats who’ve settled in the area and have at least a year or two of experience under their belts. I think it is sage advice to spend at least a couple of months living in a prospective area. You may find some good information online, but I believe nothing is as good a direct experience of talking with someone who has walked the path you are considering.

Italy offers such varied options for living. While the differences from province to province can sometimes be maddening, it’s also what makes living here so wonderful. You can visit another area, and feel almost as though you’re in a completely different country. It’s certainly not the same experience for me as going from state to state back in America!

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