Lately I’ve been receiving numerous inquiries about getting a visa for a long stay in Italy. This includes student visas, family reunification visas, and work visas. But, overwhelmingly I’m queried most about the Italian Elective Residence Visa, and my experiences navigating the process.
if you’re like me, you’ve scoured the internet for rock solid clarity of what exactly is required, yet you’ve found the information either incomplete or confusing. Everyone’s circumstances are different, but hopefully I can shed some light on the process, and help lessen the stress.
Not all Italian consulates are created equal
Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the Italian consulates scattered across the States are ticked and tied, and religiously follow the same procedures? From the numerous stories I’ve heard first hand, and from research online, it’s evident that each consulate has a different “personality”. Some are known to be friendlier for someone navigating the Italian Elective Residency Visa application process, and some are downright off-putting. The consulates in Los Angeles and New York rise to the top with reputations lacking any warm fuzzies in the process. On the other hand, I was under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco consulate, and I had a very positive experience – as did friends of mine.
Because you’re obliged to make your visa application only in the consulate of your jurisdiction, I strongly urge you to research the experiences of other applicants at your particular consulate, and plan accordingly. It becomes even more important to be super buttoned up with your documentation, though I recommend being hyper-vigilant regardless of your location.
I’ve heard of people actually temporarily moving their US residence to be able to make application at a different consulate, and to increase their odds for approval. Hopefully you won’t have to resort to this.
Communications with the Italian consulate seem to me to be the most common point of frustration. Emails aren’t usually answered in a timely or consistent fashion, and phone calls almost always go directly to voice mail. When I was trying to get clarity with the consulate, my first email went into deep space. My subsequent email was answered in two days. Go figure.
Having lived in Italy for several years now, I understand why the Italian consulates vary so much. In Italy, the regions differ considerably. For instance, in Veneto, the bureaucratic process is pretty fine-tuned and swift. Yet, in Umbria, bureaucracy can be painfully slow. This is because each region funds their offices differently. Veneto is a wealthier regions. Umbria, not so much.
Also, many government offices and functions have suffered cutbacks, leaving fewer people to do the same work. I suspect the people working at the Italian consulates are up to their eyeballs in work. So, it might helpful to approach the Italian Residency Visa process with this in mind, and not be quick to anger if things don’t run like clockwork.
Make it difficult for the consulate to say no.
You might be asking, “How the heck do you do that?” Three things in particular:
- Make sure there are no holes in the information you provide.
- Organize and summarize everything so the consulate’s work is minimal.
- Have a short cover letter, stating your intentions. Make it personal.
I’m anal-retentive. For my interview and application I summarized my financial information in a color-coded spreadsheet, showing my monthly income (from the different sources). I also summarized every account (checking, savings, IRA’s, brokerage). I had folders clearly labeled to back up each line item.
For all of the other required documentation, I had it organized in clearly labeled and tabbed folders.
The more the consulate is forced to “connect the dots”, the more you are increasing your chances for a problematic application. Remember, the consulate is dealing with a flood of visa applications, not just for the Italian Elective Residency Visa. And, the consulate deals with a fair number of people who haven’t done their research, and come ill-prepared with their required documentation. Don’t be one of those people!
Stated requirements can be frustratingly vague or inconsistent.
This is the single-most cited complaint I’ve heard from applicants. Communications from the different consulates are not always consistent, and the verbiage can be confusing or seemingly contradictory. Some consulates communicate in a way that I would describe as discouraging or intimidating. Perhaps this simply is a way to shake loose the applicants who have no business applying.
Below are two consulate communications that have been shared with me. The first was received from the consulate in Philadelphia, and I find it one of the better ones. Compare this with what was received from the Miami consulate, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
References to residing in Italy permanently can be the most confusing, since the same documentation speaks to the length of your stay. My best interpretation is that this refers to people staying in Italy for a year or more. After all, what if you’re applying for a two or three-year sabbatical?
Financial requirements is the biggest sticking point.
I found most of the other requirements fairly easy to interpret. Financial requirements seems to be at the whim of the individual consulates. It would be so nice if it was clearly spelled out. From the numerous experiences I’ve heard about, the consulate wants to see somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,200 to $3,500 a month (for an individual – I have no idea of requirements for a married couple) in dependable income. (I also heard, in response to this post that an Italian attorney advised a client they would need 5,000 euro a month – so you see, information is varied.) Such income can be comprised of rental income (for those of you leasing out your home in the States while you’re living in Italy), pensions, annuities, etc. You may be able to set up something with your bank or brokerage fund to pay yourself on a monthly basis from protected/guaranteed funds. If so, you’ll need some kind of official documentation to that effect.
Part of my financial picture was a deferred compensation plan I had set up with my last employer. If you have that option, and your time frame is a few years off, I’d recommend exploring it.
The consulate needs to see some kind of clear calculation (with back-up) of how you will be funding your life in Italy. Don’t leave it up to the consulate to try and figure this out through their own calculations.
Money in the bank and in investments can’t ensure you’ll sail through the process (if you don’t have enough of the other stated above) unless the amounts are substantial. A portfolio of $150k is probably not going to be enough to give the consulate assurance you can land in Italy without becoming a burden on the state.
The ironic part of all of this is the financial requirements for getting your permesso di soggiorno, when you arrive in Italy, are less stringent. To pass muster in that process, your income needs to be equal to a basic pension from the Italian governmnet – something around 1,000 to 1,200 euro a month – far less than what the consulate requires. Crazy, isn’t it?
You’re not allowed to work to fund your stay while living in Italy.
I encourage you to state in your letter, and in person, your clear understanding that the elective residency visa is a non-working visa. Doing freelance work isn’t spelled out or forbidden – especially if you’re doing work for clients back in the States. BUT, you can’t include that in any computation for monthly income. If you try to include that, you’re begging for trouble right out of the gate.
The Consulate will want to see that you’re committed.
Here’s the other tricky thing. In order to make an application you’re supposed to have an airline ticket for your intended date of departure to Italy, as well as a comprehensive medical insurance policy covering your first full year. You must show coverage that includes emergency medical evacuation and repatriation.
Then, there is proof of where you’ll be living. If you already own property, then show your deed from the sale, as well as a certifcato d’agibilità, which guarantees your dwelling is up to code for living. I recommend to people who are leasing to have this document as well, if at all possible.
If you plan to lease, you’ll need a signed lease or letter from you landlord, at a minimum, covering the year of your visa dates.
If you are being hosted by a friend, you’ll need a letter stating this, along with the property details, and stating that you will not be paying rent. Documentation to show that this is a legitimate property will be essential.
So, all the above are commitments that are required by the consulate for you to even make the application. Yet, the consulate clearly states your making the application doesn’t guarantee success. So, you may need to purchase refundable airline tickets, refundable insurance (if you don’t actually take the trip), and a lease or letter that stipulates you have no obligation if you are turned down for your visa.
Within eight (8) days of arriving in Italy you are required to make your application to the questura for a permesso di soggiorno.
Once you’ve made it through the Italian Elective Residency Visa process, your next step is applying for your permesso di soggiorno in Italy. Don’t put this off after you arrive. Make your application at the post office (same place you’ll get your application “kit”, unless you work through a free service provided by some unions), and that’s where your appointment with the questura will be made. You’ll receive a receipt to that effect. Don’t lose it!
When you go through immigration at your point of entry into Italy, make sure you show the Visa page in your passport, and they should stamp it immediately across from the visa. I was told by my questura that this serves as announcing my presence in the country. Some areas may expect you to go to the local questura, regardless, to announce your presence. It’s best to check.
The permesso process will seem much more straightforward, and the requirements less onerous. Hang onto copies of the paperwork you submitted for your visa application, since there isn’t much new documentation required (not that I can remember!). You will have to provide the most recent financial summaries of your accounts (not six months worth of statements as required for your visa application).
Whew! I’ve thrown a lot of information at you, but my hope is to provide a bit more clarity to a process that seems daunting. As always, I disclaim that this is all based on personal experience, and experiences shared with me, and may not accurately reflect what will be required of you in your particular situation. And, requirements by the consulate sometimes can be a moving target. It is incumbent for you to confirm requirements with your individual consulate.
I hope this helps, in some small measure, to help steer you towards a successful application for your Italian Elective Residency Visa!