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.
Not all Italian Consulates are created equal.
This is an unfortunate fact. Some Italian Consulates are notoriously tough on their criteria, and with there being a lack of defined criteria for things like require financial assets, this can be very frustrating. Add to this that being required to go to the Italian Consulate in your area, or the one closest to you in your part of the country. You can’t shop around. However, I’ve heard anecdotal stories of people moving to the vicinity of “friendlier” consulates in order to have a better chance of success. Bottom line, do some research online about other people’s experiences with your designated consulate, and prepare yourself accordingly.
My experience with the Italian Consulate in San Francisco was wonderful. They were gracious and they turned around my approval very quickly. But, I was also extremely prepared and organized in my usual anal-retentive fashion.
Your Italian Visa is good for a year.
Whether you’re planning to live in Italy for one year, five years, or the rest of your life, visas are only issued with one year validity. You see, once you land in Italy, you’re required to get a permesso di soggiorno, which becomes you document that allows you to stay in Italy. Once you successfully navigate that process (an upcoming post will be devoted solely to that) and get your permesso di soggiorno, you do not need to renew your Italian visa. You just keep renewing your permesso each year (until you pass the criteria for getting a longer term permit to stay). I recommend, when having your interview with the consulate, you articulate your commitment to living in Italy for a shorter time frame. You are still going to be “test driving” living in Italy in the beginning, and you can extend your runway as time goes on. If you show up at the consulate stating that you plan to live in Italy for the rest of your life, don’t be surprised if they delve deeper into your financial picture, and increase the threshold for what financial resources you should have in order to be approved.
What you will need:
A copy of your flight itinerary.
Proof of health insurance for a year from your starting date. If you’re extending a work policy via Cobra, be sure your medical insurance covers you in Italy. Also be sure to provide copies of such designation of coverage from your policy. In my case I purchased a travel medical policy for a year, which was very reasonable, and it passed muster with the consulate.
Proof of home ownership or a rental contract (and letter from your landlord). Don’t provide sketchy information. In fact, you may be required to provide a certificato di agibiltà, which you should have if you’ve purchased a home. If you’re renting, your landlord/landlady should be able to provide this important document. This is something on which the Italian government is cracking down, as some people (in the past) have provided addresses of properties that were, in fact, properties in ruins.
A criminal background check. Research your options carefully. Initially I went to my local police department and they informed me they no longer facilitated this kind of background check, and gave me a list of authorized “providers”. You should be able to find an authorized (i.e. accepted by the Italian Consulate) service that will take your finger prints, do a search in the FBI database, and provide an “all-clear” (provided you don’t have a rap sheet). Check the timing requirements for this document. Usually it has to be done pretty close to submitting your visa application.
Organized and detailed financial statements. Usually the consulate expects to see six months of statements (probably to demonstrate that you haven’t recently “stacked” the accounts) and a couple of letters of reference from your most important banks or brokerage firms attesting to your viability. If you are drawing a pension or social security, have the documentation showing how much you will be receiving each month. The more organized this information, the more appreciative the consulate will be. It is also a subtle indicator that you have your act together.
Not required, but helpful, is a spreadsheet that pulls your financial picture into a good overall snapshot. The other statements serve as back-up if they need to dig further.
Also, an overall letter (not too long) stating your intentions and why you want to move to Italy can be extremely helpful. Don’t let this be a “dry” document. Instead, talk about your dream and passions regarding living in Italy. This brings me to one of the most valuable pieces of advice I was given by a dear friend and expat who had already been living in Italy for 20 years…
Make your story personal.
If you go into your interview, even with all your information organized perfectly, bringing an attitude of “This is a slam dunk” or “I’m entitled to this”, you might not have such an easy time. On the other hand, if you open up your heart and show them this is a dream and a passionate endeavor, you’ll have an easier go of it. At least, that is what happened in my case. I shared images of my art work and talked about how, ever since studying art with my university in Tuscany, I had dreamed of returning to Italy to focus on my art. The extremely nice woman with whom I was meeting, took a keen interest in my story, and she was also appreciative that I was very organized. What she didn’t know was how nervous I was, because getting the Italian visa is not always a sure thing, and I was afraid I would run into an unanticipated snag or a detail that I had overlooked.
I was one of the lucky ones, and I received notice that my visa was approved within a couple of days. The following week I returned to the consulate to retrieve my passport into which the visa had been added. I walked out of the consulate feeling and thinking “All systems go!”
I called the movers to confirm the pick-up date of my goods, and I submitted my notice to vacate my apartment. And, I inked-in the date I would give my notice at work.
The adventure was REALLY beginning!
Disclaimer: These are my experiences and learnings and they should, in no way, be a substitute for doing your own research and establishing all you will need to do to secure your Italian visa.