Immigrating to Italy – The Process Keeps Getting Slower

It’s been seven years for me…

And when I compare my experience making the move from then to now, and after copious stories that I’ve heard from other ex-pats and ex-pat wannabees, I’m seeing a trend. Hands down, I receive more emails and questions about this topic relating to immigrating to Italy than anything else. When I read these missives, I can almost hear people wringing their hands in desperation or banging their fists on the table in frustration.

Permesso applications and renewals are taking increasingly longer to process.

Of course, this varies by region, some being painfully long while others (with better-funded services) are relatively more expedient. Here’s how it can go in some regions: A person makes their permesso di soggiorno application (for the first one or for a renewal), secures an appointment with the local questura (at the post office when the application is submitted and the appropriate fees and bollo are paid), attends their questura appointment to be interviewed and fingerprinted, and then waits. That wait in some regions can bump up against nine months. And, get this, the validity of the permesso is back-dated to be in line with the elective residency “effective date.” Let’s say your ERV starts on May 15 and you promptly complete and submit your application and secure your questura appointment in late June (that’s right, don’t assume you can get scheduled in less than a month). THEN, you wait almost six-to-nine months. Finally, you receive your SMS from the questura that your permesso is ready to be picked up. This scenario would mean you would have your permesso in hand sometime within the first three months of the following year AND just months or weeks before your brand new permesso is out of validity.

Go ahead and scream (at least inwardly).

It simply defies logic that a person should have to wait six to nine months for a document that will expire in a short time. Don’t even try asking the questura folks because there doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Once they’ve interviewed and fingerprinted you, you application disappears into layers of bureaucracy.  Will it take yet another month of processing with each passing year? Will somehow the system be overhauled to one that has more logic and perceived fairness? Don’t count on it.

The phantom two-year permesso di soggiorno.

There IS a two-year permesso di soggiorno which, if actually made available to more people (it’s not for some bizarre reason), would help take the sting out of the yearly cycle of frustration. I have one friend who just “happened” to be given one with two-year validity even though he made the regular one-year application. Go figure.

Research, educate yourself, and be prepared.

The above-mentioned situation may be a worst-case scenario, but it DOES happen in some regions. Wouldn’t you want to have an inkling of how the bureaucracy in your intended area of residency handles the permesso process?

I’m here to tell you that there are people who didn’t give this important issue enough due diligence ahead of time. They find themselves at their wits’ end figuring out how to deal with the implications of such a bizarre and seemingly unfair process. But, if you’re forewarned (hence this post) perhaps you can prepare yourself and act accordingly. In short, you CAN deal with this significantly flawed process and avoid ripping your hair out in disgust.

So, I’d counsel you to consider the following if you’re on the front end of this:

Don’t dawdle!

Hop on your permesso di soggiorno application ASAP upon hitting the ground in Italy. That goes double for when you apply for your renewal. Normally, you’re told to apply not more than thirty-to-sixty days before the expiry date of your current permesso. That’s crazy given the lag in processing time. Maybe, after you’ve done ample research on the region and comune in which you plan to reside, you will discover that your region has a reputation for speedy processing. Then you can abide by such guidelines. But in less expedious regions, I’d start queuing up at least three months in advance.

Your permesso receipt is sacrosanct. Keep it to:

  1. Exchange it for your actual permesso di soggiorno when it arrives.
  2. Show police/officials who request proof of your ability to stay in Italy for beyond ninety days in a 183-day continuous period. (But, take note! You usually aren’t able to register as a resident in your commune or buy and register a car, until you have the real permesso in hand).
  3. Check the status of your permesso di soggiorno application. You do this by going to the Polizia di Stato website and entering the appropriate number. Don’t make the mistake that I made one year by entering the wrong number (there are two on the receipt). Otherwise, you’ll get a message saying “not found” and that’ll send you into a panic. With the correct number entered, the website system usually responds by saying your application is being processed (yeah, pretty vague if you’re wanting to know why yours is taking so long). Occasionally, you’ll be surprised with a message that says it’s ready for pickup at the questura. That happened to me once after, for some reason, I hadn’t received an SMS from the questura. IF you’ve entered your number correctly into the system and you still get a message that your application isn’t to be found, then you’d better hightail it to the questura to find out what has gone awry.
  4. Travel directly in and out of Italy (if you don’t yet have your permesso or it is expired). Now, this has several caveats. Usually, this is only recognized if it is a renewal receipt paired with your expired permesso. Also, if you’re planning to transit out of the EU and have a stop in another EU country, the immigration officials won’t recognize it (believe me, in countries like France, Germany, and The Netherlands they ask to see you stay permit documents and a receipt won’t suffice nor do they know what it is). In the event that you’re flying directly to States or back from the States, then the renewal receipt should suffice. Normally, on the Italy arrival side they don’t even ask and you can just show your passport, but you’d better have the receipt and expired permesso on hand if they do. Now, let’s talk about departing from a country like the U.S. At check-in, the airlines are obliged to ascertain that you have the documents in hand that show that you are allowed to be in Italy for beyond ninety days (IF you don’t have a return ticket you can show within ninety days—otherwise the airline is on the hook for the expense to fly you back if you’re turned away at arrival in Italy). This is when things CAN become problematic. If you have a residency card, sometimes that’s all the airline wants to see (they need a document number to record). But, technically if you are on an elective residency permesso, your residency card, even though it shows a long validity date, isn’t valid outside of Italy. Technically, you need an actual permesso (not a renewal receipt) OR a return ticket as stated above for the airlines. Don’t be caught unawares by this very important travel logistic. I have been told that it is possible, if your renewed permesso is still outstanding, that a person can go to the questura and explain that they need a temporary permesso that will allow them to travel. I don’t have personal experience with this so don’t take this as gospel. Best to check it out with your questura if you run into this situation.

Don’t try to game the system!

You’ve probably heard that Italy can be a bit lax in checking the comings and goings of “immigrants.” Many people float under the radar or dodge scrutiny. But, don’t bank on this! If you’re caught working outside the defined rules of immigrating to Italy, you could find yourself in a heap of trouble, including being deported or “marked” in the system. I’ve growled in frustration many times at the unfairness of it all, but that doesn’t change the reality.

The political “landscape” of immigration is having its effects.

I believe it bears mention that significant changes in attitudes towards immigration here in Italy are affecting the speed in which the bureaucracy is processing ALL forms of immigration. Matteo Salvini, while recently “dethroned” from his position of Deputy Prime Minister, still wields great power and influence in Italy. He’s an unapologetic populist and staunch opponent of immigration from North Africa and other countries that he believes have been flooding and burdening Italy. Salvini has little empathy for the plight of refugees. While he was Deputy Prime Minister, immigration was under his responsibility. So, he didn’t just put the brakes on the boats of refugees trying to land in Italy, he also dramatically slowed down the process of applying for citizenship, changing the law to extend the maximum processing period from two to four years beginning with applications made in 2019. Yours truly is in for the new, longer wait.

I share this, unscientifically, to posit that the overall attitudes towards immigration have encouraged an already slow, overburdened bureaucracy to move even slower. And, I’m afraid that even includes stay permits for people who have the means and financial wherewithal to be in Italy, contributing to the economy and NOT taking opportunity away from Italians.

We can only hope, with Salvni’s fall from power, that the immigration process with start speeding up again.

Prepare yourself accordingly.

I hope this post helps you understand the ins and outs of the current Italian immigration process—as well as the potential pitfalls. But, I believe that it is essential that you do your own reconnaissance, particularly in regard to the particularities of the region and comune in which you intend to reside. I can only opine generally about what I see happening in Italy and I can’t offer specific advice about individual regions (that would be a full-time job and would require legal expertise that I don’t have).

Don’t fret. You can surmount these hurdles if you’re forewarned and forearmed!

Be sure to read my other posts related to this topic (and read the comments from people navigating the system).

By |2020-01-22T19:18:59+01:00January 22nd, 2020|Italian Residency, Permesso di soggiorno|10 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Erin September 4, 2020 at 4:38 am - Reply

    Hi Jed. Did you have to sign an integration agreement. I have been here since 2017 and when I applied for my first permesso in Florence I was not given one, I have to renew in February (my second renewal) and I am not sure if this will be asked.

    • Jed September 4, 2020 at 4:22 pm - Reply

      Hi Erin, Yes, I had to sign the agreement, and as I approached my third year, the office in Perugia (I was living full time in Umbria) contacted me asking me to provide items totaling the required points (including the obligatory certification of competency at an A2 level). From what I’ve heard, this agreement is applied inconsistently all over Italy. If you weren’t asked to sign one, you’re actually not under an agreement, unless they expect you to regardless. The main thing is to show the language competency if you are asked, and there is a civics class most people are asked to attend when they get their first permesso (I did within a month and it was a 3-4 hour class watching a video). Hope this helps!

  2. Katherine February 27, 2020 at 8:33 am - Reply

    Thank you very much for the information Jed.😊

    • Jed March 7, 2020 at 8:18 pm - Reply

      Prego, Katherine. Always glad to add some perspective.

  3. Kevin January 25, 2020 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Jed, my ears perked up as I read about the airline requirements and am rather shocked at the prospect of having to buy a round trip ticket that falls within 90 days of arrival in Italy. Very good to know! I expect that maybe one would have to pay the fee to change their ticket later…after arrival on initial entry….and once the permesso is issued. This if they didn’t want to return to the US in such a short period of time. A great resource for a subject that is more complicated than it would appear at first look.

    • Jed January 27, 2020 at 11:54 am - Reply

      It’s one of those grey areas, and inconsistently enacted. Some people buy a one way return ticket (full reimbursable)just for this. Crazy.

  4. Nancy January 25, 2020 at 11:36 am - Reply

    Good post Jed. We are in this same boat. Planned trip to Germany in July (Schengen country). PdS expires in June. So what do we do? Well, we will try for Permesso di soggiorno provvisorio. This is what you were alluding to. I’ll let you know if it works! Meanwhile we are trying for our Permesso di soggiorno UE per soggiornanti di lungo periodo (ex carta di soggiorno) – elective residence. This is essentially a permanent permit to stay. Cross your fingers for us!

    • Jed January 27, 2020 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      Will do! Let me know how it goes with the temporary permesso!

      • Katherine February 23, 2020 at 7:59 pm - Reply

        It was enlightening post Jed. But I want to ask if I can come back to my home country in Asia after they take my fingerprint and come back again to Italy if my residence permit is ready? Or do I need to wait for my residence permit first before going back to my country?

        • Jed February 26, 2020 at 8:32 pm - Reply

          Hi Katherine, I think it depends on how long you plan to be in your home country and how many days you’ve already been in Italy. The reason I call out the length of your stay outside of Italy is to make sure that you have enough days remaining on the general tourist visa (automatically applies to people visiting and allows a person to be in Italy for 90 days within a 183-day window without needing a special visa or stay permit to enter Italy once you come back). If you’ve already exceeded 90 days, technically you could be blocked from re-entry and the receipt for your initial permesso doesn’t suffice (though renewal receipts paired with an expired permesso di soggiorno does, in Italy only). Also, regarding the length of time you plan to be in Asia, be mindful that when you do your permesso renewal, you once again will have to submit copies of your passport pages and if the immigration police see that you’ve been outside of Italy for a long time, they may question whether you are a truly residing in Italy for most of the year. I wouldn’t worry about a few weeks or a month. But if you’re gone several months, that may raise a red flag. Your permesso di soggiorno is the document that allows you to stay, but you are also obliged to register in your comune and get a residency card, which is different from the permesso. The permesso, once you have it, ensures smooth sailing when entering Italy and when transiting other EU countries (along with your passport). Lastly, I advise checking in with your questura to be confirm the parameters of exiting and entering Italy while still waiting for your permesso. They’re the experts and I’m not!

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