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How to beat (or just survive) bureaucracy in Italy: the essential pieces of Italian paperwork

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Catherine Evans - [email protected]
How to beat (or just survive) bureaucracy in Italy: the essential pieces of Italian paperwork
Which Italian documents do you need and when? Photo: DepositPhotos"

Anyone familiar with Italian bureaucracy could be forgiven for thinking the red stripe in the national flag stood for red tape.


Officials here seem to love ensnaring us in the stuff and even the simplest processes seem to be made impossibly convoluted. And then there’s the additional costs of obtaining documents, having them translated and making copies of every page.

But before all that, you have to find the correct office to get the correct document – a challenge in itself – which will invariably be closed on your arrival due (many offices might only be open a couple of days or hours a week).

But we at The Local have queued, stamped and pleaded long enough to be able to prepare this straightforward guide to the most important documents you'll need in Italy.

Passport and visa

Getting into the country at all is a good place to start.

The most important document you need for this is, of course, your passport. Seems obvious, but make sure it is up to date and also that it’s valid for the duration of your stay in Italy, whether you’re staying six days or six months.

Photo: DepositPhotos

If you come from a country outside the European Union, you will need to apply for a visa if you're planning to stay more than three months. You can apply for this in your home country. Bear in mind there are different types of visa according to the reason for your visit (more information here), and make sure you apply in good time.

It’s always best to be prepared for any eventualities when travelling abroad, so we advise you to make and keep printed and digital copies of your passport and visa in case they get lost or stolen.

Permesso di soggiorno

If you do not hold a European Union passport, but you come from Canada, the USA, New Zealand or Australia, you do not need a visa to stay in Italy for up to three months as a tourist. But technically you should apply for a permesso di soggiorno (residence permit) which allows you to stay in Italy. On arrival, you should register with the local Questura (police headquarters) and apply for the permit to stay within eight days – though in practice, few tourists actually do so.

If you're planning to stay for more than three months and you've been granted a visa, once you get to Italy you'll need to register with the Questura and apply for your permesso.

The process involves paying €100-200 in fees and processing charges, giving your fingerprints and submitting numerous documents – oh, and it takes around three to six months, too. (While you're waiting for it to arrive, be sure to carry your assicurata, or receipt of application, with you since it's your proof that you're in Italy legally.)

FOR MEMBERS: The ultimate guide to getting residency in Italy


But once you have your permesso, it will give you full access to public healthcare, social assistance and education. So make sure you have a valid one: if it's due to expire, prepare to renew it well in advance. After five years living legally in Italy you can apply for a permesso di soggiorno per soggiornanti di lungo periodo (permit to stay for a long period), which can be renewed less frequently.

Although EU citizens can travel freely around European member states, anyone staying longer than three months in Italy is required to apply for a certificato di residenza (residence certificate) at their local Anagrafe (registry office). This serves as proof of residence and will help you access public healthcare and other services.

READ ALSO: Italian problems: Driving seven hours (in a heatwave) to sign a form

Carta d’identità

After successfully applying for residency, you’re expected by the authorities to get an Italian ID card from your local Anagrafe (where you get your residency permit – but don’t expect to be able to get these on the same day).

The old-school paper cards, a surprisingly flimsy record of your name, date and place of birth, nationality and address, are being gradually replaced by a plastic version that stores the information electronically. 

You're supposed to carry your ID card with you at all times in Italy, and to show it to authorities if asked. You can also use it instead of a passport to travel within the Schengen Zone, as well as to the UK, Ireland and certain other countries. 

Photo: Ministero dell'Interno - Wikimedia

Codice fiscal

A codice fiscale (fiscal code) is a personal identification number similar to a Social Security number in the US or National Insurance number in the UK.

The bad news is that you need it to do practically anything in Italy, from making purchases online to getting a job to signing a lease on a property.

The good news is that it's relatively easy to get hold of.

Go to your local Agenzia delle Entrate (tax office) armed with a photocopy of your ID and an application form (some offices even have them available in English). You should be assigned your code on the same day, while a plastic card carrying the information will be posted to you a few weeks later.

READ ALSO: Codice fiscale: How to get your Italian tax code


Tessera sanitaria

Italy has a comprehensive state-provided healthcare system. Residents of EU countries who are visiting Italy can access this subsidized medical treatment with the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), available for free in your home country.

But wherever you're from, if you are in Italy for more than three months you should register with the Italian National Health Service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, or SSN) at your nearest Azienda Sanitaria Locale (local health authority).

Photo: Luckyz - CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia

Once signed up not only will you be allowed to register with a local GP, you'll be issued a Tessera Sanitaria, or health insurance card. You'll need to show it when seeking treatment or buying prescription medicine to benefit from subsidies – and it also serves as an EHIC, entitling the bearer to urgent care in any EU country.

Newer versions of the card, available in a handful of Italian regions including Lazio, Lombardy and Tuscany, also feature a chip and PIN that allow you to access certain public services online. 

Driver's licence

If you have an EU driving licence you can drive in any member state, provided you have adequate insurance and a roadworthy vehicle.

If you got your licence elsewhere in the world, you either need to provide an official translation or get an International Driving Permit (valid for one year, it's essentially a recognized translation of your permit into multiple languages).

And if you're a non-EU national living in Italy, you'll need to convert your licence to an Italian one within one year of moving there. 

FOR MEMBERS: 'Expect the unexpected': What you need to know about driving in Italy

Photo: DepositPhotos

A few basic tips...

No guide can save you the inevitable queues, issues and delays you'll face get all your paperwork in Italy. A surprising amount of forms and documents cannot be accessed online and so you'll need to attend most offices in person.

You can take out at least some of the hassle by booking your appointment in advance via TuPassi, an online service and app that allows you to reserve a slot at many public offices across Italy in just a few clicks.

Beyond that the best advice we can give here is to arrive early, try your best to remain calm and polite, and make sure you understand everything – get someone to translate for you if necessary.

And when you’ve finally got all the documentation you need, treat each piece of paper like gold dust. Make copies, lots of copies, and put them all in order in a safe place. You may need your full arsenal of paperwork at your disposal in the future.

We won’t lie to you – Italian bureaucracy would test the patience of any of the country’s many saints. Having said that, it’s all worth it to be able to live and work in one of the most fabulous countries in the world.

(But only just.)

Have we missed anything? Do you have a horror story about Italian bureaucracy, or an insider tip to share? Get in touch and let us know.





Comments (6)

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Anonymous 2020/08/22 01:20
Thanks for collecting and communicating all of this very helpful information - your efforts are much appreciated.<br />Allen <br />Chicago, USA
Anonymous 2020/08/21 10:59
This article's information isn't correct. If you are not an Italian citizen, your ID Card gives you no rights to travel anywhere, and it cannot replace your password. It even states on the back that it can't be used as a travel document.<br /><br />Also, the driving licence section is incorrect. If you are an EU citizen, and you are registered for residency in Italy, you must exchange your driving licence for an Italian one within 12 months of getting residency. If you have an EU registered vehicle, it must be re-registered with Italian plates within 60 days of getting your residency.
Anonymous 2020/08/04 15:42
Thank you for this information. Think I will limit my travel to this beautiful country to vacation only. If I was younger, I would love to spend part of my life living in Italy.
Anonymous 2020/04/19 18:58
Oh, dear, Elizabeth. Everyone complains about bureaucracy everywhere. What's your point?
Anonymous 2019/11/05 16:06
Dealing with the bureaucracy can be a culture shock. There's nothing wrong with helping people navigate it.
Anonymous 2019/08/22 12:28
Oh Dear,<br />Yet another article complaining about the HORRORS of having to wait for anything, stand in line for anything, and WORST OF ALL, actually have to wait weeks or months.What an attitude of entitlement!<br />Does it ever actually dawn on you that you are making a request to live in another country? You need to accept that things may not be as you want them to be and plan accordingly.<br />

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