‘How I got an elective residency visa to retire in Italy’

So you want to retire in Italy, but you come from outside the EU? There is a way to get the paperwork, as US citizen Mark Hinshaw – now happily retired in Le Marche – explains.

'How I got an elective residency visa to retire in Italy'
Italy's not a bad place to retire. Photo: DepositPhotos

After having traveled to Italy numerous times, around 2012 it dawned on us that Italy might be a good place to retire.

In the early ’80s, I had been inspired by meeting a retired American living in a charming house along the Mediterranean. I chatted with him from the cobbled street while he tended a small garden in shorts and sandals. It seemed pretty idyllic to me at the time. Of course, back then, retiring was decades off. Now it was right up on me.

With retirement approaching, how would I exactly go about such a life-changing process of moving to a completely different country?

By 2014, we had decided to move to Italy and in particular, the region of Le Marche. We had done considerable research on regions and towns, but now we needed to get serious.

READ ALSO: ‘What I wish I’d known’: An American’s advice on getting residency in Italy

Photo: DepositPhotos

We were seeking the Elective Residency Visa, which as the Italian Consulate of San Francisco describes it is for people who “wish to reside permanently in Italy and who can demonstrate a stable and ample pension income and high financial resources”.

In other words, the visa is intended for people who want to live in Italy. It is not for extended vacations or sabbaticals. Nor is it for anyone who wants to work in Italy – even freelance or remotely – or who does not have the means to support themselves without a job.

But if you’re an independent retiree looking to move to Italy, it might just be for you.

The application

There is an application form, but more important are all the supplemental documents you will have to provide.

The primary ones are:

  • Your passport
  • Proof of address
  • A signed contract to lease an apartment or purchase a home (note the risk here: staying with someone else or in a hotel isn’t accepted, yet you don’t know when you’ll be ready to move in to accommodation of your own)
  • Proof of monthly income (they will check to see if this makes sense for your destination)
  • Bank statements of income and outflow for at least six months (to prove financial stability)
  • Two letters of reference from financial institutions
  • Last two years of tax returns
  • FBI criminal background check (you must apply to the FBI yourself and wait for that process)
  • A personal letter describing why you want to live in Italy, where you want to settle and who’ll be coming with you
  • Recent passport-style photo
  • Application fee (which is adjusted every three months depending on the exchange rate)

Your nearest consulate will have a more complete list; if you are missing something when you finally appear for your personal appointment, that is potentially grounds for rejection. Then you start over again.

You will need to give up your passport. It will take a few months to get back, so you can’t have any other international travel planned in that period. (It is a bit unnerving to be without a passport.)

You will also need to make an appointment for a personal appearance at the consulate. You can do this on their website, but available dates might be months off.

Of course, you will need to plan a trip to do this and allow for enough time for travel mishaps. If you miss the appointment, you will have to make another; you can’t simply show up at another time.

FOR MEMBERS: Why moving to southern Italy with a foreign pension could cut your tax bill

Photo: DepositPhotos

We received the list of required documents in mid December of 2016. Because an FBI background check was on the list, we tackled that first, given that we had no idea how long it would take. I went to the nearest FBI office in mid January of 2017, which gave me a form to fill out along with a required fee. No questions were allowed. That process ended up taking two months; there was no way to ask anyone or check online about the status. 

While that was ongoing, we assembled all the other numerous required documents. 

One of the other items was proof of purchase for a house (or alternatively a rental agreement). This meant we had to schedule a trip to Italy in early May of 2017 to close the sale and obtain the documents. Documents involving house purchases require personal presence, so a signed and mailed agreement was not possible. Of course, arranging this took a leap of faith, as we had no visa yet.

Meanwhile we had to schedule a personal appearance at the consulate. No slots were available until late May (appointments were only on one morning of each week).

The appointment

We were given an appointment in late May of 2017. In our case this was in San Francisco. We brought all the required documents – contained in tabbed folders for easily handing them over to the officer. 

As we waited, we noticed other people being turned away because of one or more items missing. We also noticed some crazy things like a guy who showed up, representing his girlfriend, who he said could not make it. We saw the agent was clearly suppressing a laugh.

The officer assigned to our case was very affable and friendly. He even responded to emails after our appointment. He pointed out an additional needed document but said we could mail it in.

FOR MEMBERS: What Italy’s new laws mean for your citizenship application

However, we did not see similar treatment from other consular agents. They were curt and brusque in demeanor. It’s best to come with an attitude of ‘what can we do to make the review easier for you?’

Incidentally, my image of the appointment had been shaped by too many Hollywood movies. I had imagined an officious older man in a tailored suit or uniform, sitting at a big desk and firing off random questions.

Nope. The visa discussion was held standing up at a bank-like counter with a glass front. It is neither quiet nor private. You can overhear the people at the next counter and everyone in the waiting room can hear your answers to personal questions.

What comes next?

The consulate warns that the elective residency visa is “the most strictly regulated visa” for Italy and officers may spend up to 60 days examining your application.

We were scheduled to move in mid August of 2017. By then we had arranged for shipping personal effects and given notice on our apartment. We were at the point of no return.

My passport with the visa glued into it arrived in the mail in late July, a few weeks before we were scheduled to leave. More than a few nerves were wracked.

In total it took us seven months after initiating the process, and two months after the appointment with the consulate. We attribute the latter to the fact that we had every single document on their list, ready to hand over as the agent asked for it. 

We actually don’t have complaints about the time. It was more the uncertainty of the process and how many items were required. 

FOR MEMBERS: How to survive bureaucracy in Italy: the essential pieces of paperwork

Photo: DepositPhotos

While on the moving trip to Italy, I was asked for the visa several times. Once in Italy, I have been asked for it only a few times: to apply for a permesso di soggiorno, apply for my identity card, open an Italian bank account, and be assigned a tax code (codice fiscale). Once I had my carta di identita, I have rarely been asked for my passport.

Obtaining an elective residency visa is an arduous process. The process is filled with fear and angst.

But it is also great practice for subsequent dealings with the Italian government. Besides, for many Americans it is the only way to live in Italy.

Looking back now, it was entirely worth both the effort and the anxiety.

Mark Hinshaw is a retired city planner who moved to Le Marche with his wife two years ago. A former columnist for The Seattle Times, he contributes to journals, books and other publications.

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Member comments

  1. As a Brit considering retiring to Italy post Brexit the big question I have is WHAT is the minimum monthly income required and how will I prove it for me and my partner? At this moment I am in full time employment, but a year or two from retirement, so if I applied while in this situation my monthly income will be healthy – but things will change dramatically once I stop working. Presumably the application makes more sense if you have not been working for some time rather than making it as soon as you retire. Does anyone have experience of how rigourously the income assessment is defined and implemented? For example, I would want a significant chunk of my income to be rental from the property I live in London – would a hypothetical rental income be acceptable?

  2. My question is: what is the most appropriate method for a retired American couple to get residency in Italy if one holds an EU passport, but the other does not? (My husband was born in Ireland.)

  3. We’re stationed with the US military in Germany and plan to retire to Italy in three years. I’ve been searching for information on doing that from Germany but I’m having no luck. Does anyone know who I’d contact?

  4. Simon,
    Hi, I have an elective residency PdS. I showed them my pension award document and 3 bank statements showing the money going in. If your using rented property as your income, you’ll need to show a rental agreement and similar bank statements. This isn’t really designed for someone still working. They are very strict and there’s no chance of winging it but follow the rules and it is doable.
    If your husband is an EU Citizen, there shouldn’t be any problem. Spouses don’t become citizens but they get full healthcare etc. (Elective Residence doesn’t get you that btw).
    Elective Residence is the most straightforward for retired people. Btw, my insurance was with Gigna and cost 1100 gbp. Signing up was easy but I’ve never claimed anything so no idea about that.
    Good luck everyone!

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For members


REVEALED: Which are Italy’s cheapest supermarkets?

As the cost of living crisis hits household budgets in Italy as elsewhere, a new study says switching supermarkets could shave thousands of euros a year off your grocery shopping bill.

REVEALED: Which are Italy's cheapest supermarkets?

As the cost of living keeps rising amid soaring inflation – Italy’s inflation rate hit a 37-year high at the end of last month – many households across Italy, as elsewhere, are finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing to cut the rising cost of living?

The government’s recent suggestion of lowering or even scrapping IVA (VAT, or sales tax) on basic food products hasn’t materialised. But consumers could still find ways to save on their grocery shopping.

Many shoppers are now switching supermarkets to save money, or considering it.

And doing so could pay off. A new study from Italian consumer group Altroconsumo showed a family of four can save up to 3,350 euros a year by shopping at discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Eurospin.

Altroconsumo, savings on grocery shopping

Maximum possible savings by type of shopping and household size. Graphic courtesy of Altroconsumo.

For context, the study found Italian families with two children spend an average of 8,550 euros a year on groceries. 

While discount supermarkets do allow for considerable savings however they also generally offer lower-quality products which not all consumers will be satisfied with.

Shoppers can also reduce costs by switching to supermarket own-brand items (i.e. items carrying the supermarket logo), available in stores such as Carrefour and Iper-Coop. 

In particular, shopping at Carrefour, which is the most affordable supermarket in Italy when it comes to own-brand goods, can allow a family of four to save as much as 3,250 euros per year (savings can amount to 2000 euros for individual consumers). 

Consumers who do not wish to part ways with branded products (prodotti di marca) can still save on their shopping, though in this case savings are comparatively lower.

Shopping at Esselunga – the most cost-effective Italian supermarket for branded goods – allows for savings up to 350 euros for single individuals and up to 570 euros for families with two children.

Finally, potential savings are considerably reduced for consumers choosing to stick with a spesa mista, meaning that they generally fill up their shopping cart with a combination of branded items, distributor-brand goods and low-cost goods.

Regional differences 

While switching supermarket can mean savings on food bills, exactly how much you’ll save varies greatly by region.

In particular, Altroconsumo’s latest report highlighted once again the stark divide separating the north of the country from the centre and south. 

READ ALSO: From coffee to haircuts: How the cost of living varies around Italy

 Of the 15 cheapest Italian supermarkets, only two are located in the central or southern regions of the boot (Sesto Fiorentino’s Coop-Fi and Spesa 365 in Bari).

More importantly, consumers living in the north and shopping at the cheapest supermarket or hypermarket available in their city can save as much as 18 percent on a branded-goods-only food bill.

In equal circumstances (i.e. buying only branded items at the cheapest local store), consumers living in most central or southern cities can only save between two and three percent. 

Convenience map by Altroconsumo

The “convenience map”, with the cheaper cities shown in green and the more expensive cities shown in red. Graphic courtesy of Altroconsumo.