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

What do you do when you find yourself in the kind of infuriating situation that could only ever happen in Italy?

Italian problems: Driving seven hours (in a heatwave) to sign a form
Photo: DepositPhotos

It’s not news to anyone that Italian bureaucracy is tediously slow, and frequently malfunctions. But this week, a set of particularly Italian circumstances converged to leave me wondering, just briefly, why I ever thought moving to Italy was a good idea in the first place.

“No, we can’t send the form by courier. You have to come in person”.

On the phone, the Italian bank employee had sounded extremely bored.

I took a deep breath. “But we’re seven hours away and I’m working. Can we make an appointment to come next week?”

“No, we’ll be on holiday. Until September.”

“What, everyone? The whole bank?”

“It’s August,” he said, as if this was self-explanatory.

It was actually July 23rd but, like pretty much everyone else in Italy, this particular bank employee seemed to have already mentally checked out for the summer holidays. The extreme heat probably wasn’t helping.

“If you can’t come this week then we’ll just start the application process in September,” he said, sounding as if he was ready to nap.

I seethed inwardly, having already explained several times that we were in a rush to arrange the mortgage, as my husband’s work had just transferred him to the other side of Italy – from Tuscany back to his home city of Bari – at very short notice. Repeating this information again seemed unlikely to rouse this bank employee.

We considered switching banks, but we’d already spent weeks having meetings and getting our documents in order, and we needed to get the process rolling before our notary, too, went on a long summer holiday.

There was nothing else for it.

We were soon checking the traffic conditions for the long drive to visit this particular regional bank in Puglia. The motorways were busy with it being peak summer travel season. Checking the train schedules we remembered that today, of all days, there was a national rail strike.

He briefly considered trying the train anyway – a nine-hour journey at the best of times – until he remembered it was also 38 degrees outside.

We had found ourselves stuck with a perfect storm of bureaucracy, strikes, traffic, long summer holidays and insufferable heat, with some bad customer service thrown in.  I wondered: could this situation be any more Italian?

I made an ill-tempered comment about how “nothing works in this country”; and got a very characteristic response from my southern Italian husband. A broad smile and a shrug.

“No problem,” he told me repeatedly as he jumped into the car this morning, ready to set off on his seven-hour solo journey under the blazing sun.

“Things do function here, in their own way,” he told me brightly, not for the first time.

Italians may famously get worked up over certain important things (you know, like food) but when it comes to bureaucracy, the consensus seems to be “what’s the point in worrying?”.

After all, getting mad about bureaucracy in Italy would be about as useful as shaking your fist at the sky when it rains.

And maybe I’m slowly coming around to this way of thinking, or maybe I’m just too hot to care, but I know he’s right. This situation is annoying, it’s stressful, it’s ridiculous, it’s sweaty, and it’s oh so very Italian, but it’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. And it’s definitely not worth getting upset over.

All of this was a reminder that the only way I’ll be able to cope with living permanently in Italy is to totally revise any expectations of how things “should” work, and adjust my mindset accordingly. And maybe go and open a bottle of wine.

Nessun problema?

I’m working on it.

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EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s new digital invoicing rule for freelancers?

Italy is bringing in new rules from July that mean changes for freelancers on the 'flat tax' rate. Here’s what you need to know about the new ‘fatturazione elettronica’, or digital invoicing system.

EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s new digital invoicing rule for freelancers?

Italy has been slowly moving more of its bureaucratic systems online in recent years, and in many cases this has made it quicker and easier for residents to access services and get their considerable amounts of Italian life admin in order.

It was hoped that the new electronic invoicing rule would do the same for freelancers on Italy’s flat-tax regime, by doing away with the existing need to print out invoices and affix tax stamps by hand.

READ ALSO: Beat the queues: 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

But a close look at the details of the new rules shows that it probably won’t make life easier for those on the flat tax rate, who have so far been spared the bulk of that infamous Italian red tape – but now need to get to grips with a new online system.

Known as the ‘regime forfettario‘, Italy’s flat-rate tax scheme for individuals and small businesses was introduced in 2015 to encourage more commercial activity by slashing tax rates and simplifying bureaucracy.

New freelancers who choose this tax system generally pay somewhere between just five and 15 percent tax on earnings, regardless of overheads.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of Italy’s five percent flat tax for freelancers

Little has changed since its inception seven years ago, but freelancers using the scheme now need to be aware of new rules coming into force from July 1st, 2022.

How you invoice – how you send, receive and store receipts, therefore – is due to move from analogue to digital, bringing new requirements and know-how on digital invoicing software.

Here’s what’s changing for freelancers with the so-called ‘fattura elettronica‘.

Who is required to send electronic invoices?

While this was already a requirement for the self-employed on other tax regimes, those on the flat tax rate will now be included from July 1st.

They were previously exempt, but that changed under the PNRR (National recovery and resilience plan or piano nazionale di ripresa e resilienza) – the Italian government’s plan for using EU funding for post-pandemic economic recovery.

Digital invoicing is intended to fight Italy’s major problem with tax evasion, as well as to further automate accounting processes.

For now, not all freelancers under this tax scheme need to move to digital accounting – only those who received an income in excess of €25,000 in the previous year are required to comply with the new rule.

It will then extend to all freelancers using the flat-rate scheme from January 1st, 2024.

From that date, everyone subscribed to the ‘regime forfettario’ will have to switch to electronic invoicing and there are hefty penalties in place for those who don’t.

How will electronic invoices work?

Italy’s tax authority has defined a couple of notable differences between the digital or electronic invoice (fattura elettronica) and a paper invoice (fattura di carta) in its updated guidelines.

Firstly, the digital invoice has to be created using a digital device (a computer, tablet or smartphone), and secondly it has to be sent to the client via an ‘Interchange System’, the so-called Sistema di Interscambio (SdI).

READ ALSO: ‘Smart working’? Here’s what you need to know about going self-employed in Italy

Italy’s flat-rate tax scheme is going digital. Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

This electronic postal system checks whether the invoice contains the required data for tax purposes, as well as checking the verified e-address (or the so-called PEC address) of the recipient.

In doing so, the electronic invoice automatically checks that the VAT number (partita IVA), or the tax code (codice fiscale) depending on who you send the invoice to, really exist.

Once the checks are completed, the system sends the invoice to the client, which will trigger an alert to the freelancer with a delivery receipt, showing the date and time the document was delivered.

How can you send an e-invoice?

There are a few accounting software options on the market if you’re now faced with having to send electronic invoices.

Some charge a fee of around €1-€4 per month or come at a cost per transaction.

Platforms such as ‘Aruba‘ or ‘Fatture in Cloud‘, are competitive and may offer you a free trial before you deciding to buy.

The Italian revenue agency (Agenzie delle Entrate) has also created free-of-charge services to help send and receive e-invoices. These include websites as well as apps for completing the required steps, which are detailed in their guide here.

You can access their Invoices and Receipts (‘Fatture e Corrispettivi‘) portal to benefit from these free services.

You’ll either need a Spid ID (‘Sistema Pubblico dell’Identità Digitale‘), a Carta Nazionale dei Servizi (CNS) or accounting credentials known as Fisconline/Entrate, which are issued by the Agenzie delle Entrate.

You can also delegate this task to an intermediary, such as an accountant (commercialista) who would do this on your behalf, the revenue agency stipulates 

What about the Italian tax stamp?

Until now, freelancers issuing invoices under the ‘regime forfettario‘ have had to attach a €2 stamp, called a ‘marca da bollo’, to every invoice over the value of €77,47.

So what happens when e-receipts go digital and you can’t physically stick a stamp on a document? Well, that goes digital too and the Inland Revenue has issued a 16-page guide on how you need to go about it.

It seems the previously attractive ‘light’ accounting of this regime is about to get bogged down by time-consuming bureaucracy too.

Authorities will systematically check that the fee has been paid each quarter for all the invoices that require it.

As a general rule, you can see if there are any discrepancies by the 15th day of the first month following each quarter on their Invoices and Receipts portal.

You or your intermediary have until the end of that month to fix any accounting errors, but make sure to check with an accountant if you have any difficulties or need specific advice for your personal circumstances.

Once you receive your final stamp duty bill for each quarter, you can pay either via IBAN, which you set up on the portal, or by filling out an electronic F24 form – details of how to do that are included in the guide.

For further information and FAQ’s, see Italy’s Inland Revenue Agency website on the electronic invoice here.

Please note The Local cannot advise on personal cases and seeking expert financial advice is recommended.