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RETIREMENT

‘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

Note: This article is based on one writer’s experience and some details of the process may vary by consulate.

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?

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

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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 in 2018. A former columnist for The Seattle Times, he contributes to journals, books and other publications.

This article was first published in 2020.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. Anyone considering applying for an Italian visa is advised to contact their consulate to confirm the requirements.

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.
    Maggie,
    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).
    Maje,
    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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VISAS

Five expert tips for getting your Italian elective residency visa approved

Here are the main things you should know if you want to succeed first time round when applying for Italy's popular - but elusive - elective residency visa.

Five expert tips for getting your Italian elective residency visa approved

The elective residency visa (ERV) is a popular route to permanently relocating to Italy, but the application process can be hard to navigate and the rejection rate high.

To help readers who are considering taking the plunge maximise their chance of success first time round, The Local spoke to three experts about how to put together the best application possible.

Based on what they told us, we put together a detailed guide to the process, as well as specific advice for UK applicants.

Here are five key takeaways on how to make a successful elective residency visa application.

Write a convincing cover letter

Most consulates require a letter of motivation along with your application explaining why you want to move to Italy.

Applicants often put minimal effort into this, simply saying they love the Italian food and weather, says Elze Obrikyte from Giambrone & Partners – and that’s a mistake.

She says ‘pre-rejection’ decisions are often issued on the basis of this letter alone, even if all the other requirements are met. 

EXPLAINED: How to apply for an elective residency visa to move to Italy

That’s because consular officials want to see you have a strong interest in moving to Italy permanently, not just coming for short stints on holiday.

Because of this, you want to make sure you underscore your ties to Italy, your familiarity with the town you plan to move to, and any other supporting information.

While language skills aren’t a requirement, “if you mention that you are studying Italian or you know Italian, which helps you to integrate better, this is also an advantage for your application,” says Obrikyte.

You should provide as much evidence as you can for a successful ERV application. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.
Showing you have a strong connection to Italy will help your application. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Get your finances in order

Because you’re not allowed to work or receive an ‘active’ income when you come to Italy on an ERV, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have a ‘passive income’ of at least €31,000 per year (€38,000 joint income for married couples).

Nick Metta of Studio Legale Metta says applicants sometimes think that having a large amount of money invested in bonds or the stock market is sufficient, but this won’t satisfy the officials reviewing your application.

READ ALSO: Visas and residency permits: How to move to Italy (and stay here)

Whether it’s in the form of a pension, annuity, rent, or some other mechanism, you need to prove that you receive a regular income stream in perpetuity and won’t become a burden on the Italian state.

If you don’t currently have passive income of at least €31,000 you may want to speak to a consultant about restructuring your finances, as you won’t be granted an ERV unless the consulate can check this box.

More is more

Consulates can differ in their exact requirements for the ERV, with some saying you don’t necessarily have to provide a letter of motivation or travel tickets to Italy.

But our experts were all agreed: it’s always best to include as much documentation as possible with your application to be on the safe side.

Even though not all consulates require travel tickets, “it’s always better just to enclose them,” says Obrikyte; “I always advise our clients to close as many documents as possible, just to reduce the risk of rejection”.

READ ALSO: How to apply for an Italian elective residency visa from the UK

“The cover letter for some consulates is not a requirement, for some consulates it is a requirement,” says Metta. “We always recommend that you prepare and file a cover letter with every single elective residency visa application.”

The experts also recommend providing a separate cover page with a contents summary for all the documentation submitted, to make things easy for the consular official reviewing your application.

Agencies can assist you in making sure all your paperwork is in order.

You should provide as much evidence as you can for a successful ERV application. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Be polite and deferential

The Italian consulate in charge of reviewing your ERV application has total power over whether or not it’s accepted – including the ability to raise the income threshold above the official minimum.

That means you want to be as deferential as possible all your interactions with staff, and avoid coming across as entitled or demanding.

READ ALSO: ‘Seek legal advice’: Your advice on applying for Italian visas post-Brexit

“You don’t want to go there and say ‘oh, here is the printing of the law’ and this and that – absolutely not,” says Metta.

You’ll also want to make sure you book your travel tickets for at least 90 days after your appointment date – the full period allotted for the consulate to review the application – so it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to rush their decision.

There’s room to negotiate

Finally, our experts stressed that if your application is rejected, that decision isn’t necessarily final.

Obrikyte says it’s typical for consulates to issue a ‘pre-rejection’ notice before delivering their final answer that specifies what the sticking point is, giving you a chance to fix the issue.

“In that occasion it is possible to try to negotiate and change their mind, and this happens very very often,” she says.

When a client of his was told he needed income of at least €100,000, “we contacted the person in charge, exchanged correspondence, provided some extra legal support in terms of evidence and official sources, and we got another appointment and the person finally got their visa,” Metta says.

While you can appeal a rejection in court, Metta says he advises his clients just to reapply, as it’s “so much faster, easier.”

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. For further information on the ERV and how to apply, visit the Italian foreign ministry’s visa website.

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