Can I leave Italy under the new coronavirus travel restrictions?

Many people are uncertain whether they can leave Italy now the government has imposed tight new travel restrictions. The Local answers some FAQs.

Can I leave Italy under the new coronavirus travel restrictions?
Travellers at Termini train station in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Can I return home from Italy?

Essentially, anyone who wants to leave Italy can do so.

Italian authorities are not forcing everyone to stay exactly where they are. The new decree only prevents people travelling for non-essential reasons.

Returning home, including to another country, is considered an essential reason. 

READ ALSO: 'Stay at home': What are Italy's coronavirus quarantine rules?

But if even if you live in Italy, you should be allowed to leave.

Other countries are taking action however which may make it harder. Austria,  Slovenia and Switzerland have imposed border restrictions while Donald Trump has introduced a Europe travel ban which includes Italy.

US nationals and permanent residents in the US area allowed to return home but most other foreign nationals won't be allowed to board planes to the US.

According to the UK government, “British nationals remain able to depart Italy without restriction. Airports remain open throughout Italy. 

“However, airline schedules are subject to change and some flights are being cancelled. Travellers are advised to check flight details with airlines.”

British Airways, for example, has cancelled most direct flights between the UK and Italy – though passengers have the option to rebook onto flights connecting in Switzerland. Several other airlines are also operating a reduced service.

Check with whichever company you're travelling with before setting out: you should be able to arrange a refund or rebooking.

Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

Air and rail passengers may be subject to medical checks before travelling, so if you have symptoms of fever, difficulty breathing, coughing or sneezing be prepared to be examined.

If health professionals deem necessary, you may be denied boarding.

What documents do I need to travel?

Anyone who wishes to travel is now required to fill out a standardized form justifying their reasons and submit it to authorities at train stations and airports, as well as at major roads between cities.

You'll need to give your name, address, telephone number and details of where you're travelling from, to and by which means. You'll also have to state your reason for travelling: “I'm returning home” is one of the examples listed.

You can download the form here (in Italian). 

Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Italian authorities are relying on people to declare their reason for travel honestly and accurately, but they can check out your story. It's a good idea to have your plane or train ticket and your passport ready for inspection.

What about when I get home?

Be aware that you may be required to isolate yourself temporarily if you enter another country from Italy. 

The US is recommending anyone who has been to Italy to self-isolate for 14 days after returning to the US, and anyone with flu-like symptoms to call ahead before seeking medical help.

The UK government is now asking anyone who has returned from anywhere in Italy to stay indoors and avoid contact with others, even if they do not have symptoms.

Several other countries are also warning passengers returning from Italy they could face quarantine upon arrival. 

Check the latest travel advice from your government to prepare for any special arrangements you may need to make.


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Key points: What you should know if you need to see a doctor in Italy

Sooner or later, every foreign national in Italy will have to make an appointment to see a doctor. Here are the key things to know.

Key points: What you should know if you need to see a doctor in Italy

Making a doctor’s appointment is usually thought of as a fairly uncomplicated task but doing so in Italy can turn out to be very tricky, especially if you’ve just relocated to the country and are not quite familiar with how the Italian healthcare system (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, or SSN) works.

On top of that, Italian doctors and other healthcare staff are rarely fluent in English and only very few sections of the SSN’s website provide information in languages other than Italian. 

So, should you ever be faced with the dreaded task, here’s what you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Italy.  

Who has access to GPs?

Only people that hold a valid Italian health card (tessera sanitaria) or an equivalent, i.e. a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), can access public GPs’ services.

READ ALSO: Who can register for national healthcare in Italy? 

That said, it’s worth noting that the SSN provides emergency care to anyone in need, regardless of their nationality or immigration status and without asking for upfront payment.

A GP making a prescription

Only people that hold a valid Italian health card or a EU equivalent can access public GP’s services. Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP

Those experiencing a medical emergency can call 118 for an ambulance or head to the emergency ward (pronto soccorso) of the nearest public hospital.

How to register with a GP

In order to make an appointment (visita) with a general practitioner (medico di base) within the SSN, you must first be registered with the doctor in question. 

However, registering with an Italian GP isn’t nearly as straightforward as it should be. 

Firstly, patients are expected to view the list of doctors operating within the territory of their local health authority (Azienda Sanitaria Locale, ASL). 

Though in some cases these lists can be found online, in others residents will have to directly ask their ASL to be sent a copy.

Then, taking the location and office hours of the listed professionals into account, patients are asked to pick the doctor that’s best suited to their needs and communicate their choice to the ASL.

While in some areas this can be done online, most ASLs ask that patients turn up in person at their Scelta e Revoca (Choosing and Cancelling) offices and provide operators with an ID card, a valid Italian health card or equivalent (EHIC or GHIC) and a certificate of residence

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Italy

Registrations are generally processed immediately and the doctor’s contact info and booking details are emailed to the patient right after.

How to book an appointment

Once you’re registered with a GP, you can go ahead and book your first appointment. 

A booking can generally be made via phone, email or, in some cases, online. However, as previously mentioned, healthcare staff, including booking office staff, are rarely fluent in English, so email or online bookings might be the better options if you’re not really proficient in Italian.

Doctor speaking on the phone

Patients can book an appointment with their GP via phone, email or, in some cases, a designated online booking platform. Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP

It’s also worth noting that, though they provide patients with a set appointment time, Italian GP clinics tend to run a little late, so, depending on the circumstances, you might have to wait up to thirty minutes for your turn.

During the first appointment, patients are usually handed a form to fill out with general information about themselves and their overall health. 

Due to the above formalities, the first appointment might last a little bit more than normal appointments, which are usually around 15 to 20 minutes.

All consultations with an Italian GP, including the first appointment, are free of charge.

Referral to specialists

GPs can refer patients to a specialist doctor (specialista) for further diagnostic exams or medical procedures.

However, unlike in other European countries, people choosing to see a specialist through the SSN cannot select the doctor they will be referred to as they will be given the earliest available appointment within the relevant medical field.

READ ALSO: Five essential facts about Italy’s public healthcare system  

The referral comes in the form of a red prescription (ricetta rossa) with letters P, D, B and U indicating the different levels of urgency associated with the consultation – P marks the lowest priority level, whereas D is for consultations that must take place within 72 hours from the time of prescription.

The ricetta rossa allows patients to book their appointments online, in person or over the phone by calling the relevant Regional Central Booking Office (Centro Unico di Prenotazione Regionale, CUP).

Nurse looking at X rays

Patients choosing to see a specialist through the public healthcare system cannot select the doctor they will be referred to. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Again, foreign nationals with a poor command of Italian may find that online bookings are the best available option given that most operators are not fluent in English.

Private doctors 

As in other European countries, Italian residents can choose to see private GPs or specialists.

Private healthcare is provided at a fee – typically anything from €40 to €160, depending on the type of service required – and, in most cases, fees must be paid upfront. 

Unlike public health authorities, private providers do not require patients to have a tessera sanitaria or a valid equivalent.  

Aside from the above distinctions however, booking an appointment in the private sector is no different than booking one within the SSN, with patients being allowed to book via phone, email or a designated online platform. 

If you’re looking for an English-speaking doctor, the US Embassy in Rome and the Consulates General in Milan, Florence and Naples provide lists of English-speaking professionals available for private consultation. These can be downloaded here.

The UK government provides a similar list

Essential vocabulary and useful sentences

  • SSN (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale) – National health system
  • ASL (Azienda Sanitaria Locale) – Regional health unit
  • Medico di base – General practitioner 
  • Ricetta – Prescription
  • Visita – Appointment 
  • Specialista – Specialist doctor
  • Farmaco – Medicine
  • When booking by email or phone, a useful phrase is: Vorrei fissare una visita alle ore X di X (I would like to schedule an appointment for [day] at [time]).
  • Should you need to cancel the appointment, you could say: Putroppo, devo cancellare la visita.
  • To ask to reschedule it, you could say: Sarebbe possibile spostare la visita?

To describe your sickness, you can check out our terminology guide for the most common ailments.