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How long will British second-home owners in Italy be able to stay after Brexit?

For the many British people living in Italy Brexit is already complicating their lives - but what about second home owners, or people who simply enjoy extra long holidays in Italy?

How long will British second-home owners in Italy be able to stay after Brexit?
by Sophie Wrixon on Unsplash
Italy has long been a popular second home destination for British people and many of them, especially retirees, spend many months at a time at their property in Italy, while still maintaining a home in the UK.

Britain's membership of the EU has meant there is no limit on how many months of the year they can spend in Italy. But Brexit is set to change that.

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe said: “Make no bones about it. Brexit will change the life, and the lifestyle, of anyone with a second home in an EU27 country or who spends more than three months at a time in an EU27 country.”

At present we are in a transition period, and people can continue to move freely (allowing for coronavirus-related border restrictions) until that ends.

The transition period is currently agreed to run until December 31st, 2020 (although it may be extended if both sides agree before July 2020) and during that time the EU and UK will negotiate on what the rules for the future will be – in between attempting to negotiate a trade deal and many other aspects of the future relationship.

So everything stays as it is for the next six months, but after that we don't know what will happen.

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This is one of the things still to be negotiated, but it seems likely that the rule will follow one of the models that currently exists for visits between non-EU countries.

Michael Harris from the campaign group Eurocitizens told The Local: “If freedom of movement for EU/UK citizens is not provided for in the future relationship agreement, which seems highly likely at the moment, Britons who do not fall under the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement because they are not resident in the EU will probably be subject to a rolling restriction of 90 days in any 180-day period within the Schengen Zone,” he said.

At present, the majority of EU countries operate the 90-day rule for people who do not have residency or a work or study visa.

Americans, Australians, Indians and other non-EU nationals in Italy will already be familiar with the 90-day rule – people who are not resident here can spend up to 90 days out of every 180 in the EU (with or without a visa depending on the country you are visiting from) but after that must either apply for residency or a work or study visa.

READ ALSO: The ultimate guide to getting residency in Italy

Over a year you could spend 180 days in total in Italy but not consecutively, you would have to spend time outside the EU (such as back in the UK) in between.

You can do your 90 days as one block or as several shorter trips, but in every 180 days the total number of days must not exceed 90.

It's worth pointing out that the 90-day rule applies to the total number of days for all countries in the Schengen area. So it's no good spending 89 days in Italy then popping over the border to France or Switzerland for a few days: the 90-day clock will only stop ticking once you leave the EU.

The group Eurocitizens provides an example from Spain of what could happen if these rules are brought in for British second home owners after Brexit.

“Sarah and Paul used to go to their villa in Alicante every Easter from mid-March and stay until the middle of October. Now they can only go from mid-March to mid-June and then they can go back from mid-September for another three months. However, any other time that they spend elsewhere in the Schengen Zone (for business or pleasure) will reduce the length of time that they will be able to stay in Spain.”

The EU offers this Schengen Area calculator to allow you to calculate your stay.

It's possible that the UK will seek to negotiate longer access to EU countries such as Italy for its citizens, but any such arrangement would have to be reciprocal and given the UK's hard line on freedom of movement in negotiations to date that may well not happen.

Michael Harris from Eurocitizens says: “On the Freedom of Movement issue in current EU/UK negotiations, it seems that the UK is not in favour of this being included in any future agreement. A recent European Parliament resolution urged the EU and the UK to strive towards a high level of mobility rights in the future agreement and regrets the fact that the UK has so far shown little ambition with regard to citizens' mobility, which the UK and its citizens have benefitted from in the past.”

Either way, it remains TBC despite several campaigns to allow a 180 day rule that doesn't require people to divide their 180 days into two portions of 90 (so that people could, for example, spend the summer in Italy and the winter in the UK).

So what happens if you overstay your allowed 90-day period in Italy?

Well there are strict rules on visa overstaying, but until now some countries have been more rigorous than others in how they apply them.

Overstaying your welcome can in one of the worst case scenarios result in a fine or deportation. You may also find that your passport gains an 'illegal immigrant' or 'illegal overstay' stamp which is likely to make it very hard for you to re-enter the country (or potentially other countries) at a later date.

But this will all likely become clearer in the coming months.

Check out The Local's Brexit section for more details and updates.

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BREXIT

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

British nationals living in Italy are becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of news about a reciprocal driving licence agreement post-Brexit, and say the current 'catch-22' situation is adversely affecting their lives.

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Italy who are currently playing a waiting game on the validity of their driving licences.

Those who are driving in Italy on a UK-issued permit currently have just over six months left before their licence is no longer accepted on Italy’s roads.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

That is, unless a deal is reached between the UK and Italy, or another extension period is granted.

Another extension would mark the third time the authorities have deferred making an agreement on UK driving licences in Italy.

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal deal on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

With just days to go before the deadline in December 2021, those still using a UK licence were granted a reprieve when it was further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

But the situation from January 1st, 2023, remains unknown.

In the remaining few months, British nationals driving in Italy who hadn’t converted their licence to an Italian one before January 1st, 2021 face the same choice again: wait and hope for an agreement or start the lengthy and costly process of taking their Italian driving test.

There is still no confirmation on reaching an agreement on driving licences. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Many UK nationals have contacted The Local recently to express their frustration, anger and concern over the situation, explaining how the possibility of not being to drive in Italy would profoundly impact their lives.

For some, it would mean not being able to get to work, losing their independence, not being to reach supermarkets for the food shop in remote areas, or not being able to take their children to school.

And in the meantime, many readers told us it means ongoing worry and uncertainty.

Reader David (not his real name), who moved to the southern region of Puglia shortly before Brexit hit, tells us he now finds himself in a “horrible catch-22 situation”.

He summed up the feeling among many of those who contacted The Local by saying: “It is highly concerning and not at all helpful for mental or physical health in a period when we are trying to settle in to a new life in Italy.”

He points out that, for him, retaking his driving test and getting an Italian licence would also mean having to sell his car and buy one with a less powerful engine.

“I realise that if I pass the Italian driving test and obtain an Italian licence, then I will be a neopatente (new driver) with three years of serious restrictions,” he says.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting an Italian driving licence post-Brexit

Newly administered licences in Italy carry restrictions including on the maximum engine size of the car the holder may drive, tighter speed limits on the motorway and extra penalty points for breaking them.

“In this situation, I am honestly dis-incentivised to get the Italian licence unless there seriously is a real ‘no deal’ scenario on the table,” he says.

“Because if I get an Italian licence now – and of course I could choose now to invest a lot of time and money to get it – and then an agreement is reached to exchange licenses, then I might find myself in a worse position than if I just waited to do an exchange.”

“I am sincerely hoping for an agreement to be reached for experienced drivers with a UK licence.”

James Appleton lives in Milan and says he feels “frustrated about the situation”. Although he concedes that he lives in the city with all the convenience that implies, he is worried about having a car sitting outside his flat that he can no longer drive from January.

“The frustration now is with little over six months left of the year, advice from the authorities has continued to be quite unhelpful,” he tells us.

“We keep hearing, ‘consider your options’. I know my options: I have to start the process of taking a test, which is expensive and lengthy, and which may turn out to be unnecessary, or wait until the end of the year. Those have been my options for year and a half,” he adds.

Frustration for many British nationals still waiting on a post-Brexit driving licence agreement. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

“I feel very much in limbo. If it gets to November and we still haven’t heard anything, I risk having a car that I can’t drive from January as my licence may no longer be valid.

My hope would be if there’s not to be a deal, let us know so there’s time to take the test,” James says. “I don’t want to find out with a week to go, like last year.”

He points to the fact that many other non-EU countries have reciprocal driving licence agreements with Italy, so why not the UK? Meanwhile, Italy is one of only two countries in the EU still not to have made a deal on driving licences.

While he said he didn’t want to sound “entitled”, the lack of clarity was simply confusing.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

Like many others, he tried but didn’t manage to convert his British licence in time as he moved to Italy shortly before the Brexit deadline.

James registered as a resident in December 2020, leaving little time to begin the conversion process. He admitted it was partly his fault “for not having realised the consequences of what was going to happen”.

But “there are some people in a position where it wasn’t so straightforward to convert your licence,” he notes.

This was true for another reader, who wished to remain anonymous. She tells us that she tried to begin the conversion of her UK driving licence three times in Imperia, where she lives, but was told to “wait and see what is decided”.

“No one has taken a note of my requests and attempts so I cannot prove my attempts to get this sorted or listed,” she says.

READ ALSO: How to import your car or motorbike to Italy

In her case, it would therefore be difficult to prove that she began the conversion process before January 1st, 2021.

She also faced setbacks when trying to convert her licence in time after applying for residency before Brexit.

On being told that she needed her final ID card (carta d’identità) proving her residence, she returned to her town hall but couldn’t get the card for another seven months due to no appointments being available.

“Then I couldn’t get the licence exchanged as the person dealing with this was not at work on the day I went. I had to fly back to UK then Covid restrictions kicked in, hampering travel and by then UK was out of Europe and the Italian/UK driver’s licence issues remained unsolved,” she added.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP

So is there any hope that an agreement will be reached and those driving on a UK licence won’t need to sit an Italian driving test?

At this point there are no indications as to whether a decision will be reached either way. The British government continues to advise licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while also stating that they’re working on reaching a deal.

The latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

So far, so much conflicting advice, as many readers point out.

Of those who have decided to take the plunge and sit the Italian driving test, some say it’s “not as difficult as it sounds” while others report having trouble with the highly technical questions in the theory test, not to mention the fact that the test has to be taken in Italian.

If you speak French or German better than Italian, the test may be available in those languages – but not in English.

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

“My question is why can’t you take your driving test in English? Adding it as an option for taking the test would help,” says Njideka Nwachukwu, who moved to Italy in 2019. She failed the theory test and has to try again, at a further cost.

Even if you find taking the test a breeze, the process is known to take around six months – if you pass everything first time – and to set you back hundreds of euros.

At the time of writing, neither Italian nor British government officials have given any indication as to if or when a deal may be reached, or an explanation of why the two countries have not yet been able to reach an agreement.

Nor has any explanation been given as to why this important aspect of life in Italy was never protected under the Withdrawal Agreement in the first place.

When contacted by The Local recently for an update on the situation, the British Embassy in Rome stated: “rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Thank you to everyone who contacted The Local to tell us how they are affected by this issue, including those we couldn’t feature in this article.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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