FOR MEMBERS

What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

What's the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?
What rights do Italian citizens have that residents don't? Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
As a foreigner in Italy you enter a complicated world of bureaucracy, but one question we are asked a lot is the difference in status between residency and citizenship. Here's an overview.

Broadly the difference is this: citizenship gives you a lot more rights but is consequently harder to secure.

Here’s a look at how the different categories work.

Non-resident visitor

This category covers everything from people having a long weekend in Rome to second home owners.

Depending on where you come from you are allowed to stay in Italy for a certain period (for most non-Europeans this limit is 90 days) without becoming a full-time resident of the country.

READ ALSO: How British second home owners can spend more than 90 days in Italy after Brexit

The upside of this is that there’s no paperwork, but you don’t have any legal status or right to stay in the country – or enter it if the borders close again.

You also won’t have access to healthcare if you need it while you are here so will need to make sure you are covered via health insurance or – for EU citizens – the European Health Insurance Card.

Residency

This means that you are officially allowed to live in Italy. The requirements for being an official resident of the country vary according to the country that you come from and your circumstances.

Citizens of EU countries and those within the Schengen zone benefit from European freedom of movement, which means they are entitled to move to Italy to live and work. This freedom is not completely unlimited – there are conditions around criminal records and minimum income level – but is fairly generous.

EU nationals who plan to stay in Italy permanently must register with their local town hall within three months of moving here. It’s not an immigration procedure but an administrative one: even Italian citizens have to do it if they’ve been living abroad, though it’s easier for them since registering as a foreigner requires jumping through extra hoops.

You will need to show that you are in a position to support yourself without state welfare – whether it’s by having a job, relying on a family member or spouse in Italy, or showing you have enough savings to get by. You’ll also have to demonstrate that you have health coverage, either because you qualify for national health care or you have private insurance.

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

People who are not citizens of an EU or Schengen zone country – known as third country nationals – have even more hoops to jump through before they can become residents.

For most non-Europeans, moving to Italy involves first getting a visa in your current country, then applying for a residency permit, known as a permesso di soggiorno, once you arrive. The visa process can be both complicated and expensive, and varies depending on your reason for coming to Italy. Find out about different types of visa here, and read one American’s first-hand account of the process here.

Since January 1st 2021, UK nationals no longer have the rights of EU citizens and will have to apply for a visa to live in Italy. Find out more here.

Brits who were already resident in Italy before the Brexit cut-off on December 31st 2020 should apply for a residency card to show they qualify to keep their rights to live and work here. You can apply at your local police headquarters, without needing to re-register your residency. Find more information here.

DEALING WITH BREXIT:

Once you have your residency in place, you will have access to the Italian healthcare system and other services, and your right to stay or re-enter Italy from overseas are protected.

You will also be expected to pay tax in Italy, including on income earned abroad.  

Third country residents can stay as long as their permesso di soggiorno is valid. You will have to renew your permesso every two years or less, demonstrating each time that you still meet the conditions set out in your visa – for instance, you’re still enrolled or school or university if you’re on a student visa, or you’re still employed if you have a work visa. 

After five years you may be able to apply for a long-term residency permit without an expiry date, but you’ll need to meet certain conditions like having a minimum income and passing a language test.

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

If you commit certain types of crime you can be removed from the country, while other crimes will mean getting a new visa or permesso becomes more difficult.

EU citizens have the right to vote in municipal and European elections (but not parliamentary ones), while non-Europeans have no voting rights.

Certain types of jobs are reserved for Italian citizens only, while others – especially within public administration – are reserved for EU citizens only. Non-citizens cannot run for parliament, but EU citizens can stand as candidates in local elections.

Citizenship

This is the ultimate guarantee of your rights in Italy and once you have become an Italian citizen you are, on paper at least, exactly the same as Italian people who were born and bred here.

You are entitled to stay here for the rest of your life, even if you commit a serious crime, and you can pass your citizenship on to your children. You can also leave the country for as long as you want and return to live without having to ask permission.

You’ll also be guaranteed free access to the Italian healthcare system for you and your dependents, even if you don’t have a job. 

You are entitled to vote and – in good news for those with political ambitions – you can stand for any type of public office including parliament.

But the flip side of this is that citizenship is not easy to obtain.

READ ALSO: How many foreigners does Italy grant citizenship to?

Italy’s rules are more generous than many other countries’ when it comes to allowing people to claim citizenship via ancestry: you can apply even if you only have one Italian ancestor several generations back.

But you’ll need to provide official certificates of birth, marriage and death for every relative between you and them to prove the line of descent, and your claim is usually wiped out if anyone in the chain renounced Italian citizenship before passing it on to their children. 

If you don’t have Italian ancestors then the most common ways to obtain citizenship are through marriage to a Italian person or through residency. 

In either case you need to fulfil a number of criteria, including having lived in the country for 10 years if you’re a third country national or being married to your Italian spouse for three years (two if you live in Italy and one if you have Italian children), as well as a minimum level of the Italian language.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about taking Italy’s language test for citizenship

It’s not a quick process – the Italian state gives itself up to two to four years to process applications – and involves a lot of paperwork. If original documents are in English you have to have them officially translated, notarised and legalised, for a fee. There are also fees just to submit your application.

Find out more about applying for citizenship here.

If you satisfy all the requirements and once your paperwork is all processed you will finally have to swear allegiance to the Italian Republic in a special ceremony (and make sure you say it right). 


Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.