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

If you're working on turning your dreams of moving to Italy into a reality, you'll need to get practical about paperwork. Visas, permits and residency are some of the items you'll need to check off your list. Here's our guide to moving to Italy and staying here legally.

Moving to Italy? You'll need to get your paperwork sorted.
Moving to Italy? You'll need to get your paperwork sorted. Photo by Romain Dancre on Unsplash

When planning your move to Italy, much of what you’ll need to do depends on your nationality and what you intend on doing once in Italy, whether that be work, study or retirement, for example.

Here’s an overview of what to consider depending on different personal circumstances.

If you have an EU or Schengen zone country passport

If you hold a passport of any EU country, including Ireland or a Schengen zone country, then you are covered by the European Union freedom of movement rules and can move to Italy with much more ease than is the case for non-EU nationals.

All you need for stays under 90 days is a valid travel document, such as an identity card or passport. You can also present a dichiarazione di presenza sul territorio nazionale (declaration of presence in Italy) at a police station if you wish, although this is not obligatory.

If you belong in this category, visa requirements do not apply but you will need an Italian residence permit for stays longer than three months.

You are British, American, Australian, New Zealander or Canadian

If you’re from a country that doesn’t benefit from EU freedom of movement, you’ll most likely need to work out which visa you’ll need in order to stay longer in Italy.

These countries do, however, benefit from the 90-day rule, which means you can travel to Italy visa-free for up to 90 days in every 180, which may be enough for second-home owners or frequent visitors.

READ ALSO: Italian residency: Who needs it and how do you get it?

A classic Fiat 500.
Moving to Italy Photo: Jonathan Bean on Unsplash

But if you want to stay longer than that, you’ll need to work out which visa is right for you and begin applying for one in your home country.

Known as the ‘Type D’ or ‘D-Visa’, this is what you’ll need if you want to stay in Italy longer than 90 days for moving here for study, work, family reasons, or retirement, for instance.

You can read further details about long-stay visas here.

Working

If you’re planning to move to Italy for employment, you’ll need a work visa. Which type you get depends on whether you’re a salaried employee, a seasonal worker or a freelancer for example.

Regardless of being on the payroll or working for yourself, you’ll need a work permit called a nulla osta before being able to get an employment visa or a self-employment visa.

Getting a self-employment visa is highly competitive and there are fewer available, which is important to note as this might mean a harder route to move to Italy. Businesses and start-ups have various options including investor visas and startup visas.

For a detailed guide on working visas, click here.

READ ALSO: Freelance or employee: Which is the best way to work in Italy?

Colleagues in a team meeting.
Work or study in Italy – either way, you’ll need a visa. Photo by Leon on Unsplash

Studying

Non-EU students are required to obtain a student visa prior entering Italy. There are two types of student visas in Italy, depending on the duration of the study program – type C for a maximum of 90 days and type D for more than 90 days. When applying you should provide a letter of acceptance to your course in Italy, as well as proof of accommodation, sufficient financial means and health insurance.

EXPLAINED: What type of visa will you need to move to Italy?

Not working

If you’re retired and intend to move to Italy and not work, you’ll likely opt for an elective residency visa. It’s designed for those who want to live in Italy and have the financial means to support themselves without taking from the state.

You’ll have to prove you have sufficient funds to support yourself through pensions, savings or other sources. It is not for extended vacations, nor can you work remotely off it. Find out more about applying for the elective residency visa here.

Joining family

If you’re lucky enough to have Italian citizens as family or are married to one, there is a visa available for dependents of an Italian citizen, or a non-EU citizen with an Italian permit of stay.

The family visa allows entrance in Italy to their spouse, children or dependent parents. You will need to provide evidence of your relationship with the person whose dependent you will be, for instance marriage or birth certificates.

What next?

Once you’ve found your route to enter Italy and completed that set of paperwork, there’s more bureaucracy.

A long-stay visa allows you to enter Italy only. After that, you will also have to get an Italian residence permit (permesso di soggiorno) in order to be allowed to stay for longer than 90 days.

There are a few different types of permit to stay in Italy and it must correlate with your intentions and with the conditions of your visa.

READ ALSO: ‘Do your homework’: An American’s guide to moving to Italy

Types of permit include the permesso di soggiorno per studio for students, permesso di soggiorno per lavoro for employees, permesso di soggiorno per lavoro autonomo/indipendente for self-employed foreigners, permesso di soggiorno per motivi familiari for the foreign spouse, children or relatives of an Italian citizen or foreigner residing legally in Italy. 

The permesso di soggiorno is usually processed in about three to six months, and the duration varies according to the type. Having the permit will give you full access to public healthcare, social assistance and education.

After five years of residence in Italy a non-EU citizen can apply for a permesso di soggiorno per soggiornanti di lungo periodo (permission to stay for a long period), which can be renewed less frequently. But you’ll need to meet certain conditions like having a minimum income and passing a language test.

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

The Italian frecce tricolori.
The Italian Frecce Tricolori make a flypast. Photo by Mauricio Artieda on Unsplash

Citizenship

If you decide Italy is to remain your home forever, with the bonus of becoming an EU citizen and all the freedom of movement that entails, you may consider applying for citizenship.

Citizenship gives you a lot more rights than residency but, of course, it’s harder to get. Once granted, 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 even stand for prime minister, if you want).

READ ALSO: How to become Italian: A guide to getting citizenship

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.

Otherwise, the main ways to obtain citizenship are through marriage to an 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 passing an Italian language exam at B1 level or higher.

Be prepared to wait – the Italian state gives itself up to two to four years to process applications.

If you satisfy all the requirements and are approved, you will finally have to swear allegiance to the Italian Republic in a special ceremony (just make sure you practice it).

This is an overview of the requirements. Please find more details in our sections on Italian bureaucracy and moving to Italy.

Please note that The Local is unable to advise on specific cases. For more information about visa applications, see the Italian Foreign Ministry’s visa website, or contact your embassy or local Questura in Italy.

Member comments

  1. Hi,
    I have never seen an article that talks about a couple that want to move to Italy where one person is an EU citizen (not Italy though) and the other is American. Can you do an article about that? Thanks!

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For members

ITALIAN LANGUAGE

TEST: Is your Italian good enough for citizenship?

To become an Italian citizen, you may need to prove your language skills. Do yours make the grade?

TEST: Is your Italian good enough for citizenship?

From being able to confidently order a gelato to total fluency, there’s a huge variation in the levels of Italian attained by foreigners in Italy.

But there are certain bureaucratic processes that require formal qualifications. When applying for Italian citizenship through marriage or residence (but not via ancestry), you must prove proficiency in the Italian language at B1 level or higher.

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

In most cases, getting a carta di soggiorno residency permit has no formal language requirement, though some non-EU nationals may need to sit a language test at the lower A2 level. Read more about that here.

This article relates solely to language ability for obtaining citizenship; the application process has several other requirements depending on which route you take. Read more about this here.

So what does B1 mean?

A B1 level certification is a ‘lower intermediate’ level and means you are proficient enough in the language to manage everyday interactions, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL).

This level of proficiency allows you to “communicate in most situations that arise while travelling” and to understand topics “regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.”

So there’s no need to write with perfect grammar, have an extensive vocabulary, or be able to recite Dante’s Inferno in the original language – but people at this level should be able to make themselves understood in most everyday situations.

It should also be enough to follow most conversations and TV shows or get the gist of what’s in Italian newspapers.

If you’ve lived in Italy for a while, there’s a good chance you’re already at this level or close to it. After all, a decent grasp of Italian really is necessary for everyday life in the country outside of the main city centres and tourist hotspots.

If not, it might be time to sign up for Italian language classes – if you haven’t already. 

If you want to check, there are numerous Italian language level tests available online, such as this one.

What does the B1 language test involve?

The exact structure of the test varies between the four administered by educational institutions approved by the Italian Education Ministry or Foreign Ministry.

They are: The University of Siena for Foreigners (CILS); The University of Perugia for Foreigners (CELI); The Dante Alighieri Association (PLIDA); and The University of Rome 3 (CERT)

These tests can be taken at language schools around Italy and abroad. If your language school advertises B1 testing for citizenship, make sure they are accredited by one of the above institutions.

The structure of the test also differs depending on whether you’re taking the B1 cittadinanza exam or a regular B1 level Italian language certification.

READ ALSO: 12 signs you’ve cracked the Italian language

Could you pass an Italian language test at B1 level? Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Both tests involve answering similar questions at the same level, but the B1 cittadinanza is essentially a shorter version which costs less to take. The downside is this certificate can only be used for your citizenship application and not for other purposes, such as for university applications.

And though it’s shorter, it may not actually be easier to pass; if you fail on one section you will have to retake the entire test (as opposed to just retaking that section under the standard B1 level tests listed above.)

If you’re fairly confident of passing and don’t need it for anything else, it may be the more convenient option.

In any case, the test will involve at least four sections; a written test, reading tests, listening test and an oral test where you have a conversation with an examiner.

Listening 

For this section you will have to listen to two recordings; one of a conversation, and another of a short monologue.

The format varies and each section will be played at least twice.

Here is a sample question from a past paper, after the candidates had listened to a short clip of someone talking about the southern region of Puglia – click here for the audio and transcription.

Ascolta il testo. Poi leggi le informazioni. Scegli le informazioni presenti nel testo (3 per testo).

A) Il programma radiofonico riguarda la cucina tradizionale italiana.
B) Gli ascoltatori partecipano a un quiz e possono vincere un viaggio.
C) La regione Puglia ha ricevuto un importante premio.
D) Questa estate in Puglia è diminuito il numero dei turisti.
E) In Puglia ci sono paesi tranquilli dove ci si può rilassare.
F) La Puglia offre un’ampia scelta di sistemazioni turistiche.

Reading and grammar

This section involves reading two pieces of text, testing your reading comprehension and grammatical knowledge.

Here are some sample questions from a past B1 paper, relating to a report about new public services from the regional government in Tuscany.

A) La Regione Toscana vuole migliorare i servizi online per i cittadini e i turisti.
B) Attraverso un numero verde i cittadini possono segnalare difficoltà, chiedere informazioni, dare consigli sui trasporti pubblici.
C) L’attivazione del numero verde ha lo scopo di limitare i danni ai viaggiatori nell’ambito del trasporto locale.
D) Il numero verde 800-570530 non è attivo il sabato e la domenica.
E) Se il numero verde riceve una telefonata di protesta su un servizio deve informare la ditta responsabile di quel servizio.

See the text and further questions here.

Writing

For the writing test, you’ll need to choose between two prompts and then write 80-120 words.

In this example, you’re asked to write to your landlord to tell them you’re moving out because you have problems with the neighbours.

You’re asked to explain the problem and ask what you need to do, and whether you need to pay rent for the next few months.

Hai dei problemi con i vicini e hai deciso di cambiare casa. Scrivi un messaggio al proprietario del tuo appartamento per chiedere cosa è necessario fare. Spiega perché vuoi trasferirti e chiedi se devi pagare l’affitto dei prossimi mesi.

Do you understand the prompt? Now you need to prove your ability to get the double letters and accents in the right place when writing.

Speaking

The speaking section is in two parts.

The examiner will ask you to begin by introducing yourself and talking about your work, family or hobbies – the examiner will then ask you some questions about yourself.

It should be a discussion, with the examiner asking questions and giving other responses which you are expected to understand. This part will last 6-7 minutes.

Then you’ll be given a choice of several topics to talk about for 7-8 minutes. These topics can be almost anything; you won’t see exactly what they are in advance, but the examiner should give you some time to read through the options and may help you decide which one to choose.

Your answer should include certain grammar points and involve giving your opinion. Again, the examiner will prompt you with questions and it should become a discussion.

Some examples of topics you may be asked to talk about:

    • Preferisci vivere in città o in campagna? Quali sono i vantaggi e gli svantaggi?
    • Quali sono gli aspetti della cultura italiana che senti più lontani rispetto alla tua cultura?
    • L’assistenza sanitaria in Italia e nel tuo Paese: somiglianze e differenze.
    • Quali documenti ti servono per ottenere la cittadinanza italiana? Quali sono le procedure?

Translation:

    • Do you prefer to live in the city or in the countryside? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
    • What are the aspects of Italian culture that you feel are most distant from your culture?
    • Healthcare in Italy and in your country: similarities and differences.
    • What documents do you need to obtain Italian citizenship? What are the procedures?

Could you keep a simple conversation going on these topics in Italian? Then you might be ready for the citizenship test. 

These sample questions are from the CILS B1 cittadinanza exam – see more details on the university’s website here. Exam questions will vary and the structure of exams from other institutions may differ.

READ ALSO: Which italian verb tenses are the most useful?

It usually costs €100 to sit the B1 cittadinanza exam, though some schools also add a default charge for a preparatory course.

Even if you already have a higher level of Italian, exam preparation courses could be useful as they explain the exam structure and likely content.

Find out more about taking the exam in a separate article here.

Speak to your local Questura or consulate, or see the Interior Ministry’s website (in Italian), for the latest information on the process and requirements when applying for citizenship.

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