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BREXIT

Brexit: What can Italy’s British residents do about passport stamps?

British nationals resident in Italy have become concerned in recent months as their passports have been incorrectly stamped when returning home from abroad. Here's the latest update for those travelling.

British passports are causing confusion at EU border controls.
British passports are causing confusion at the Italian border. Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP

Since Britain left the EU, Brits living in Italy have faced new complications when travelling to the UK.

The main issue is that presenting a British passport at the border has caused confusion for border control officers. Based on a passport alone, there’s no way of telling who is a British tourist and who has residency in Italy.

For visitors, the 90-day rule now meaning that British citizens can no longer spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen zone.

READ ALSO: How long can Brits stay in the UK without losing their EU residency?

Border guards keep track of how long people have spent inside the bloc by scanning passports and stamping them, which establishes a record of exactly when the person entered the Schengen zone and when they left.

But the 90-day rule applies to visitors rather than residents. British citizens who are resident in Italy should not have their passport stamped at the border.

In practice, though, concerned readers continue to contact The Local to say their passports are being stamped on both entry and exit – even when they can prove they are residents.

Raymond Antonelli is one dual national who travelled back to Italy from the UK in September and got his passport stamped by Italian border control at Treviso airport.

He has residency in Italy, but authorities still stamped his passport – four times in total, for the outward and return journeys across two trips.

A sign at Heathrow Airport which says 'Welcome to the UK Border'

Photo: Ben FATHERS/AFP

When he planned another trip to the UK in October, he said: “I prepared myself for the passport control in Trieste airport, but they still stamped my passport regardless of my claims that I was an Italian and had residency.”

He told The Local that he provided plenty of documentation on each of the four occasions that border guards stamped his British passport, including his Italian identity card confirming Italian citizenship, residency documents from his comune (pre-Brexit) and his British passport.

Citizens’ rights groups have raised concerns that passport stamps may cause problems the next time British citizens leave the Schengen area if they are over the 90-day limit.

So what are the rules?

The British authorities insist that this should not be happening.

“UK nationals who were living in Italy before January 1st 2021 should not have their passport stamped when entering or leaving the EU. UK nationals should proactively show their residence document or other evidence of residence status at border control,” a UK government spokesperson told The Local.

READ ALSO: How British citizens in Italy are overcoming bureaucratic problems

“If a passport is incorrectly stamped, the stamp is considered null and void when you can show evidence of lawful residence to a border guard.”

The Local also spoke to the EU Commission earlier this year, who confirmed that the passports of British residents whose rights are protected by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement should not be stamped.

EU officials have tried to get that message across to border police in all member states, they added..

How can you stop border guards from stamping your passport?

When approaching passport control going either in or out of the country where you live, you should present both your passport and proof of residency.

The British Embassy advises UK nationals who are resident in Italy to obtain the new carta di soggiorno elettronica from their local questura.

This is not mandatory, but the embassy explains that this is the clearest evidence of your rights in Italy under the Withdrawal Agreement.

READ ALSO: ‘What I learned when I applied for the Brexit residence card for Brits in Italy’

If you don’t yet have the carta di soggiorno elettronica, you could show your attestazione di iscrizione anagrafica’, EU residency document, or frontier worker permit issued under the Withdrawal Agreement.

If you have applied for, but not yet received, your residence document, carry your certificate of registration (the receipt issued when registering your residence).

The UK government advises that other forms of evidence could include your tenancy agreement or a utility bill in your name dating from 2020.

The Local’s members (and writers) have found that, just as the UK government advises, you have to be very proactive about proving your residency.

Don’t wait to be asked for it: at busy borders, officers may just presume that anyone presenting only a passport is a tourist.

You might think proof of residency is only needed when entering the country, but in fact you should show it when leaving as well, as passports are regularly stamped on both exit and entry.

READ ALSO: ‘A stamp in a British passport does not put residency rights into question’

If you are travelling within the Schengen zone it is a lot less likely that documents will be required when crossing the border, but if asked, you should present both your passport and residency documentation.

If you cannot prove that you are a resident in Italy, you may be asked additional questions at the border to enter the EU. Your passport may be stamped on entry and exit. But UK authorities insist that this “will not affect your rights in the country or countries where you live or work”.

What happens if my passport is stamped in error?

The EU Commission has previously stated that: “a wrong stamp in a passport can never put into question the right to reside in the host Member State”.

The Local has so far not received any reports of travellers who have later run into problems after an incorrect stamp.

British nationals can ask border guards to cross out stamps, as some have done, according to reports we have received.

The advice from all official bodies is to carry with you at all times the documentation that proves your right of residency in the EU.

So, while proving your residency status might mean delays and questioning while travelling, it seems unlikely that it will cause bigger problems down the line.

Further information can be found on the UK government’s Living in Italy website. The Living in Europe page gives details on the European Commission’s assistance service and how to resolve issues or submit a complaint.

Find all The Local’s updates for UK nationals in our Dealing With Brexit section

Member comments

  1. I also just returned to Italy from the UK, despite showing my carta di soggiorno elettronica, I was stamped in both directions. I hope this doesn’t cause issues later in the year… I’m a little worried about entering the EU into another country other than Italy.

  2. If one’s passport is wrongly stamped on entry into the Schengen zone, is it better to have it stamped as well on exit, or to try to insist that it isn’t stamped? A possible problem with the latter is that it might then look as if has overstayed. I’d be interested to know what others think

  3. I’m an Irish citizen but had my Irish (EU) passport stamped on arrival in Sardinia in September because I had arrived on a flight from the UK. When I protested the agent just put a line through it.

  4. What’s to stop us putting a line through an incorrect stamp ourselves? My passport was recently stamped returning to Italy even though I spoke to the guard and showed him my residence card.

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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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