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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Not just extra paperwork’: What it’s like moving to Italy after Brexit

A lot has been said about the additional bureaucracy Brits now face when moving to Europe after losing freedom of movement. But this brings with it a new precariousness and lost sense of belonging, writes Laurence Connell.

'Not just extra paperwork': What it's like moving to Italy after Brexit
Moving to Italy after Brexit is a very different process, and not just because of the added bureaucratic hurdles. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP

Last year I became one of thousands of UK-based academics to lose their job because of cuts to university budgets made in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Although I liked many aspects of my lecturing job and dreaded the prospect of being unemployed, I was weary. The last four years of working in the university system had exhausted me, and I was ready for a change. 

I decided to see my misfortune as an opportunity. I missed Italy—where I had previously spent four years studying and working—and I craved experiencing its idiosyncrasies, its quality of life, and its beauty again. And since my involuntary career break had removed one of the main things tethering me to the UK, it made perfect sense to start applying for jobs in the bel paese. So when I was offered an English teaching job in a small town in Lombardy, I jumped at the chance.

READ ALSO: How many Britons in EU acquired post-Brexit residency and how many were refused?

But the world had changed dramatically since the last time I had lived in Italy. I had chosen to move to another country in the middle of a global pandemic, when international travel was more restricted than it had been in decades. And I was moving the same year Brexit took effect, meaning I no longer benefited from the freedom of movement that European citizenship provides. So what was it like as a British citizen moving to Italy post-Brexit?

The most daunting part of my move to Italy was navigating the country’s convoluted and time-consuming immigration bureaucracy, including applying for a work visa. 

Of course, I had been aware of Italy’s reputation for bureaucratic complexity the first time around. However, ten years ago I had the benefit of being an EU citizen. As a foreigner, it arguably takes being a non-EU citizen to fully appreciate why the country has garnered such a reputation. 

I applied for the EU Blue Card, which allows skilled workers with a university degree to work for an Italian company. The card has a validity of up to two years and is renewable. 

Thankfully, for this type of visa it is the responsibility of the employer to carry out the initial stages of the application process. This entails applying for a Nulla Osta, a security check carried out to ensure the applicant is not legally restricted to work in Italy, before the candidate himself applies for the visa in the Italian consulate in London. 

READ ALSO: What Brits need to know about visas for Italy after Brexit

Photo by Niklas Hallen / AFP

Although the Nulla Osta sounds relatively straightforward, it was during my application for the security clearance that I learned how easy it is to stumble upon bureaucratic hiccups that can delay the whole process by months. 

For example, the EU Blue Card requires applicants to have an undergraduate degree, but if you graduated outside of Italy you also need to apply for a Dichiarazione di Valore, a legal document certifying that your degree is of equal value to that of an Italian university degree. 

Thankfully I had already applied for a Dichiarazione when enrolling on a PhD programme in Italy years before. So when the local immigration office asked to see a copy of it, I managed to find one on my computer and send it to them. 

However, shortly before the Nulla Osta was due to be authorised, the immigration office asked to see the hard copy of my Dichiarazione – and I couldn’t find it. This was a big blow, because as I knew from the first time I had applied, it is a procedure that can take months and cost hundreds of euros. Would I need to apply again? If so, my diploma would need to “certified” by a British notary, translated into Italian, and sent to the Italian embassy in London to be authorised; current official advice suggests the latter process alone can take up to forty-five days. 

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

Mercifully, my old university was able to track down the hardcopy of my old Dichiarazione and send it to me, which reduced the time and cost of my application significantly. 

But my overall experience nonetheless echoes a point made previously on The Local by an American resident: that when applying for an Italian work visa you should be prepared for everything to take considerably longer than what you expect. 

In total, my application for the Blue Card took around five months, including the time taken for the Nulla Osta but not including the additional time required to apply for Permesso di Soggiorno residence permit (which I am still waiting for). 

Meanwhile, coronavirus has hardly helped matters. During my application, the local immigration office blamed a backlog of pending applications on the delays caused by the ongoing crisis. 

All of this inevitably took a psychological toll. I experienced plenty of anxiety as I scrambled to attain all the required paperwork, and as I waited for the bureaucratic cogs to turn. But in the background, there was something else, something that was to do with having once had the right to live in Italy and then losing it. I had always considered Italy to be a second home, a place where I belonged, and somewhere that thanks to my European citizenship I had some kind of stake in. 

INTERVIEW: Brexit has turned Brits in Europe into a cohesive force but problems lie ahead

When I arrived in Italy at the end of last year, it was the first time I had entered as a “third-country” national. As I was all too aware, what this meant was that I no longer had the unconditional right to enter the country. The extra documentation required of me and of other non-EU arrivals coming to Italy during the pandemic only accentuated that unfamiliar, unsettling feeling of not being welcome. 

The restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles linked with migrating to Italy as a non-EU citizen have ultimately affected the sense of belonging I have felt in the country. Although I am enjoying life in Italy and still feel at home here, I am no longer free to move between jobs and my ability to stay here is conditional on whether my visa is renewed. 

For me, as well as being about where one feels comfortable, happy and at home, belonging is also closely associated with acceptance and security. Although I would love to stay for the long term, thanks to the precariousness of my position, it may take some time before I’m able to say I truly belong.

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RENTING

Reader question: How can I find an apartment to rent in Rome?

The Eternal City is a popular destination for foreigners wanting to stay for a few months or even years, but finding a place to rent can be complicated. Here's where to start.

Reader question: How can I find an apartment to rent in Rome?

Question: I’m moving to Rome in the spring with friends and we’re looking to rent an apartment in a central area. Do you have any suggestions for good sources of rentals in Rome?

For those staying in Rome for just a few weeks, it’s often simplest to go with a short-term booking site like Airbnb.

If you’re planning on staying for longer than this, however, it’s probably more cost-effective to go the official route and sign a rental agreement – though be prepared to deal with a certain amount of hassle (more on this below).

Some of the most popular websites in Italy for rentals are idealista.it, immobiliare.it, and casa.it, where you’ll find a wide range of apartments for rent.

All the listings on these sites are in Italian, so it’s helpful to familiarise yourself with some key vocabulary.

READ ALSO: Ten things to expect when renting an apartment in Italy

In affitto is ‘for rent’ (in vendita, ‘for sale’). For a short-term let, you’ll want a place that’s furnished (arredato). A  locale is a room (note: not a bedroom), so a bilocale is a one-bedroom with one other room and a monolocale is a studio. 

It’s worth reviewing all the photos available and if possible the floor plan (planimetria) so you know exactly what kind of set up the house has; for example a trilocale doesn’t necessarily have two bedrooms, but might just be a one-bed with a separate living room and kitchen. 

For people beginning their search without any Italian, the English-language real estate listings aggregator Nestpick is a good option – though bear in mind you’re unlikely to find the same range of options as on the Italian-language sites.

If you’re coming with a university, they should be your first port of call; some will have a roster of trusted landlords, or can at least direct you to online forums where you can seek recommendations from current and former students.

READ ALSO: Do renters in Italy have the right to keep pets?

Facebook is also a good place to look: Rent in Rome and Rome Expats have two of the largest groups dedicated to searching for an apartment in the eternal city. If you know you want somewhere for at least a year, Long Term Rentals Italy is also an option.

As a guidepost, InterNations, an information and networking site for people living overseas, lists the average monthly rent in Rome as €1,220.

Italy’s rental contracts tend to favour tenants: common contracts are the 3+2 or 4+4, which means the rent is locked in for at least three/four years, at the end of which the renter can choose to renew at the same rate for another two/four years.

Facebook groups can be a good place to start when apartment-hunting in Rome.
Facebook groups can be a good place to start when apartment-hunting in Rome. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The contratto transitorio (temporary or short-term lease), by contrast, is for anywhere between one and eighteen months. Bear in mind it’s the landlord, not the tenant, that’s locked into these minimum time periods – just make sure there’s a clause that allows you to move out after a specified notice period.

Landlords often prefer to rent our their apartments with contratti transitori so they have more freedom to sell or raise the rent, so you may be at an advantage if you’re looking for a place to stay for just a few months.

Even with just a short-term lease, a landlord can request up to three months’ rent (!) in advance as a security deposit, and it’s common to ask for two. To stand the best chance of getting your deposit back, it’s worth taking detailed photos of the property before you move in so you have a record of its state.

READ ALSO: ‘Why I used to hate living in Rome as a foreigner – and why I changed my mind’

If you’re going through an agency, it’s also common for tenants to pay a finder’s fee of one month’s rent – all of which can make initial costs rise very fast. The silver lining is that in Rome you can (and should) negotiate on the rent, deposit, and other contract terms, and not just take what you’re offered.

Some landlords will suggest you bypass an agency and deal directly with them. While avoiding the agency fees is tempting, this can leave you in a very vulnerable situation as you have no legal standing if it turns out you don’t have an official rental contract – so it’s not advised.

It’s also important not to hand over any money until you’ve viewed the apartment in person (or had a trusted representative do so on your behalf) and confirmed the listing is legitimate. Scams are not unheard of in Rome, and foreigners are ideal targets.

READ ALSO: Moving to Italy: How much does it really cost to live in Milan?

When browsing listings, consider what’s important to you in terms of the neighbourhood and type of property – and if there’s anything you’re unsure of, it’s worth seeking out advice in online groups from people already living in the city.

A ground floor apartment on a cobbled side street near the centre, for example, may sound ideal, but if it’s in a touristy neighbourhood you may find you’re quickly driven mad by the sound of rolling luggage bouncing past your window all hours of the day and night.

Finding an apartment to rent in Rome can be a challenge, but if you put in the effort, you’re sure to find your ideal base – and move on to making the most of your time in one of Europe’s most picturesque and historically rich capitals.

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