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MOVING TO ITALY

From visas to language: What Americans can expect when retiring in Italy

If you dream of retiring to Italy, the paperwork and practicalities involved can feel daunting. The Local asked those who've done it for their essential tips for retiring in Italy as an American.

From visas to language: What Americans can expect when retiring in Italy
How do you ensure a bright and sunny retirement in Italy? Photo by Nicola Pavan on Unsplash

How does the visa application process work?

When moving to Italy, Americans (who do not have dual nationality) will need a visa. The most popular type of long-stay visa for this purpose is the ERV, or elective residency visa (Visto per residenza elettiva).

This is not exclusively a visa for retirees, but it is for people who do not plan to work in Italy and who can support themselves financially with other forms of income, such as savings and pensions.

To be eligible, you’ll need to fulfil various criteria such as proving you have a minimum income of around €31,000 per year, and obtaining proof of accommodation in Italy for at least the first year.

Nancy Hampton went through the ERV application process successfully and retired to the central Italian region of Umbria from Washington DC in 2014.

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

“We were careful to go through the list of everything we needed to show and prove,” the former graphic designer tells us.

“Make sure you read and understand what you need to have and make sure you’re organized when you go to apply for your ERV,” she adds.

The evidence you need to show is substantial and if you don’t have everything that is requested, it can cause delays to your application.

You can retire to Italy via a few routes, depending on your personal circumstances. Photo by Matt Bennett on Unsplash

To apply for the ERV, you need to go to the Italian consulate closest to you in person. Each consulate may vary in the documentation they request.

This may include a passport, passport photos, international health insurance, a letter explaining why you want to move to Italy, a registered lease or deed for property in Italy and one-way ticket travel reservations – and you’ll need plenty of copies of all the above.

The financial conditions are often the part that is most difficult to meet and to prove.

Nancy said that they had savings, which is taken into consideration, but to show that required annual passive income in perpetuity, they took money from their 401K pension pot and put it into annuities. That way, they could show money would continue to come in monthly and they didn’t only have one finite source of funds.

But the rules aren’t black and white. US citizen Mark Hinshaw retired to the Le Marche region in 2017 and told us that the financial requirement can depend on which consulate you apply at for the ERV.

“Some are more flexible than others. Some decide to increase the amount for whatever reason, while others take a more relaxed attitude. This makes it difficult to give advice and makes a lot of Americans upset because they hope there is a specific answer that will get them in automatically,” he said.

“The consulates don’t work that way. They have full discretion to decide,” he added.

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

In his and wife’s case, their consulate in San Francisco asked for bank statements going back two to three years, tax forms and payment slips “to demonstrate that the passive income source was predictable, stable and consistent”, he said.

In his experience, he found that social security, pensions, and annuities are a good way to prove this. He told us that other sources such as stocks can be tricky, as the market can be volatile. He also discovered that some consulates accept income from rental properties in the US, others do not.

“To some extent it’s the luck of the draw, because one cannot shop around,” he added.

Even if you tick all the boxes, one element of success is in how you present yourself.

“Treat the officers with respect and deference. They don’t want to say no, but don’t give them an excuse with an entitled American attitude. At that moment, they can decide the rest of your life,” Mark advised.

Nancy agreed with this approach, adding, “Be polite and present yourself in a good way – they have the right to turn you down. Put your best foot forward and don’t act like you’re entitled to it. You are asking them to let you in their country, it’s their decision.”

You’ll need to answer their questions but “don’t argue and don’t volunteer too much information either,” she added.

Some consulates ask you to write a letter of why you want to retire in Italy, which is something Nancy and her husband didn’t have to do at the Washington consulate.

Based on her experience of applying, though, she said, “Don’t use clichés, like ‘I want to come live ‘la dolce vita’. You need to have a better reason than that.”

READ ALSO: Eight pitfalls people need to avoid to make the dream move to Italy

“Wanting to learn the language is not a good reason either. It helps if you’re doing that already and can show a commitment to Italian life. Family, for example, is compelling – it’s a huge deal. Family is everything to the Italians, so if you ever had family from Italy, detail that,” she adds.

Could you be eligible for Italian citizenship?

Some American citizens could be eligible to bypass the visa application process and retire to Italy with dual nationality.

If you have Italian ancestors, you could apply for Italian citizenship by descent.

Elaine Maggiore applied for citizenship via ‘jure sanguinis‘ (meaning ‘right of blood’ in Latin) ahead of her retirement in Italy, moving to a small town between Ostuni and Brindisi in the southern region of Puglia in 2020.

READ ALSO: Why moving to southern Italy with a foreign pension could cut your tax bill

“I didn’t know my grandparents as they died before I was born, but I know their brothers and sisters so I traced my family and they were all born in the south,” she said.

And that’s the area she’s landed in and now calls home. Gaining Italian citizenship and retiring to Italy seems like fate for the 66-year-old former nurse.

“My roots are Italian and I grew up in an Italian-American community in New York. I traced my Italian lineage through my paternal side and when my grandparents emigrated from Italy, my grandfather never became an American citizen. That meant I was born a citizen of Italy too,” she said.

Before 1992, Italy didn’t allow dual citizenships, which meant that if a person emigrated to another country and naturalised – or became a citizen of that country – they lost their Italian citizenship.

But as her ancestor kept his Italian citizenship, there was no break in the lineage and she could prove her status much more easily. She said this was a ‘perk’ and that it seemed an easier route than applying for the ERV – if you’re eligible, at least.

To apply, you’ll need to show the dates and places of births, marriages and deaths back through your Italian line of descent, which can be time-consuming and may require some legal advice. For gaining citizenship by descent, see here.

Should you buy property, rent, or stay with family at first?

For visa purposes, showing proof of accommodation takes some thought. You can either rent or buy property and demonstrate you have suitable accommodation for at least a year. However, staying at a hotel, bed and breakfast, Airbnb, or at the home of family or friends is not accepted.

Although Nancy and her husband jumped right in and bought a property. she says this may not be the best idea for everyone.

Finding the right property for your retirement in Italy may take some research. Photo by Kristine Tanne on Unsplash

“We came over to Italy beforehand and bought a house and thought that was that. However, for the ERV the consulate requires the final sales agreement. The preliminary contract, known as a ‘compromesso’, didn’t count,” she said.

That meant delays and a return to the consulate once the final sales agreement eventually came through.

“It’s a good idea to rent before you come, before buying and committing to one place. See where you like,” she said.

READ ALSO: ‘What I wish I’d known’: An American’s advice on getting residency in Italy

“Find out if you like the place and take the time to look for a house. Once you buy, it’s hard to sell in Italy,” she notes. “Real estate is less about making an investment as you can’t sell and buy quickly here.”

And buying may not be an option if you need a mortgage. American banks will not generally give mortgages to those looking to buy in Italy.

While it is possible to get a mortgage with an Italian bank as an American, it’s far from easy – and banks may not offer mortgages to people aged over 60.

If you want to buy property in Italy, one solution many people consider is taking out a line of credit against their assets in the US – but the interest rates will not be favorable.

Getting taxed on your retirement income in Italy

Once retired in Italy, you’ll need to pay taxes on all worldwide income to Italy. This is based on Italian personal income tax brackets known as ‘Irpef’.

Mark told us that he hired an accountant (commercialista), as he found that the tax he had to pay varied based on household wealth and personal circumstances.

EXPLAINED: The rules and deadlines for filing Italian taxes in 2022

He said that living in Italy had “no effect” on drawing his US pension in Italy, which he receives in euros monthly.

As for paying tax on his pension, he noted that there is a bilateral tax agreement between the US and Italy, meaning that because you’ve paid taxes to Italy, you won’t pay tax again to the States.

Language and culture 

Unless you plan to socialize exclusively with other Americans and pay for professionals to help with all your paperwork, you’ll need to make the effort to learn Italian if you plan to live in Italy.

As anyone who has already spent long periods of time in Italy will know, English is simply not widely spoken to a high level, particularly in small towns and rural areas, and in official settings such as at the local town hall – where you’ll spend a lot of time filing paperwork.

Still, those who have made the move say people in Italy are generally very friendly, welcoming, and helpful, no matter your level of Italian proficiency.

READ ALSO: Ten of the best TV shows and films to help you learn Italian

Elaine feels like she has a home and a community once more and is content with retirement in Italy.

“I have a life here. The vibe here is what can I do for you, what can we do together – rather than the American mentality of ‘what can you do for me?'” she said.

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“I had anxiety in the States. I was high alert all the time and I thought what’s the point in being comfortable but not really living? I had a big house in upstate New York, but the kids had left home and I felt empty.

“But there is such a sense of community here. I get Facebook friend requests off people who’ve seen me in the main square and there’s a strong sense of trust. I dropped my credit card in front of the gelateria once and the owner messaged me to say he picked it up and was keeping it safe for me,” she added.

Now Elaine feels like she has a solid support network; there are no regrets in her retirement choices.

A happy retirement in Italy is helped with some language and culture preparation. Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash

It’s a feeling echoed by Nancy. “America was all go, go, go and high stress but here, it’s a beautiful, quiet, tranquil life. I like the restaurants and wine, even if I miss ethnic food, as Italians aren’t big on international cuisine,” she joked.

“It really helps to get plugged in with the local people to give you inside information. There are things that you don’t know you don’t know! The healthcare system, why the questura is important and where you can find a good geometra or notaio when it comes to property are all areas you will probably need help with,” she added.

READ ALSO: The five most essential pieces of paperwork you’ll need when moving to Italy

Mark and his wife decided to prepare for any language barriers before they made the move. He said they used online language learning tools such as Duolingo, adding that his one year of learning compared to her two is obvious when they communicate with the locals.

But they chose an area with few native English speakers so that they would be fully immersed and forced to learn by listening and trying, saying “We love it that way. It’s like being a child again.”

It’s an attitude he takes with good humor and grace, saying that you have to learn it one way or another – and that it is life-changing here when you do.

“We have Italian friends all over the country. More than we have ever had, living anywhere else. They are helpful, generous, and kind. Some have opened doors for us that we would never have found on our own. Italian culture is all about nurturing relationships with people. If someone cannot do this over time, life here could be pretty miserable,” Mark said.

He added then when it comes to bureaucracy, language skills help, but won’t completely overcome all the red tape hurdles you face: “Learn to laugh. And laugh a lot. After you finish crying,” he said.

So, the challenges are there, but the rewards are seemingly greater for Nancy too: “We’ve learned a lot along the way, but it’s a pretty sweet life.”

Find out more on our section on visasresidency 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.

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STUDYING IN ITALY

Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Hoping to move to Italy to begin or continue your studies? If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a quick guide to the most essential things you'll need to know before applying.

Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

If you’ve only just started gathering information about living and studying in Italy, there’s a lot of information to digest.

Depending on where you’ll be moving from, you may need to consider everything from visa paperwork to preparing for unusual exam methods, according to the international students we spoke to for a recent article about their experiences in Italy.

Based on their advice and personal experiences, here’s a quick rundown of the eight most important points to keep in mind if you’re planning on moving to Italy to study, as well as links to further information you may find useful.

1. Italian university teaching methods are singular to say the least. Before accepting a formal offer from an Italian university, make sure that you’re totally familiar with the structure of your chosen course. If this information is not readily available online, reach out to the university and ask for a detailed course handbook.

READ ALSO: Five things to know before you apply for an Italian student visa

2. If you’re a non-EU national, carefully read the list of official documents you’ll be required to produce in order to receive your type-D visa and, once in Italy, your permesso di soggiorno (more information available from the foreign ministry’s website here and from the University of Bologna here).

Italy is home to some of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities. Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

3. Prepare any necessary paperwork well in advance. Italian bureaucracy isn’t exactly a paradigm of administrative efficiency.

4. In Italy, university exams are for the most part conducted orally, so you might want to practise your verbal communication skills while you’re still in your home country. This will help you hit the ground running further down the stretch.

5. When it comes to finding accommodation for your first year in Italy, try your best to book a place in a university hall of residence. This will save you the trouble of dealing with letting agencies and private landlords; something students told us they found troublesome.

6. If, for whatever reason, you are not able to get yourself a place via your university’s own channels, refer to reliable student housing websites such as Uniaffitti, Affitti Studenti and Studentsville.

REVEALED: What studying in Italy is really like and what you should expect

7. Italian is by no means an easy language. However, merely having a beginner’s knowledge of the language will come in very handy when dealing with bureaucracy and interacting with local people. You can start by laying some groundwork with language-learning apps and then attend some language classes once in Italy. 

8. While in Italy, try to get out of your comfort zone and socialise with Italian students. This will help you not only immerse yourself in the local culture but also practise your Italian language skills.

See more information in The Local’s studying in Italy section.

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