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How to move to France or Italy

Whether you’re newly landed or are in the planning process, relocating to Europe can present some interesting hurdles. Here’s what you need to know.

How to move to France or Italy

Yearning for a view of a Tuscan hill town, or to live among the winding streets of a Breton fishing village? For so many, moving to Europe is a dream come true. 

However, no matter how thorough your planning is, you are likely to come up against obstacles. 

Together with boutique relocation experts French Connections HCB and Italian Connections HCB, The Local looks at some of the issues you may not have considered. 

The letter of the law

While settling in France or Italy is easier than in many parts of the world, depending on your circumstances or where you are from, you may need special visas to stay. 

Obtaining these can be tricky, and requires a lot of homework. For example, in France you need to apply for a visa before you leave your country of residence, with multiple stages of validation including visits to your local préfecture (local administration) needed throughout the process. If you wish to settle in Italy, you’ll be making an initial application, then mostly working with the local questura (police) to take fingerprints and other data, before you are granted your Permesso di Soggiorno (residency permit)

If you have purchased a new home abroad, odds are that you’ve already experienced the delightful intricacies of French or Italian law. If not, get ready for an almost endless process of paperwork and waiting periods as local bureaucracy does its thing. 

Even so, your interactions with the law in the course of your new life may extend far beyond dealing with visas or land deeds. 

Did you know, for instance, that there’s an Italian village where it’s illegal to die? Or that you can be heavily fined for skylarking around your home naked in France? 

Sure, these may be extreme instances of weird and obscure laws, but they do reflect a wider fact – life is regulated and legislated differently in Europe, on a local level, and a minor slip-up can have surprising ramifications. 

Family and inheritance laws also differ considerably between France and Italy and the rest of the world. You can’t simply trust that a will may be interpreted the way you intend it, or that inheritance will work the same way in your new home. 

It’s important, therefore, to be able to rely on experts in the field who can advise on things like property law and setting up a will, should you ever need them. 

Let French Connections HBC make your move très simple!

The lay of the land 

Something else that’s important to understand is that both France and Italy are, essentially, collections of small, incredibly diverse principalities. 

This manifests in many different ways. For example, distance and location can often render the local French or Italian indecipherable to those from the outside – not only in terms of accent, but grammar and truly tricky idioms. 

These differences extend beyond language, to how businesses operate, and when you can access certain services. 

Tradesmen may operate differently to how you would expect, with surprising requirements or payment terms. Break a window at the wrong time and you may find yourself without anyone to come out for a week – or with a bill you don’t quite know how to pay! 

You may find that certain documentation you need is delayed by local festivals or irregular opening hours that haven’t been communicated anywhere that you’re likely to find it. 

Without deep local knowledge or someone on ‘the inside’, it can be exceptionally difficult to get things done promptly without significant delays. 

What can make it so much easier is to have someone who knows how to navigate the appointment merry-go-round, and get you face to face with officials. 

Find out how Italian Connections HBC can deliver la dolce vita!

High-rise life, Tuscan-style: San Gimignano is one of the many Tuscan hilltop towns attracting visitors each year. Photo: Getty Images

The long and winding road 

Getting around can also present some unique challenges you may not have expected. 

Recent law changes in Italy, for example, mean that you’ll need to register your car as soon as you have your residency settled – or your wheels may be impounded! This process isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems and has proved a headache for many unsuspecting new arrivals. 

While you are permitted to drive on your existing licence for a period in France, for instance, you’ll need to swap it for a French licence within a year. This can be tricky, especially if the last time you had any sort of conversation in French was high school. 

Buying a new car in France or Italy can also be more complex than ‘back home’, with changing legislation and differences in EU regulations meaning that what you want may be difficult to find. 

If all that sounds like a headache, many people opt to pay for specialist help. Having someone in your corner who can not only speak the local language but smooth the way through the obstacles of car purchasing and registration can be well worth it. 

Boutique, bespoke assistance

Having people to assist you with the intricacies of local life is a godsend when you’re abroad, but good help can be hard to find. 

Friends can often be eager to assist, but complex and frequent requests may place a strain on the friendship – and who wants that? 

You might turn to a professional service. Unfortunately, not all services are equal, and some simply don’t deliver what is promised. So be sure to seek out companies with good reputations and a dedicated level of assistance.

Such companies include French Connections HCB and Italian Connections HCB. Their team of dedicated, on-call experts have been helping people from the wider world settle and enjoy life in France for the last few years, and are now helping others move to Italy. They are accomplished at cutting through local red tape and smoothing the way for the life you’ve been seeking!

Many of the services they offer include the big hassles like securing visas to settle and changing your driving licence, to everyday chores like making medical appointments or seeking a quote from a tradesmen, even helping you in your search for your dream home – this is when local expertise and language skills really come into play, especially when you are first getting settled.

Moving to France or Italy? Call on the team that cuts the busy work – giving you more time to enjoy your new life!

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VISAS

Five expert tips for getting your Italian elective residency visa approved

Here are the main things you should know if you want to succeed first time round when applying for Italy's popular - but elusive - elective residency visa.

Five expert tips for getting your Italian elective residency visa approved

The elective residency visa (ERV) is a popular route to permanently relocating to Italy, but the application process can be hard to navigate and the rejection rate high.

To help readers who are considering taking the plunge maximise their chance of success first time round, The Local spoke to three experts about how to put together the best application possible.

Based on what they told us, we put together a detailed guide to the process, as well as specific advice for UK applicants.

Here are five key takeaways on how to make a successful elective residency visa application.

Write a convincing cover letter

Most consulates require a letter of motivation along with your application explaining why you want to move to Italy.

Applicants often put minimal effort into this, simply saying they love the Italian food and weather, says Elze Obrikyte from Giambrone & Partners – and that’s a mistake.

She says ‘pre-rejection’ decisions are often issued on the basis of this letter alone, even if all the other requirements are met. 

EXPLAINED: How to apply for an elective residency visa to move to Italy

That’s because consular officials want to see you have a strong interest in moving to Italy permanently, not just coming for short stints on holiday.

Because of this, you want to make sure you underscore your ties to Italy, your familiarity with the town you plan to move to, and any other supporting information.

While language skills aren’t a requirement, “if you mention that you are studying Italian or you know Italian, which helps you to integrate better, this is also an advantage for your application,” says Obrikyte.

You should provide as much evidence as you can for a successful ERV application. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.
Showing you have a strong connection to Italy will help your application. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Get your finances in order

Because you’re not allowed to work or receive an ‘active’ income when you come to Italy on an ERV, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have a ‘passive income’ of at least €31,000 per year (€38,000 joint income for married couples).

Nick Metta of Studio Legale Metta says applicants sometimes think that having a large amount of money invested in bonds or the stock market is sufficient, but this won’t satisfy the officials reviewing your application.

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

Whether it’s in the form of a pension, annuity, rent, or some other mechanism, you need to prove that you receive a regular income stream in perpetuity and won’t become a burden on the Italian state.

If you don’t currently have passive income of at least €31,000 you may want to speak to a consultant about restructuring your finances, as you won’t be granted an ERV unless the consulate can check this box.

More is more

Consulates can differ in their exact requirements for the ERV, with some saying you don’t necessarily have to provide a letter of motivation or travel tickets to Italy.

But our experts were all agreed: it’s always best to include as much documentation as possible with your application to be on the safe side.

Even though not all consulates require travel tickets, “it’s always better just to enclose them,” says Obrikyte; “I always advise our clients to close as many documents as possible, just to reduce the risk of rejection”.

READ ALSO: How to apply for an Italian elective residency visa from the UK

“The cover letter for some consulates is not a requirement, for some consulates it is a requirement,” says Metta. “We always recommend that you prepare and file a cover letter with every single elective residency visa application.”

The experts also recommend providing a separate cover page with a contents summary for all the documentation submitted, to make things easy for the consular official reviewing your application.

Agencies can assist you in making sure all your paperwork is in order.

You should provide as much evidence as you can for a successful ERV application. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Be polite and deferential

The Italian consulate in charge of reviewing your ERV application has total power over whether or not it’s accepted – including the ability to raise the income threshold above the official minimum.

That means you want to be as deferential as possible all your interactions with staff, and avoid coming across as entitled or demanding.

READ ALSO: ‘Seek legal advice’: Your advice on applying for Italian visas post-Brexit

“You don’t want to go there and say ‘oh, here is the printing of the law’ and this and that – absolutely not,” says Metta.

You’ll also want to make sure you book your travel tickets for at least 90 days after your appointment date – the full period allotted for the consulate to review the application – so it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to rush their decision.

There’s room to negotiate

Finally, our experts stressed that if your application is rejected, that decision isn’t necessarily final.

Obrikyte says it’s typical for consulates to issue a ‘pre-rejection’ notice before delivering their final answer that specifies what the sticking point is, giving you a chance to fix the issue.

“In that occasion it is possible to try to negotiate and change their mind, and this happens very very often,” she says.

When a client of his was told he needed income of at least €100,000, “we contacted the person in charge, exchanged correspondence, provided some extra legal support in terms of evidence and official sources, and we got another appointment and the person finally got their visa,” Metta says.

While you can appeal a rejection in court, Metta says he advises his clients just to reapply, as it’s “so much faster, easier.”

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. For further information on the ERV and how to apply, visit the Italian foreign ministry’s visa website.

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