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Residency permits For Members

Do foreigners in Italy have to carry their residency documents?

Elaine Allaby
Elaine Allaby - [email protected]
Do foreigners in Italy have to carry their residency documents?
An Italian Carabinieri police officer checks a driver's papers. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP)

If you’re a foreigner living in Italy, you will most likely have some type of residency document to prove that you live here and you’re not just on holiday - but is it necessary to carry it around with you all the time?

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If you're a third country national living in Italy, you'll have received some kind of documentation that proves you're residing in the country legally and allow you to travel in and out with difficulty.

For most people, that would be a permesso di soggiorno - your residency or stay permit, which these days is issued in the form of a driving licence-sized plastic card you can slot in your wallet.

But is your permesso something you should always have with you when moving around Italy, or is that being needlessly overcautious?

The short answer is that while there's technically no legal requirement to carry your residence permit on your person at all times, you could get into hot water if you don't produce one when asked to by the authorities.

Article 6, paragraph 3 of Italy's Consolidated Immigration Act (Testo unico sull'immigrazione, or TUI), says that a foreigner who fails to produce a "passport or other identification document and residence permit or other document certifying regular presence in the territory of the State" when asked to by a public official is breaking the law.

READ ALSO: Explained: Do foreigners in Italy have to carry ID at all times?

It goes on to say that such a violation "is punished with imprisonment of up to one year and with a fine of up to 2,000 euros" - not sanctions to be taken lightly.

In practice, it's unlikely that the authorities would ever take things this far, but it's also not totally unprecedented.

In 2010, a foreigner was sentenced under this law for failing to produce his residency permit upon request from the Bolzano Police Headquarters.

The Trento Court of Appeal let him off on the grounds that he did have a valid permit at his home; but the Supreme Court overturned the ruling, saying that just by moving around the city without his card, the man had broken the law.

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So it's highly advisable to have your residence permit with you at all times, just in case. But what if you're in Italy without a permesso di soggiorno? 

READ ALSO: Permesso di soggiorno: A complete guide to getting Italy's residency permit

To start with, Italy's Immigration Act only applies to non-EU citizens, as EU nationals have freedom of movement within the bloc.

That means if you're an EU citizen, you don't need a residency permit (though you are supposed to register as a resident with your local comune, or town hall, if you plan on staying for more than 90 days at a time, and you can optionally apply for a permanent residence document if you've lived in the country for five years).

If you're a non-EU citizen who's undocumented and doesn't have a residency permit, a 2011 Supreme Court ruling determined that you can't be sanctioned under the above law - but you will be kicked out of the country if caught.

One category of resident that risks falling into a legal grey area is British citizens who were living in Italy before January 1st, 2021 and are covered by the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

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UK nationals in this position were advised to apply for a carta di soggiorno elettronica - similar to a permesso di soggiorno, but with a key difference being that it merely serves as proof of an existing right you already had, and you only need to renew it every five to ten years rather than every two.

In theory, British citizens resident in Italy since before Brexit weren't (and still aren't) required to apply for the carta di soggiorno. In practice, you'll find it extremely difficult to complete any bureaucratic process in Italy without one.

The Immigration Act does say that you can provide another document in lieu of a residence permit, so for UK nationals covered by the Withdrawal Agreement that might be an attestazione di soggiorno permanente UE, a WA attestazione di iscrizione anagrafica, or one of the documents listed here.

However many of these documents are issued in A4 paper form, making them inconvenient to carry around and much more vulnerable to wear and tear than a small plastic card.

If you're a Brit in Italy covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, then, that's another reason to apply for a carta di soggiorno if you haven't already - and to carry it around with you once you get it.

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