I have told you about the documents you need to get married as an American in Italy, I've told you about how to get your carta/permesso di soggiorno, and I've told you how to get your tessera sanitaria. Next on the list for Americans moving to Italy is the residence permit.
What is a Residence Permit?
On the surface, the residence permit is very easy to understand. It is simply a certification that proves that you officially live in Italy. When you apply for residency, you are letting the Italian comune (as well as its government) know where you live and with whom, so that they have it in their records.
For many things, residency is a requirement. This, along with the tessera sanitaria, puts you "in the system," allowing you to both take advantage of the things the Italian government has to offer (like free healthcare), but also to contribute to the city and country yourself (i.e., pay taxes if you have to so that everyone can continue to receive said free healthcare).
Note: This post is about how to get permanent residency in Italy, and mostly applies to those who are moving in with an Italian spouse. If you are only living in Italy temporarily, the process might be slightly different. In either case, you are basically establishing that you live in Italy and plan to do so for a significant amount of time.
Where Do I Apply for Residency in Italy?
Again, this question has a simple answer: you apply for residency at the Comune of the town you live in, which is equivalent to your American city hall.
To apply for residency, you simply gather up the required documents then go to the Comune in person (although some cities allow you to start this process online because of the current COVID-19 crisis). You will sit down with a staff member there, and he or she will input all your information into a computer. It takes a bit of time, but it's still nothing too complex.
The next question is where we start to run into a bit of complication...
What Do I Need to Bring with Me to Apply for Residency?
Like everything bureaucratic in Italy, you are going to need a lot of documents in order to apply for residency. I can't tell you how many times I have heard from someone who thought they had everything together, went to their residency appointment, and then had to leave and come back another day because they didn't have all of the required paperwork. This even happened to me! And I'm always ridiculously, overly thorough with my paperwork!!
To apply for residency in Italy (especially if you are from a foreign country), you need the following:
- your passport
- copy of your passport
- carta/permesso di soggiorno
- copy of carta/permesso di soggiorno
- tessera sanitaria (this is the thing I didn't have when I went the first time)
- marriage certificate if you are applying for residency at your Italian spouse's address
- copy of your spouse's Italian carta d'identità (if you're living with them)
- residency module, found on your comune's website, printed and filled out (this will also give you ANOTHER list of required documents to bring in addition to these, but they are mostly related to proof of ownership of your home or your rental agreement)
The module isn't always necessary, especially since the official at the Comune will basically read through it and ask you all of the questions anyway as they type the answers into the computer, but it is always a good idea to fill it out anyway, just in case. If nothing else, you have all the answers there in front of you when you do your interview, which can be reassuring for those of us who aren't one hundred percent confident in our Italian skills yet!
Note: I would also like to point out that, judging by the list of requirements my husband and I read online, we thought that you had to have a residency permit in order to apply for the tessera sanitaria. When we went to the Comune, though, they told us that it was the other way around. So this is what I like to refer to as one of those infamous bureaucratic loops in Italy: you need one thing, but you can't get that thing without getting the second thing. But you can't get the second thing without getting the first thing!
Anyway, to cut through the confusion, you need your tessera sanitaria/fiscal code before applying for residency. But, as always, the rules may change from city to city, so just do a bit of research or make a few phone calls first to find out for sure what you need in your town.
Going to the Comune
This section wouldn't really be necessary if it wasn't for the weirdness of these "Covid times," but I want you to feel totally prepared going into this (unlike me, who never feels like I know what I'm doing until after I've done it).
First: In most towns, you don't need to make an appointment to go to the Comune to apply for residency. You can just show up within their normal working hours, even now that things are strange and only a certain number of people can go inside the building at once. (But check on the website for your Comune just to be sure.)
As I mentioned earlier, it is also sometimes possible to apply for residency online, but for me this was the more complicated option, as you may need a few more documents and some login information and whatnot to prove your identity.
Second: Not to make you nervous, but you are probably going to have to go into your residency interview alone. I knew that all of the questions and communicating would be done in Italian and I can speak Italian, but I was thinking that my Italian husband could come with me and give me a hand if I needed any help with the bureaucratic lingo. This, as it turns out, was not the case.
Right away on my first trip to the Comune to apply for residency, the agent I was supposed to meet with (who we had met before on another trip for a different document and already knew wasn't very friendly...), started shouting at us that only one of us could come into her office to do the paperwork because of social distancing protocols. My husband asked if he could just hover near the door just in case something was unclear for me, and the employee gave him a resounding (and rather rude) "absolutely not" and practically kicked him out.
So, when we went back the second time to really apply for residency (now that I had my tessera sanitaria in hand) I went into the office by myself. This time, the woman I met with was very friendly and funny, and the questions were mostly just those that were written on the module I had filled out, so there was no need to worry about confusion over the language. As long as you know a bit of Italian, as well as your own name, phone number, email address, and husband's name, you will be able to do it yourself, promise.
And remember: there are lots of immigrants in Italy too, so they are used to speaking to people of varying levels of Italian skills. Just do your best!
The Home Visit
So you do the residency interview and they give you a printed document to confirm that you applied. Yay! You're finished, right?
Ha. You are obviously not familiar with Italian bureaucracy.
The last step in the residency application process is the home visit. At some vague point within 45 days after you apply, a member or two of the police force will come to the address you put on your paperwork and verify if you actually live there. They won't let you know when they are coming, so you always have to be ready for company.
Then, when they do show up, you have to let them in to see that your house isn't empty or that there's another person living there who doesn't know you. (Although I have heard that in some cases the police just ring the bell and see if you answer, or they see you sitting out on the porch, ask if you are you, and everyone goes on with their lives).
I myself have been waiting for them to show up to check if I live in my apartment for almost three weeks now, as of the time of this writing. So that is almost three weeks of having to keep the house tidy in spite of having two rowdy young cats, and of not being able to wear my pajamas around the house or stay in the bathroom too long. It is very nerve-wracking for high-strung people like me who hate surprises!!
Oh, and I also reread the residency application receipt yesterday and discovered that they may not even come to do this check at all. So if, after 45 days, no one has shown up, you can assume that the residency went through. Yay...
Even Italians have to apply for residency in Italy, though (everyone has to), and when my husband applied, they stopped by within a week or two and checked out the whole place. So they do do this! You just may not know when or what the visit will consist of.
One last tip is this: make sure your name is on the mailbox and the doorbell of your house/apartment so that it is clear you live there (and so the people who come to check can find you when they get there).
Stop the presses!
Just as I was getting ready to post this (I was literally just about to press the button), the police came and left a letter in my mailbox telling me to call them. Because of Covid and our currently being in a locked-down "red zone," they conduct the "pratica residenza" (residency check) over the phone now, which, for someone like me whose confidence in Italian language comes and goes, may be even more stressful!
When I called, though, the agent asked me my name, address, who I lived with, what my and my husband's jobs were, if we owned or rented the house, how many rooms there were in the house, how many bathrooms, and if there was a garage or a basement. I assume she was checking these things against the record of residency my husband already filed when he moved here and the paperwork I filled out at the Comune.
Then, once I had answered all the questions correctly, she said that everything was in order, so I am officially a full-time resident of Italy now!
If you have any other questions about applying for residency, let me know in the comments and I will do my best to answer them, especially now since it just happened and is fresh in my brain.