One thing that marks the difference between a casual traveler to Italy and someone who is staying there long-term is the knowledge of the notorious marca da bollo. Most tourists in Italy can happily spend their entire stay blissfully unaware that this ubiquitous little stamp even exists.
Those of us who have to deal with Italian bureaucracy know otherwise.
It seems like almost every single piece of paperwork filed in Italy lists (at least) one marca da bollo in its requirements. So what exactly is a marca da bollo and where can you get one?
What Is a Marca da Bollo?
This is a question I get asked often (and Amanda La Terra of the Americans living in Italy Facebook group also suggested that I put it in a post) because, as I said, this comes up a lot for those filing documents in Italy.
Luckily, though, the answer is pretty simple: A marca da bollo is a revenue stamp. It is only a couple inches wide and is holographic, with a bar code that makes it legal.
The purpose of the marca da bollo is to make documents like the atto notorio, the nulla osta, the carta di soggiorno and even sometimes passports valid in the eyes of the law. It first came into use in 1863, and its presence basically changes a document from just a piece of paper into something that holds a lot more weight.
Up until around 2007, the marca da bollo looked more like a postage stamp, but now it is a sticker printed out from a machine. It is a bit like our American postage stamps for the mail and, just like those, it can't be scanned or copied for an official document. It has to be the original, colorful, holographic version and it must be handed to an official in person in order to be recognized.
Where Can I Get a Marca da Bollo?
The answer to this question is even simpler than the last!
You can buy a marca da bollo at any tabaccheria (tobacco store) in Italy. These stores are usually small (and a bit cramped) and usually sell things like candy and newspapers in addition to tobacco products. It seems strange that this would be where you get such an all-important piece of the bureaucratic puzzle, but as someone who has had to purchase way too many of these things in the past year or so, I can verify that this is true.
How Much Does a Marca da Bollo Cost?
Like all good (or just necessary) things in life, the marca da bollo doesn't come free. The most-used marca da bollo costs 16 euros, although there are other denominations you might need based on what documents you are filing (or you may need two 16€ ones, etc). In most cases, I have found that this is the only fee it takes to file a document in Italy for the Italian government.
Side note: Interestingly (and kind of annoyingly...) I have found that the things filed at the Italian Consulate in America or the American Embassy in Italy such as the atto notorio or the nulla osta for marriage, also require other, typically higher, processing fees. This may not be the case for everything, but it is something to be on the lookout for.
Getting back to the marca da bollo, it is always printed from a machine at the tabaccheria upon request, and doesn't require any extra information or forms to be filled out. All you have to do is tell them the amount you need on the stamp (the amount can usually be found on the document you are filing), and they will print it out.
Then you're done!
No matter what document you are filing, always make sure you that you have thoroughly read and understood the requirements list. It is a bit of a hassle at times to have to make a stop at the tabaccheria to get the marca da bollo, but trust me, this is one of the easiest things to get!
Tip: It is usually best to let the person you are taking the document to stick the marca da bollo on it instead of doing it yourself. This is usually stated in the instructions, but even if it's not, it's better to let an “expert” do it just so that you can be sure it is placed correctly and that you have the correct bollo.
Have you filed any documents with a marca da bollo yet? Let us know in the comments!