Tessera Sanitaria - What It Is and How to Get One

If you are going to be staying in Italy long-term, you are going to need some form of health insurance. If you are an Italian resident and want to take advantage of Italy's world-renowned, wonderful (because it's mostly free because it's paid for by taxes) healthcare system, you are going to need a tessera sanitaria.

So what exactly is a tessera sanitaria? How do you get one? Don't worry, I have all the answers (well, most of them, anyway...).

What Is a Tessera Sanitaria?

A lot of other websites draw this out and give confusing answers, but I will put it simply: the tessera sanitaria is a health insurance card. If you are a resident in Italy and are going to be using the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN) or Italian National Health Services, you need this card. You have to present it every time you go to the doctor, the hospital, the pharmacy (if you are getting a prescription), and even, as I recently discovered, when you are applying for residency in your chosen town.

If you have private insurance or go to a private doctor, you don't need it. But if you are going to go to anything related to the public health care system, it is mandatory.

Every native Italian citizen receives a tessera sanitaria (completely free) when they are one year old. In many ways, it is like our American social security number, since it (along with the codice fiscale, which I will describe in a future post) is assigned by the government and is unique to every individual person. If you aren't born in Italy, though, you have to apply for one.


How Do I Get a Tessera Sanitaria?

I'm not going to lie to you: getting the tessera sanitaria was (and continues to be...) a pain in the you-know-what. It is very difficult to explain how the process works, because it is different in every city and it depends on a lot of different factors

So I will explain it to you as simply as I can: 

You get the tessera sanitaria from either the Agenzia delle Entrate or the Agenzia Sanitaria Locale (ASL) nearest you. If you do the latter, you can get the tessera sanitaria when requesting a medico di base or your primary physician (Just to make things even more confusing, the ASL is called something different in every region... so you will have to do some Googling. Sorry.). 

I can't tell you for sure what all you will need in order to get the card, because obviously that changes from region to region too. But here is a list of the things I needed in order to get mine:

  • copy of passport
  • copy of carta di soggiorno or permesso di soggiorno
  • codice fiscale (if you have one, otherwise this is one way to get one)
  • name of the doctor you want to be your primary physician (you can find a list of the ones in your area via the ASL website)
  • current address/residency statement

In these trying Covid times, some ASL offices like mine allow you to apply for your tessera sanitaria online via email instead of in person at their physical location. You just attach all the necessary documents and they reply with a temporary version of your card you can print out.

Then, if you have the temporary card, you wait. The actual card is sent to you via the mail (you may get it on the same day if you apply in person).

It has been around two weeks since I got my temporary card and I am still waiting to receive the actual plastic card in the mail, but I'll give you an update whenever I get it to let you know when to expect yours.


I Have My Tessera Sanitaria, Now What?

Once you finally have the tessera sanitaria in hand, you are officially able to go to a doctor with no issues, because you are officially a part of the Italian public health care system. It lasts for six years, after which they should send you a new one without you having to apply for it.

If you can understand a fair bit of Italian, this video from the Azienda delle Entrate (the same agency whose stamp is on the carta di soggiorno) may help clear up any questions you may still have about the tessera sanitaria.

UPDATE: I finally received my tessera sanitaria card in the mail around three weeks after I requested it. I also found out that you can also use it to prove you are over 18 to buy cigarettes (if you're into that), borrow books from the library, and sign into government website portals in addition to the health care-related things I already mentioned. This card is basically the key that unlocks all of Italy, so make sure to keep yours safe when you get it!

Have you applied for your tessera sanitaria yet? What was the process like for you? Let us know in the comments!


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