6 months in Italy?

6 months in Italy?

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

So you would like to come to Italy for a longer period than the 90 day visa free period. One word – fuggedaboutit! I have gone to Bologna seven times, for periods from 7 to 12 weeks and wanted to go for a longer period. So I figured 6 months would really feel like living there and would help me to decide if I might, in fact, want to live there for a year or two. I love the lifestyle, the city, the food and the language. I have a number of friends there, a gym that I go to when there, volunteer work that I do for the city, an Italian phone number – in short I feel quite at home there. After 6 months I might even start to talk with hand gestures more, like an actual Italian. Ah, but there’s a problem!

For a stay of over 90 days one requires a visa. There are a bunch of different categories of visas: employment, study, family reasons, etc. but only one for a stay just because you’d like to experience a longer taste of the Italian life: elective residence. That’s right RESIDENCE. So that means that the Italians (well, I should say the Italian government) in all of their wisdom, have decided that if you want to stay for 91 days or a lifetime you must meet the same standards which are, by the way, ill defined. So let’s go through the whole sad story of my adventure with Italian bureaucracy, considered by many one of the worst in the world.

A lot of the purpose of my trip last fall from October 7 (date of arrival) and November 23 (date of departure) was to lay the groundwork for a 6 month stay. I mention the exact dates because they will become important later on. I had been concerned about the Permesso di Soggiorno (Permit to Stay) since I’ve heard horror stories about it. Fortunately a good friend of a good friend heads the department in Bologna that issues these documents. So through the personal introductions I was able to skip the line and have a nice conversation with the head guy who assured me that there should be no problem, I just had to have a visa of elective residence.

Now the list of items required for this visa include a place to stay with a lease. So I contacted a bunch of real estate agents in Bologna and came up empty. Nobody, but nobody, offered an apartment with a 6 month lease. The standard lease in Italy is for 4 years with a right to renew for 4. There are certainly shorter term leases, typically for a year but I could find nothing shorter. I knew the owners of the apartment where Karen and I had stayed in the spring and they agreed to let me rent it for 6 months through AirBnB. So I wrote an email to the Italian consulate in San Francisco describing the dilemma and asking if they would accept AirBnB for that period. They wrote back that, yes, they would accept AirBnB if I paid the full 6 months in advance. GREAT! That should do it; so I paid the 6 months in advance.

Now the fun really begins. Karen and I gathered all of the documents required: 6 months of bank statements, letters from banks that we were actually customers, an FBI background check (easier than it sounds), two years of tax returns, a letter describing why we want to have this visa fill out a multiple page form and more. So we did all of that, confident that we met the requirements. So we filed the application on December 10. We were required to provide envelopes for returning our passports (which we presumed would have the visa affixed to a blank page). This had to have prepaid priority mail. So we paid for all of this plus the approximately $130 each processing fee. On December 31 we received the return envelopes with a letter that had been written on December 18 (so why the priority postage ?!) denying us the visa! The letter said that they did not accept a RESERVATION with AirBnB. Aha, clearly this was a simple clerical error since the AirBnB document was clearly marked RECEIPT rather than reservation. So we immediately emailed the consulate (their telephone must be very dusty since they NEVER respond to phone calls or return messages). The email noted that it was in fact a RECEIPT and copied the email exchange with the consulate. No answer. Then I told my sad story to an Italian-American who had some modest acquaintance with the consul general. He wrote an email to him in Italian with my email attached. So a couple of days later I had an email response to my email from the woman responsible for visas. She basically said that they had changed the rules and they didn’t accept AirBnB (she still used the term reservation rather than receipt). She also added the term “registered” to the “contract” (lease) as a requirement for housing. That was something that was not mentioned in their info about requirements. Then she ominously mentioned that this visa was only for those with “substantial” economic means. So what does that mean? Anything seems to be up for interpretation since I clearly have adequate economic resources to live for years in Italy if I chose to. Can you trust these people? What do you think?

So we decided to just go ahead and go on our originally planned date of February 2 since we had rented my house starting February 1. Thank god we found a renter that was OK with 3 or 4 months rather than the advertised 6. Ah, but then I happened to think “wait I was in Bologna this fall”. Remember those dates that I mentioned earlier in the post? The Schengen country rules that you can be in that zone 90 or a 180 day period. Uh-oh. I calculated that if we arrived in Italy on the 3rd of February I would have to leave the Schengen zone on March 17 for about 3 weeks to avoid overstaying my tourist 90 day period. SHIT! So we changed the arrival date to February 23; that meets the requirements. So we will stay in Italy for 85 or 86 days, then go to England/Scotland for a few days, return to Bologna for 2 or 3 days and return to California on June 1.

Ah but there’s still more. Since the house is rented from February 1 we are effectively homeless for 3 weeks! So a little bit of luck. I found a house-sitting opportunity for 2 of those weeks. All we have to do is feed a couple of cats and we will have a house to ourselves while the owner is away. Then we managed to fill the remaining gap with 3 days with some friends (thanks Doak and Sue) and 2 days with Karen’s sister in the Sierra foothills and one night in a nice hotel.

So much trouble and anguish because of the damned consulate in San Francisco. Can we ever trust them? Can I ever fulfill my dream of a longer stay in Italy? Does anyone know how to put a curse on that place?

8 Responses to “6 months in Italy?”

  1. NIna Says:

    I have a former boss and Facebook friend who bought an apartment in Italy and seems to live there a lot of the time. Do you want her contact info so you can talk to her about what that option was like?

  2. Joe Says:

    Hi Nina, I haven’t contacted her yet but intend to do so soon.


  3. Helen Says:

    This is the most frustrating story- I would be chewing nails! It seems truly outrageous that you can’t stay in Italy for your planned time. You have prooved that you would not be a financial burden. I truly don’t get it and am so sorry for this ridiculous predicament. Could you buy an apt in Bologna, or would they let you? Keep us posted!

  4. Joe Says:

    Oh, I’d love to buy an apartment in Bologna and that’s definitely on my list as soon as I win the lottery. Of course now I wrote to the ministry of foreign affairs and left a message along with a link to the blog post for the public relations department. They actually responded, believe it or not, and wrote that they would contact the consulate and look into the matter. Of course this probably makes me persona non grata at the consulate and since the bureaucracy seems to be quite fickle they could deny me visa on whatever pretext. Still we’ll see what happens – probably nothing.

  5. Passing By Says:

    Thanks for posting your experience, I’m applying for the same visa. I’ve been working on it for almost three months since the lawyer told me to show 31k euros unearned stable annual income, UNEARNED; then others say the requirements include buying a property of half million dollars with at least one million dollars in accounts … probably I should go to Mars instead.

  6. Joe Says:

    Yes, but at least they told you the income that you need. I don’t think that you really need to buy a house but you do need to have an apartment with with a “recorded” lease. I have never heard of a recorded lease in the U.S. but this involves registering the lease with the government. Probably as an attempt to assure tax collection. I think that the laws are so convoluted in Italy that everyone becomes quite cynical and does their best to avoid any contact with the bureaucracy – but especially taxes. I kind of understand the income stream thing since with that visa you are prohibited from working in Italy so you need to show the ability to support yourself. I think that an interesting thing is that the average annual net income right now in Italy is around 24,000 euros.

  7. Susanna Kristy Says:

    I did it last year! An absolute petty bureaucratic nightmare. The rules kept shifting. 3 different govt. agencies with long queues and a home visit. I bought an apartment in Bologna which helped. It took 6 months, so I was an illegal immigrant for 3 months. It cost about 1500 Euros. Shifty lawyer! But I have it for 2 years which saved heaps on the stamp duty for my apartment. Now for renewal. Urgh!!! Can anybody give me a step by step, lawyer free, on renewing elective residenza visas in Bologna. Please!

  8. Joe Says:

    All bureaucracy pretty much sucks but Italians seem to have made it into a maddening art form. Perhaps we can get together in Bologna when we’re both there. I’ll send you a private email.


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