When planning a move to Italy, the first thing to pack is patience. Navigating local customs and figuring out how things work is going to take time. The good news from the bureaucratic front is that recent laws have streamlined at least part of the paperwork. The bad news is that those same laws have tightened restrictions on foreigners. For example, Italy now requires fingerprints for all nonEuropean Union (EU) citizens” Americans, Senegalese, Norwegians, etc.”when they sign up for a stay permit. Especially after the events of September 11, authorities are more serious about stamping out illegals. Once upon a time, lots of U.S. expats lived in Italy for long periods of time without ever announcing their presence. It’s illegal, but it happens, and in all candor, Italians are much less worried about North Americans overstaying their welcome than other nationals from outside the EU. Don’t take this as an open-ended invitation. I have seen at least one expat forcibly sent packing after her illegally procured job as a tour leader in Rome marched her past a group of police, who were paying unusually close attention to immigration laws that day. The penalties for overstaying your visa have become harsher, and you’d only be doing yourself a disservice by ignoring them in the long run. Once you’ve hacked through the bureaucracy, including multiple trips to the consulate, you will have many more freedoms and benefits than those who preferred to risk it and lived their lives in nearparanoia.

If you think it would be much more convenient to just become an Italian citizen, it just might be possible under the Italian policy of jus sanguinis, or right of blood. This can go back generations as long as no ancestor in the chain lost his or her Italian citizenship before giving birth to the next generation. There seem to be different interpretations of this floating around, so here are criteria taken verbatim from a checklist provided by the Italian Consulate: Your father was an Italian citizen at the time for your birth and you never renounced the right to Italian citizenship. Your mother was an Italian citizen at the time of your birth, you were born after January 1st, 1948 and you never renounced the right to Italian citizenship. Your father was born in the United States, your paternal grandfather was an Italian citizen at the time of your father’s birth, neither you nor your father ever renounced the right to Italian citizenship.

Your mother was born in the United States, your maternal grandfather was an Italian citizen at the time of her birth, you were born after January 1, 1948 and neither you nor your mother ever renounced the right to Italian citizenship. Your paternal or maternal grandfather was born in the United States, your paternal great grandfather was an Italian citizen at the time of his birth, neither you nor your father nor your grandfather ever renounced the right to Italian citizenship (please note: a grandmother born before January 1, 1948 can claim the Italian citizenship only from her father and can transfer it to descendants born after January 1, 1948).

Note: Italian citizen at the time of birth means that he/she did not acquire any other citizenship through naturalization before the descendant’s birth. This last bit is very important. If the relative who came over from Italy was naturalized in the United States or any other country other than Italy, he or she effectively renounced Italian citizenship. In the end, remember that mastering Italian bureaucracy is a lifelong pursuit. (Many have even turned it into a career.) You will constantly have questions about the fine print of laws on permits, visas, and residency, and will need to keep abreast of changes. A number of resources can help you. The best one I have found to date is The Informer,, founded by a Scottish expat a quarter-century ago.

Visas and Permits All 15 signatory countries of the Schengen agreement, including Italy, allow U.S. residents to circulate freely within their borders for a maximum of 90 days at a time. If your vacation fits into that category, you need only a passport and a plane ticket. But Italy still has its own immigration laws, and even those travelers planning to stay for as little as two weeks are required, in theory, to apply for a stay visa within eight days of their arrival. Few people bother with the formalities. There are literally millions of North Americans who come every year for two-week vacations in Italy with no paperwork other than a passport. If you plan to stay longer than 90 days, you are in effect planning a long stay and therefore need to apply for a long-stay permit in Italy, the infamous permesso di soggiorno. Before you can apply for your permesso, you have to obtain the appropriate visa from the Italian Embassy or local consulate in the United States. There are weeks, perhaps months, of footwork on that front to be done at home before you leave. Some cases drag on for years.

There are 21 types of visas in all, ranging from airport transit to sports-related, some easier to obtain than others. U.S. citizens looking to live, study, or work in Italy are most likely to apply for one of three types: a residency visa, a student visa, or a work visa. Different documentation is required for each, so check with your local consulate or the Italian Embassy’s website ( before you make an appointment. All visas require a passport valid for at least three months past your application date.


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