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Settling in Italy

Tips for Before and After Moving to the Bel Paese

Italy - Flying over the Italian Alps
Flying over the Italian Alps.

Millions of people around the world are eligible for Italian citizenship. Through marriage or their heritage, irrespective of their relationship to the mother country, they can become Italian. Almost 60 million people living outside of Italy have Italian ancestry and between four and five million hold Italian passports. In fact, today there are fewer real Italians than potential Italians ones. Could you be one of these existential enigmas, a could-be Italian? Do you dream of morphing from an Italian-on-paper to a real one, sinking your roots into Italian soil? If so, consider planning which steps to take while still on (original) home turf and then later on terra firma.

Long before you actually move to Italy, start getting your ducks in a row. Indeed, dealing with Italian bureaucracy is not unlike choreographing a gaggle of ducks. Officials manifest a maddening mixture of willful helplessness (vagueness, nonsensical turn-allocating systems, noncommittal shoulder-shrugging) alternated with disarming, charming flexibility. Then, when all hope has evaporated, they deliver con brio (with vivacious charm) and flourishes of old-fashioned rubber stamps. Bossiness or nagging on your part won’t make a difference.

You can start at your local consulate, requesting your codice fiscale (tax number). This 16-digit alphanumeric ID number issued by the Agenzia delle Entrate (Tax Office) is calculated according to your specifics, including name, gender, date and place of birth. While a couple of fraudulent websites provide the opportunity to generate numbers yourself, only the Tax Office can issue them legitimately. It comes as a pea-green plastic card with a magnetic strip. Although the consular staff may point out that you have no need for a codice fiscale as an Italian abroad, once you arrive, you certainly do. It is the magic key to numerous operations, such as opening a bank account, getting a SIM card, securing work, and paying tax. Your codice fiscale is the equivalent of a social security number which trails you all over. Having it upon arrival in Italy is terrifically helpful. About as helpful as some Italian language skills.

In theory, you could arrange your carta d’identità before leaving home. However, as it would be issued with your foreign address, you’d be better off attending to it later, once you’ve arrived in Italy. The ID card will be infinitely more useful if issued with your new address. Italian law permits you only one residential address, so in the end, you’d be obliged to apply twice for your ID card. By the end of this article, you’ll understand why you’d rather not. Rest assured that a passport and codice fiscale together provide the survival essentials.

Closer to your departure date, inform the consulate that you wish to indicate your rimpatrio definitivo in Italia (returning home to Italy for good), providing the name of the town or city you’re heading for. But beware! Once your status is changed on the system, it cannot be undone. Il Computer. Think bulbous screens. Think DOS. Think random power cuts. But do not be deterred. Summon up blind faith and reassure yourself.

Declaring your “permanent return” will enable you to request exemption from customs duty on goods shipped to Italy as well as to register with your local Italian municipality on arrival. Be advised to ask for a printout from Il Computer, as proof of your rimpatrio definitivo. This will be the next crumb in your trail through the woods of Italian administration.

Once you’re actually in Italia, you’ve ascertained a fixed abode and a mobile number and the cappuccino binge has waned, a new mission begins: to declare your change of residence. This time, you will be practicing your Italian. Buona fortuna with the total immersion language learning. To find out the name and location of your comune (municipality), ask your neighbors at the local bar. It will probably be reasonably nearby. You will need to set up an appointment there, either in person or by phone. Initially, wary of Italian-speaking phones, I did everything on foot. Exploring the surroundings of government buildings led to rich local findings including free beginner Italian classes for immigrants, subsidized sports activities, film festivals, where to donate blood, and buy green cleaning products on tap.

If you are Italian (on paper), but appear otherwise (in accent or appearance), this will create snags. Officials may attempt to place you in the extra-communitari or stranieri (foreigner) lines, most of whom are applying for il permesso di soggiorno (residence permit). Struggle on, adhering as best you can to the polite, third-person Lei verb form. Insist that despite all cues to the contrary, you belong in the Italian line. Wave proof, if need be.

Shifting dolefully on a wooden bench, you will be plagued by negative thoughts: Will the number flashing on the screen approach the one on my ticket before or after I keel over from boredom/hunger? If I went home and begged for my old job, would I get it back? How vast and infinite is the imprudence of mortal man? And so on.

Italy - Take a number
Take a number.

But all good things come to those who wait. An official in the Servizio Demografico (Demographic Services), seated before a younger sibling of Il Computer, will enter your demographic details, including your new address (incorporating odd details, like the staircase, the floor number, and which gate – left or right?). This geo-specific data is recorded so that the vigili urbani (police) can inspect your abode and confirm that you truthfully live there. Ostensibly, this will occur within 15 days.

My police visit took place a month late. However, I, not being Emily Dickinson pacing the floorboards, wasn’t home. I was out. Possibly on a bench at the local health services. Finding you absent, the vigili will leave a scribbled sticker on your mailbox. You will need to decipher their address and carry this sticker back to them, to prove that you live at the place of the mailbox where they left the sticker. Just do it. Without this police go-ahead, you will never gain local residency.

But back to your comune. The administrative official will print out proof of your application of change of residence. Mine was a tatty slip threatening to disintegrate along perforated lines. On pain of death, do not lose it. For the alleged four to five months of waiting ahead needed for Il Computer to grind over your variables, you will need to show the slip together with your passport regarding any local paperwork.

Ahead of you lie richly abundant opportunities for authentic language learning and cultural assimilation. Once your registration is completed, you may be informed accordingly, by sms, a friendly call or a gaping silence. Then you will be eligible to get your carta d’identità, to access local health services with your tessera sanitaria (health card), and to receive, quite unsolicited, your tessera elettorale (voting card).

By the time you reach that stage, you may consider yourself suitably clued up. Suitably local. Why not join your neighborhood voters, brandish your shiny documents and strike up a chat? Of all the nuances of Italian life that have washed over your awareness, there is one thing you should grasp: the quality of your local government services. Mine, the 19th municipio of Rome, is the place where patient officials endured mangled Italian, politely answered my garbled questions, and got me embedded in il Computer. Where I am irrevocably and irretrievably Italian.

For More Information

Read here about the codice fiscale (Italian tax number).

The Consulate General of Italy in Boston has a sample application form for the codice fiscale: as does the Consulate of New York:

You can work out an approximation of your tax number online here:

The Agenzia Entrate (Italian Tax Office) provides info in English:

The following website provides plenty of info for immigrants to Italy, in Italian:

Your local Italian municipality may be online too. For example, view this municipal site for Rome:

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