The elective residency visa is designed specifically for persons (especially retired persons) who wish to reside permanently in Italy and have adequate financial resources to do so. The elected residency visa is not designed for extended tourism, but for those who intend to establish a permanent home in Italy. Individuals who receive this visa cannot work in Italy – they must be able to sustain themselves from their existing financial assets. You must obtain the Elective Residency visa in the United States. You may not enter Italy as a tourist and seek to extend your stay by obtaining an elective residency visa from Italy. The Elective Residency visa is valid for exactly 365 days, and may not be renewed. You must convert it to a “permesso di soggiorno” (residence permit) once you arrive in Italy.
Obtaining an Elective Residency visa
In general, obtaining an Elective Residency visa requires an interview with the appropriate consulate, and the presentation of required documents.
You must present your documents at the appropriate consulate, depending on where in the U.S. you reside. Note that the appropriate consulate may not necessarily the one closest to your residence. Here is a list of Italian consulates in the USA and their jurisdictions.
Once you have identified the appropriate consulate, you can find the requirements for the Elective Residency visa on the website for that consulate. Each consulate has its own list of requirements, which
differ slightly. IMPORTANT NOTE: These requirements change frequently and often without notice. You should check your consulate’s website not only when you begin the process, but at regular intervals thereafter, to make sure requirements haven’t been changed or added.
General Requirements: These documents are required by all consulates
- Valid US passport. Most consulates require the expiration date be at least three months after the expiration date of your visa. Since the visa is for one year, that means that your passport must have an expiration date no sooner than 15 months from the the start date on your visa.
- Your passport must at least one blank page (or, for some consulates, two blank pages) for affixing the visa.
- Proof of physical residence in the consular jurisdiction, e.g., driver’s license, state ID, utility bill).
- Passport-sized photograph (check specific dimension and other requirements on your consulate’s website)
- Long stay visa application (form available on the consular website)
- Lease, rental contract of deed for property in Italy, in your name. If you are a married couple, the lease should have both your names on it.
- Proof of sufficient financial resources: bank or brokerage firm statements, copies of pension of social security checks, other sources of income.
- Letter stating why you want to move to Italy, where you will live, and who is moving with you ((e.g., spouse or children)
- Declaration for Mailing Passports (form available on the consular website); this authorizes the consulate to mail your US passport back to you once the visa has been affixed.
- Self-addressed pre-paid US Express Mail envelope which the consulate will use to return your passport; the consulate will not accept regular US mail envelopes or envelopes from couriers such as Federal Express.
- Visa application fee, which must be paid in the exact amount by money order made out to the Consulate General of Italy. The fee (approximately $140 as of spring 2019) adjusts every three calendar months based on the government’s official exchange rate.
Certain other documents are required by some consulates and not others:
- FBI criminal background check
- Proof of overseas health insurance
- Flight reservations
- Certified copy of marriage certificate (if traveling with spouse) or childrens’ birth certificates (if traveling with children); note that these documents will be required in any event to obtain the permesso di soggiorno.
- Although most of these requirements are straightforward, some require additional explanation
Financial Resources: Since this visa does not allow you to work in Italy, you need to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the consular official that you have enough resources to support yourself in Italy. Some consulates state only this general requirement; others require you to bring specific documents such as bank statements for the last six months, tax returns for the last six months, or letters from your bank financial advisor, or accountant. If you are receiving Social Security or pension checks, you should bring evidence of those.
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule for how much income is enough to meet this requirement, although the Los Angeles consulate suggests a minimum income of $3,375/month for a single applicant.
In general, fixed sources of income, like Social Security and pension benefits, are preferred to variable ones, like income from investments.
Registered Lease: The housing requirement has changed significantly during the last few years. Short-term leases, or contracts to enter into a lease, which were accepted by some consulates in the past, will no longer be sufficient. Unless you already own property in Italy, and intend to live there, you will have to present a signed lease with a term of at least one year during your consular interview, together with proof that the lease has been registered with the Entrata (the Italian tax authority). If you are working with a realtor in Italy, they should be able to help you with registering the lease.
Be sure to negotiate a clause in the lease under which you forfeit only the first month’s rent if for some reason the visa does not issue. In order to register the lease in Italy, you will need a Codice Fiscale (Italian Tax ID number).
Overseas Health Insurance: Some consulates require you to present evidence of a health insurance policy that will cover 100% of your medical expenses in Italy; some consulates have a specified minimum policy limit. Travel insurance policies are generally sufficient.
Even if proof of health insurance is not required by your consulate, it is probably a good idea to purchase short-term health insurance anyway, to bridge the gap until you are able to buy into the Italian health insurance system.
FBI Criminal Background Check: You can order this directly from www.fbi.gov. However, since processing of individual requests can take several months, we recommend that you use an expediter, who can usually provide turnaround of about a week.
You will need a set of fingerprints to begin the FBI background check. In the US, fingerprint services are often available at copy shops or the offices; larger cities may have dedicated fingerprint specialists.
You must present your documents in person at the appropriate consulate. Consular interviews are by appointment only, which you can book online. Your appointment date must be within 90 days of your departure date.
For an ER visa, the typical wait time for an appointment is 2-3 months, although that may vary by consulate. When beginning this process, you should check your consulate to see how far ahead appointments are being made so you have an idea how to organize the timing. If your application is approved, the consulate will affix a visa to your passport and mail it back to you. Consular websites indicate this can take up to three months. However, our experience has been that turnaround is much faster — anywhere from 48 hours to a couple of weeks after your visit.
As you can see from the outline above, getting the required documents in the right order can be a bit of a juggling act. If you are renting in Italy, you will need to get the lease signed and registered before your visa is issued. It is a good idea to start collecting documents about 6 months before your anticipated departure date. You want to make sure that you have all the required documents before the date of your consular interview, especially if your consulate is in another state.
Here is an illustrative schedule, assuming an October 1 departure date:
- Check validity of US passport and get passport renewed if necessary
- Get fingerprints and begin FBI check (if required)
- Schedule consular interview for July
- May – June
- Schedule trip to Italy to select apartment, sign lease, obtain Codice Fiscale; if you are working with a realtor, he or she can help you with these documents. (If you already own property in Italy, obviously you can skip this step!)
- Collect required documents – note that some documents (like letters of reference from banks or accountants, if required) may take more time than others
- Periodically check consular website to make sure requirements haven’t changed
- Verify current visa fee amount on website (changes at beginning of calendar quarter) and obtain money order
- Consular interview, with visa dated October 1
- Visa arrives up to 2 weeks later
Tips for the Consular Interview
The Elective Residency visa is a discretionary visa, which means that they don’t have to issue one to you even if you meet all the requirements. You should indicate, by your manner and the way you present yourself, that you take the process seriously. Dress as you would for a job interview. Arrive on time.
Have all your documents organized and readily available.
- Don’t put your documents in individual plastic folders. The consulate is likely going to open a paper file on you and they don’t need any more volume than necessary.
- Order your documents in the order they are listed on the website.
- Bring the original copy of your lease as well as a copy for the consulate file. You will need to retain the original copy of your lease for a number of purposes in Italy, including establishing residency, obtaining health insurance and opening a bank account
- You may be able to find sites on the Internet where people share experiences and tips on the consular interview. The value of the tips on these sites varies widely, but you may find useful information, particularly with respect to your consulate.