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Italy specializes in bureaucracy. Here is an accounting of some of the most important documents that you might need in order to live in Italy in compliance with the law. Be sure to keep copies of everything. If you’ve moved to Italy, you might find a copier/scanner a useful investment.
Under current law, you can visit Italy as a United States citizen for up to 90 days without a visa. For longer stays, you will need a visa. Various types are available, including: work visas (very difficult to get, usually coordinated through your employer), student visas (course of study at least 20 hours/week, renewable for up to 2 years); and family reunification (with immediate family member already resident in Italy).
For most people who want to live long-term in Italy and don’t need to work, the best option will be an Elective Residency visa.
You will want to obtain a Codice Fiscale. It is necessary for pretty much any sort of financial transaction and including some online purchases.
When you arrive in Italy with the intent to reside here, you are required to apply for a Permesso di Soggiorno within 8 days. Once you receive your Permesso, you can register your residence in the local Comune and obtain a Carta d’Identità. Normally, your Permesso will expire after one or two years. After you have legally resided in Italy for 5 years (and satisfied a number of other requirements such as A2 level Italian) you can obtain a Permesso di Soggiorno di Lungo Periodo the main benefit of which is that it doesn’t have to be renewed so often.
Folks who are lucky enough to have Italian heritage may qualify for Italian citizenship by the law of Jus Sanguinis. If you qualify, you are and always have been an Italian citizen, but you need to apply to have that fact recognized. The application can be done either at an Italian consulate or at your local Comune, depending on where you live. There is a Facebook group with detailed information on this topic.
An Italian citizen can obviously live here without further documentation. However, his or her immediate family can live here as well. To do so, the family member must obtain a Carta di Soggiorno di Familiare di un Cittadino dell’Unione at the local Questura. The most important piece of documentation needed to obtain this permit is the certification of family relationship (e.g., marriage). Normally, this information is recorded either in a Comune or in AIRE, the registry of Italian citizens abroad. But if this is not the case, you’ll need a certified, apostilled, and translated certificate from the relevant authority.
Spouses of Italian citizens can gain Italian citizenship by the process of Jus Matrimonii. In addition to appropriate birth documentation, criminal background checks, and more paperwork, JM citizenship also requires a B1 level of Italian language. The process can take up to 4 years.
Anyone who has lived legally in Italy for 10 years can apply for citizenship by Naturalization. This also requires B1 level language skill and a ton of paperwork.
You will certainly want an extended visit before taking the plunge.
Visit. If you will be applying for an Elective Residency visa, you will need a registered lease in hand, and this would be the time to arrange one. Most of us living in Ascoli have used the services of a particular real estate agent, Cinzia Ventili (firstname.lastname@example.org), to help find housing. She is is strongly recommended if you’re heading to the Piceno.
Temporary housing. Quite a few AirBnB rentals are available in Ascoli. A local suite hotel (Di Sabatini) is convenient for stays of moderate length. Some folks have managed month-long stays through our local realtor.
Length of stay. Remember, you can only stay for 90 days on a tourist visa.
Once you’ve made the decision to move, there will be a ton of things to think about. The big stuff you will probably already know. Here’s a list of small stuff that might wind up making your life easier.
Mailing address. You probably will want to keep an address in the US. This can be a friend or relative, or it can be a mail forwarding house such as USGlobalMail.com. With a forwarding house, you get images of arriving mail envelopes. You can ask for a scan of incoming mail (for a fee) or a shipment (for a larger fee).
Cell phone parking. You may want to keep a (cell) phone number in the US. There are multiple ways to do this, but the easiest way is to “park” your cell number with a cell phone parking service. Such a service can forward calls to you, or texts to your email. This is quite important for 2nd factor authentication on financial accounts, although not all providers will send challenge texts to “parked” cell phones.
International calls. You may want to establish a live digital phone number in the US, such as a Google Voice number. Having such a number will allow you to make free VOIP calls to US numbers. (Or you can make such calls with Skype for a small fee.)
Government benefits signup. If your plans allow you to enroll in Social Security and Medicare benefits before you leave, it’s much easier to do so from the US than from here.
Medicare Part B. Although you may choose to forgo Medicare altogether, if you are living outside the US when you enroll in Medicare, you are not eligible for the 6-month MediGap underwriting-free enrollment period. Keep in mind that Medicare does not provide any benefits outside the US (but some folks choose to keep it to avoid later penalties should they move back to the US).
MySocialSecurity and friends. You might be advised to sign up for the (free) online accounts offered by Social Security, the IRS and by state taxing authorities. These online tools allow you to monitor these bureaucracies without the telephone. You can sign up for these accounts more easily from the US.
US Amazon Prime. If you are an Amazon Prime video customer, consider keeping the service. The US version of Amazon Prime has lots of offerings that are not available in Italy.
When considering a move to Italy, the elephant in the room is often the question of taxes. Italian taxes are quite high. Some folks attempt to split the baby by residing in Italy less than 180 days per year (thus avoiding Italian taxes). This means that you won’t be a permanent resident, and thus won’t qualify for Italian State health care. So it’s a tradeoff.
If you do decide to become an Italian tax resident, remember these things:
Currency transactions. Financial transactions of all forms need to consider currency conversion. This is both complex and adds risk because traditionally stable investments such as bonds or CDs now have a currently fluctuation component for tax purposes (a CD maturing might give a capital gain in Euros but not in dollars, for example).
Roth IRAs and tax-free investments. Roth IRAs don’t exist here, so interest/dividend on Roth IRA accounts might be taxable. Similarly, tax-free investments in the US are not tax-free here.
Special treatments. Certainly types of securities (for example US Treasury securities) are subject to favorable tax rates in Italy (12.5%).
Sticky states. If you are changing tax residence from a high-tax state such as California, you may not want to use a California forwarding address. There is considerable evidence that California tends to adhere to previous residents longer than other states. So, it makes sense to avoid tempting the FTB into claiming that you are still a resident. For this reason, and among other things, it may make sense to change your tax address to Italy.