The Italian equivalent of our Green Card is called a Permesso di Soggiorno – Permission to Stay. It sounds so much friendlier than Green Card, doesn’t it? And it’s a lot easier to come by. But “easier” is a relative term and in no way should it be confused with the word “easy”. After all – this is Italy…..land of the happy bureaucrats.
Your first step in being able to stay here legally for long periods of time is to get a codice fiscale, which is like our Social Security number. And this was indeed easy to get….in fact so easy that we were immediately lulled into a false sense of security – thinking the whole process would go this smoothly.
Next, back in the US, we had to apply for an “elective residence” visa. This means all we wanted to do was “reside” in Italy – not work – and it seemed like this process would be equally effortless. Italy’s official website had a list of the necessary information, and then we just had to take the paperwork to our nearest consulate, which was in Philadelphia.
In fact one day when we were in town, we actually stopped by the consulate to make sure that what they had on their web site was all that they needed, and they assured us that their website was absolutely correct. That was our first trip to the consulate.
Our second trip was when we took all our papers. Shockingly, it turned out that the website didn’t include quite everything. But the very pleasant woman behind the desk solemnly swore that things would go smoothly once we submitted the missing information, which we did on our third trip. After approving our new information, the same pleasant woman told us the visas should be ready in a couple of hours, but that proved to be a bit optimistic on her part, thereby requiring a fourth trip, which turned out to FINALLY be successful.
Back on Italian soil, we had to go to the post office to pick up a very thick form within 8 days of our arrival. Even more amusing than the fact that they insist you must do this within 8 days is that you must buy a special stamp that goes on the front of the completed form before returning it to the post office, but that’s the stamp I mentioned before — the one you can only buy at the tobacco store. In addition to your now stamped and filled-out form, you must include copies of all the papers you had previously submitted to the consulate back in the US. The post office then gives you a receipt, which turns out to be very important because IF you ever needed to prove that you were trying your very best to be a legal guest, this would be your only proof until you get your actual Permesso – which even under the best of circumstances would be months away.
This first-time application process in Italy started in June. Alan got his official card in October (a record in the expat community), at which time they told me that mine was lost somewhere between Rome and Orvieto. When I said I wouldn’t be back until March, they said they hoped it would be in by then….but no promises. The good news when I went back the following March was that it had turned up; the bad news was that even though they held it up in their hand, I couldn’t get it that day because it was a Monday, and the official person whose job it is to give it to you only works in Orvieto on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since the first time you get a Permesso it’s good for 1 year from the date you first apply, the end result was that mine was only good for 3 months before I had to start the whole Italian side of the process again.
However, during that small window of being officially legal, I dashed to Orvieto’s anagrafe office – the town’s registrar of whatever it is a town might want registered — since they’re the ones who hand out the Carta d’Identita’, and the Carta was my real pot of gold at the end of this bureaucratic rainbow. You must have the Carta in order to open an internet bank account. As usual – it always comes down to money…..
But first, the town must make sure that you’re an actual resident. This can take an unlimited amount of time, because the town policeman must personally come to your door to make sure you live where you say you do, and you never know when he’s home with a cold or off on a 2-week vacation. In my case this took about a month. It would have been longer, but his vacation was only 1 week.
And so — a year after this whole process started back in the US, I had my Carta d’Identita’, meaning I was a Legal Alien in Orvieto — FINALLY. Needless to say – throughout this whole ordeal, everyone I knew heard about my struggle with the system, to the point where they would avoid me on the street and not return my phone calls. But when it was all done, a loyal group of friends gave me a surprise party where they presented me with an Italian flag. Since the ONLY time Italians care about their flag is during World Cup, I am probably the sole person in Orvieto – or perhaps even in all of Umbria….or Italy, for that matter – with an Italian flag in my living room.