SHARE
COPY LINK
PRESENTED BY FRENCH CONNECTIONS HCB

How to move to France or Italy

Whether you’re newly landed or are in the planning process, relocating to Europe can present some interesting hurdles. Here’s what you need to know.

How to move to France or Italy

Yearning for a view of a Tuscan hill town, or to live among the winding streets of a Breton fishing village? For so many, moving to Europe is a dream come true. 

However, no matter how thorough your planning is, you are likely to come up against obstacles. 

Together with boutique relocation experts French Connections HCB and Italian Connections HCB, The Local looks at some of the issues you may not have considered. 

The letter of the law

While settling in France or Italy is easier than in many parts of the world, depending on your circumstances or where you are from, you may need special visas to stay. 

Obtaining these can be tricky, and requires a lot of homework. For example, in France you need to apply for a visa before you leave your country of residence, with multiple stages of validation including visits to your local préfecture (local administration) needed throughout the process. If you wish to settle in Italy, you’ll be making an initial application, then mostly working with the local questura (police) to take fingerprints and other data, before you are granted your Permesso di Soggiorno (residency permit)

If you have purchased a new home abroad, odds are that you’ve already experienced the delightful intricacies of French or Italian law. If not, get ready for an almost endless process of paperwork and waiting periods as local bureaucracy does its thing. 

Even so, your interactions with the law in the course of your new life may extend far beyond dealing with visas or land deeds. 

Did you know, for instance, that there’s an Italian village where it’s illegal to die? Or that you can be heavily fined for skylarking around your home naked in France? 

Sure, these may be extreme instances of weird and obscure laws, but they do reflect a wider fact – life is regulated and legislated differently in Europe, on a local level, and a minor slip-up can have surprising ramifications. 

Family and inheritance laws also differ considerably between France and Italy and the rest of the world. You can’t simply trust that a will may be interpreted the way you intend it, or that inheritance will work the same way in your new home. 

It’s important, therefore, to be able to rely on experts in the field who can advise on things like property law and setting up a will, should you ever need them. 

Let French Connections HBC make your move très simple!

The lay of the land 

Something else that’s important to understand is that both France and Italy are, essentially, collections of small, incredibly diverse principalities. 

This manifests in many different ways. For example, distance and location can often render the local French or Italian indecipherable to those from the outside – not only in terms of accent, but grammar and truly tricky idioms. 

These differences extend beyond language, to how businesses operate, and when you can access certain services. 

Tradesmen may operate differently to how you would expect, with surprising requirements or payment terms. Break a window at the wrong time and you may find yourself without anyone to come out for a week – or with a bill you don’t quite know how to pay! 

You may find that certain documentation you need is delayed by local festivals or irregular opening hours that haven’t been communicated anywhere that you’re likely to find it. 

Without deep local knowledge or someone on ‘the inside’, it can be exceptionally difficult to get things done promptly without significant delays. 

What can make it so much easier is to have someone who knows how to navigate the appointment merry-go-round, and get you face to face with officials. 

Find out how Italian Connections HBC can deliver la dolce vita!

High-rise life, Tuscan-style: San Gimignano is one of the many Tuscan hilltop towns attracting visitors each year. Photo: Getty Images

The long and winding road 

Getting around can also present some unique challenges you may not have expected. 

Recent law changes in Italy, for example, mean that you’ll need to register your car as soon as you have your residency settled – or your wheels may be impounded! This process isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems and has proved a headache for many unsuspecting new arrivals. 

While you are permitted to drive on your existing licence for a period in France, for instance, you’ll need to swap it for a French licence within a year. This can be tricky, especially if the last time you had any sort of conversation in French was high school. 

Buying a new car in France or Italy can also be more complex than ‘back home’, with changing legislation and differences in EU regulations meaning that what you want may be difficult to find. 

If all that sounds like a headache, many people opt to pay for specialist help. Having someone in your corner who can not only speak the local language but smooth the way through the obstacles of car purchasing and registration can be well worth it. 

Boutique, bespoke assistance

Having people to assist you with the intricacies of local life is a godsend when you’re abroad, but good help can be hard to find. 

Friends can often be eager to assist, but complex and frequent requests may place a strain on the friendship – and who wants that? 

You might turn to a professional service. Unfortunately, not all services are equal, and some simply don’t deliver what is promised. So be sure to seek out companies with good reputations and a dedicated level of assistance.

Such companies include French Connections HCB and Italian Connections HCB. Their team of dedicated, on-call experts have been helping people from the wider world settle and enjoy life in France for the last few years, and are now helping others move to Italy. They are accomplished at cutting through local red tape and smoothing the way for the life you’ve been seeking!

Many of the services they offer include the big hassles like securing visas to settle and changing your driving licence, to everyday chores like making medical appointments or seeking a quote from a tradesmen, even helping you in your search for your dream home – this is when local expertise and language skills really come into play, especially when you are first getting settled.

Moving to France or Italy? Call on the team that cuts the busy work – giving you more time to enjoy your new life!

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

VISAS

EXPLAINED: How to apply for an elective residency visa to move to Italy

The elective residency visa is a popular route to relocating to Italy, but the application process can be confounding. The Local asked the experts how to maximise your chances of success.

EXPLAINED: How to apply for an elective residency visa to move to Italy

What is an elective residency visa?

An elective residency visa (ERV) allows you to move to Italy for one year in the first instance, with a view to gaining permanent residency. You can’t work once you arrive or receive an ‘active’ income, so although it’s not a retirement visa it’s typically retirees who apply.

While the ERV is one of the most popular visas for those looking to make the move to Italy without job offers or family ties, it has a relatively high rejection rate, and the complexity of the process can trip up first-time applicants.

The Local interviewed three professionals who regularly assist clients with the ERV application process – Giuditta Petreni at Mazzeschi Legal Counsels, Nick Metta at Studio Legale Metta, and Elze Obrikyte at Giambrone & Partners – to get their insights into how to maximise your chances of success.

Where to start

You’ll need to apply for your ERV at the Italian consulate in the country and city nearest to where you are legally resident.

While the basic requirements are broadly the same, the application process varies slightly between countries and consulates. 

READ ALSO: ‘Seek legal advice’: Your advice on applying for Italian visas post-Brexit

In some countries, including the UK (but not the US and Canada), Italian consulates outsource the process of gathering applications and managing appointments to third-party companies like VFS Global.

In most cases you will need to make an in-person appointment to file your application. During the pandemic some consulates introduced postal applications, and a few have retained this option.

Some consulates accept ERV applications by courier post.

Some consulates accept ERV applications by postal courier. Photo by Joe RAEDLE/ Getty Images via AFP.

You’ll want to start by going to the website of your local consulate and looking over their ERV requirements and instructions. If anything is unclear or information is missing, ask for clarification.

The consulate has 90 days to process your application, though usually you’ll get an answer within weeks. It can take months to get an appointment at some places, however, so you’ll need to do your research and factor the average wait time into your plans.

Requirements

Generally, the key requirements for the ERV are:

  • One or more passport photos.
  • Your passport, which should be valid for at least 3 months after the date when your ERV would expire (you need to send in your actual passport, so plan not to travel abroad for 90 days).
  • Separate application forms for each person applying (even if you are applying as a married couple).
  • Proof of passive income of just over €31,000 per person or €38,000 joint income per year for married couples plus five percent per dependent minor.
  • A valid marriage certificate (re-issued in the past six months) if you’re applying as a couple, and a valid birth certificate (re-issued in the past six months) for dependent minors.
  • A property ownership deed for an Italian property or a rental lease agreement (not an Airbnb or other short-stay booking).
  • One-way travel tickets to Italy.
  • Proof of private health insurance.
  • An application fee of €116 per person.

Regardless of whether or not it’s required by your consulate, the experts we spoke to also recommend:

  • A cover/motivation letter explaining why you want to move to Italy. This should include as much supporting evidence as possible of your connection to Italy and commitment to moving there long-term – not just say that you really like the food and weather.
  • Another cover page with a clear summary of all the documents included in the application, what information they contain, and how they relate to each requirement.

READ ALSO: EU Blue Card: Who can get one in Italy and how do you apply?

You'll need to send off your original passport for up to 3 months when applying for an ERV.

You’ll need to send off your original passport for up to 3 months when applying for an ERV. Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP.

The experts’ advice

Two of the most common mistakes experts say people make when applying for the ERV is thinking they can come to Italy to open a B&B (this counts as working), and believing that having substantial savings is the same thing as a passive income.

READ ALSO: Digital nomad: What are the rules on working remotely from Italy?

“We’ve had clients come to us with very significant wealth – two, three-plus million – invested in the stock market, bonds, but they didn’t have any conventional income… so the consulate told them they would not qualify,” says Metta.

For people in this situation, lawyers or financial advisors can assist you in turning your savings into a passive income stream. Buying property that can be rented out is a common solution that is generally regarded favourably by decision-makers, say Metta and Obrikyte.

The next piece of advice is to include as much relevant documentation as possible with your application. For example, even though not all consulates require travel tickets, “it’s always better just to enclose them,” says Obrikyte.

Petreni says that in her experience, it helps if an applicant owns a property in Italy rather than signing a rental contract, as it shows you’re committed to relocating there.

Of course, you may not want to invest in a property when you don’t know for sure you’ll be able to move. Even as a tenant, standard rental contracts in Italy are for a minimum of four years, and temporary 12-month contracts tend to be viewed less favourably by the consulate, which wants evidence of a long-term commitment.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about navigating Italian rental contracts

Metta says he gets around this Catch-22 by advising clients who don’t own Italian property to sign a 12-month lease agreement but add a clause that allows them to leave with two or three months’ notice, explaining (largely for the consulate’s benefit) that they intend to property-hunt once in Italy as they plan to relocate permanently.

Lastly, Metta advises clients to book an appointment at the very start of the process – before gathering your documentation – in order to streamline things, as it usually doesn’t cost anything to book or cancel an appointment.

People enjoy dinner in a restaurant at sunset in southern Sicily.

People enjoy dinner in a restaurant at sunset in southern Sicily. Photo by ludovic MARIN / AFP.

The consulate is king

A key concept that applicants need to wrap their heads around at the start of the process is that your consulate has total control over your application, and can introduce additional requirements at will.

In fact, says Petreni, it’s not so much the consulate as the one individual working there who has all the power to decide who gets an ERV: “One consulate can be very strict, but if the officer changes, then it can become a friendly consulate.”

Unfortunately, you can’t choose a consulate with a more ‘lenient’ officer, as you can only apply to the one where you’re legally resident.

READ ALSO: Visas and residency permits: How to move to Italy (and stay here)

Because of this, you want to be careful to couch your requests in the politest of language and be humble in your dealings with anyone at the consulate. “You don’t want to go there and say ‘oh, here is the printing of the law’ and this and that – absolutely not,” says Metta.

You also want to avoid doing anything that could even imply you’re making a demand. For example, you’ll want to book your travel tickets for at least 90 days after your appointment date – the full period allotted for them to make a decision.

The most alarming discretionary power held by the consular officer from an applicant’s perspective is their ability to stipulate a passive income threshold that is far higher than the official minimum of €31,000 per person or €38,000 per couple.

Petreni says it’s “typical” for the consulates Mazzeschi deals with to require three to four times this amount.

Metta’s experience is less extreme – “in general, they will honour the €31,000, one person and €38,000, spouse” – but he’s also dealt with consulates that interpret the rules as requiring €31,000 per person, regardless of whether they are married, and a few routinely say they won’t take less than €100,000 per person.

Unfortunately, consulates are allowed to do this, as the minimum is “purely indicative” says Petreni – while it feels unfair, they ultimately have the power to set their own thresholds.

Visitors walk down a street in Bolgheri, Tuscany in October 2017.

Visitors walk down a street in Bolgheri, Tuscany in October 2017. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

What to do if you get rejected

Fortunately, it’s not necessarily the end of the line if your application is rejected on financial or other grounds.

Metta says his colleagues frequently contact the officer in charge at the consulate if they’ve issued a rejection to try and negotiate a solution, and this often works.

In a recent case where a client was asked to show income of €100,000, “we contacted the person in charge, exchanged correspondence, provided some extra legal support in terms of evidence and official sources, and we got another appointment and the person finally got their visa,” he says.

Obrikyte says it’s typical for consulates to issue a ‘pre-rejection’ letter before delivering their final answer that specifies what the sticking point is, giving you a chance to fix the issue.

READ ALSO: ‘Arduous process’: What to expect when applying for Italian permanent residency

“In that occasion it is possible to try to negotiate and change their mind, and this happens very very often,” she says.

If this doesn’t work and you receive an official rejection, you can appeal in court. Obrikyte says that in her experience, simply notifying the consulate that a claim has been filed has caused them to change their minds and issue the visa.

Metta, however, advises against filing an appeal, due both to the time and expense involved and the danger that it could work against you.

“If you go through court, that requirement will pass, but there will be… I don’t want to say retaliation, but there will definitely be a dragging, forever, of the process.”

Instead, he advises clients to start from scratch and reapply. “Usually what we recommend is, let’s rearrange your finances and submit the paperwork – it will be so much faster, easier.”

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. For further information on the ERV and how to apply, visit the Italian foreign ministry’s visa website.

SHOW COMMENTS