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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.

A couple enjoy sunset on the beach in Marzameni, southern Sicily.
A couple enjoy sunset on the beach in Marzameni, southern Sicily. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

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.

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BUREAUCRACY

How to register with the anagrafe in Italy

All foreign nationals who move to Italy will need to visit the Italian registry office, or anagrafe. Here’s why and what to expect.

How to register with the anagrafe in Italy

If you’re planning to stay in Italy for the long term, sooner or later you’ll need to visit the Ufficio Anagrafe (registry office) of the Italian town or municipality you’re living in to register: a process known as the iscrizione anagrafica.

Registering with your local ‘anagrafe’ is a legal requirement, and it’s an essential first step to accessing many public and private services in Italy

The iscrizione anagrafica is needed to issue you with an Italian ID card (carta d’identità) and residency certificate (certificato di residenza). Registration is also important if you later intend to apply for Italian citizenship by marriage or naturalisation, or ancestry via the ‘fast track’ route.

So how do you register at the anagrafe and what documents will you need? 

In some cities, you’ll need to make an appointment to register – sometimes weeks in advance. Some municipalities also allow you to apply online or via email. Check the website of your local comune for more information about the procedure you’ll need to follow. See information for the anagrafe in Rome or Milan (available only in Italian).

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

Each town or comune has its own application forms, and the documentation needed to apply will also vary depending on your personal situation. If you visit the anagrafe in person, staff should be able to tell you exactly what you’ll need and provide you with hard copies of the forms.

Note that information is not always available in English, so if you don’t speak much Italian you may need to take a friend with you to translate.

To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s a quick overview of the requirements, which differ mainly depending on whether you’re a citizen of an EU or non-EU country.

EU nationals 

Although EU citizens have the right to travel freely around European member states, those staying in Italy longer than three months must apply for a certificato di residenza (residency certificate), which means registering at the anagrafe.

In general, you’ll need to submit the following along with your application form:

    • Copy of a valid identification document from your home country
    • copy of your personal Italian tax code (codice fiscale), which you can get from the tax office (agenzia dell’entrate);
    • a valid health insurance policy, if you are not eligible to register with the Italian national health service (SSN);
    • declaration of your address in Italy (dichiarazione di residenza);
    • declaration of your marital status and any dependent family members;
    • Evidence of employment, study or training in Italy, or proof that you have sufficient economic means to support yourself and any dependents.

Photo by Serge Taeymans on Unsplash

Non-EU nationals 

The application requirements for non-EU nationals can vary much more depending on your personal circumstances. You’ll need to consult your local anagrafe or comune for detailed information about the requirements in your situation.

In most cases, the application process is similar to that for EU nationals, but you’ll also need to show your residency permit plus other documentation depending on the reasons for which the permit was given.

This means you’ll usually need to submit the following along with your application form:

    • Passport or equivalent identification document from your home country;
    • original copy of your residency permit (permesso di soggiorno or equivalent), or the receipt if you’ve applied but haven’t received it yet;
    • proof of employment if your residency permit was issued for work reasons OR
    • certification of enrollment in education or a professional training course, if the permit is for study or training purposes;
    • proof that you have sufficient economic means to support yourself and any dependents;
    • copy of your personal Italian tax code (codice fiscale), which you can get from the tax office (agenzia dell’entrate);
    • a valid health insurance policy, if you are not eligible to register with the Italian national health service (SSN);
    • declaration of your address in Italy (dichiarazione di residenza);
    • declaration of your marital status and any dependent family members.

Note for non-EU nationals moving to Italy to claim citizenship via ancestry: Non-EU nationals can initially register with the anagrafe without a permesso di soggiorno (this is to give them the opportunity to start the citizenship by ancestry application process, and in turn claim a permesso for attesa di cittadinanza (permit for stay while waiting for citizenship)).

READ ALSO: Can second-home owners get an Italian residency permit?

All applicants will also need to pay the application fee, which is currently set at €27.50 plus tax. 

And if you rent, your landlord or housing association in Italy will need to provide a signed document authorising you to use the address on your registration. Be aware that there are reports of some unscrupulous landlords attempting to charge foreign nationals a fee for this document – which is not legal.

What happens next?

If you submit the application in person, the iscrizione anagrafica is effective immediately, meaning you can apply for your certificato di residenza and carta di identità.

However, the anagrafe has 45 days to check your documents and to verify that you actually live at the address you’ve given. They’ll do this by sending an official to visit you at home: some comuni will give you an appointment for this visit, while in others they’ll turn up without notice, but either way if you’re not at home when they arrive this can cause delays.

The anagrafe has the right to reject your application if any of your documents are found to be invalid or any of your information incorrect. You can appeal against rejections, though you’ll likely need the help of a legal professional.

Once approved, registration with the anagrafe does not expire or need to be renewed. It can be cancelled if you move to another part of Italy or abroad.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. For further information on the process and requirements in your area, visit your local anagrafe office or check the official website of your town’s comune.

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