Il Permesso di Soggiorno, the residence card for expats in Italy

Il Permesso di Soggiorno (a.k.a. The Holy Grail)

One of the first things that you’ll notice about living in Italy is that many things are still done the old-fashioned way; which is to say as inefficiently as possible.  For example,  often you must physically go to the post office and wait in endless lines to accomplish the smallest of tasks—the least of which has anything to do with mailing letters and other such things that Americans normally associate with post office activities.

On the positive side, there is an enormous sense of victory when these goals are (eventually) achieved.  Case in point is the coveted “Il Permesso di Soggiorno,” which is a sort of residency card that long-term sojourners in Italy should (theoretically) obtain.  The first step in the process is to go to the nearest post office and pick up an application packet.  I know, this sounds like something that your beagle could do for you, but let me assure you that it is not.  The trick is that there are—for some unknown reason—a limited number of these little jewels scattered throughout the city and your job is to engage in a sort of scavenger hunt in order to secure one in your own possession.

Il Permesso di Soggiorno

You might best approach this quixotic expedition by making a game out of it: pretend that you are Indiana Jones and you are searching for the Holy Grail while evil forces conspire to foil your plans.  You may chuckle, but this analogy is closer to the truth than you’d believe.  As I said, the precious packet is as rare as a black pearl and you’re opposed by indifferent (or worse, antagonistic) public employees who seem to gain sadistic pleasure in thwarting your efforts.

La solita folla

So you must recruit allies for these missions.  The ultimate maneuver would be to make friends with a post office worker.  While this may seem like a solid plan, I wouldn’t count on it.  Post office workers have no friends—indeed, this was a condition of their employment.  These people are un-friendable, so don’t even waste your time.

It doesn’t really matter, though, because any random Italian will do.  If they grew up in Italy, then they’ll have a few shortcuts to share with you, gleaned from a lifetime of working the system.  It is an innate sort of knowledge that all Italians seem to possess and I never cease to marvel at it.  They know how to figure things out, to find creative solutions to ostensibly insurmountable obstacles.  It is “l’arte d’arrangiarsi,” the art of getting by, as they say.

From my own experience, I can offer a few small pieces of advice.  First, you’ll likely have more success finding this packet at a bigger post office than the smaller ones.  At least your odds are better because they are allotted a great number of these precious gems.  I eventually had luck at the post office located on the north side of the newly renovated Piazza di San Silvestro (see map in the tool bar).

il permesso di soggiorno

Second piece of advice; go in the morning shortly after the post office opens.  And you don’t really have to wait in the line to just pick up the packet.

Third, go directly to the “Sportello Amico,” which are windows dedicated to this type of activity and should contain someone who speaks at least a little English.  But don’t let the word “amico” fool you.  He/she is no friend of yours, believe me.  Indeed, they are the enemy.  Stay focused and show no fear–they can smell it and once they do, you might as well turn around and go home.

So there’s Part One of your mission, should you choose to accept it.  Once you actually have the packet in hand, I’ll discuss the next steps in your quest.  Maybe in about a month or so…

In bocca al lupo! (good luck!)

*2016 UPDATE*

I’ve recently compiled ALL of my Permesso di Soggiorno knowledge into one handy guide, including the info from this post. Get it here:


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Living in the Caput Mundi and trying to decipher Italian culture for the English speaking world.

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