Schengen Visa and Italian Bureaucracy

Schengen Visa and other Italian Bureaucracy


Schengen visa, Italian bureaucracy

The logic of Italian Bureaucracy

Living in Rome, you are quickly introduced to the convoluted Italian bureaucracy whether you like it or not.  The so-called “system” gets a bad reputation and of course I’ve done my part in disseminating this view.


Getting your Schengen Visa is particularly annoying, as is my old nemesis, the Permesso di Soggiorno.  But let me be clear: it’s not that the Italian bureaucracy is so impossible, it’s that nobody understands it; or more to the point, nobody can explain it to you—least of all in English.

So for what it’s worth, I’ve compiled a short list of some of the most common questions that I receive from people who contact me through my blog.  Let’s call it “Caro Riccardo.”  I’ve edited them for brevity and changed the names to protect the desperate.  I’ve also corrected some of the grammar and spelling, including my own.

Schengen Visa

Caro Riccardo,

I found you by accident, by “googling” Expats in Italy.  Here is my situation…
I dearly want to live in Italy for at least one year in order to see many religious/spiritual sites and visit family living there. I would support myself with my own funds from home.  My question… with your knowledge of visas etc., can I do this OR are there “obstacles” about which you know?  PS: I hope to stay at a religious “house for pilgrims” in Rome, to start, and maybe for the entire stay.

Thank you kindly,

Pilgrim from Pittsburgh

Salve Pilgrim!  And thanks for reading my blog.

Good news for you…the “obstacles” are minimal and you’ll have no problems realizing your dream.  Yes, they’ll be a few annoying bureaucratic steps, but nothing too challenging since you’re able to demonstrate sufficient funds to support yourself.

Most of the information can be found here (in English and Italian):

But I’ll quickly summarize for you.  First, you’ll have two options: 1) Elective Residence Visa.  This is what I did and I’m very familiar with this type of visa.  2) Visa for Religious Reasons, which I’m less familiar with, but you might consider this as a “backup” if  #1 doesn’t work for some reason–although I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t.  In either case you’ll need:

  1. visa application form (click here)
  2. TWO recent passport-style photos
  3. passport or travel document valid for at least three months after visa expiry date
  4. documented and detailed guarantee of substantial and steady economic resources deriving from private income (pensions or annuities), properties, stable economic and commercial activities or other sources
  5. availability of adequate lodgings in Italy (which your religious organization can probably provide for you)

Only #4 is the only tricky one and you seem to have that covered.  Technically, you need to show 8,400 Euros (about $11,000) per year of savings or income.  But I’ve been told that the bigger the number, the easier it will be to get the visa.  To be safe, be ready to show about 20k of savings in U.S. dollars.

For #5 I’ve attached a sample of the letter that I used (modified, of course, to protect my privacy).

That should get you started!  Once your departure date gets closer, let me know if you have any more specific questions.

Ciao, Riccardo

Time frame for applying for Permesso

Caro Riccardo,

I found your name/page on the Expats Living in Rome website.

I just received my “Elective Residence” visa from the Italian Consulate in the U.S.  I leave for Italy next month.

However, I’m having a major problem trying to figure out where I need to go and what I need to fill out, to acquire a residency permit, once I arrive.

What I’m confused about is that the general instructions state that with this visa type, I can apply at the post office.  But then, in one of the following paragraphs, it reads: “Foreign nationals must request a residency permit from the police department (Questura) of the province where they are staying, within 8 business days of their entrance.”

Then, just two paragraphs down from there, it reads: “Foreign nationals who have presented an application at the post office will receive a registered letter from the Immigration Office summoning them to be fingerprinted, when provided by current law, and to receive their residency permit/card.  Upon their first convocation, they must present 4 passport-sized photos with a white background, one of which will be attached to their residency card/permit.”

I’m SO confused!  I assumed I was a “foreign national”.  Do I need to apply at BOTH the post office and the police department?

Also, nothing was mentioned to me about having to fill out tax paperwork or about setting up an Italian bank account. Are those only requirements for EU citizens settling in Italy? (I understand that I will have to supply proof of funds to stay.  Will they accept my US bank statements?)

Additionally, I am arriving in Venice and spending 4 days there and 3 in Florence, before I arrive in Rome via train.  SO, my window to appear and submit this application now is 3 days after my arrival in Rome.

One other question, if you know the answer.  Do you know what the standard fee/charge is if I hire a real estate agent to help me locate an apartment?  I think I may be forced to use an agent, since I don’t know enough Italian to decipher a rental/lease agreement.  Can you recommend any reliable real estate agents?

I am wondering how many of these emails you get every week. 🙁   I would so very much appreciate any assistance/info you can provide.

Grazie mille!!

Confused in California


permesso di soggiorno, bureaucracy in italy,

Do you really need ALL of these?

Ciao Confused,

First of all, take a deep breath because the good news is that you’re WAY ahead of the game compared to most American expats-to-be!  Now let’s look at your questions one at a time.

Regarding the residency permit (Permesso di Soggiorno), you can do it EITHER at the Questura or the post office.  Think of it this way: if you do it at the post office, you’re really just registering with the Questura via mail instead of in person.  No biggie.  And I wouldn’t worry too much about the 8 day limit, either.  Do you your best to do it a.s.a.p., but don’t stress about it.  They know that the process is confusing and cumbersome for foreigners, so just relax and get it done at your pace.  Do your best, but they’re not going around looking for American tourists to deport, believe me.

So when you’re ready, pick up a packet at the post office and follow the instruction on my blog:

But then again, don’t be surprised if you have to go back once or twice to “fix” something that you didn’t get right the first time.  In any case, once you’ve officially started the process, you’re “legal,” so don’t sweat it.

And NO, you don’t need (or want) an Italian bank account—use your Bancomat to get cash from your American account and perhaps a credit card for larger purchases.  Bring your US bank statement with you (the ones you used for your visa app) and that will be more than enough for your Permesso application.  They probably won’t even ask for those, but have them ready just in case.
As far as an apartment, yes, realtors charge one month’s rent to find you an apartment. If money is no object, they why not?  But truthfully you can do it yourself by word of mouth.  If you’re personable and flexible, it won’t be a big problem.  A little luck doesn’t hurt, but you really just need to start networking.  You might find someone with an apartment or even just a room if you’re willing to share and then you won’t have to even deal with contracts or agents or any of that.  I know it sounds flimsy, but it’s the way it is here—friends and contacts are better than websites and agencies, in my opinon.  Start with an expat group:

I realize that you only have a week before your departure, but don’t worry, you’ll be fine.  Look over this stuff and write me back in a day or two with any more questions.  Above all, relax and enjoy Venice and Florence and don’t let the stress interfere with the reason that you’re coming to Italy in the first place.

Ciao for now,



Student Visa / Letter of Hospitality

Caro Riccardo,
Hi!  I’m a prospective student at one of the universities in Rome. I’ll be living in Rome for a year IF I can get my student visa.

The problem I’m running into is this: I will not get approved for a visa until I have a signed rental contract covering the length of my stay in Rome.  So far, I’m in touch with two very kind women but they don’t want to draw up a contract for me until they’ve met me and decided that I’m a good fit.  But they can’t meet me unless I get into the country which I cannot do without a visa which I cannot get without a rental agreement.  Do you see the vicious cycle I’m in here?

I’m applying for my visa next month, time is going fast, and I have to have this all figured out and have paperwork in hand by then.

Desperate in Detroit

Buongiorno, Desperate.  Sounds like you have an exciting adventure planned.

After reading your email, the first thing that struck me was that the university should be assisting you with your visa, if not handling it outright.  If you’ve already been accepted into their program, they should have a protocol in place for helping students.  Very odd.

Regarding the housing issue, there are two options.  One, as you’ve alluded to, is presenting the consulate with a pre-signed housing agreement.  But there’s another option: you can have someone write a letter of hospitality saying that they’ll host you in their home.  This is what I’ve done (twice) and it’s as easy as can be–I’m attaching a sample letter to this email.  Now, the catch is that you have to have a friend or someone to write and sign this letter for you.  So I’m wondering if one of your two potential landlords would be willing to sign this type of informal letter, even if they’re unwilling to sign a legal rental agreement at this point.  Otherwise, do you have any other friends/contacts in Italy (doesn’t have to be Rome) that could do this for you?

I don’t personally know anyone who is looking for a roommate at this very moment.  But have you looked on the Expats living in Rome FB noticeboard?  I just looked this morning and didn’t see anything right now, but feel free to post your own announcement there telling them what you’re looking for.

Another good site is Easy Stanza:

OK, let me know if that’s helpful. Remember you don’t necessarily need a rental agreement, a letter from a friend will do.  But again, you should press the school a little harder for help.  It’s surprising that they’re not assisting you in this.


Checking your status online

Caro Riccardo,

Just when I think all the Permesso stuff is over…..I have gone to the link that you sent, but I’m not positive which number to enter there. I entered the number under the barcode on my permesso packet, but it said it is not present in the archive. While this seems to me that this means it is not being processed, I’m hoping that it actually means I just entered the wrong number.
But the login and password they gave me don’t work either. Again, I’m not sure if that’s because none of this is being processed, or if I’m just entering something incorrectly. If you have any thoughts, I would greatly appreciate it. I do not want to have to go through all of this again, especially when it seemed that everything went well. The appointment was two weeks ago, so I would think it should be in the system by now.  I’ll keep asking around, but thought I would try you as well. Thanks again!!

Rattled in Rome


Hi Rattled,

As you know, I’m all too familiar with your frustration and confusion.  When I read your email, the first thing that occurred to me was that “only” two weeks is not very long to still NOT be in the computer system.  It may yet take a couple more weeks.

Secondly, I’m quite sure that the website that I gave you was correct because that’s where I found my confirmation (eventually).

permesso di soggiorno online

Here’s where you’ll find your code.

I went to my files and dug out my info to try to jar my memory.  It looks like you need the 12 digit registered mail code that’s printed between the bar code and the word “password” on your mail receipt.  Mine was 0612XXX03-9 (you don’t enter the “dash” when entering the number).  Your will probably start with a “06” also, which I think is for the Provinica di Roma.

Give that another try and let me know!  Good luck!


Caro Riccardo,

I would like very much to experience living in Rome at least once in my life!  For the past year, I’ve intermittently applied for numerous jobs there. Unfortunately, nothing has come to fruition. It’s been discouraging. Family and friends think I am CRAZY for actually considering leaving my corporate American job and my comfortable, predictable life. I disagree! 

Anyway, your blog was great and quite helpful. I want to be an expat – but it just isn’t working out! Any suggestions you may have on what I may be doing wrong, or how I can make myself more marketable? 

Thank you so much for your time.

Jobless in Joliet

Ciao Jobless!
I understand your frustration over finding a job and I can offer a few facts that might clear things up.  (And for the record, I disagree with the naysayers, too.)  First, getting a job in Italy via email/Internet is about as likely as winning the lottery. I suppose it happens once in a while—but only for people who have VERY specific, desirable skills that an Italian isn’t likely to have. Secondly, this is also because that Italy’s job culture is still very much face-to-face. They’d never consider hiring anyone that they haven’t met in person.  Third, how’s your Italian?  If you’re not fluent in Italian then you’ve eliminate yourself from 99% of the jobs available.  And there aren’t that many available to begin with—the economic crisis in Italy is still on-going and in fact it’s getting worse.

If all of this sounds bad, well it is—but only for the “conventional” job approach.  So now you’ll have to think of something to create your own opportunity.  Find a job in the US that allows you to work remotely from anywhere.  Or apply with a US company that does business in Italy—there are many.  Not sure what field you’re in, but perhaps you can do some freelance consulting. And if all else fails, you can do what I did and teach English as a second language to Italians.  It’s not hard to get certified and finding a job is piece of cake.  The pay isn’t great, but it’s enough to live on and you could do it temporarily while you start getting your “regular” resume passed around.  Like I said, nobody is likely to hire you until you actually LIVE in Rome/Italy.  That’s just the way it is.

So that’s some food for thought while you mull over your decision.  Let me know if there’s anything else that you’re wondering about. And yes, poke through my website some more—buried within all my sarcastic commentary lies some useful information if you’re determined to find it.  Start here perhaps:

Any more questions?

The above inquiries are the most common, but there are certainly more.  If you have a question not covered in this article, please post on the comments below.  This way everyone can see them and benefit from your misfortunes.  And if you want all of this information in an easy-to-use PDF document, you can download 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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