How to survive Italian bureaucracy (without losing your mind) | The Gap Life Diaries
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How to survive Italian bureaucracy (without losing your mind)

When you move to Italy, you will be astounded by how much paperwork there is to do, and how little of it can be done online. You will inevitably spend many hours standing in queues – oh, who am I kidding? – scrums in public offices, and you will probably feel like giving up more than once. Sadly for you, there’s no choice but to persevere if you want to carry on being able to live in a place where you can eat ice cream at any time of year without fear of judgment.

This is a guide to the most common documents you’ll need if you’re an EU citizen moving to Italy, and how to get them. Be warned: it’s going to be a long one.


Things to know before you start:

  • Italian bureaucracy is like a video game – you need to beat certain baddies and collect various elusive gems before you can move on to the next level.
  • Arrive early, always.
  • Accept that the first answer will almost always be “it’s impossible”, and that you’ll have to work backwards from there.
  • It is unlikely you will walk out with the document you came in for on the first attempt, even if it was meant to be easy. Know this in advance, keep expectations low, and be ready to come back (or be sent elsewhere) at the same time tomorrow.
  • Don’t even think about getting more than one thing done per day. Public offices are usually open only in the mornings, and are almost never near to one another. They usually have a ticket system which means that if you show up more than 20 minutes after the doors open, there’s no way you’ll make it to the sportello before closing time.
  • You are totally at the mercy of that one person behind the one desk. They can (and sometimes will) tell you they don’t want to help. Be polite, even if they make you feel like stabbing them.
  • Nobody who works in these offices is sufficiently good at English to be able to help. If you’re not confident in Italian, bring a friend who is.
  • Be prepared, but don’t let them know you are. Do your homework, and bring everything you need (and more – you never know!), but put one document in a different part of your bag, or save a code on your phone so you have to search for it. Do not let them know you’re 100% ready, it only makes them want to help you less, for some reason. Trust me on this one.
  • Quantity over quality. The more papers you can present, the more likely you are to get what you need.
  • Keep all the paperwork you receive, and keep it in a safe place – one day, maybe a week from now, maybe 5 years from now, that useless looking piece of paper will save you from another bureaucratic nightmare.


With that in mind, let’s move on to what you’ll need to live legally and (fairly) stress-free in bella Italia…



What is it?

A codice fiscale is your personal identification code, and proof that you’re “in the system”. If you want to do any other kind of official paperwork in Italy, get a job, sign the lease on a house, or sign up for the health system, you need your CF.

Do I really need to do this?

Yep, next?

How do I get it?

The good news is, the codice fiscale is pretty easy to get hold of. You need to go down to your local Agenzia delle Entrate, take a ticket for the sportello for immigration, wait for what could be a fairly long time (bring a book) show them your national ID card or passport, fill in a form (nothing too complicated), and they’ll print your codice fiscale out for you there and then. Keep this number safe, as you’ll need it often. You can choose to receive a card in the post, by ticking another box on the form, but if you’re going to sign up for healthcare in Italy, you may as well wait, as your healthcare card doubles up as your codice fiscale card, and is more useful.

Faff factor: 1/5


After you’ve got your codice fiscale, you can sign a lease and a work contract with no problems.

Finding a house and a job in Italy are whole topics for another time, but just two tips before we move on:

1: Plenty of landlords will allow you to live in their house without a contract, paying in cash. While this doesn’t cause you any issues as a temporary solution, not having a house contract can make other bits of bureaucracy much trickier. So apart from being illegal, renting a house “in nero” will probably be more trouble than it’s worth if you’re planning on staying for longer than a few months. By the way, living somewhere with a contract isn’t even much more expensive.

2: The same goes for a work contract, although in this case you have a little less you’re less likely to be the one deciding. Working “in nero” is something plenty of Italians and foreigners do, but if you aren’t paying taxes, you aren’t entitled to the services of the country. It’s only fair. Even if a potential employer doesn’t want to give you a “decent” contract (and many won’t, believe me), there are still ways for them to pay you which are above board, whether that be with a prestazione occasionale contract or by asking you to work freelance with a Partita IVA.



What is it?

When you get your residenza, you’re officially declaring that you’re staying in Italy (at least for now) as more than a tourist. It’s not the same as citizenship, but being a resident does mean you’re entitled to most of the same things that the locals are.

Do I really need to do this?

It actually isn’t a must if you’re only going to be in Italy short term – apparently you have to get residenza if you’re staying for longer than 3 months. If you’re planning on opening a bank account, getting an ID card, or signing up to the healthcare system (basically, if you’re not planning on moving anywhere else any time soon) you’re going to need one, but you have time to settle in a bit before you need to run and do it.

How do I get it?

You’ll need to go to your local Anagrafe, take a ticket, and wait your turn. You need to show: your passport or national ID card, your employment contract, and your house contract. Make sure your landlord gives you all the info from the ‘catasto’, meaning the precise details about square metres, location of apartment, etc. If you’re living in a shared house and someone else has already got residency there, ask if they’ll come with you – sometimes they’re allowed to vouch for you and it will speed up the process a bit.

If, like me when I first became a resident, you don’t have a traditional work contract when you sign up to the Anagrafe, you’ll need a certificate from INPS, which confirms that you’re in their system and therefore paying your contributi. To get that ‘certificate’ (mine was a piece of A4 paper with an INPS logo and just the words “Emma is registered with INPS” printed on it…), you may need to spend yet another morning queueing in INPS and being stared at blankly by 4 consecutive people before one of them finally gives in and just prints the bloody thing like you asked.

Assuming you manage to return to the Anagrafe with all the right bits and pieces, they’ll then ask you what time you’re usually at home to send the police round to check that the address you’ve provided is really where you live. Make sure your name is on the citofono, because the police are almost guaranteed to ignore your preferred time slots and come bang in the middle of your working day. If they see your name on the buzzer, or find a housemate who can vouch for you, it’s all good and your residence document will arrive in the post.

Faff factor: 3/5


Side note on INPS:

When you register with INPS, you’ll be sent some codes either in the post (to your home country address if you’re registering before becoming a resident in Italy) or via email or text message. DO NOT LOSE THESE. They come in handy if you ever need to use the online system (which you now do if you ever want to give your resignation at work, for example), and if you don’t have them, it will be a nightmare of epic proportions.



What is it?

Once you’re a resident, you’re entitled to (and actually expected to get) an Italian ID card. This is the most recognisable form of identification in Italy, and will get fewer questions and weird looks than your passport will. It’s also wallet-sized so is the easiest form of ID to carry (in Italy, you’re supposed to have ID on you at all times).

Do I really need to do this?

Not really. Full disclosure: I lived in Italy for 5 years before I got mine, and only did it because it was too complicated to renew my driving licence without one (but that’s not the case for most people – keep reading). You definitely don’t need to rush to get one if you already have an EU passport, as you’ll be able to do everything with that.
That said, it’s very easy to do, so if you can bear the idea of going back to the Anagrafe, you may as well.

How do I get it?

Take a set of passport photos, your passport, and your residency document back down to the Anagrafe, fill in a form about how tall you are and what colour your hair is, pay around €5 (cash only, obvs), and get your ID card there and then. The Anagrafe staff will kindly stamp “NON VALIDO PER L’ESPATRIO” (“Not valid for leaving the country”) all over it, just in case you’d thought it might be useful for something.

Faff factor: 1/5




What is it?

If you have a tessera sanitaria, it means you’re registered for the healthcare system, and entitled to the same services that Italians are (some free, others not).
The card itself also doubles up as proof of your codice fiscale, so is handy to have in your purse.
If you’re a smoker, you’ll need a tessera sanitaria if you want to use the cigarette machines in the street.
If you get paid with “vouchers”, you’ll need a tessera sanitaria in order to get your cash from the tabaccheria. Fun challenge: getting a tessera sanitaria in the first place when you have no proof of ever having been paid because, you guessed it, you can’t without the tessera sanitaria – try the INPS certificate trick mentioned above, and you should get around this one.

Do I really need to do this?

If you don’t have one, not only will you have to note down your codice fiscale on a post-it, but you’re only really entitled to medical care from A&E, and if it’s not urgent, you’ll spend a long time waiting. Italy is also quite strict on sick days, so you’ll need a doctor’s certificate from your GP if you take time off work. You’ll also need one for any kind of medical treatment, and girls will get free pap tests offered to them through the system, so you should get one, yes.

How do I get it?

It’s actually one of the least stressful ones, but this does require a very early morning.

You’ll need to go to your local ASL (or regional equivalent) and take a ticket. The ticket machines only give out a certain number of tickets per day, and realistically only half of those people are likely to make it through before the office closes, so you want to aim to be one of the first.

The machines are supposed to start spitting out numbers at 8am, but realistically it’s more like 7:30, and before that a pre-queue will form (mostly composed of gripey old ladies), so you want to arrive at 6:30 or so if you want to a) be seen, and b) not spend your entire morning listening to the grumpy grannies.

Be prepared to hold your space in the scrum as you know by now what these Italians are like with queueing. Once you’ve got your ticket, it’s a walk in the park. Just present your passport/ID card, residence certificate, work contract (if they ask for it), and codice fiscale, and you’ll be added on to the system and asked to choose a local GP.

You’ll get a temporary piece of paper to use in case you need healthcare before your card arrives in the post a couple of weeks later.

Faff factor: 2.5/5




What is it?

Just driving license in Italian, actually.

Do I really need to do this?

If you’re a resident in Italy, technically speaking, you do need to convert your driving license into an Italian one. But realistically, if you have an EU license, get pulled over and are asked if you live in Italy, you’ll just be told you should get an Italian license and be sent on your way. So if you can’t be bothered right away, don’t stress.
That said, it is a bit easier to convert a license than to renew one, and if you leave it until yours is expired, it’ll be even more of a hassle. So when you have time, you may as well go and do it.

How do I get it?

Friends of mine have managed this process fairly painlessly, but for me this was the trickiest of all.
Long story short: I was trying to renew my soon-to-expire UK license, but was using my Irish passport as ID as I was told that being British was going to cause problems. However, I was registered at the Anagrafe as British, and just to add to the fun, my place of birth is different on my two passports (town name on UK one, county name on Irish one), meaning that nobody would accept my documents and I had to go on a wild goose chase to change a bunch of things to make me come up as Irish on all the systems and to get a document which had both my nationality and place of birth written how the Motorizzazione wanted it (hence the need for an ID card).

Anyway, you have a few options here.
You can choose to go directly to the Motorizzazione (the DVLA equivalent) if you want – it’ll cost a bit less, but will require a bit more aggro beforehand (they can’t provide you with the medical certificate, for example), and the offices are also often located in flipping ridiculous places. Also, they are famous for being quite hard to deal with, so prepare for battle if you choose this route.
Alternatively (and this is what I went for) you can decide to part with a few more of your hard-earned Euros and go through someone else who will argue with the Motorizzazione on your behalf. Most private driving schools offer this service, as do a couple of other associations. I went through the Italian Automobile Club (ACI), which despite my personally stressful experience, I’d still probably recommend.

If you go somewhere like ACI, all you need is: valid driving license, passport, residence certificate (bonus points if you have the exact date of your first residence in Italy – if not, just guess, because I promise you that nobody is checking), and a new set of passport sized photos. ACI have an in house doctor who (at a price) will provide you with the necessary medical certificate with marca da bollo and will also sign your passport photos. Once you have all that, you’ll need to fill in a fairly simple form, hand over some cold, hard cash, and ACI will send off the request for you. After a lonnnggg wait (almost 3 months, in my case), ACI will send you an SMS and you can go and pick up your new license from them.

Faff factor: in my case, a bajillion/5, but normally more like 2.


Finally, a note to my British friends: do you now understand why I find it annoying that you all do everything online and receive your documents in the post 2 days later?
Thought so.
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