Visas, Permits and More

The Secret to Surviving Italian Bureaucracy for Foreigners

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We have all heard the stories about Italian bureaucracy. The long waits, the misguided information, the unclear procedures, the sudden request for unlisted documents… it goes on and on.

If you are from North America, Australia, the UK, or even northern Europe, and have tried to navigate the Italian system, you know exactly what I am talking about.  

We have helped countless foreigners navigate the bureaucracy in Italy, from arriving on a visa and applying for a Permesso di Soggiorno, establishing residency, getting the carta d’identita, and finally their enrolment into the public health system, and everyone has a story to tell.

We have worked in more comune than I can recall, big and small, from organized ones in the north, to complete chaos in the south and everything in between.

What I have learned from going through the experience myself many years ago, and now helping others do the same, is that when it comes to Italian government officials, the only consistency is that there is no consistency.

Every single case is somewhat a shot in the dark.  Although you can be as planned as possible, you never really know until you’re standing in front of a government window how it will go, what they will really want to see, or if their morning routine put them in a foul mood.

The only consistency is that there is no consistency.

Yet this is not news.  In fact, you’ve probably said to yourself “I know that it will be difficult, but I don’t mind. I can handle it.” 

But when days turn into weeks of waiting for answers from a government office, and minutes turn into hours standing in a line for no reason at all, your emotions can – and often will – get the best of you. I have seen foreigners scream, cry, blame everyone around them, throw papers and storm off. 

Trust me, this will get you nowhere but a fast track to the emergency ward for heart meds.

In Italy, customers are appreciated, but not always right and bullying tactics that work so well in other countries will only make things significantly worse in Italy.

This is because the person behind the window has discretion, and with that comes control.  Control over your visa application, control over your permesso di soggiorno, control over your residency, and more.

So, the best you can do is recognize that and comply with their wishes, regardless of how ridiculous they may be. 

Here is why I believe that foreigners get so frustrated.  It is not because the steps are long or complicated.  That is understandable.

It is not because you are told one thing, and then another the next day.  That is, well, just part of it.

The reason is that foreigners can’t stand to give up control or give in to the notion that they are not the most important thing in the mind of the official (or shopkeeper for that matter). This is a mindset that is cultural, not intentional.

The notion of customers first/right is ingrained into our consumer culture.  We have the money, we pay for a service, and we expect it to be delivered flawlessly.  Period.   And if that service isn’t delivered flawlessly, then we get angry and if we yell loud enough, or cause enough grief, we will eventually get our way.   As a customer/client, we are used to being in control.

So here is the secret to surviving Italian bureaucracy, from someone who has seen it all.  Let go of the need to control everything. Things will go wrong.  More than once.  It is how you respond that will make the difference in whether you survive your new life in Italy or return home defeated.

Remember your why.

Remind yourself of the bigger picture, returning to your “why” which is the real reason you moved to Italy.  

Ask yourself why you feel better about your health, your surroundings, and your relationships.  Why the sunshine makes you smile in the morning; why the kind smile or Buongiorno from the stranger makes you feel connected to your community; why you had worked so hard to be here in the first place.

And then, give into the notion that the only consistency is that there is no consistency in Italy and follow the path of least resistance. 

And breath.

I promise you, once you give up control, your life in Italy will become infinitely easier.

Here are more ways we can help you navigate the Italian bureaucracy :

Listen to Episode #5:   Five in Ten with Antonio Sardi, an Italian Residency Expert answer five of our listener’s top questions in ten minutes or less.  He gives us his view of the biggest mistakes foreigners make when moving to Italy.

Need 1:1 help?  We are happy to help guide you through all stages of your move to Italy all you need to do is ask.

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  1. Mark Hinshaw says:

    An excellent bit of advice to newcomers.
    Everyone goes through a sort of “trial by fire” for the first year or two after moving to Italy. Its unavoidable. There are no short cuts, workarounds, hidden secrets that some people know.
    I summarize by telling people to “Laugh and laugh a lot.
    After you finish crying.”

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