My decision was made. I was going to try to move to Italy. Try was my operative word. I never actually believed it would happen, but it was a great fantasy, and one worth pursuing. Grand follies are the best kind, and I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try when I had the opportunity.
Italy isn’t a grand passion for me the way it is for some, nor am I being sent to work over there. I’m not going to get a degree or study at a university. Aside from my brother living near Aviano for most of the last twenty-ish years and knowing that this fact might help, I hadn’t the first idea how to go about applying for an elective residence visa. I didn’t even know it was an elective residence visa that I needed.
I know that some people dream and plan for years before doing something like this. They’re probably far better prepared than I am. Most of the websites I looked at did mention elective residence visas in passing, but said that people should take a couple of years to plan and prepare for the application and the move. And there I was, throwing myself into the abyss with only a few months to work in, hoping there would be a soft landing, or that maybe I’d sprout some wings.
After asking my brother and getting his go-ahead on the project, we talked for a bit. He didn’t know much about the process, as he entered Italy with the Air Force, married an Italian, and got his residence an entirely different way than I need to. Most of the resources I found online about moving to Italy assumed that the person applying for a visa was either going for work or to attend university, and offered information accordingly. Some of it was useful but the majority wasn’t. Being told to talk to my HR department about the transfer wasn’t on my radar for obvious reasons. My HR department has a cold nose and four furry paws. He’d be useless for advising me on an international move. I bought two books on living and working in Italy last month and both of them mention elective residence visas only in passing.
Fortunately, I’m really good at internet research, and I’m also pretty good at figuring out the right questions to ask. This process, however, took a few months. I asked questions on the Fodors travel forum and got some good advice there. I read blogs by people who had successfully moved to Italy and found inspiration and real discussions of the ups and downs of the process, even when first attempts failed. I talked to people who had managed it, and friends who have moved to other countries from their own native lands — France, England, Spain, Thailand, the US. I got information from the Italian consulate in San Francisco. I’ve been told that each consulate handles the process somewhat differently, so my experience may not be what you encounter if you try to move to Italy. My experiences were also different than those of the people I talked to about the process.
On the surface, it looked impossible. I am, quite possibly, a fool or perhaps just blindly optimistic. But I had to move anyway due to my physical circumstances, so there was no reason not to take a whack at the impossible just to stay in practice. We poets are a sorry lot of wild-eyed dreamers, after all.
In searching for what was necessary to apply for an elective residence visa, different websites had slightly differing lists, so I emailed the San Francisco consulate for their specific requirements. I got this list of what was required for the elective residence application from the consulate:
Long term visa application form (you can find it on our website)
Passport valid and photocopy
Documented and detailed guarantee of substantial and steady private income (pensions or annuities) from property, stable economic and commercial activities or from other sources.
Proof of financial means, such as letters from the applicant’s bank indicating the financial status of their accounts, including amount of money in each account, copy of the last pension check, rental agreement or deed for property in Italy
Valid foreign medical insurance (you will need a declaration from your insurer stating that you are covered abroad)
Fbi criminal report
Bank statements for the last 6 months showing a consolidate balance of at least $50,000 (each individual)
Tax returns for the last three years
Out of everything on that list, the most intimidating was the fact that they wanted proof that I had $50,000. I’ve never had that much money in my life. I probably never will have, unless I win the lottery, and I don’t buy tickets so you can see where that’s going.
In acquiring information from the consulate in San Francisco, I found that the best way to get actual useful answers was to ask one short question in each email, and make it a clear enough question that it could be answered in one or perhaps two sentences. Our correspondence was cordial and quite clear once I figured that out. Initially it had been slightly frustrating for me, because I tend to want to get all my answers in one place and will ask questions accordingly. Lots of them. In great detail. I’m sure I’m terribly annoying. I had sent an email with four or five questions on it and got a one sentence response that didn’t actually make sense to me and only peripherally addressed one of my questions. Breaking it down helped immensely, probably for both of us.
For the FBI report, I went to their website, printed out the form for a criminal records search, and went down to the county sheriff’s office to get fingerprinted. This was one of my earliest acts toward applying for the visa, as I had no idea how long the paperwork was going to take.
The letter from my credit union was actually easier than I anticipated. They apparently see things like this from time to time, and have a standard form for immigration purposes. It didn’t cost me a dime and they were very friendly and efficient about it. I had it about three days after my request. In later correspondence with the consulate, they said they wanted two letters of this sort from different financial institutions, but I explained that the credit union was the only place where I had accounts, and I had no other assets, so they said that the one letter would be acceptable.
Their requirement for a residence actually waiting for me in Italy was solved by my brother stepping in and sending a formal invitation, allowing me to live at his residence when I move there. I’ll stay with him until I can find my own place. It took him several talks with his friends at the town hall and friends of friends at the Questura in order to get the proper form and have it filled out properly. This invitation, however, makes him legally responsible for supporting me for a year when I arrive, so he had to be absolutely willing to take that chance on me. With the invitation form, he also had to include a copy of his Permesso di Soggiorno and he tossed in his most recent bank statement and his Italian identity documents for good measure, just in case. When it comes to Byzantine bureaucracies coughveteransadministrationcough, one can never be too prepared.
My brother has been a legal permanent resident of Italy for some time now. Because of that status, he is entitled to invite any member of his immediate family — parents, children if he had any, or siblings — to join him in Italy. I’m convinced that this is why my visa was granted. Between the two of us we could not come up with $50,000 even after I’d sold my car, half my library, and almost everything else I own, though we came fairly close. Even then, that was mostly his doing. The Questura told him that I should be sure to tell the consulate very clearly that I was applying for the elective residence visa and that I have no current military affiliation. Apparently, being so close to the base at Aviano, they often see people issued the wrong kind of visa because of the American military presence, and these individuals then have to return to the US to apply for the proper category of visa; visas cannot be applied for while you are actually in Italy. They did, however, assure him that with this invitation the consulate should grant my visa with no trouble.
Medical was partly taken care of by virtue of my being a disabled veteran. The VA system has a Foreign Medical Program in place for many countries. When you sign up for the program, the VA will pay any medical expenses related to your service-connected disabilities just like a civilian insurance company would. I still had to get civilian medical insurance for the purposes of the visa application and may well need it over there at some point, if only for emergencies. Medicare and Medicaid don’t apply over there, and they will not pay for medical care when you are overseas. When I visited the VA yesterday for a regular appointment, I collected a cd with my medical records on it and talked to several other departments. I was told that the VA can mail my medications to me at an APO box, which my brother has, for as long as my doctors will renew prescriptions. I was also told that when I return to the US for visits, I can get my annual exams and appointments with my meds doc and other clinics just as though I still lived in the US. It will keep me in the system, and it will let me get my regular long-term medical care dealt with by people who already know me. I’ve been going to the Seattle VA since 1988 and it’s reassuring to deal with the same people on a long-term basis. Even when the doctors change fairly frequently, the support staff knows and likes me, and they’re very willing to help out if I have questions or particular sticky issues to deal with.
Tax forms and proof of income were a bit of consternation for me. Because I live on VA disability compensation and Social Security disability, I don’t get check stubs. Everything gets directly deposited to my credit union account electronically and there’s no monthly income documentation beyond my monthly credit union account statement. Neither of these sources of income are taxable, so I haven’t filed a tax return in years. I went to the VA office and got official documents stating my annual income for the past three years, got similar forms from the Social Security office, then went to the IRS office and brought the question to them. They gave me Verification of Non-Filing documents that the consulate said would be acceptable alternate documentation to tax returns. I can continue to receive both of these types of disability income while I am living overseas, so I have a stable income that is sufficient to live on in Italy.
Buying a plane ticket was a huge source of anxiety for me. I wasn’t sure how long the visa process would take. The website said up to sixty days. So before I could get a ticket, I had to book an appointment online at the consulate, and get my tickets for San Francisco. I had to decide if I was going to take a chance on a cheap non-refundable ticket to Venice, or pay about $1,400 more for a ticket that I could refund if the visa were denied. After much thought and soul-searching, I decided on the cheap ticket and dated it for three days after the sixty day deadline noted by the consulate. It was the scariest button I’ve ever clicked on a website. Booking that appointment and buying that ticket suddenly made the whole thing more than just a shot at a fantasy. It was no longer theory; it had suddenly become real. There was a clock ticking now.
I figured that, if they denied the visa, I’d just buy a return ticket and go visit my brother for the holidays. At least that way, I wouldn’t be losing money, and either way I’d wind up with a trip to Italy. With that in mind, I figured I couldn’t lose. If I got the visa, I’d saved $1,400 extra for moving expenses and starting my life over there. Either option resulted in me at least visiting Italy, and if the visa were denied, I would still get to move to Seattle. Not a bad outcome, at least to me.
Filling out the visa application required several emails to the consulate for clarification. I had specific questions about individual blanks on the form, because it wasn’t clear to me which answers were the appropriate ones for a residence visa. My ticket to Venice included a transfer through Madrid — was my port of entry into the EU the Madrid airport where I was just going from one gate to another, or the Venice airport, where I was actually leaving the grounds? Madrid, they said. I filled in the blank.
And then, I prepared for the appointment.