I have only been an expat in Italy, therefore I can only speak about the steps of becoming an expat, well, in Italy.
That said, anyone who has gone through the paces of living in Italy (and not studying abroad because it’s a bit different) can really relate to what an ordeal this is.
Italy, as far as I’m aware, is the only country in the world that makes it extra hard to establish yourself as a resident, even temporarily. That said, there is also a tendency toward the “turning a blind eye” attitude. Dare I say it, the nation’s a bit lazy and corrupt. Yet, somehow, still it’s so difficult to live here legally.
Visas are hard to get in any country. In Italy, it’s nearly impossible to get a legit work permit. In order to get one the company has to be approved through the Italian government that they need YOU for this job (that it cannot be done by someone who doesn’t need a work permit–cue other English speaking nations here), and after that process you must clear it through the U.S. government. All of the visa transactions must be done in the U.S. meaning either you have to already have a job before coming to Italy or you have to somehow find one here that can wait for you to go back to the U.S. spend the time to apply for the visa and then wait for it to be delivered. They say that getting a visa can take up to 3 months depending on the capacity of applications!
Ok, so what do you do? It depends on your plans. You can either find a way to get sponsorship through a family or you can sign up for classes and get a student visa. I chose/was forced to do the latter. Courses were paid for, my return flight was used and I very fortunately received my visa in just two weeks.
Then came the really ridiculous part. In Italy, it is not enough just to have a visa granting you the permission to reside in the country for the said time period. You must also apply (and pay!) for a Permesso di Soggiorno. This gives you the permission to live in Italy for the applied period. Ok, wait, what is the visa for then? Good question.
Getting a permesso requires two painful trips to the Post Office and a lengthy form to be filled out. Paying for students insurance and two (or more) painful visits the Questura.
Here are the dirty details:
1. You have to go to the post office and wait in line to request the “Permesso di Soggiorno Kit”.
2. Go home and fill it out; FYI (of course) it’s all in Italian so although it’s probably decipherable have an Italian pal help you out if you can!
NOTE: you also must buy the 14 Euro Marca da Bollo stamp and affix it to your application.
3. Return to the Post Office and wait in line again to purchase insurance (I think you only have to do this as a student); there is a student policy called Polizza Sanitaria Studenti Stranieri through Assitalia and it’s 49 Euro (plus tax) for 6 months. I would recommend it, the postal workers know what it is and how to get it to you.
4. Then you wait in another line to turn in your Permesso Kit; there you pay for the postage to send it across the city to the Questura (where you easily could have walked it); for me it came out to about 57.50 Euro.
5. There you get a summoning to the Questura for a later date; about one month later. Do not be fooled by the “appointment” time you are given. The officers at the Questura don’t know and they don’t care.
6. Arrive early on the day you have to go to the Questura. If it’s in the morning, around 8am and in the afternoon around 2pm. You will still have to wait in line.
NOTE: Arrive with 4 passport sized photos.
7. Once you enter the Questura you get a number and wait some more. Bring a book.
8. When you are called to the window on your first trip you hand over your passport and the passport sized photos you have taken and are asked to sign a slip of paper. Then, all of your fingerprints are taken. Trip number one is over. You receive another “appointment” generally one month later.
9. At the next appointment the same goes for the line. Once you are inside an officer takes your “appointment” sheet into the back and stand up in front of everyone badly mispronouncing foreign names; if your permesso is ready they give you a number, if not they tell you when to come back.
10. If you are lucky to have your permesso done on time you take your number and wait. When you are called you approach the window, give your passport and one fingerprint for ID and are handed your shiny new permesso card.
Allow yourself a whole day for each of these excursions. That means you must take the day off work, awesome. The line to get a number generally takes at least an hour and the wait inside is at least three hours.
It all seems easy enough but for all the hassle it takes to get a visa, and get the card it seems like such a waste of time, and not to mention materials, to print a shiny card for every foreigner hoping to stay even for six months in Il Bel Paese.
Many people don’t ever go through any of this hassle (remember the laziness and corruption I mentioned) but my thoughts on that are another story.