Unless you are of Italian nationality, obtaining the proper permits to stay in Italy legally is time-consuming and difficult at best, and impossible at worst, which is why most people don't bother to do so. Most tourists who visit this fine country fly in, get a stamp on their passport, go about their touristy business, and fly out again after a short time. This course of action is fine - especially if you have no dealings with officials - and by far is the most popular choice opted for. However, there are cases in which it would behove the traveller in Italy to be in complete compliance with the law.
Residing or Travelling in Italy for more than a Month
Citizens of the following countries can visit Italy for up to three months with no more than an entry stamp in their passport:
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- El Salvador
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- South Korea
- United States of America
- Vatican City
EU citizens can stay indefinitely without any special permits, but must still report their presence in the country to the civil authorities, such as the police at the provincial Questura1, at least, and possibly the Comune (town hall) and others as well, depending on their type of lodging, the reasons for their stay, the length thereof, and so on and so forth.
By law you are required to report to the local Questura within eight days of your arrival and obtain a Permesso di Soggiorno (permit to stay). For people who plan to stay less than a month, this is an unnecessary waste of time. If you plan to stay longer it is a good idea to be as much in compliance with the law as possible. Italian law, when exercised to its fullest, can be a cruelly unforgiving thing.
If your three months run out and you want to stay longer, you will need to leave Italy and re-enter. Crossing the border of the Republic of Italy into a neighbouring state, however, is not necessarily enough; you must also leave the EU. Luckily for those who don't want to (or can't afford to) return to their country of origin, there is a conveniently placed neutral country just to the north: Switzerland. You can get an exit stamp at major border towns such as Chiasso. There are border officials at train stations and highway border portals. Ideally, you should get both an exit stamp and an entry stamp when you re-enter, but you can't get both in the same day. If you don't want to stay overnight in Switzerland, an exit stamp on its own should suffice. After you re-enter, you will need to apply for a new Permesso di Soggiorno.
Studying in Italy
The school at which you plan to study should provide you with information on the enrollment process for foreigners. Do not trust this information! It is a good start, but quite likely to be incomplete, inaccurate, or out-of-date. Italian law changes with the wind. Check with the Italian embassy or consulate in your country to obtain a student visa. Be sure to do everything well in advance of any possible deadlines. If the school year begins in November, then call the consulate in March. If you find yourself in Italy, wishing to attend a school, without the proper visa, your life has just become more complicated. It is possible, depending on the school, to study without a student visa. In any case you should report to the local Questura to obtain a Permesso di Soggiorno (see below).
Working in Italy
If you want to work in Italy, you'll have a sort of Catch-22 situation to deal with. You must first find a job, then you must apply for a work permit from the consulate in your country. Unless you can afford to hop back and forth a few times, this can be rather difficult. If you find yourself in Italy, without any visa, and someone is willing to employ you, there is a way. Depending upon specific conventions with your country of origin, and the way in which you entered Italy, it may be possible to convert to a work visa. To do this you need at least a Permesso di Soggiorno (see below). This obtained, visit the Ministry of Labour in the province of your prospective workplace. Depending on the time of year and the number of immigrant workers who have already entered Italy since the last opening of the yearly foreign labour quotas (called flussi) you may be able to obtain a work permit.
At the Questura
All of the cases above have involved visiting the police station. Even if you do not fit into one of the above cases, and have a morning to kill in Italy, it would not hurt to go. To obtain a Permesso di Soggiorno, you'll need the following:
- A photocopy of the ID page of your passport
- A photocopy of the page of you passport bearing the entry stamp, and the page showing your visa if you have one
- Four ID photographs (those photo booths placed everywhere provide nice, cheap ones)
- A photocopy of your hotel reservation or a letter from a friend who is housing you
- Proof of financial support, such as bank statements or a photocopy of both sides of your ATM or credit card
- Proof of insurance
- Marca da bollo worth €14,62 (this is an official stamp that can be purchased at a tobacconist's shop)
It is advisable to call the Questura you will visit in advance. Find out as much as possible about the process, which varies from station to station. You may have to go very early in the morning and wait in line for hours. Or you may have to make a reservation and go on a specific day to wait in line for hours. It is also advisable that you obtain a rudimentary facility with the Italian language. If you don't speak Italian and find yourself needing to consult this entry, you are probably learning it very quickly. Being courteous to all officials is also a good idea.