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Expatriates in Sicily
This is only a very superficial introduction. For more detailed information on living in Italy we suggest the sites mentioned on our links page. Here we'll approach a few immediate concerns for those contemplating a move to our sunny island. (This is not legal advice and should not be construed as such.) We cannot respond to specific queries for advice or assistance relating to residency in Italy.
Connecting: The internet, satellite television (in Italy the Sky network), affordable international flights, Amazon, easy telecommunications and other developments make it simpler than ever to live in Sicily – even in more remote areas – without feeling isolated from the rest of the world. There are many communities of foreigners in the larger cities, but outside these urban areas there are only a few from English-speaking countries, for example in Ragusa and Cianciana. Taormina and Cefalù seem popular with Germans. It's difficult to generalise.
Residency: European Union (EU) citizens may live in Italy for as long as they like. Others will need a stay permit (see below) to reside here for more than ninety (90) days, and if your passport is issued by a nation not in the Visa Waiver Program you will need a visa to enter Italy and stay for up to 90 days. There are too many kinds of visas to be considered here, and conditions of their issuance by the Italian government are just as bureaucratic as they are elsewhere.
Establishing Residency: An EU citizen seeking to open bank accounts may be required to declare residency (at the local anagrafe office), something to be carefully considered depending on the laws in your own country. Some countries (such as the United States) determine residency for taxation based on the number of days spent in that country (35 days in the case of the US). Whether you actually declare residency in Italy is less important to the American government than it may be to others, especially those in the EU.
Banking & Driving: Legal residency (and a stay permit and personal taxpayer number) will usually be required by banks for you to open a current (checking) account in Italy – financial regulations having become rather stringent in recent years. American Express® may set up an Italy-based card account for you if you have an Italian taxpayer number and have been a cardmember in good standing in another country for at least one card-renewal cycle (usually 4 years). If you establish legal residency in Italy – as opposed to residing here on a visa for a few months at a time – you will be expected to apply for a national Italian driving license if your existing one is issued outside the EU or by a country having no agreement in this regard with Italy. (Presently, US drivers' licenses, being issued state-by-state, are not covered by international agreements of this kind for Italian residents.)
Stay Permit: Known as a permesso di soggiorno, this is issued by the police station, the questura. It is not necessary if you are the citizen of an EU nation; otherwise you will need one if you plan to reside in Italy for more than 90 days or when your visa expires. Various social and economic conditions – too numerous to be listed here – facilitate issuance of stay permits, for example marrying an Italian citizen, being employed by an Italy-based firm or being a pensioner during your time in Italy. As just one of the requirements, you may be asked to demonstrate financial security through the holding of a bank account with a certain sum on deposit. The stay permit allows you to apply for a national identity card, or carta d'identità. If you have a stay permit valid for at least one year, you may obtain a personal taxpayer number, a codice fiscale, making it possible to open a personal bank account.
Health Services: Having obtained a stay permit, as a legal resident of Italy you may request a health services card, or tessera sanitaria, issued (in the case of Sicily) by the Sicilian Regional government. This places you in the national public healthcare system, which covers most major medical expenses.
Military Personnel: Here most details of your move, and even off-base housing, will be handled by your employer. Most foreign military personnel in Sicily are Americans based at Sigonella about 25 minutes from Catania, though some are citizens of various EU and NATO countries. The residency of military personnel is based on conditions set forth by a status of forces treaty – for example, spouses and children of American military personnel may not be employed by Italian companies or public agencies.
Your Home: Foreigners in possession of residential property in Italy will normally be issued stay permits or long-term visas without difficulty. These allow you to reside in Italy but not necessarily to work here unless you own your own business. The visa should be requested at an Italian consulate before coming to Italy; you will be required to present proof of home ownership. Questions related to visa applications are best submitted to your nearest Italian consulate. (Incidentally, this may provide you with a taste of Italian bureaucratic inefficiency.)
Income & Expenses: If your income derives from sources outside Italy – a bank account or pension – you will avoid many of Sicily's social complexities in things like employment and education.
Employment: The subject of jobs in Sicily is addressed in brutal detail on another page. Obtaining a formal job offer – or owning a business in Italy – before you arrive will facilitate issuance of a visa and (eventually) a long-term stay permit.
Language: While it may be possible for some foreigners to live in Milan without speaking much Italian, this is not usually true in Sicily. It's best to know at least some Italian before establishing residence here, especially if you'll be bringing children with you.
Schools: While we have some serious misgivings about the universities and most public high schools (especially concerning things like protests, sit-ins and incompetent teachers who indoctrinate students politically), public education in Italy for children up to age 14 is generally acceptable to most foreigners. Obviously, you'll have to supplement it with more specialized education regarding the society of your birth or citizenship – be it the US, UK, Germany, Pakistan, Tunisia or Nigeria.
Dual Nationality & Immigration: Some nations (US, UK) allow their native-born citizens to hold citizenship in a second country while others (Russia, Japan) generally do not. Italian citizenship is usually based on descent from an Italian citizen or marriage to one. Statistically, as reported in 2012, North-Africans (Tunisians and Moroccans) and Albanians top the list of foreign men married to Italian women, with Romanians and Ukrainians topping the list of foreign brides in Italy. Ethnically, most of Sicily's new immigrants are Asian and African.
The Law: Wherever you're coming from, Italian law will be quite different from what you're familiar with. For an overview, we suggest our article on Italian law and you.
Social Realities: Our gateway page on The Invisible Sicily links to articles dealing with life's complexities in Sicily and things you may – or may not – encounter. Sites dedicated to expatriate life in Italy describe similar things. As we've said, you will confront fewer of these potentially challenging circumstances if your source of income is offshore and you (or your children) are not involved in the local educational system. Much as we love Sicily, we know of no place where life is perfect.
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