Getting residency in Catania – a story

dirty ashtray
8:30 in the morning and the ashtray’s already full

“Good morning. I’m English, but I’d like to get Italian residency.” The man in the filthy, nicotine-stained office with the overflowing ashtray on his desk barely gives me a glance. “You’re in the wrong department. Round the corner, number 28, first floor.”

Well, that was a good start.

Davide and I navigate our way up the rickety stairs at number 28, which are covered in plaster dust, and have trailing cables hanging loose from the walls. It hardly seems possible that we’re going to the right place, but then I spot a battered A4 printout on the wall with a crudely-drawn arrow pointing us to the office for foreign registrations. We carry on.

Upstairs, there’s a row of chairs fixed to the wall. I scoot to the only available one and sit myself down. There are two doors – one at the end of the corridor, and one to the left of the chairs. They’re both firmly locked. I peer along the line of people, all clutching various official-looking bits of paper, as I try to work out everyone’s stories. A good few people – including me – look like they’re here with Sicilian spouses, but there’s also a Chinese couple and a Sri Lankan family, as well as some people on their own.

This staircase might be in better condition than the one at the anagrafe
This staircase might be in better condition than the one at the anagrafe

The office is supposed to open at 9:00. At 9:10, the camp man who’s been flitting in and out of the door since 8:45 opens it and lets the Sri Lankan family in. Or part of it, anyway. The family consists of middle-aged Mum and Dad, and their young adult son. It seems like the son already has his documentation sorted, but that the parents’ Italian is a bit lacking, so he’s here as translator. They’ll only let two out of the three of them in at one time, though, so there’s some shuffling about of different family members while they deal with all the permutations.

The rest of us are left waiting in the freezing cold corridor, staring at an out-of-order photocopier. A large group of Senegalese men arrives. “Who’s last in the queue?” There’s a fair bit of confusion over this , so the head Senegalese guy – wearing darkest of dark glasses and whitest of white linen shirts, sleeves rolled up to the elbows despite the January cold – takes charge. “Let’s make a list. Everyone write your names down in the order you arrived.”

Camp guy emerges out of the door again. The Chinese couple who are at the top of the list dart forward – but camp guy holds up a hand. “Changing residency within Catania ONLY.” The Chinese couple slumps, defeated, as a round, partridge-like Sicilian man and his wife – who looks Italian but can’t be – get to jump the queue. Five minutes later he comes charging out of the door, identity card in hand and a harried look on his face. Davide nods in comprehension: “My guess is he needs a photocopy.” I look at the pile of papers in my hand. Stupidly, I hadn’t thought about photocopies – and I bet I’m going to need at least one, if not more, of every document I’m holding: work contract, passport and Codice Fiscale (tax code). It didn’t mention this on the website – but then again, when I emailed this office for confirmation of the documents needed, I received a reply consisting solely of their opening hours. It doesn’t bode well.

Creating order out of chaos
Creating order out of chaos

Camp guy opens the door again. “Catania to Catania ONLY.” We first registrants subside, muttering, as people who arrived after us get to jump ahead. The next time this happens, Davide and a few others push forward and stand in the doorway, demanding answers. Camp man shrugs: “What can I say? Primo iscrizione takes a long time …” Davide returns, chuntering. “There are four people sitting in there – and two of them are just twiddling their thumbs and doing nothing.” A rebellion starts to brew in the corridor. Somebody bangs on the door. Camp man opens it a crack. “All right; FINE – primo iscrizione. Who’s next?”

Davide and I enter. “Good morning. I’m English, but I’d like to get Italian residency.” The woman behind the desk asks for my work contract. I give it to her and she flicks a look at the headed paper it’s printed on. “So this is a letter of confirmation from your employers, yes? We need your CONTRACT, dear. Oh, and proof that you have workplace insurance.” She pushes it back over the desk towards me. It takes a second for what she’s said to sink in. I start to splutter. “What? No, this IS my contract. Here – look.” I jab my finger at the part that says, at the top, ‘Contratto di Lavoro’. “And here – here’s the part that tells you about the insurance.” She nods, supremely uninterested. “Yes, yes; well, you still need the insurance certificate. Your employers will have it, for sure. We’ll need to see the original, obviously, as well as a photocopy.”

A phone call comes in to her desk. She calls over to camp man. “Michele! Can you answer the phones? And if they’ve got any questions, just tell them to come down here and we’ll let them know what they need when they get here.”

Not-so-helpful help point

While I fume, lost for words at the inefficiency and miscommunication, Davide grabs a pen and a piece of paper. “Signora. Please tell us *exactly* what documents we need to bring with us.” She reels off a list of dizzying length, then passes over a number of forms to fill out. “There. Come back when you’ve got everything.” She turns back to her computer screen. We are dismissed.

A few days later I’m back in the freezing cold corridor again. Davide is still downstairs hunting for an at least semi-legal parking space. Despite having arrived half an hour before the office opens, there’s somebody already in the queue – a tall, young, black guy. I smile at him and he nods back with a wry grin. “You can go ahead of me if you want – I’m waiting for my lawyer.” I thank him, and tell him that I’m waiting for someone, too, but if his lawyer still hasn’t arrived when the office opens then I’ll skip ahead. There’s a moment of that awkward silence you get after having started a conversation with a stranger who you then have to sit next to for an unspecified amount of time. He breaks it by asking me where I’m from. I tell him. His face lights up. “Oh, I so want to go the UK! And to America. One day, I hope …” He tails off. The fact that he’s at this office waiting for a lawyer indicates that it’s probably going to be a long road for him to get the necessary permissions to travel through Europe and the States. I give him what I hope is a sympathetic smile and ask where he’s from. Senegal, apparently.

We lapse back into silence.

Oh, those tights!
Nora, Compo and Nora’s tights

A tiny, elderly Indian woman stomps cheerily along the corridor, keeping up a mumbling commentary to herself as she goes. She’s your stereotypical crazy lady, dressed in a faded, navy blue padded coat, buttoned to the chin. The coat falls to knee level, below which is a pair of skinny bow legs encased in wrinkled, Nora Batty-esque tights, and bottomed off with carpet slippers. She heads for the door of the office, grinning blithely at us. “Is there anyone in there?” We tell her that there is, but that the office isn’t open yet. She chuckles. “Oh, well. I’ll just give them a knock anyway …” Davide – who’s arrived just in time to see the show – shoots me an amused glance. Crazy lady bangs smartly on the door. As expected, the jobsworths inside ignore it. She bangs again – and again. Camp guy opens the door a crack. “We’re not open yet.” Crazy lady isn’t in the least deterred. “But you’re all here! Why don’t I just come in …?” She takes a step closer, beaming and nodding as she does so. Camp guy steps back, taken by surprise at her insistence. She twinkles at him. “Ooh, g’wan. Let me in!” There’s a voice from inside – somebody has recognised her. “Signora!” A woman appears at the door and puts an arm around her shoulders. “How lovely to see you – why don’t you come on in for a chat?”

At 9:00 a large, grey tabby cat appears in the corridor, weaving its way through the legs of the back-office staff who are only now arriving, coffees in hand. She seems to know her way about, and heads directly for the door to the back office. One of the workers laughs. “She’s here to see her owner! Who does she belong to?” There’s general hubbub from inside the office as everyone denies responsibility. The cat pokes her nose through the open door but is shooed away. She trots back the way she came.

Crazy Lady reappears out of the office, just in time to spot the cat. She cackles with joy. “Hello, kitty!” The woman from the office pats her on the shoulder, her face tolerant but kind. It seems unlikely that Crazy Lady had any real business in the office today, but she’s content to have had a chat. Maybe the workers here aren’t so bad after all.


9:10, and camp guy finally opens the office door for business. “Who’s first?” Senegalese guy’s lawyer still hasn’t arrived, so he gives Davide and me a rueful shrug and waves us ahead. When we get inside, the woman from last time is there. She gives a giggle and points us over to another desk. “Hello again. Don’t worry – you can go to Rita today. She’ll sort you out.” We take a seat at the indicated desk and pull out the folder full of paper that we’ve brought with us. “Good morning,” I say. “I’m English, but I’d like to get Italian residency …”

Postscript: Second time around, all went well, and I’m now (pending a visit from the Vigili to confirm that I live where I say I do) registered as an Italian resident. Calloo, callay! If you’re thinking of going through the same process, I recommend getting in touch with your local anagrafe and finding out what documents you need. In my case, this was:

1. passport (original plus photocopy)
2. codice fiscale (original plus photocopy)
3. work contract (original plus photocopy)
4. workplace insurance certificate (original plus photocopy)
5. photocopy of landlord’s identity card
6. photocopy of landlord’s flat deeds
7. completed, signed form from landlord stating that I’m staying in his flat
8. completed, signed form of my personal details
9. €16 tax stamp. Phew.

Post-postscript: This post was written as part of the Italy Roundtable’s (newly resurrected! Yay!) monthly blog posts. This month’s theme was Changes; do check out what the other ladies have written, and leave us some comments to let us know what you think, either on our blogs or on our Facebook page.


Jessica – The Beautiful Mess
Gloria – Changing climate, changing tourism in Tuscany
Rebecca – Italy Roundtable: The Hardest Thing
Alexandra – Florence is changing
Melanie – Rome Revisited: What Has and Hasn’t Changed 

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About Kate Bailward

Kate Bailward is a cat-loving, trifle-hating, maniac driver. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+
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28 Responses to Getting residency in Catania – a story

  1. Pingback: Italy Roundtable: The Beautiful Mess :: Italy Explained

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  3. Ugh! I feel frustrated just READING your well-told story! Good writing, Kate. Generates emotion.
    Alexandra Korey´s last post ..Florence is Changing

  4. Pingback: The Hardest Thing | Brigolante Guest Apartments

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  6. … and I had it pretty easy, all-told, because I’m already an EU citizen. Some of the stories I hear from my non-EU friends about the endless, pettifogging bureaucracy that they had to go through to get residency make me want to curl up and die. It shouldn’t have to be so soul-destroying!

  7. Sarah D. says:

    This is crazy! When I applied for residency in Bologna you didn’t need HALF these things. The landlord’s photo ID card? BAH! These people are nutsos!

  8. I know! That’s the really frustrating thing – that there’s no consistency. A friend of mine who applied for residency in Rome had to go to the British Embassy and get proof that she wasn’t married before she could get residency. They looked at her like she was crazy – ‘you don’t need that!’ – but without it the comune were adamant that they wouldn’t approve her residency.

  9. Wow – how requirements have changed since we got residency after our 2007 arrival in Abruzzo.
    Documentation then was a fraction of what’s needed now – and as for the Vigili visit ? That never happened. The local Sgt knew our landlord. Yes, he is a nice guy. And yes, it is a nice house. And yes, we do like living here. And yes, we’re finding our way round OK – which was *quite* enough thank you very much. Welcome to Abruzzo. Whole process took about a week. Have they hit you with mandatory health insurance ?

  10. Wynne says:

    My blood pressure rises just reading this (and others’ stories of obtaining residency). I’m not an EU citizen and have very little patience for inanity, so I’m going to just satisfy my longing for Italy by shorter, 60- to 90-day stays to “try on” the Italian life. Perhaps in the future, if I gain patience, I’ll attempt it. Until then, as a tourist/traveler will have to do.

    Congrats on your success!

  11. David: I’m not sure whether the Vigili have already visited, or if they ever will, to be honest. The woman at the anagrafe told us just to tell our neighbours that we were living here and that they should tell the Vigili so if they turned up when we were out. It doesn’t sound like a particularly rigorous process! As regards health insurance, I have it as part of my work contract, so didn’t have to shell out extra for private cover, which is a relief. Compared to other stories that I’ve heard from folks who don’t originate from EU countries, it’s been pretty smooth sailing – it felt horrendous at the time, though! Certainly I think the local tabacchi at the end of our road got a bit fed up with us turning up every morning for three days asking for multiple photocopies ;)

  12. Wynne: yes, it’s multiple times more onerous for those who don’t originate from the EU, unfortunately. Plenty of long holidays sound like the way to go in the meantime :)

  13. Pingback: Rome Revisited: What Has and Hasn't Changed - Italofile

  14. gianni piccolo says:

    Kate I would like to know about your experience of living in Palmi. It should be very inyeresting a british woman point of view of my town.

  15. Hello Gianni!
    There are quite a few stories from Palmi if you go back through the archives. In fact, I think there may even be a video of you singing Calabrisella Mia, if I remember correctly!
    Spero che tutto sia bene :)

  16. Pingback: 10 Favorite Reads on Italy this week: Jan 26, 2015 - BrowsingItaly

  17. Krista says:

    Oh my gosh! What a gong show! So glad you had Davide with you AND the forethought to get a list of every single thing you needed before you returned. Hooray for your residency! :-) I just got my Australian residency last week, so I’m celebrating with you. :-)
    Krista´s last post ..Campfires and Books

  18. Hooray for living legally! :D

  19. Pecora Nera says:

    Hi Kate. Italy never ceases to amaze me. The laws and regulations in Italy are interpreted differently depending on where in Italy you are and which day of the week it is.

    It appears it was a lucky day when I applied for residency because I only had to produce my birth certificate, marriage certificate and passport.

    However I have just been sent a contract of employment for a company I have just stopped working for that has been back dated 12 months and I have never before seen such creative writing.

    As I won’t be signing it, I may post it on my blog.

    All the best


  20. Ha! Ah, it’s all part of the fun and games, no? Legalese is bad enough in your first language, but it’s one of my bete noirs in Italian. I’m lucky in that the school I work for are pretty straightforward with their contracts – basically a cut and paste job that covers the basics, bish bash bosh and you’re done. However they did change the terms a little this year (to do with their company status changing slightly rather than anything more ominous), but it took me an age to check and double check everything so that I was 200% sure I’d understood everything.

  21. georgette says:

    oh my god I can so relate to this. I actually read your post twice because it was so interesting. The waiting on the cold corridor, the need for random photocopies and no one really THAT clear, and general lack of understanding to the real fact that normal people cannot go two, three or four times to these offices. My permesso di soggiorno experience is kind of like this, though even worse, I was once sent away three times for lack of the right document which sent me on a goose chase around town. However when I did get it, it was hallelujah all the way, prosecco for all!

    great post as always :)

  22. Great story, Kate. You clearly explained the frustrations of real life in Italy! I know a little of it from my experiences in banks and post offices but that is just during a few months in Italy. Italy is my favorite place to visit but living there can definitely be a challenge, as you so succinctly expressed. Brava!

  23. Great article.. I’m Italian.. I know what you are talking about….
    Congratulations for the nomination at Blog Awards 2014…

  24. I have to say, Georgette, that I remembered some of your stories about various wild goose chases when I was going through the process, so I was dreading when we went back the second time that they were going to suddenly say that I needed something different, despite us having made the list of all the documents. Thankfully it all went smoothly that time around, but it was so stressful waiting for the woman to go through everything with a fine-tooth comb …

  25. Thanks Margie :) Bureaucracy in any country can be a challenge, but when you’re dealing with it in a second language it makes it all the more complicated. I’m very glad Davide was there to think clearly and take notes! Anyone would think he’d experienced this kind of thing before … ;)

  26. Thank you Fabio. :)

  27. Ludovica says:

    Oh God, really sorry to hear what happen to some people when they want to get a residency in Italy :(

  28. Pingback: Rome Revisited: What Has and Hasn't Changed

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