Living abroad is not tourism: I. Getting permission to stay.

DSCN0368Trip update: On Saturday and Sunday, I took long rides into the Aurunci Mountains, which plunge into the Gulf of Gaeta. During World War II, these hills were the western end of the Gunther Line; the Sangro Valley, where I was last fall and winter, was the other end. Entire towns vanished into rubble and thousands of soldiers and civilians perished on that line during the last eight months of the war. When I lived here in the early 1970s, many square miles of the hills still contained minefields waiting to be cleared.

DSCN0353I ride every day, but I like weekends best, because there is so little traffic, especially trucks. For example, the day before going to Bologna, I rode half way to Frosinone, and turned around in the hilltop town of Campodimele. With a population of only 600, it boasts that it is the “City of Longevity”. Indeed, there is nothing around it but clean mountain air, and no buildable land for factories or other polluting activities. DSCN0371Last Sunday, I climbed to Maranola, the town above Formia, and rode the highest contour line along the mountains to the Garigliano River Valley. There are no ridge roads, because the top third of the mountains are sheer, naked granite: no towns, buildings, or roads. When I reached Castelonorato, I could see across the Garigliano to the edge of the Campi Flegrei (Field of Fire). DSCN0405Out in the mist, Ischia rose like a sea monster, almost 100 km away. Soon I was flying down the switchbacks into the valley.

The Garigliano River is the border between Lazio and CampaniaI was looking for the first river crossing upstream from the familiar bridge of the Via Appia on the coast. I found it in Suio Terme, a thermal spa location, with a dam that had a narrow paved top. After crossing the river, I was in familiar territory, riding the flat farmland to the coast and then along the Via Appia back to Formia.

DSCN0364The rest of the week featured the same light overcast as the weekend, with warm days and very cool nights. It is springtime here, and winter is quickly becoming a memory. Describing the succession of errands that I ran the rest of this week would provide a summary of what I would l like to discuss over the next two or three posts: the bureaucratic steps needed to go abroad and stay there.

DSCN0383While it is true that the Freewheeling Freelancer lives on his bicycle, I could not hope to travel through any of the larger countries in Europe in just three months – much less the entire Schengen Area. In order to keep living on my bicycle, I needed a national visa that would allow me to stay in the Schengen Area for more than 90 days in a six-month period. Qualifying to go abroad and stay there involves:

  1. Obtaining a national visa. Typically, this is initially granted for a one-year period.
  2. Establishing residence in a European country, usually the one that granted the national visa.
  3. Registering with the police and obtaining a sojourner’s permit.

DSCN0359Most European countries have similar regulations, although the politics and personalities of their bureaucracies will differ sharply from one country to the next, as will the exact details of deadlines and requirements. I chose Italy to be my expatriate residence, because I grew up here as an expatriate, and I am about as comfortable with Italian bureaucracy as one can be. If you are thinking of settling abroad, you will need to check the exact requirements for yourself, but perhaps my experience can at least familiarize you with some of the concepts and terms. I hope this will make reading the relevant websites easier for you.

To obtain a national visa, I had to apply in person at the Italian consulate in Philadelphia. Most countries require that you obtain a visa at one of their consulates. In larger countries, like the United States, countries that have more than one consulate may require that you go to a particular consulate based on the location of your home of record. For example, being from Virginia, I had to go to Philadelphia; someone from Oregon would need to go to San Francisco. A physical, in-person interview is usually a requirement for a national visa. Another requirement is that you must have some place to stay.  it cannot be a hotel DSCN0023or a boarding house, but a true residence. If you are not staying with relatives, then you must rent or buy a place to live. Thanks to my friends and colleagues (translators in Italy) I was able to locate a lovely flat in the Sangro Valley of the Abruzzo, and sign the contract by mail with my prospective landlady.

Foreigners wanting a national visa must also show that they can support themselves. Different types of visas have different income requirements. For example, there are visas that include work permits (usually sponsored by the employer), student visas (usually limited to the school term with a number of years needed to earn a degree), visas to live with relatives (someone needs a job and must prove that everyone can be supported) and visas for “elective residence” (especially designed for people with reliable foreign income, such as retirees and millionaires).

Proof of income, the apartment contract, birth certificate, passport, (for self and any dependents, as well as marriage certificates, if relevant), and usually a chunky cash payment ($134 in my case) need to be presented at the interview. I needed to surrender my passport so that the consulate and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could run a background check on me, and return my passport. You need to remember to allow a few weeks for that, during which time you will not be able to leave your home country, because someone else will have your passport.

The national visa turned out to be a whole new page glued into my passport, which looked very much like the main page of the passport itself. I had one year to establish my residence. I also had 90 days to report to the Italian authorities in Italy, so I had to rearrange my plans and fly straight to Italy almost as soon as I had my visa.

I discovered an unwritten rule while applying for my visa. When presenting a contract or any other document signed by someone other than yourself, you need to present a photocopy of that other person’s proof of identity. In other words, I needed to bring my passport, the contract, and a photocopy of my landlady’s passport to the visa interview. That is how Italian bureaucracy handles the need to identify both parties to a contract; other countries may have different, but specific procedures. Remember to ask about that.

Next week, another sea story. Then we will return to the expatriate adventure: what do you do when you first arrive in-country. Until then

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


1 thought on “Living abroad is not tourism: I. Getting permission to stay.

  1. Very informative. I chose the route of teaching abroad to gain access to a life in Europe. My school handled all the messiness you describe here. I have a work permit for the length of my contract, an income, a furnished apartment and the holidays of a teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

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