Living abroad is not tourism: II. Establishing residence



Trip update: Last weekend, I rode North along the coast to Terracina. My objective was to take the ancient Via Appia from Terracina into the Aurunci mountains past Fondi and Itri and back to Formia, about 70 km round trip. I had never ridden that section of the Via Appia, because I was always taking the coast road (the Via Flacca).

With a stiff, cold northwesterly headwind, the outbound leg on the coast was not any faster than the return.
IMG_20160423_145904Lunch on a borne exactly 108 km from Rome was pleasant, overlooking the Lago di Fondi. Between the hills overlooking Terracina and the Monte Orlando in Gaeta, lies a broad, flat fertile plain that was a marsh in ancient times. As on the Pontine Plain around Rome, the Via Appia in ancient times was almost a coast road, because the marshes were uninhabitable.

Lago di Fondi

Lago di Fondi

Being on the plain, Fondi is an approachable town. No wonder then that I passed large shopping centers and do-it-yourself stores, as well as the regional wholesale vegetable market. Itri is a medieval castle town, dominating the Ridge which the via Appia must climb on its way to Formia. Roman engineers led the way in highway construction for centuries, but they never mastered surveying a curve.

IMG_20160423_155154 (1)This is why the old Roman roads were so straight, unless they followed a contour line on a slope that allowed the Legionnaires to dig a good foundation. Roman engineers would rather tunnel or climb than try to lay out a curve. So it was 6 km up to Itri and 8 km downhill to Formia.

The week was spent logging many kilometers around town, establishing my residence in Formia, which is the subject of this week’s post.




When I landed at Fiumicino Airport on 6 June 2015, I knew that I had eight days to apply for my Sojourner’s Permit (PSE – permesso di soggiorno estero). The very next day, I went to the Post Office, where the helpful staff gave me a thick envelope of forms to complete, and told me to go to the patronato CAF (centro assistenza fiscale), then to come back. The forms were tedious, but not difficult (disclaimer: I am a professional legal translator). The patronato turned out to be a one-stop bureaucratic assistance center. They did not help me much, in spite of the long time waiting in line.

My experiences with the PSE process in Rome, Chieti, and Formia have combined into a picture that is simpler than the detailed steps would indicate. You won’t find this written down anywhere, but here is what it looks like to me.

The National Visa, the initial PSE and the renewed PSE have different purposes, although the latter two are physically identical. The purpose of the Visa is to allow you into the country to accomplish the purpose for which the visa was granted. You then have a short period of time to prove that you are pursuing that purpose, for example, apply for a PSE, report to the Admissions Office of the school, or apply for your worker’s permit. In Italy, that means eight days to apply for the PSE by mail.

The purpose of the initial PSE is to allow you time to “regularize your residence” in the country. This is why the PSE expires on the same day as the National Visa (in my case, one year). Most of the steps require weeks and months of waiting to complete. In my case, I needed to formalize my elective residence in the country by:

  1. Formia City Offices

    Formia City Offices

    Obtaining a Certificate of Residence at Town Hall. This involved showing my rental contract and a copy of the document that the landlord filed with the State Police, turning over the apartment to me. The local police sent an officer out to the residence to verify that I am actually living there by sighting the appropriate evidence (in my case, the slept-in bed, bicycle tracks on the floor, dishes drying by the sink, family photo on the desk, shaving gear in the washroom).

  2. Obtaining an Italian identification card (ID card). Armed with the Certificate of Residence and the affidavit from the local police, I went back to Town Hall and applied for an ID Card. It was quick, simple, and free – because I had extra passport photos in my bag. There was no list of what to bring, so I was lucky to have the photos. I now no longer need to carry my passport with me while in Italy. Life is simpler with a local ID.
  3. Obtaining a tessera sanitaria (National Health Service card). I needed the local ID card to obtain this. In Philadelphia, I was told that I could not join the Italian National Health plan, but that turned out not to be true. In fact, I was required to choose a primary care physician (an administrative role more than a medical one) from the approved list, and apply for a tessera sanitaria. I must pay a hefty sum each year, to make up for the Italian social security contributions that I have not been making during my working life, but that amount is less than private health insurance at my age.
State Police - Formia

State Police – Formia

There are additional steps if you have a spouse or children, and different steps for different types of immigration status (work, school, artists on tour, etc.), but no more than one or two steps.

Immigrants face tremendous hurdles navigating any new country’s immigration procedures, and helping them is the role of the patronati. Actually, the patronati help ordinary Italians with a wide range of bureaucratic processes, so they are usually quite crowded, and immigrants are not always the most numerous group. Officials from almost every agency rely on the patronati to save them from a deluge of incorrect forms completed by confused citizens. It allows the officials to work by appointment only; there are still long lines, but you can’t even get in line without an appointment.

2016 Sias LogoThis week, I realized that the patronati fill a role in society deeply steeped in history. Think of the scribes sitting in the ancient market places, making the written word available to an illiterate population. I am no longer annoyed or surprised that the public officials as well as the customer public lean on them so heavily. Functional literacy has only been “normal” in Italy for about 70 years.

Being something of a professional scribe myself (what else is a translator?), I probably don’t need a patronato, but anyone with less Italian or lacking a Master’s in Public Administration (yes, I have that, too) should be grateful for this free service available in every small Italian town.


my residence, established

The purpose of renewing the PSE is to settle into a steady state. Both the initial PSE and subsequent renewals involve the same three steps, and we will go over those next time.

Next week, another sea story, until then, feel to share your memorable experiences trying to establish a residence overseas, or ask questions.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


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