Example of a Permesso di Soggiorno. She’s more attractive than I am.

This post is part of a brief series meant to assist American academics with a year-long stay for study in Italy.

In an earlier post (Getting a Study Visa), I mentioned that once one entered Italy on a study visa, one needed to apply, within eight days, for a Permesso di Soggiorno. While the Visa is required to enter the country when planning to stay for longer than 90 days, the Permesso allows one to remain there legally for the period of the visa.

A good deal of information about the Permesso is available online. On the English side, it is essential to consult:

  • Rick’s Rome blog, specifically instructions for the Permesso in three parts:
    • Part 1 (how to get the stuff you need);
    • Part 2 (how to fill out the form);
    • Part 3 (what to do with the form and other required documents)
  • Expats in Italy (more advice and links)

The main sites in Italian are:

  • Immigration Portal (click on ‘La Nuova Procedura down the page). In ‘Ricerca Strutture’ on the left, you can find out what locations in your area can help with your process; in ‘Instruzione Multilingue’ on the lower left, you can navigate to instructions and examples in your preferred language; these are very helpful indeed (select a language, and then click on the ‘Ricerca’ button). Be sure to explore this, as it leads to a whole set of PDFs, including translations of many of the instructions that you’ll get in the application kit (see below), and examples of how to fill out the necessary forms. It is also the site where you can later enter your username and password to check on the status of your application.
  • Poste Italiane. This site is very clearly organized and helpful, addressing all the issues. The most useful official explanation of the Permesso process that I’ve found in Italian.

Poste Italiane, Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, Perugia (at left)

So on Friday I went to the main post office in Perugia to pick up the two Permesso di Soggiorno kits that Rebecca and I would need. At the Poste Centrale, you pass between two wrought-iron lampposts and through a tripartite arch. Just inside the glass doors on the right is a machine that dispenses lettered and numbered tickets, such as P27, E09, and C15 (the letter designates different categories of service). This is an example of the electronic queuing system found in all bureaucratic institutions in Italy. Sometimes, one has to get a number to talk to the information desk, where one learns that one needs to take another number from a different machine. And the system didn’t stop a tall man from lurking just outside the sportellli (‘teller windows’) until a sportello opened and he jumped in, heedless of the number he held in his hand (which was one greater than mine). Oh well; twenty years ago that would have annoyed me, but not anymore. All in all, the system works, and twenty minutes later I had two packets of forms and instructions to fill out.

Using the sites listed above and the details in the packet (which are generally pretty clear), I filled out the forms, realizing too late I had not paid close enough attention to Rick Zullo’s warning (Box no. 38) to put the State of one’s birth on the form, not the City, because American passports only list states, and one has to put on the form exactly what is in the passport or visa. So we had to get another packet.

The next morning, a sunny Saturday, it was all put together. The weekend after Ferragosto turned out to be perfect timing. Practically no one was in the Poste. In fact, most of the time spent on the application was in finding a photocopier, as the instructions stated that a full copy (blank pages and everything) of all the relevant passports must be included with each application. The local Tabacchi ran out of paper (I had to go there anyway to get the Marca da Bollo that one needs for many kinds of official business, a kind of ‘revenue stamp’), but he told me to visit the Poste, which had a copier (in the small libreria). However, the gentleman in that shop said he didn’t do identity documents, and anyways, a school-supply shop up the street would be much cheaper. It was, and for a bonus, now we know where to get our kids’ school supplies.

As it turned out, the postal employee, who was both efficient and friendly, said we didn’t really need all those photocopied blank passport pages. Apparently the paper files at the Questura are getting too big, and he only wanted the photograph/signature page and the visa page. (Advice: this may not be the case at all Poste in Italy!) I did learn that copies of the kids’ passport photo pages had to be submitted with each of the parent’s applications (I had only done one set), and the postal employee helpfully went to a back room and just made the three extra copies himself. That seemed rather above-and-beyond. Also, each person has to sign for their own application, so I called Rebecca to come down and process her application. Soon enough, we had our receipts, and our appointments at the Questura in 17 days time.

Next stop: Questura!


Sportello no. 1 or no. 2?

On Tuesday, Sept. 3, we had our scheduled family appointment with the Questura. We were sailing through the process, had gotten an early appointment date — everything looked good. Then I came down with an utterly incapacitating stomach flu on the very day of the appointment. Rebecca forged ahead with the kids and got them all on the MiniMetro. Our clever plan? Explain to the officers why I wasn’t there and see what happened.

The Questura in Perugia is located at the bottom of town, at the last MiniMetro stop, across from the big parking lot that’s used for the Saturday Market and the Renato Curi soccer stadium, where AC Perugia plays. It has all the usual attributes of a government building– imposing facade, concrete wall, boom gates, squeaky metal gate for pedestrians, and people milling outside the entrances, smoking. And a crowd of hopeful but wary petitioners.

It is not obvious where to stand in line, though sometimes at the entrance gate, an officer looks at the piece of paper you have clutched in your hand (have your appointment letter at hand), and tells you which sportello (window) to stand in line for. After standing in various lines, Rebecca and the boys were able to get processed (make sure to have extra passport-sized photos of everyone), and the officer told her that I had to come back as soon as possible to make another appointment.  This I did two days later.

The social dynamics of bureaucratic lines is interesting. Outside the gate, people begin to gather a good half-hour before the gates even open, and up to an hour before the sportelli open inside the building. The first few people form a queue, but after that it is a bit chaotic. I had been outside the gate for 15 minutes, happily fifth in line, when a woman and her daughter simply stepped in front of me. I was annoyed. When the gate opened and the officer asked to see our letters, she did not have hers handy, so I showed my letter and moved ahead of her. I felt a small bit of triumph — how petty a reaction! Later, lined up in the stanchions to wait for an officer, a couple came in (he was Italian; she was not; he was trying to help her through the process), and he started asking when everyone’s appointment time in their letter was, saying that this should determine the order of the queue. This facilitated some discussion, and the woman (with her daughter), now directly behind me, said to him that the time on the letter didn’t matter once one was in this queue, and he had to go to the back of the line (that seemed rich…). He didn’t believe her, so he just walked up to the window, where the officer was helping someone else, and inquired. After being told the same thing, he walked dejectedly back to the end of the line (which was longer by now), and the woman behind me said: “See? Just like I said.” What strange creatures we become when herded through these lines — our only goal to get through them and escape.

It was now my turn. I explained that my wife and kids had been here on Tuesday but that I had a deadly stomach flu and I couldn’t even walk. I had all my materials…. could I get processed? No, he said, I’d have to get another appointment. He could only pull the files that had appointments for this day (even though it was behind him in the storage room). I should call a certain number to get another appointment. Now, calling any land-line to an office in Italy is a risk, as half the time no one answers, and it is much harder to speak and listen if one’s Italian is not as good as it should be. So I played my last card. Look, I said, the only reason that I want to take care of this quickly is because my three boys can’t play soccer for Don Bosco unless we get our permessi di soggiorno. Could he please help? He let a small smile go, took a step back, and said, “Well, I do love soccer.” He took my appointment letter, and scratched his initials and the time of 8:00 on it, and said: “Tuesday.” That was as soon as I could have hoped for, so I grabbed my papers, said thank you, and left.

Now it was Tuesday, Sept. 10. Once again in line outside the gate, I realized I had missed the comforting squeak of the boom as the guard let one staff member after another into the parking lot. The Questura was becoming quite familiar. Once again into the stanchions. Now at the window. This was a different officer from last week. He wanted to know who approved my appointment, since it was now just written on the letter. “He’s working right behind you,” I said. “But you have children and a spouse,” he replied. This necessitated a reprise of my experience with the flu, and our previous visits. He then began to say that I needed a nullaosta for them to enter the country, and I felt the curls of panic rise: “No, no!” I said, “They’re here in Perugia! All of them! I can have them here in half-an-hour!” Frantically I texted Rebecca to grab the boys (their school was scheduled to begin the next day) and come to the Questura. Apparently Rebecca had to sign a form (since the boys had already been processed on her permesso the previous week) that authorized me also to have the boys on my permesso, and the officer wanted to see that we were indeed all here, and matched the photos he had. Meanwhile, he helpfully began to process the other parts of the application, and sent me to the other side of the building, where a series of fingerprints and palm prints were taken by a friendly technician in a white coat. Rebecca was by then towing the boys through the gate, and all the forms were signed and submitted. Or so we thought.

Several weeks later, Rebecca got a call from a police sub-station at the Univeristà per Stranieri (University for Foreigners). There were some forms that hadn’t been filled out (which we had never heard of), and she needed to be finger- and palm-printed as I had. The officer spoke perfect English and was very friendly as we showed up for our early-morning appointment. It was at this point that the system finally asked for the apostilles of birth and marriage certificates, translated into Italian, and signed/stamped by the Consulate in Detroit. We had by this time learned to carry all of our documents to any official appointment, so we handed over the apostilles, and Rebecca rushed off to get her prints done so that she could return later to the office with the proper receipt. The officer then said that everything was in order, all the materials would go in together to Rome, and in about a month, our cards would be ready for collection at the Questura. We could track the process online with a code on our receipt, and would receive an SMS with the appointment time to pick up the permessi (don’t try to live in Italy without a mobile phone).

Several weeks after our meeting with the officer at the Università per Stranieri, Rebecca got an SMS stating that her permesso would be ready on Oct. 24 at 16:40. Hooray! We checked online, and saw that it was ready. I waited for the SMS for my permesso to arrive. It never did. Ever. I checked my code online, and indeed, my permesso had been processed, but as no appointment time is listed online, all we could do is hope that they’d all be ready together on the 24th.

On the 24th, we went down early, as Mauro Lucarini, in charge of the soccer school for A.C. Perugia, had kindly offered to give our family a tour of their facilities when I was buying tickets for the Perugia-Pisa game we attended. After the tour (and learning that the great midfielder Gennaro Gattuso had played in their youth system), we stopped for sweets at Menchetti’s, to fortify ourselves for what we hoped would be our last visit to the Questura.

While mornings are apparently reserved for people applying for things, afternoons at the Questura are used for picking them up. We had to go to Sportello no. 2 to check that we were ‘on the list’ for that day, and pick up a numbered ticket that would indicate our place in line (no jostling queues in the afternoon). Rebecca’s name was on the list, but mine was not. I explained that we had applied together and been processed together (sort of), and the officer (one I’d never seen before) snapped back: “It’s not on the list. It could be another day. You might have to wait until next month.” This was unusual, since the officers had mostly been very helpful and friendly (especially if you approach them with a smile and a positive attitude). But standing there day after day trying to help people with problems in a complex system — can’t be easy; we should spare a thought for the civil servants.

All we could do it wait and hope that somehow they’d all be given out together. Without my permesso, the boys could not get their soccer player passes. ’09’ blinked on the screen, and we bustled up to Sportello no. 1. Handing over the receipt and having her fingerprint confirmed, Rebecca collected her permesso and those of the kids. This officer then noted on his screen that there was a spouse/father in the family, and tried to figure out where my packet was. Going to the storeroom behind and checking with colleagues, he eventually came back with another set of envelopes. We had our permessi. In fact, each of the boys has two, since they were issued a card listing Rebecca as a parent, and a card listing me. It was time to celebrate.


  • Follow directions as best you can, research what others have done, and ask questions when you’re unsure;
  • Have plenty of passport photos handy;
  • Carry all your documents to all your appointments (you never know what they might ask for);
  • Don’t get the stomach flu on the day of your appointment;
  • Persevere.

In bocca al lupo!