For members


What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

As a foreigner in Italy you enter a complicated world of bureaucracy, but one question we are asked a lot is the difference in status between residency and citizenship.

What's the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?
What rights do Italian citizens have that residents don't? Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Broadly the difference is this: citizenship gives you a lot more rights but is consequently harder to secure.

Here’s a look at how the different categories work:

Non-resident visitor

This category covers everything from people having a long weekend in Rome to second home owners.

Depending on where you come from you are allowed to stay in Italy for a certain period (for most non-Europeans this limit is 90 days) without becoming a full-time resident of the country.

READ ALSO: How British second home owners can spend more than 90 days in Italy after Brexit

The upside of this is that there’s no paperwork, but you don’t have any legal status or right to stay in the country.

You also won’t have access to healthcare if you need it while you are here so will need to make sure you are covered via health insurance or – for EU citizens – the European Health Insurance Card.


This means that you are officially allowed to live in Italy. The requirements for being an official resident of the country vary according to the country that you come from and your circumstances.

Citizens of EU countries and those within the Schengen zone benefit from European freedom of movement, which means they are entitled to move to Italy to live and work. This freedom is not completely unlimited – there are conditions around criminal records and minimum income level – but is fairly generous.

EU nationals who plan to stay in Italy permanently must register with their local town hall within three months of moving here. It’s not an immigration procedure but an administrative one: even Italian citizens have to do it if they’ve been living abroad, though it’s easier for them since registering as a foreigner requires jumping through extra hoops.

You will need to show that you are in a position to support yourself without state welfare – whether it’s by having a job, relying on a family member or spouse in Italy, or showing you have enough savings to get by. You’ll also have to demonstrate that you have health coverage, either because you qualify for national health care or you have private insurance.

READ ALSO: Who can register for national healthcare in Italy?

People who are not citizens of an EU or Schengen zone country – known as third country nationals – have even more hoops to jump through before they can become residents.

For most non-Europeans, moving to Italy involves first getting a visa in your current country, then applying for a residency permit, known as a permesso di soggiorno, once you arrive. The visa process can be both complicated and expensive, and varies depending on your reason for coming to Italy. Find out about different types of visa here, and read one American’s first-hand account of the process here.

Since January 1st 2021, UK nationals no longer have the rights of EU citizens and will have to apply for a visa to live in Italy. Find out more here.

Brits who were already resident in Italy before the Brexit cut-off on December 31st 2020 should apply for a residency card to show they qualify to keep their rights to live and work here. You can apply at your local police headquarters, without needing to re-register your residency. Find more information here.


Once you have your residency in place, you will have access to the Italian healthcare system and other services, and your right to stay or re-enter Italy from overseas is protected.

You will also be expected to pay tax in Italy, including on income earned abroad.  

Third country residents can stay as long as their permesso di soggiorno is valid. You will have to renew your permesso every two years or less, demonstrating each time that you still meet the conditions set out in your visa – for instance, you’re still enrolled or school or university if you’re on a student visa, or you’re still employed if you have a work visa. 

After five years you may be able to apply for a long-term or permanent residency permit without an expiry date, but you’ll need to meet certain conditions like having a minimum income and passing a language test.

If you commit certain types of crime you can be removed from the country, while other crimes will mean getting a new visa or permesso becomes more difficult.


EU citizens have the right to vote in municipal and European elections (but not parliamentary ones), while non-Europeans have no voting rights.

Certain types of jobs are reserved for Italian citizens only, while others – especially within public administration – are reserved for EU citizens only. Non-citizens cannot run for parliament, but EU citizens can stand as candidates in local elections.


This is the ultimate guarantee of your rights in Italy and once you have become an Italian citizen you are, on paper at least, exactly the same as Italian people who were born and bred here.

You are entitled to stay here for the rest of your life, even if you commit a serious crime, and you can pass your citizenship on to your children. You can also leave the country for as long as you want and return to live without having to ask permission.

You’ll also be guaranteed free access to the Italian healthcare system for you and your dependents, even if you don’t have a job. 

You are entitled to vote and – in good news for those with political ambitions – you can stand for any type of public office including parliament.

But the flip side of this is that citizenship is not easy to obtain.

READ ALSO: How many people get Italian citizenship every year?

Italy’s rules are more generous than many other countries’ when it comes to allowing people to claim citizenship via ancestry: you can apply even if you only have one Italian ancestor several generations back.

But you’ll need to provide official certificates of birth, marriage and death for every relative between you and them to prove the line of descent, and your claim is usually wiped out if anyone in the chain renounced Italian citizenship before passing it on to their children. 

If you don’t have Italian ancestors then the most common ways to obtain citizenship are through marriage to a Italian person or through residency. 

In either case you need to fulfil a number of criteria, including having lived in the country for 10 years if you’re a third country national or being married to your Italian spouse for three years (two if you live in Italy and one if you have Italian children), as well as a minimum level of the Italian language.

READ ALSO: How foreigners can get ‘fast track’ citizenship in Italy

It’s not a quick process – the Italian state gives itself up to two to four years to process applications – and involves a lot of paperwork. If original documents are in English you have to have them officially translated, notarised and legalised, for a fee. There are also fees just to submit your application.

Find out more about applying for citizenship here.

If you satisfy all the requirements and once your paperwork is all processed you will finally have to swear allegiance to the Italian Republic in a special ceremony (and make sure you say it right). 

Member comments

  1. I have citizenship, but not residency, and was told quite clearly I am not entitled to free healthcare. (Tessera Sanitaria)
    I was told I would have to pay an amount of money first (for a year) to obtain it which matches the figure Italian residents pay through their taxes.

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For members


What are the pros and cons of having Italian dual citizenship?

For most international residents looking to stay in Italy for the long term, having dual citizenship is a bonus. But are there any drawbacks? Here's what the experts say.

What are the pros and cons of having Italian dual citizenship?

Obtaining Italian citizenship and becoming a dual national is an attractive idea for many.

Not only does dual citizenship grant access to rights in Italy that residents don’t have, it also allows you to keep your rights in your home country (as long as your country allows dual citizenship.)

There are three main routes to obtaining Italian citizenship: naturalisation, ancestry, or marriage. The ancestry route, known as jure sanguinis or ‘right of blood’, is by far the most popular way to obtain Italian, or dual, citizenship.

READ ALSO: An expert guide to getting Italian citizenship via ancestry

The Local spoke to Elze Obrikyte, Senior Associate at Giambrone Law, and Jason LoPresti from Italian Dual Citizenship about the advantages and disadvantages to be aware of.

The benefits:

Freedom of movement

If you have Italian citizenship, this eases travel to not only Italy but to and within the Schengen zone for third-country nationals. You also benefit from freedom of movement rules allowing citizens to live and work in any of the 27 European Union member states. 

“Being an Italian citizen allows you to enjoy all the rights of European nationals without any particular restrictions,” says Obrikyte. 

“Italian immigration is rather strict, even if the new digital nomad visa will allow for more flexibility, but on the whole it is not easy for a third country national to transfer to Italy.”

“Getting dual citizenship eliminates this.”

Voting rights

Often living solely as a resident in Italy does not grant you access to vote in local and national elections. Obrikyte says this is ‘extremely important’ for dual nationals as they should have a say in what happens in their country. 

READ ALSO: Italy grants citizenship to more people than any other EU country

LoPresti adds that dual citizens do not have to be residing in Italy to vote in national elections. They can live elsewhere and vote via mail (circoscrizione estero).

Tax benefits

While foreigners who are not resident in Italy can buy property, dual citizens who are not resident in the country can purchase a house with lower taxation rates, provided they transfer residence within 18 months. They have the same rights in this case as people residing in Italy.

“It is a definite bonus when buying,” says Obrikyte. 

READ ALSO: Five surprising things to know about applying for Italian citizenship via ancestry

Such reductions include less in VAT (IVA) and registration tax for a first home purchase.

Italian citizens or foreign citizens resident in the country pay a two-percent registration tax and four percent VAT, which is lower than the rate paid by non-residents. Italian citizens do not have to be living in Italy upon purchase to be eligible for this rate.

Many people – US nationals in particular – are worried about double taxation if they obtain dual citizenship, but tax experts are clear that obtaining Italian citizenship in itself should not affect tax obligations in Italy and that tax treaties usually apply.

Employment opportunities

Having the right to live and work in Italy (or another EU member state) visa-free is a major advantage, the experts point out.

“Imagine you work for an international company in your home country and your ideal position opens up in Italy,” LoPresti says. “Of course the employer may favour someone who already has Italian citizenship as they won’t have to apply for a work visa.”

And should you want to apply for a job in the public sector in Italy, these are only open to Italian citizens.

“I think not only would this be advantageous in terms of work for the new Italian passport holder,” says Obrikyte, “but it would also be advantageous to them in a sense of belonging as they’d be part of working directly for the state.”

Italy, passport

Having Italian passport brings numerous advantages for third-country nationals. Photo by Cristian Sorto / Getty Images

Advantages for children

“One big thing which must not be forgotten is how having Italian citizenship may benefit future generations,” says LoPresti.

“Passing this along to your offspring and their offspring would be extremely beneficial.”

READ ALSO: Will my children get an Italian passport if born in Italy?

Unlike citizenship of some countries, such as the UK, Italian citizenship can be passed onto an unlimited number of generations – regardless of which country the future generations are born in.

The drawbacks

Renewing passports

“Renewing one passport is tricky enough,” says LoPresti. “Imagine having to renew two. Now that is a fair bit of work.”

Renewing an Italian passport is not known to be particularly quick or easy: Italy in 2024 introduced a priority line after waiting times for renewals rose to as much as ten months.

Time and effort

While applying for Italian citizenship by descent is the most popular option, it’s not always straightforward and waiting times are increasingly long.

“If you are deciding to go down the route of jus sanguinis, be prepared for the amount of documentation you will have to provide,” warns LoPresti. 

READ ALSO: Who is entitled to Italian citizenship by descent and how to apply for it

He adds it usually takes the longest to clear and carries the most requirements compared to other routes to Italian citizenship, particularly as documentation has to be from two countries rather than one.

High costs

Applications for Italian citizenship are not cheap, particularly if you need the help of a legal professional, which is very often the case.

“To do it properly with a lawyer may cost thousands,” says Obrikyte. 

For LoPresti, the amount depends on several factors: “The type of case an individual has, the package they are choosing, and the number of applicants (family members) they are adding to their application all amounts to the overall cost.

READ ALSO: Revealed: How much it really costs to get Italian citizenship via ancestry.

“The average cost to complete the services professionally is about $6,000-$13,000,” he adds.

“However, many people apply as a group with other family members in the bloodline so they can split and share the total costs, which can drastically reduce their cost per person.”

Either way, the experts agree that there are very few disadvantages to getting Italian dual citizenship. Despite the cost and time involved in applying, being an Italian citizen comes with numerous advantages, particularly if you want to live in Italy long-term.

Find more information in The Local’s Italian citizenship section.