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SECOND HOMES

Reader question: Will Italy consider scrapping the 90-day limit for Brits?

Following reports that Spanish authorities are under pressure to extend the time Brits can now stay in Spain, readers with second homes in Italy have asked whether the same thing could happen here.

People outside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.
Brits without Italian residency can currently spend 90 days out of 180 in Italy. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

QUESTION: Recent articles in the UK media describe growing pressure in Spain to extend or scrap the 90 day rule for British nationals because it is hurting Spanish tourism. Is there any chance we will see this being considered in Italy?

When Britain left the EU, British citizens lost the right to freedom of movement within the bloc – and the new 90-day limit has been a particular problem for those with second homes in European countries.

The change has hit some parts of Europe hard, too: including the region of Valencia in Spain, which is now campaigning for UK nationals to not have their time on Spain’s Costa Blanca limited or determined by the 90-day Schengen rules that now apply to them.

This is because the impact of Brexit on freedom of movement is affecting one of the Valencian economy’s driving forces: UK nationals who spend extended periods of time in Spain.

READ ALSO: How Brits can properly plan their 90 out of 180 days in Italy and the Schengen zone

Regional authorities have called on Spain’s Tourism Ministry to help make it easier for British nationals to spend more than 90 out of 180 days in the Valencia region without having to apply for a visa.

For anyone who is not an EU citizen – including UK nationals since January 1st 2021 – the 90-day rule comes into play. You can find a full explanation of how it works here, but essentially it limits trips into the Schengen zone to 90 days out of every 180. These rules apply equally across the bloc.

Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

UK nationals who don’t hold an Italian or EU residency document following Brexit are now wondering if the Italian authorities might look at changing the rules.

But so far, there are no reports than any regional authorities in Italy have put pressure on the government to give British nationals an exemption to the post-Brexit rules.

READ ALSO: Where do all the Brits live in Italy and how ‘Italian’ are they?

Tourism figures appear to offer an explanation for the fact that Spain is the first place to see this push for a change.

UK tourism is worth far more to Spain than to Italy – and Spain is also more reliant on tourism overall.

Before the pandemic sent numbers tumbling across the board, figures for 2019 showed that Spain was the second most visited country in the world, coming just behind France. Italy ranked fifth.

Although tourism is important to Italy’s economy, the country counts almost 20 million fewer annual visitors than Spain – and the largest share of tourism to Italy (14.1 percent) comes from Germany, Italian government figures show, followed by the US. The UK accounts for about three percent of all tourism to Italy.

With UK visitor numbers being lower, they have less economic significance to the country.

There are also far fewer British nationals living in Italy than Spain. The most recent demographic data for UK nationals living in the EU revealed that more Brits live in Spain than any other member state.

Italy, on the other hand, ranked sixth with almost 260,000 fewer UK nationals living in Italy compared to Spain.

Number of British citizens living in the EU.
Source: Statista

Is there any way Brits can stay in Italy for longer?

Many British people who have a second home in Italy have contacted The Local to ask how they could spend four or five months in a row here as they used to.

But with the 90-day rule in place and no sign of this changing soon, the only way for non-residents to spend more time in Italy is now to get a long-stay visa.

At the moment, if you plan to stay longer, most people from outside the EU would need to apply for a visa and residency permit (permesso di soggiorno).

READ ALSO:

While some countries such as France have made special residency permit provisions for second home owners, and certain other EU member states have so-called ‘Golden Visa’ schemes available to those who can afford them, Italy has no such process.

There has been widespread confusion about this for British nationals, but the post-Brexit immigration rules remain the same whether you own a property in Italy or not.

You’ll need to consider whether getting residency, in order to spend longer periods in Italy, is right for you.

Aside from the visa process, this involves paying income tax in Italy and other considerations which mean many people are opting to continue to follow the 90-day rule.

For more details about the process of applying for an Italian visa and residency permit, see the Italian Interior Ministry’s website or the EU immigration portal.

See The Local’s Brexit section for more details and updates. 

Member comments

  1. While I thank you for the view concerning the attitude of the different European states on the 90 day rule. I am bewildered by the talk of Spain and France making independent decisions regarding an EU piece of legislation.
    Surely Europe states must all agree to change the rules not individual countries as chaos would rule over the policing of this differential
    Of course I love my chosen and owned home in Italy. but the issue of a visa is not as straight forward as may be suggested, as the Embassies use an agency to filter and guide the process of application and to my cost the agency in the UK has demonstrated little grasp of the process and zero guidance

  2. I don’t see why Italy would choose such an option, especially given the small numbers involved. And then there’s the fact we made the decision to acquire residency here (a somewhat fraught process!), and don’t see why those who haven’t should be ‘gifted’ an extension…

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BREXIT

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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