EXPLAINED: Three ways you could become an Italian citizen

The recent surge in applications for Italian citizenship is hardly surprising when you consider the advantages and benefits that Italian citizenship brings. It gives you the freedom to live, study and work in Italy and the EU indefinitely, plus access to free or low cost universal healthcare and education.

EXPLAINED: Three ways you could become an Italian citizen
Photo: Getty Images

“I’m very glad I did this,” says Kristopher Imbrigotta, an American who now has Italian dual citizenship. “I don’t need to worry about visas, work permits, or any hurdles in health or education systems. I also learned that the Italian passport is currently a more powerful document than my US passport. It feels great to be American and European!”

While the benefits are clear, applying can be a complicated process, which is why it often makes sense to bring in specialist lawyers such as those at Italian Citizenship Assistance (ICA). The Local, in partnership with ICA, looks at three common routes by which you may be able to become an Italian citizen.

Could you have the right to Italian citizenship? Learn more and get your free preliminary eligibility assessment from Italian Citizenship Assistance

Italian citizenship by descent

“I always felt a connection to my Italian heritage, kept alive by my father’s family,” says Kristopher. “Both my grandfather’s and grandmother’s families are from Italy and immigrated to the US in the early 1910s or so. I remember hearing Italian spoken at their house and enjoying many Italian traditions.”

If you also have Italian ancestors, like more than 16 million Americans, you may feel motivated to explore whether you could become a citizen. You may be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent if you have an ancestor who was both alive and an Italian citizen on or after the formation and unification of Italy on March 17th, 1861. 

You’ll have to show that each descendent in your family line then passed that citizenship through to you, and that no-one was naturalised before the birth of the next person in your family line before 1992. Until August 15th, 1992 Italian citizenship was exclusive so if you took another country’s citizenship, you automatically lost your Italian citizenship. If you apply for citizenship through a female ancestor, she must have given birth to the next person in the Italian family line on or after January 1st, 1948.

Under the 1912 Citizenship Law only men could pass on citizenship until the 1947 Italian Constitution gave women the right to do so for births on or after January 1st, 1948. This 1948 rule was applied retroactively in 2009. There are also other possible exceptions. Proving a claim to citizenship can be complex. Documents must be found, translated where necessary and made legal by relevant apostilles. Once you’ve applied, it takes a maximum of two years. 

You can also claim Italian citizenship if you were born to an Italian citizen or adopted by an Italian citizen by the age of 21 (until 1975) or by the age of 18 (after 1975.)

Kristopher, a professor at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, says Italian Citizenship Assistance helped him determine “that I was likely eligible to be recognised through both my grandfather’s and grandmother’s family as no one had renounced their Italian citizenship after moving to the US”. 

He adds: “After gathering all required documents and two consular interviews in San Francisco, my Italian citizenship was recognized retroactively from birth.”

Do you have ancestors who emigrated from Italy? Photo: Italian Citizenship Assistance

Italian citizenship by marriage and civil union

Residents in Italy can apply for Italian citizenship by marriage and civil union two years after getting married, or after one year if the couple have children under 18. If you live outside Italy, you can apply for citizenship after three years, or after 18 months if the couple have children. In July 2016 same-sex couples were recognised including same-sex marriages which were celebrated abroad. 

The first thing you’ll need is your B1 Italian language certificate. You then create an account on the Ministry of Interior portal, complete an online application and upload your exam certificate, birth certificate, marriage certificate and criminal background check, with translations into Italian, and legalised for international use by means of an Apostille where necessary. You then file your application at the local Prefettura if you live in Italy or at the Italian Consulate that covers the jurisdiction where you reside via the AIRE (Anagrafe degli Italiani Residenti all’Estero), which is the Registry of Italian Citizens Residing Abroad.

You’ll be invited for an interview with your local Prefettura or the Italian Consulate in your country of residency with the relevant documents. These will then be sent to the Ministry of the Interior.

It costs €250 to apply for citizenship by marriage. Processing time is 24 months to 36 months, although applications are cancelled in case of divorce or death of spouse. Women married to Italian men before 1983 can apply for citizenship also if they are divorced or their spouse is deceased, provided they can show proof that the marriage was valid on April 26th, 1983. 

Italian citizenship by residency

To apply for Italian citizenship by residency Non-EU citizens have to prove continuous legal residency for 10 years. For EU citizens this is four years, whereas those with parents or grandparents who are/were Italian by birth must have been resident for three years. Three-year residency also applies to non-Italian citizens who were born in Italy.

Acceptance involves proof of at least €8.263,31 yearly income for the past 3 years. This is €11.362,05 if you’re married with a financially-dependent spouse, with an extra €516.46 for every dependent child. In case of insufficient personal income, you can indicate a household member’s income. You’ll also need a B1 Italian language certificate.

The process is similar to that of citizenship by marriage. You submit an online application, upload the necessary documents and pay a fee of €250. Once your application has been approved, you then need to provide the local prefecture (Prefettura) with original copies of the documents. The whole process generally takes 24 months, and if your application is successful, any children who are minors and living with you when you swear your oath six months later will automatically receive Italian citizenship. 

Kristopher Imbrigotta on a trip to Italy, plus an image he took during his stay

Enjoy the advantages

ICA, which has offices in both Italy and the US, now receives enquiries about Italian citizenship from around 300 people per month. Since becoming an Italian citizen, Kristopher has reaped the benefits of having two passports, voted in an Italian election, and now says he may one day buy property in Italy or even retire there. Could you follow in his path?

Think you could become an Italian citizen? Get your free, no obligations eligibility assessment from Italian Citizenship Assistance

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Remote workers: What are your visa options when moving to Italy?

Italy does not (yet) have a special 'digital nomad' visa - so what other options are available to freelancers and remote workers? Here's what you need to know if you're planning a move.

Remote workers: What are your visa options when moving to Italy?

Italy has announced that a new visa option for ‘digital nomads’ or remote workers is on the way for non-EU nationals wanting to move to the country.

Though the government is yet to give details of how the application process will work, it’s hoped that the new visa will mean a far easier route to a new life in Italy for the growing number of people who can work from anywhere with just a laptop and an internet connection.

READ ALSO: What do we know so far about Italy’s digital nomad visa?

The idea of swapping a spare bedroom office in colder climes for a new life in Italy is proving especially tempting in combination with the country’s growing number of discount home purchase or rental schemes aimed at repopulating remote, rural villages.

While it is possible for many non-EU nationals to spend up to 90 days in Italy without any visa at all, those wishing to work legally while here must apply for a visa and work permit

And the current visa options available are not always viable for self-employed freelancers and remote workers, immigration law experts say, due to the strict quotas and requirements involved.

Here’s a breakdown of the other visa options available at the moment for those hoping to make the move to Italy.

Self-employment visa

The self-employment visa, or visto per lavoro autonomo, is the permit that most non-EU freelancers would probably expect to apply for when seeking to move to Italy for work.

Successful applications, however, are rare.

So rare, in fact, that Costanza Petreni, a senior immigration consultant at the immigration firm Mazzeschi, says she actively discourages clients from taking this route.

READ ALSO: Working remotely from Italy: What are the rules for foreigners?

“We have so many clients asking for this type of application, because in the absence of a digital nomad visa there’s almost no other option. But what we tell them is it’s extremely hard and uncertain,” Petreni says.

The visas are released in annual quotas, via Italy’s decreto flussi, on a first come, first served basis. For the last few years, including in 2022, only 500 have been made available each year.

Petreni says one of the main issues they face, however, is less a lack of available permits than the absence of clear guidance from consulates as to exactly what documentation they need.

A common obstacle, for example, is that the consulate will require the applicant to be registered with the relevant professional body or guild for their profession – but won’t specify which one they have in mind.

READ ALSO: How many people does Italy grant work permits to every year?

If you work remotely, can you just move your life and laptop to Italy?
Just 500 self-employment visas were released by Italy in 2022. Photo by Persnickety Prints on Unsplash

In Italy, membership of such bodies is standard, but in most other countries, it tends to be only very established professions that even have their own guilds or royal societies – making this a significant stumbling block for many applicants.

“Even for photographers, they’d say, well, you need to register with the relevant body; but there isn’t one, that’s the problem,” says Petreni.

She says the process can sometimes be a little easier for those who are already in Italy on, say, a study visa.

That’s partly because those who are already present in Italy and applying to convert their existing residency permit into a work permit come under a different quota, with more spaces available (7,000 in 2022).

It’s also because once you’re in Italy, it’s your local prefecture, rather than an Italian consulate, that handles the application process – and in Petreni’s experience, dealing with the prefecture can be simpler.

“In theory, the requirements are the same whether you convert your permit or whether you do a one-time visa application for self-employment. But the authorities checking are different.”

One key difference, she notes, is that prefectures will generally be able to tell you whether they have any spaces left in their quota and whether it’s worth filing an application as a result, whereas consulates typically won’t share this information (“I don’t know if they know”).


She warns, however, against assuming that entering the country on a study visa and then converting to a self-employment visa is a silver bullet, as success is by no means guaranteed.

“If I were proposing this to a client, I would have to be very careful in managing expectations, so that after one year of a study permit they don’t become very cross that they didn’t convert it,” Petreni says.

How to work remotely in Italy.
Moving to Italy on a study visa may smooth the path for those hoping to apply to work there as a freelancer. Photo by Hannah Wei on Unsplash.

Intra-company visa

If the barriers to obtaining a self-employment visa are so prohibitively high, what other options are out there?

One alternative that Petreni will sometimes suggest to clients is the Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) work permit.

This entails setting up an Italian branch of a foreign-headquartered company, which she says can work for clients who have “even a small company in the US or UK”.

In this case, the worker would be applying for a visa not as a freelancer but as the employee of a foreign company that has posted them to Italy. The visa has a five-year duration (as opposed to the self-employment visa, which is valid for an initial period of two years).

One of the advantages of this visa, says Petreni, is that it’s outside of the decreto flussi, and therefore not subject to quota limits.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get an Italian work visa

“This is an option we have proposed, and it has worked in many cases,” she says.

“The problem is that it’s quite hard financially, and tax-wise, so it’s not for everyone… you need to put quite a bit of money in the Italian branch and have it running, so you have your yearly taxes, and you need to show that the parent company is reliable.”

“We will suggest having €20,000, €25,000 for an intra-company at least, just to show that it’s in good standing order.”

'Not just extra paperwork': What it's like moving to Italy after Brexit

An ICT work permit might be a viable option for some remote workers looking to move to Italy. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP

The EU Blue Card

The EU Blue card, introduced via an EU directive, is another option Mazzeschi sometimes proposes to potential clients.

Those coming to Italy on the card must earn a minimum salary of €24,789.93 and have a three-year university degree at minimum.

This scheme allows an Italian company to locally hire highly qualified non-EU nationals, and again operates outside of the decreto flussi quota system.

READ ALSO: ‘Not just extra paperwork’: What it’s like moving to Italy after Brexit

In this case, instead of setting up an Italian branch of a foreign company, the applicant registers a company under Italian law. Checks on the company will be stricter than they are for an intra-company office. 

“They want to see that the Italian company has the funds to hire a non-EU employee,” says Petreni. “For that option, we suggest at least €50,000 share capital for the Italian company.”

“It’s usually someone who already has a company running abroad, and then they decide whether to do the intra-company or the EU Blue Card. But for self-employees, the most-used option would be the intra-company, when they can do it.”

What type of visa will you need to move to Italy?

The EU Blue Card could be the best option for some would-be Italian residents. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Petreni says that people considering applying for the EU Blue Card often want to know whether it allows the holder to move around freely and work anywhere within the EU once they arrive.

It’s not quite that simple, she says – in the beginning you can only work from the country where the company you’re working for is based –  but holding the card can facilitate the worker’s move to a different EU country.

In the case of Italy, someone who has worked in another country in the European Union for eighteen months can move to Italy and apply for an EU Blue Card permit to work for an Italian company within one month of arriving.

Final tips

To the average freelancer just wanting some mobility, these two latter options might sound somewhat daunting.

For those who want to attempt a self-employment visa application in spite of the challenges involved, Petreni has some advice: contact your consulate to get as much information as possible before starting the application process.

“See if they have very specific requirements, because the information is not clear and it can be discordant for self-employment options, so it’s very important get in touch and see how the consulate is and what kind of answer they can give.”

“Self-employment is a bit of a jungle, it’s crazy,” says Petreni.

Find more information on the Italian Foreign Ministry’s visa website here.

Please note that The Local is unable to advise on individual cases. For more information on visa applications, consult the Italian embassy or consulate in your country or an immigration law professional.