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WORKING IN ITALY

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?
Living the remote-working dream in Italy will involve a bit of paperwork. So where should you start? Photo by David Espina on Unsplash

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”).

READ ALSO:

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.

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WORKING IN ITALY

What happens to your Italian residency permit if you lose your job?

Losing your job is never ideal, but for those in Italy on a work visa there's another layer of worry. Will you lose your residency rights? Can you stay in Italy while you look for a new job? Here's what happens.

What happens to your Italian residency permit if you lose your job?

The information below applies to non-EU citizens in Italy who have a residency permit (permesso di soggiorno) linked to a work permit and visa: not EU citizens or their family members, and not people with other types of residence permit.

The good news is that you won’t be kicked out of Italy the minute you lose your job: the expiry date on your residency permit for employment reasons (permesso di soggiorno per lavoro subordinato) won’t change.

Effectively, if you end up unemployed you’ll have until at least the date on which your residency permit expires to find a new job, and you may still be able to remain in Italy beyond that.

The duration of your residency permit for employment will depend on the type of work permit and visa you received, but it is normally valid for one or two years.

You’ll need to renew your residency permit before it expires, or at least within 60 days of the expiry date, at your region’s police headquarters (Questura).

There’s no rule that states you still have to be doing the same job, or even the same type of job, when you renew – as long as you can still meet all of the residency requirements.

READ ALSO: When and how should I renew my Italian residency permit?

You must provide a valid employment contract to renew your permit. This can be for a different job, including a job in a different sector.

You could also apply for a different type of permit if you meet the requirements.

If you lose a job, one option may be to work on a self-employed basis instead and then apply for a permit based on self-employment (permesso di soggiorno per lavoro autonomo) when it comes to the time to renew.

“If you have a residence permit for employment you can engage in self-employed activities if you have the required qualifications and fulfil the necessary legal requirements,” the European Commission’s immigration portal explains.

“Your change of status will be registered when your original residence permit expires.”

READ ALSO:

What happens if you’re unable to find a new job in time? 

If you’re still unemployed when your residency permit is up for renewal, this doesn’t automatically mean you have to leave Italy either.

You’ll need to register as unemployed when you lose your job. This means you’ll then be entitled to unemployment benefits, usually for up to one year, and that you may also be eligible to apply for a ‘residence permit while awaiting employment’ instead of renewing your current permit.

“If you have a residence permit for salaried employment but lose your job or resign, you may be put on the employment placement lists [meaning registered with the job centre] for the remaining period of validity of your residence permit or for a period of no more than twelve months,” the EC immigration portal website states.

“If you lose your job at the end of your permit you can ask for a renewal for a period of no more than twelve months.”

In fact, it may also be possible for residency permits while awaiting employment to be extended beyond 12 months, since Italian law “has not imposed a maximum limit on the possible renewal of an entitlement document conferred previously,” according to the Italian Labour Ministry’s website.

“It is up to the police to assess the situation of applicants on a case-by-case basis, paying particular attention to their family ties, the number of years spent in Italy, and any previous criminal convictions.”

Please note that The Local is unable to advise on individual cases or assist with job applications.

For more information on how these rules apply in your circumstances, see the Italian labour ministry’s immigration website, visit the sportello unico (immigration ‘one stop shop’), or consult the patronato for free immigration law advice.

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