Our retirement plans include living in Italy. That said, the adventure and complications begin.
We have been to Italy for vacations many times. As tourists, most often it seemed a rush. We want to live there so we are not in the tourist whirlwind, but settling and getting a feel for everyday life. In our travels, we visited many regions – Piemonte, Liguria, Veneto, Toscana, Umbria, Le Marche, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicilia – so we have a general idea of the differences between the regions. Finally, the basis of our selection of areas is on the type of wines we wanted to drink, nebbiolo wines or sangiovese wines – Piemonte vs. Toscana. We eventually settled on Toscana and sangiovese.
To stay in Italy for a year, a residency visa is necessary. New complication… The application is challenging. To make sure that a person applying for such a visa will not become a burden to the Italian public system, one must prove one has adequate resources to be sustained independently in Italy. The application requires such things as an original contract for living arrangements and an address, two references from banks, two year’s tax returns, one year’s bank statements, reports of assets and investments, documented private health insurance, an application fee of about $140 -$150 in a money order depending on the current exchange rate, and for South Carolina, to present at the Italian Consul in person in Coral Gables, FL.
So, as we were putting our application together, we found we needed to have a specific residence, in our case, an apartment. Now to select a town. We are familiar with Buonconvento, Montalcino, Siena, and Montepulciano. Buonconvento initially appears to be a little industrial town south of Siena at the confluence of Fiume (river) Obrone and Torrente (creek) Arbia. From the highway, it appears unattractive, but going into the town there is a small walled area with shops and restaurants. There is a farmer’s market in season, a supermercato (COOP) and a number of small festivals during the year. In a valley, Buonconvento is flat, when the other towns are on hills. Bounconvento’s best attribute is that it is on a train mainline and several bus lines. Montalcino is a hilltop town with an active tourist business, some bus lines, and lots of excellent wine – so much so, over the years and after several wine shipments, we have become known to the staff of one of the enotecas (wineshop) in town. Siena is a relatively large town with an active tourist business, a busy train station, a university, and many festivals. Montepulciano is another hilltop town in another fine wine region. Montepulciano has bus lines, but the best train line is an hour away by bus. It does have two supermercati (Conad and Eurospin), and a very nice farmer’s market.
In the midst of Covid uncertainty, we flew to Italy to find an apartment. This visit was a bit of an anxious time in trying to find and complete a contract for an apartment – not the usual casual, enjoyable vacation in Italy. When looking for apartments in Italy, most on-line sites have vacation rentals and it is difficult finding yearlong rentals. There were some in university towns and larger cities, but few or none in smaller towns. We also did not want to rent a property sight unseen, or just photos on the internet. If seeking an apartment and using a real estate agent, generally expect to pay the real estate agent the equivalent of two months of rent and two-months of rent for deposits.
We were fortunate in finding a place to live. We are acquainted with a co-owner of a family restaurant just off the main square of Montepulciano. While we looked for apartments to rent on-line, we did not find apartments readily available; however, our acquaintance encouraged us to come to Montepulciano to look for housing. Our acquaintance connected us with a real estate agent and an owner of rentals in Montepulciano so we had three apartment possibilities at very good prices. Our other towns of choice did not have properties we could find, were not close to services or transportation, or were considerably more expensive. The real estate agent extended the courtesy of not charging us for a referral. We were very fortunate that the real estate agent did not charge a finder’s fee. Montepulciano it is.
We contracted for a two bedroom apartment with a garage just outside the walls of the old city, a couple of blocks from a supermercato, a couple of blocks from the once a week farmer’s market and near a bakery. On line, decent appearing, furnished apartments seemed to be about €1,500 to € 2,000 per month. We thought ourselves very fortunate to find an apartment in a good location for €550 per month with very nice landlords. Italian apartment leases are for at least 4 years, but may be ended with a six-month notice. To participate in a contract, we also needed a codice fiscale – somewhat equivalent to a social security number in the USA. As we were arranging for the apartment in September, so we hoped to have time to apply for our visas to start in January, we were fortunate to gain agreement for half-rent for October through December in order to hold the apartment. Our landlords are exceptionally nice people, but speak no English, and my Italian is considerably limited. For now we communicate through Google translate in emails.
Back to the US, all documents collected, appointments arranged with the consulate (also a bit complicated), and plane tickets to Miami. We could not get appointments to present the applications on the same day, but had an appointment for me on a Monday, and another appointment for Jeff on Tuesday. Once there, we found they would take the applications of both of us, as spouses, on the same day. (We anxiously ate and drank a lot in Miami.) At time of application, they notified us not to contact the consulate about the visa applications any sooner than 90 days. This was a bit concerning as we hoped to be in Italy on 1 January, but 90 days would put us unable to travel until 1 February. Fortunately, our visas arrived 4 weeks later, and we could purchase airline tickets to leave on 31 December, and arrive in Rome on 1 January. On 2 January, we will take a train from Tiburtina station to Chiusi – Chianciano Terme, and then a bus to Montepulciano.