I’m American and I want to live in Italy!

How Do You Live in Italy if You Are American?

But the answer to this question, like lots of the big questions in life, has no straight answer! A lot depends on when and how long you would like to go, who you are and your circumstances and what you would like to do when you go there.

Immigration laws in Europe, and consequently in Italy, are fairly rigid and the penalties for breaking the law are enough to make you think twice about breaking the rules. As the owner of a language school in Italy (now in the able hands of its new owner), I had to be very careful who I hired as English teachers because in certain cases immigration law infraction could lead to criminal charges, not just to a fine. Hiring American, Canadian, Australian or South African teachers, in fact, was so fraught with difficulty that most of my colleagues simply wrote “EU passport holders only” on their recruitment materials. This used to mean that UK citizens got the lion share of English teacher jobs on the continent, though this is now no longer the case, thanks to Brexit.

You can stay in Europe/Italy for up to 90 days as a tourist with your United States passport, but after the 90 days you are in theory supposed to leave Europe for at least three months before coming back. Going to Switzerland for one day does not count, as many think!

There are lots of different visas available, so let’s take a look at a few of them!


First, there is the work visa, which allows you to get an Italian work permit. Getting a work visa in Italy is NOT easy. In my eighteen years of running a language school in Italy, I was only able to help one employee successfully get it. It’s a huge hassle for the business owner, who is required to hand over sensitive documents like tax returns and employee contracts to the labor inspector’s office, so most companies just will not even bother. In fact, when you apply for an English-teaching job on TEFL.com, most schools will write “European Passport Holders Only” on top of the help wanted ads. “Americans” need not apply they might as well write!

But, can I work in Italy if I’m an American? Yes, but…..read on.


If you want to work legally in Italy, enrolling in an Italian university and getting a student visa is the best way to go. Universities in Italy are incredibly cheap, the visa allows you to work up to 18 hours a week and the visa itself is easily renewed every year. You just have to make sure you take a few exams every year and show your results to the immigration officials at the Questura (Police Station). It is not the easiest thing in the world to do, but it can done.

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But, but, but.

a) You will definitely need to be able to speak a bit of Italian because Italian universities have you do an entrance test before you begin.

b) You will only be able to enroll in an Italian university if you have done at least ONE YEAR of college work already. Italians have five years of high school, so an American with a HS diploma does not qualify without at least one year of post-secondary studies. One year of community college after high school is considered sufficient.

c) You will have to plan ahead to do this and it will take time and energy on your part. You will have to translate documents, get them notarized and apostilled. Not fun. But, hey, it’s the prezzo che si paga per la bellezza (The price you pay for beauty).

Here is the link for the procedures, which change from year to year. If you decide to go this route, it is advised that you get started no later than May before the next academic year.


Do you have an Italian last name? Have you got Italian ancestors somewhere back in your family tree? If so, there’s a pretty good chance you could be eligible to reacquire your Italian citizenship by applying for it at your local consulate or by moving to Italy and submitting the paperwork at your local City Hall. There are lots of ins and outs to the citizenship request and it is not always clear what the Italian citizenship requirements are.

The original ancestor on American soil gave started the family before 1948? You better hope that it was a man and that he had male children because it wasn’t until 1949 that women could pass on Italian citizenship. Another deal-breaker is military service on the part of one of your

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ancestors during World War II. A good lawyer can help you navigate this and there are a lot that offer this service.

I have seen several American citizens successfully navigate this process. It is a common procedure and usually takes about a year to complete. The good news is that if you prepare all of your documentation and then move to Italy, you can file your application there and legally work and reside in Italy while waiting for everything to clear. The ceremony for “bestowal of Italian citizenship” is a moving one. A city official wearing the tricolored sash asks you to swear to uphold the rights of the Italian constitution and then makes some extemporaneous remarks and Italians always know the right thing to say.


Elective domicile visa. This visa is ideal for someone who has purchased a house in Italy and needs to be able to live in Italy for more than three months in a year. In order to get this visa, you’ll need a) to buy a house and b)

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demonstrate financial viabilitiy. The process is fairly simple and straightforward. Also the visa to go for if you plan to retire in Italy.

Business dealings visa: You must prove that you have been invited by a company in Italy for the purpose of doing business there. This is the kind of visa you might get if you work for an American company that is engaged by an Italian company do carry out, for instance, a machine service contract or repairs of machinery made by your company.

Adoption visa. If you are adopted by an Italian citizen, then obviously you are entitled to a visa that allows you to stay in Italy. Note that being born in Italy does not automatically confer Italian citizenship.

Business or start-up visa: If you have decided that you would like to open a business in Italy, this will allow you to do it. You will, of course, have to allow the Italian government do due diligence to make sure that you are actually going to establish a company in Italy.


If it is your dream to move to Italy for an extended period of time or to establish permanent residence in Italy, it is definitely possible. But it will take a lot of planning and legwork on your part and it is better to think of this as a long-term project.

Speaking as a former expat who lived more than half of his life in Italy, I can honestly say that it is worth it!

How can Ciao Languages help?

If you go to Italy, you’ll definitely want to know a bit of Italian in order to get the most out of your experience there!

At Ciao Languages, we offer live Zoom lessons with qualified native speakers of Italian. During each lesson our instructors gradually guide you through the basics of the Italian language. All of our lessons are online, so wherever you are in the United States, you can access il bel paese straight from your living room.

For more information about our courses, contact us via the form below!

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