So there’s this thing called the Schengen area. Most EU countries, except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK, are part of it. I’m sure it’s great for people who live in the EU as they can cross borders without showing their passport but it kind of sucks for us Aussies.
Sadly, Australian can’t spend more than 90 days within a 180 day period in the Schengen area. To stay longer, you have to choose which country to stay in for more than 90 days and apply for a long stay visa for that country. This won’t give you extra time in other Schengen countries but time spent in that country doesn’t count as part of your 90 Schengen days.
There are a few different long stay visas you can apply for, depending on which country you choose. We chose Italy. Their options include working holiday visas (we are too old), study visas (we can’t be bothered learning new things) and religious visas (we are heathens).
The only visa we would want and could qualify for is the Italian Residency Visa. Thus started my first research project for this trip.
I’m a massive fan of blowing things completely out of proportion. For example, a tiny spot on my skin, which most people would assume was a pimple, often results in a 3 hour image googling binge. At the end of these session, I’m convinced I have 4th stage melanoma with a bit of Parkinson’s Disease thrown in for good measure.
Going overboard is exactly what I did when I googled “applying for Italian Residency visas”. Sure this research could have taken two hours to complete but what’s the fun in that? I preferred to spend 60 hours over a two month period researching what is, I’m sure you would agree, a very enthralling topic.
I read 400 blogs to get advice on every detail of every required document. I devoured 5000 horror stories in forums about people’s experience of dealing with officials. After two months I was 100% sure that we would be rejected on the spot.
Well turns out I was half right but mostly really wrong. Let me explain.
Our first conversation at the Italian Embassy concierge desk went something like this:
Andrew : ‘Hello. We have an appointment to speak to someone about getting an Italian Residency Visa’.
Concierge: ‘Are you the Binghams? Yes well that’s not going to happen’.
WHAT??? We don’t even get to pass the bouncer??? We spent the next five minutes trying to prove ourselves worthy of attending our booked appointment. His issue with us was that we were applying for a 92 days visa. This was only 2 days over the minimum allowed for an Italian residency visa. He said that these visas are for people who want to retire in Italy or spend a long time there. It’s not meant for people to extend a holiday. What won him over was that we had a contract for one property for the entire length of our stay and we had all our financial paperwork in order. I’m certain our genuinely sad puppy dog eyes didn’t hurt.
He turned out to be a very nice guy. I’m sure he sees completely unprepared people everyday asking for visas. His job is to make sure cases that will be rejected don’t even make it past his desk, and he clearly does his job well.
After a few scary minutes, he rang the official who was supposed to see us. They had a quick phone conversation and he let us through. Hooray!!
OK so now comes the hard part, or so we thought. Our confrontation at the front desk made us even more nervous than we already were. Our worry was that we’d have the same issue with the official as we did with the concierge. We were definitely asking for a shorter timeframe as compared to other people that I’d read about but there was nothing we could do about it. You can’t ask for longer unless you have an accommodation contract for the entire time. Even if the time we were asking for was short it was still within the allowable limit so we crossed our fingers and went in.
Our consulate official, let’s call him Giovanni (although his real name was Ricardo), was in his late 20’s. He seemed pretty friendly and laid back but surely that was a ruse to get us to feel comfortable before joyously stamping “REJECTED” on our application.
Ten minutes later he was still friendly and laid back. By then I felt like we were just good mates having a chat at a bar about our mutual love of travelling.
The paperwork we gathered was based on the Sydney Italian Consulate site requirements. The Melbourne site only mentioned about half of the documents that the Sydney site did. Surely they wanted the same documents as the Sydney consulate? They just aren’t mentioning the extra requirements so they can make people freak out and cry during their appointment? Well turns out I was wrong. Their sole purpose in life isn’t to make people cry but to help people out. Who would have thought? Especially after reading all those consulate appointment horror stories.
Giovanni looked through our paperwork and put aside 10 documents that weren’t required. He said the Melbourne consulate only request documents that are officially required by Italy. Some consulates want a bunch of extra stuff so it’s best to check your city’s consulate websites for their requirements. After about five minutes, and with the fear of God put into us by the bouncer, I tentatively asked Giovanni whether he thinks it’s likely we will be granted a visa. “Yes absolutely no problem” he replied. Oh my lordy what a relief!!! He didn’t at all seem bothered by the 92 days.
This appointment was actually a preliminary one. We wanted to go through our paperwork and determine whether we have everything we would need for our official appointment, which was one week later. We asked Giovanni if he would be the person we see for our official appointment. He said he was working that day so would put himself down to see us. He suggested we make a couple of changes to our paperwork and sent us on our merry way.
When we saw him again the following week, he told us everything looked good so I nervously asked how long it will take to process our form. “Oh about one hour” he said. We almost fell of our chairs considering we had read it generally takes around 2 months to process!!
I cursed all those stupid blogs and forums for poo pooing the efficiency of Italian consulates!! I’m sure they aren’t lying but our experience was the complete opposite. Not sure if it’s the awesome efficiency of our mate Giovanni or the fact we live in the most liveable city in the word and everything and everyone is awesome and amazing here.
Whatever the reason, an hour later we were the proud owners of Italian Residency Visas. Not only was the whole thing less painful than expected but we got to chat to a pretty cool dude in the process.
In a way, the brilliant efficiency of the Melbourne Italian Consulate kind of sucks as now we are in no way prepared for the crazy Italian bureaucracy we are bound to experience during our 92 day stay.
Here are some tips if you are planning to do something similar:
- Email the consulate if you have questions. Do not call them. I tried calling them a few times and never managed to get through. When I emailed them I received a reply on the same day both times. The person who answered my email was also the person we ended up seeing during our appointment. I’m not sure if they intentionally do this but maybe it’s worth emailing to establish contact just in case. It was pretty useful for us as he knew about our case in advance.
- Make a preliminary appointment. Your official appointment can’t be earlier than 3 months before your departure date. You can, however, make a preliminary appointment to discuss your case. This was very useful for us as we got some great advice during our preliminary appointment. We found we had to change some things so we were much more prepared and relaxed during our official visit. You can’t make two appointments for the same case under the same login so the consulate advised that Andrew make one appointment and I make the other. If you are single, just email them to ask how to make two appointments.
- Have all your paperwork well organised. Andrew created a folder with all our paperwork and put divider stickers between each section. It made things much easier and less fiddly during the interview and made us look and feel more prepared.
- Book one place and have one contract for your entire stay. Make sure to get an official contract from your landlord. You can still travel around Italy which means you may sometimes double up on your accommodation costs. If you want to avoid this, you can email the consulate to ask if multiple contracts are acceptable. From what I had read, they weren’t and we didn’t want to complicate matters at the consulate so didn’t even ask. Our take on it was it’s a residency visa and not a holiday one so I’d assume they want to make sure you have a main residence. We were also happy to book one main place and keep most of our belongings there when we travelled.
- Make sure your accommodation has a cancelation policy you are happy with. Yes, you have to organise accommodation before you get your visa and it sucks but that’s just the way it is. Make sure you book accommodation that has a flexible cancellation policy in case you don’t get the visa. You may only get your visa a few weeks before you leave so take that into consideration when checking the policy.
- Ensure the proof of substantial and continuous income comes from passive income. We were told we needed $4000 per adult and $1500 per child per month of income. This is the hardest requirement to meet because cash on hand doesn’t count and neither does employment salary. It has to come from passive income like dividends or investment properties. Trouble! Good luck with that.
- Dress nicely. Dress as if you are going for a job interview and, if you have kids, make sure to dress them up too. It’s not just for looks but it also helps you feel more confident during the meeting.
- Be nice. Don’t demand anything or assume you have the right to the visa. Just be your genuinely lovely self.
Hope some of these tips help you if you are going through the same process.
Now off to google that weird spot on my earlobe.