Soon we found ourselves faced with yet another problem, due in part to the delays we had experienced in buying the house. Our British car insurance was due to run out very shortly. Our policy included European travel, for up to a limit of 180 days use in a 12 month period, however each individual trip was limited to a maximum stay of 90 days. Soon our first 90 days would be up, so Paul was contemplating driving back to the UK, even for just a day or two, to satisfy the insurance regulations. Yet, we also had to consider the cost of this journey, ie. diesel, motorway tolls, accommodation, ferry crossings etc.
Then Guido accompanied us to make enquires about obtaining Italian car insurance, however we soon learned that in order to take out an insurance policy in Italy you have to have Residency. In order to get Residency you have to have a permanent address, and ………wait for it ………the ever illusive ……………PERMESSO DI SOGGIORNO. Otherwise we would be forced into paying 3 or 4 times the normal price, an astronomically high figure, as in Italy car insurance does not come cheap at the best of times, even for the Italians.
One morning, a few days later, we were sitting with friends in the main piazza in Itri, when we were introduced to a family from Milan who happened to be holidaying in this area. We invited them to join us and we chatted for some time over our frothy cappuccinos. The eldest son turned out to be a policeman, and he was surprised to hear how much trouble we had been experiencing whilst trying to obtain our “Permessos”. He explained that in theory it should have been quite straightforward, as the UK / Great Britain is part of the European Community. However, in our experience, many of the Italian officials didn’t seem to know of the existence of a county called Wales or Galles, let alone realise that it was part of the UK, and a member of the EU. Recently we had read of a bureaucratic blunder that had somehow left Wales completely off the map of Europe on the cover of a prestigious EU reference book called the “Eurostat Statistical Compendium”, a publication containing all the facts and figures on Europe. All the other EU state members were accurately depicted on the map, but Wales seemed to have sunk into the depths of the Irish Sea. Italians do seem to know, however, that Britain hasn’t yet adopted the euro – so possibly this partly explains why they don’t consider us to be “fully paid up members” of the European Community.
Thus we decided to fully concentrate our efforts on obtaining the Permesso di Soggiornos. This time we were advised to apply at the police office, Commisaria, in Fondi, which is responsible for such applications in the Itri area. We had our 2 sets of four passport photographs, and our translated documents prepared etc, so we hoped that all would be in order. The very next day we decided to be bold and try our luck. We arrived at the entrance gate of the police headquarters, clutching a bag bulging with thick files, an impressive portfolio of documents that we had put together. With some trepidation we rang the buzzer of the intercom, wondering what fate awaited us inside. The automatic gate slid aside, and we cautiously entered the main building. At the glass kiosk in the lobby we made enquiries and were directed to take the flight of stairs to the first floor, and then look for the first door on the right. We discovered that the offices seemed to be in considerable disarray, as it appeared that they had the painters and decorators in. On arriving at the open doorway of the office entitled Ufficio dei Stranieri we were somewhat puzzled, as at first sight it seemed to be deserted. However, just a few seconds later, a youngish, hot and bothered lady appeared from the balcony outside, wearing blue rubber gloves, she was vigorously swishing a mop over the tiled floor. Our first thoughts were that she must have been the cleaner, yet we were mistaken. She apologised for the state of things, and finally put aside her mop and bucket to ask if she could help us. She seemed very approachable and helpful, totally different from the green-eyed hag that we had encountered at the offices in Gaeta. She advised us to go to another agency in the town, which was run by the local council, called the Centro di Servizi Immigrati. Here, she said, they offered a free service to prepare all the required paperwork to submit an application for a Permesso di Soggiorno.
Post haste, we dashed off to find these premises, where we were delighted to find yet another helpful individual – it seemed that finally our luck was changing – and we needed all the help we could get to beat this bewildering bureaucratic system. Initially she seemed somewhat perplexed, and she said she wasn’t sure whether we actually needed a Permesso to stay in Italy, as Great Britain is a member of the European Community. Yes !!! At last we seemed to be getting somewhere, someone who recognised that Wales / GB is in the EU. In some of the vast library of books that we had read about “Living in Italy” and “Buying a House in Italy”, we had learned that in theory as citizens of the EU we were freely entitled to live in any other EU country. However, in practice, in the bureaucratic haven of Italy, the Italian government still insisted on everyone, including people from other EU states, having a Permesso di Soggiorno to stay in their beautiful, yet crazy country. The signora said that most of her clients were from countries outside the EU, such as applicants from Romania and Albania, and that up until then she had not been approached by any other English people. She decided to phone the Questura to clarify exactly what information and documentation was required. The answer came back – “Yes, we did indeed need a Permesso di Soggiorno! “Allora” she said, as she then began the labour-intensive task of filling in the special application forms, by hand. We had to produce our passports, copies of our bank statements, E111 forms and our photographs – which she energetically stapled to our forms. We then realised that we needed to purchase some more stamps or bolli from a Tobacco shop, to affix to the applications, as any public service or document in Italy does not come free. We then had to make a written declaration as to exactly why we wanted to remain in Italy, and how we were going to maintain ourselves. She also needed our current address in Itri, and a declaration by the owner of our villa that we were staying with him as ospiti, guests. By the time that she had filled in all the paperwork and taken numerous photocopies, it was too late to return to the Questura, as their offices shut at midday, and are only open for three hours in the mornings. We thanked the obliging signora profusely for her assistance in these matters, and felt some comfort that if any other British people approached this agency, we may have paved the way for making the procedure a little easier for all concerned. Thus the only thing we still needed to obtain was a written declaration from our landlord, stating that we were currently staying at his villa in Itri. Thankfully he graciously agreed to complete and sign this last crucial document. At last we had all the requisite paperwork.
The next morning we set off once more to the Questura, and retraced our steps to the office on the first floor. This time we found the friendly lady official sitting behind a desk that was weighed down with hundreds of folders and papers. She smiled as remembered us from the previous day, and checked through the forms and declarations. She pointed out that we also needed a photocopy of our landlord’s identity card. Oh no! We didn’t have that, and our landlord had returned to Rome for a week or so. For a moment or two we thought we had failed yet again, as at first she said that this meant she could not complete the procedure. However after a moment or two of consideration, she relented, saying that it would be acceptable if we could drop the photocopy into the office at a later date. So finally, we each signed our applications, which were then vigorously stamped several times with the official seal of the Questura. At the bottom of the first page, there was a little perforated strip to tear off, with one of our passport photos attached which was to serve as a temporary Permesso di Soggiorno. We were triumphant and elated as with this little piece of paper we could now move on to the next step, to apply for Residenza in Italy.
The next morning we submitted in our applications for our Certificati di Residenza from the Ufficio Anagrafe or Register Office at Itri town hall. We returned a few days later to be presented with these valuable pieces of paper. As you can imagine we were well and truly delighted and treated ourselves to a celebratory drink. Eventually we were issued with our full Italian Identity Cards and Permits to Stay, each with our ugly mug shots on. We were advised that in Italy, which at times seems almost to be a Police State, these documents must be carried on one’s person at all times, as you may be asked by a policeman or Carabinieri to produce it them anytime and anywhere.
If we hadn’t been able to speak some Italian I don’t know how we could have found our way through all this red tape.