How to Renew an Old A4 Paper Carta di Soggiorno

11 Mar

Are you one of those foreigners living in Italy who, like me, has been here long enough to have had a carta di soggiorno in A4 paper format?

Before we go any further, let me be clear: I’m talking about a carta di soggiorno, not a permesso di soggiorno. If you need information about a permesso di soggiorno I suggest you check out posts from my friends Natalie at An American in Rome: How to Get a Permesso di Soggiorno in Italy (2015) or Georgette  at Girl in Florence: Permesso di Soggiorno in Italy, My Experience (2012).

I received my carta di soggiorno in 2007 after I married my (now ex) husband. I had had various rounds of permessi di soggiorno per motivi di lavoro for many years prior to that.

Back then, the permits were issued on A4 pieces of paper. If you still have yours in that format, you’re way behind the eight ball and you need to get it updated.

According to an EU law (Council Regulation (EC) No 1030/2002), electronic contactless chip permits in card format have been required since January 1, 2006. So much for my carta – it was issued on paper. But still.

Two things to know about a carta di soggiorno a tempo indeterminato (no expiration date):

  1. Even though the carta di soggiorno technically doesn’t expire, you’re required to update the photograph every five years.
  2. If you still have an A4 paper format carta di soggiorno, it’s no longer valid.

Here we are, 10 years later, and mine was still in A4 format. Last year I happened to be visiting my neighborhood questura’s immigration office for a different matter, and the head of that office looked pretty shocked when he saw me pull it out.

“This isn’t valid anymore, signora,” he told me.

I just shrugged. I’ve become pretty blasè about Italian bureaucracy, after 15 years in the country. However, I’ve apparently been fortunate while traveling because according to this circular (in Italian here), back in 2009 there were still Italian permit holders traveling with paper permits and some EU countries weren’t recognizing those as valid.

My rickety old paper carta di soggiorno hasn’t ever prevented me from traveling in the EU, although one particularly nitpicky officer in Amsterdam looked at it verrrry suspiciously and asked if that was the “only” document I had to attest to my right to stay in Italy. I said yes and didn’t budge, and that was that.

But now that I’m looking at finally applying for citizenship (I’ve been very lazy and unmotivated to face the bureaucracy thus far), I needed to get my ducks in a row and that means updating the old A4 paper carta di soggiorno.

Modern carte di soggiorno (as well as permessi) are issued as a plastic, wallet-sized card.

Here’s where it got totally annoying for me. Technically speaking, you can go to the post office, get a “kit” and fill out the paperwork to update your carta di soggiorno. But without going into the gory details, suffice it to say that no one at either the post office nor the questura itself could tell me how much this is supposed to cost. And although it seems ridiculous, not knowing the exact cost prevented me from getting my paperwork taken in by the post office. “We’re not required to know that – you are” I kept getting told. But I couldn’t for the life of me find out the amount. AND YET. You’d think that the cost would be a minor detail and that someone living on God’s great boot in the Mediterranean would know the answer, but: no.

So I got bounced back and forth from post office to questura, to new post office to getting handed a slip of paper to call the (dreaded) central immigration office in Rome, which of course never responds to their phone. In short, I got caught in the gd bureaucratic limbo with which so many of us expats have become all-too-familiar.

Finally, at the third or fourth post office I visited to try to get information, I was blithely told “try at a CAF”.

Ah yes, a CAF. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

If you want my humble opinion – and if you’re here it’s probably because you did a desperate Google search and realized my article is like the only one out there talking about this issue and thus, you do want my humble opinion – it is this: go to a CAF, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Just go to a CAF.

If you are asking yourself what the F is a CAF, it is one of these offices that populate at least a few street corners in most every neighborhood in Rome (and probably your Italian town or city too), and is set up to provide administrative services to citizens with bureaucratic procedures that no one else on the face of the Earth seems to understand.

Permessi di soggiorno and carte di soggiorno among them.

I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of the difference between CAF (centro assistenza fiscale, which isn’t the part that helps with the permits) and an Ente di Patronato (which does), just look up in your neighborhood one of these offices and go there. They’re usually housed together but referred to by locals as simply CAF, so you can even ask someone in your neighborhood if you have a CAF office nearby.

When you go, tell them you need to do an “aggiornamento della carta di soggiorno” and the people there will be able to put your application into the computer in a “pre-submission format”. They’ll print the documentation for you to take to the post office and they should instruct you on all the photocopies you need to include.

I did this. It cost me €30. As an aside – it’s quite possible that technically the service should be free. It might be subsidized by the government. But I was just so damn grateful to get the help, I willingly forked over the cash. The woman told me I’d have to come back to get my “tessera” and so perhaps she hoodwinked me into a €30 payment to get some sort of membership – I’ll clarify that when I go back – but I’ll be honest with you: who the hell cares. I had reached the point at which paying €30 for help after a year of floundering was well worth it to me.

In any case, it took a total of an hour and a half wait for my turn (maybe your CAF takes appointments; mine is first-come, first-served, so I solved nearly three New York Times crossword puzzles on my phone and felt annoyed at the wait but proud that I knew a Tic-Tac alternative is “CERTS” although I admit I tried MINTS and MENTO first) and an hour’s time for the application processing. After which, packet in hand, I was ready to turn it all over to that other Byzantine bastion of bureaucracy, the Italian post office.

And so, allow me to say thank you to God and to whomever invented the Ente di Patronato. People trained to know and paid to tell you what the people who actually process the things should be able to do for free.

Yet another bureaucratic mystery, solved.

PS: Good to know – if you were married to an Italian and are now divorced, like me, you still retain your carta di soggiorno if you have children from that marriage. I have three. In addition, once you have children, you’re required to update your carta di soggiorno to add them. I didn’t know this either.

PPS: I now know the cost, too: €30,46. Random, obvs. Plus a €30 processing fee when you actually mail the paperwork. And of course, the hallowed €16 tax stamp. Gotta have that marca da bollo or it wouldn’t be Italy. Here’s info on all that – it does exist after all – if you’re a masochist like me. And like that article says (in Italian), the wait time hovers around 60 days. When you turn in your packet at the post office you’ll get an appointment time. Mine was roughly two months away.

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