We have spent an awful lot of time lately trying not to be too Anglo-Saxon, but I have to confess, it has been quite a struggle to maintain our recently adopted more Mediterranean mindset. The reason? Mr Blue-shirt and I are in the process of applying for residency in Italy, which technically, we are legally obliged to do now that we are here permanently. We need to do it for practical reasons too, though, as without residency, there are all sorts of things which we simply cannot do. We can’t have a ‘proper’ bank account, complete with online banking, debit or credit cards, for instance. But it is the need to replace our UK-registered, right-hand drive car that finally nudged us into action as it is not possible to register or insure a car here without residency.
We began the process some weeks ago with a visit to the relevant department at the town hall in the village. Here we were told that, as EU citizens, it was essentially a case of demonstrating that we were not going to be a burden on the Italian state, which we already knew, but which we were relieved have confirmed. Essentially, we need to demonstrate that we are solvent, and prove that we have suitable health insurance cover, and once we have done this, residency will be granted and the relevant documents issued quite quickly. All eminently understandable and very straightforward. We thought. Foolishly.
Everyone here has to have some kind of health insurance, not just foreigners, and the kindly women at the town council (comune) told us that the most cost-effective option was the state-run scheme which we could sort out at any one of about three local clinics. The first clinic we went to, however, insisted that we needed to have residency before they could issue the policy – i.e. the exact opposite of the comune. Not an encouraging start. So we went back to the town hall to seek clarification, thinking that something along the way had got lost in translation. But following a couple of phone calls to higher authority, the same kindly women duly confirmed that it was definitely insurance first, then residency. With our confidence thus restored, we decided to go to another of the three clinics – this time a bigger one in a bigger town on the basis that they might have had more experience of dealing with foreigners. No, too Anglo-Saxon. The row of clerks at the enquiries desk looked at us as blankly as the first lot, and after an extended conflab among themselves and a fair bit of rifling through several overstuffed lever arch files, they gave us a tatty piece of paper – a copy of a copy of a copy by the look of it – which was actually an internal document that explained the process to staff, but that was of no practical help to us. With two dead ends in quick succession and no real idea how to proceed, things stalled for a while.
Mr Blue-Shirt eventually suggested asking Giovanna, the solicitor who had handled the purchase of our house, for some informal advice or an alternative solution. She too recommended the same state-run scheme (private insurance is also an option but is naturally much more expensive) and after a lengthy email exchange, I finally established a step by step procedure to follow and a list of paperwork to put together. Giovanna also advised us to go to a different clinic in a different town from those originally suggested. This town also happened to be the ‘capital’ of the province in which our comune is located, which made comforting sense. So a few days later, and now armed with a letter of ‘auto-declaration’ attesting to our sincere intention to secure residency in the comune where we live and signed by both of us, along with copies of our identity documents – as well as a clearer idea of the whole process – we felt ready to do battle once again and set off to clinic number three. Third time lucky. We thought. Foolishly.
Finding a reception desk at where we could simply ask for the office we needed was an initiative test in itself as everything had been relocated to a different building but no one had thought to provide any signage. So we just wandered among various handsome yet uninhabited period buildings until we eventually found a more modern building that showed signs of life. After roaming around several anonymous corridors and up and down a couple of flights of stairs we finally emerged at the main reception desk with its ubiquitous deli ticket roll on a wobbly stand. Yes! It was going to take more than a few missing signs to beat us! Better still, the number on our ticket was only a couple higher than the numbers showing above the customary row of glass-fronted enquiry booths – a good omen. We thought. Foolishly.
Our number was soon called and, passing the woman behind the glass screen our bundle of paperwork, I confidently asked to be directed to the office that dealt with health insurance for foreigners, as Giovanna had advised. She shuffled through our papers, pushed her glasses up her narrow nose and shook her head, then shoved them back under the glass towards us. With the expressionless finality beloved of petty bureaucrats, she told us that we were at the wrong clinic. Our comune was not covered by this clinic, but by one in a town about 20 miles in the opposite direction. At least Mr Blue-Shirt managed to get her to print out contact details of the place we needed just before she summarily dismissed us by pressing her button and flashing up the number of the next person in the queue.
A few days later, having re-installed our Mediterranean mind-set, we set off to clinic number four, where it instantly started to feel like Groundhog Day: another crowded waiting room, another bank of glass-fronted enquiry booths and another deli ticket roll on another wobbly stand. Only this time there were over forty people ahead of us in the queue. Oh well, at least it would give me plenty of time to mentally rehearse my questions and formulate different answers, I reasoned. Nearly an hour later our number flashed up and I went through my now well-practised spiel with bored-looking clerk number four. Judging by the way her expression changed from boredom to complete incomprehension, you’d have thought I’d asked where I could get a facelift for my unicorn. There followed another conflab with colleagues, another bit of rifling through lever arch files, and another tatty copy of a copy of a copy was handed to us. This time, though, it was a part-completed example of a form that we needed to get from the post office where we would need to pay our annual premium – which was pretty much what Giovanna had said would happen. Progress at last! But clerk number four then went on to explain that once we had paid our premiums and got the form stamped (a key part of the process, of course) we needed to take the form back to the comune. And – guess what? – get our residency application sorted out before the clinic could issue the policy.
So after six weeks, four clinics, four clerks, one solicitor, one town hall, a dozen or more emails and six fruitless mornings, we are back to the catch-22 we encountered at square one. And this was supposed to be straightforward. We thought. Foolishly.