Quirky Italian Red-Tape

Italy has LOTS of bureaucracy, much of which makes no sense.  This is not just me speaking from an ethnocentric point of view, this is what I have been told time and time again by Italians I have met (and have begun to experience).   I am sure once we move we will get to experience even more first-hand (which I will of course explain, with photos where appropriate), but for now I will share some of the quirkier red-tape I have already encountered (disclaimer – this is from personal observation, if it is not the “official” rules, feel free to correct me!)…

Stamp your ticket or pay a fine! In almost every train (except where you have a seat reservation) and on all buses, not only do you need to have a ticket, you need to validate it by stamping it in a machine (in trains, you do so in the station; in buses on board).  Unfortunately, not all tourist have read Rick Steves’ travel advice and realize the importance of validation.  If you don’t validate and get caught, it’s a €50 fine (“multa”).  No exceptions, no excuses.  Not only are you given a fine, but you are expected to pay it IMMEDIATELY.  On one bus in Rome we watched as the “bus police” told a tourist who did not have cash on him that they would accompany him to a bancomat (ATM), and sure enough, they escorted him off at the next stop!  If, as happened to me several times, the validation machine at the train station is not working (there’s lots at big stations, so we’re talking dinky ones), you need to actively search out the conductor to validate your ticket before they come around to check.  You are now officially forewarned!

Receipts, receipts, everywhere –  In Italy, receipts are MANDATORY.  Not only are they mandatory for the merchant to give (restaurant, mini-mart, veggie-stand, you name it), but they are mandatory for YOU – the consumer!  You must hold onto your receipt (ask for one if it’s not given) or you can be fined!!!  This obsessive need for receipts is one of the reasons for the next quirky cultural aspect…

No Garage Sales –  there are no garage sales in Italy.  A couple of weeks ago when I had posted about our “moving sale,”  my Italian teacher (who checks on my blog for topics to discuss in our Skype classes) asked me about these kinds of sales in the U.S.  She seemed genuinely surprised when I explained that you can find one on just about any block every weekend everywhere.  From what I understood (remember, this was all in Italian), if you wanted to have such a sale in Italy you’d need to 1) apply for a permit, 2) give all of your customer receipts (.25 receipt for that used cup anyone?), 3) file forms afterwards and 4) pay taxes.  So, while it is theoretically not impossible, you can see why it’s not done.  Apparently, if you want to sell anything in Italy you take it to a consignment store.

Your Choice – 1 or 4 year lease ONLY –  Okay, I still really don’t understand this one, but have been dealing with it on our new apartment.  All lease contracts in Italy are not only signed, but then registered with the government and only two types are acceptable – a year-long lease or a 4-year lease.  You might wonder (as I did) – “what if I know I want to live in the apartment for two years?”  Well, you have two choices there as well – take a one year lease, then another one-year lease, OR take a 4-year lease and then break it in a perfectly legal way (by giving 3 months notice).  I was very leery about a 4-year lease when we know we may only be in Italy for 2 years (Steve’s initial contract), but every single Italian person with whom I consulted (including our realtor) assured me that this is done all the time and totally normal since you are forced into a 4 year lease whether that’s your intention or not.  Logical, yes…?

There are many more areas where you must jump through hoops – I already told you about my efforts (customs forms, fees) to get a small box I had mailed from the US; there is also the matter of needing an official “fitness letter” from a doctor before you are allowed to participate in any organized runs (5k’s on up).  The scary part is I am pretty certain that I have only scratched the surface of red-tape with these experiences/information.  Stay tuned for more stories (which I am sure will be much funnier in hindsight than while I am experiencing them)!

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  1. Wow, and here I thought Slovenian bureaucracy was over the top! Great post, and good luck navigating all of the red tape!

  2. Oh yeah…it’s going to get interesting. A little advice on how I keep from going insane….”If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”….I wrote about this very subject a few months back. The expat life is all about learning and “going with the flow”!!!http://orvietoorbust.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1769&action=edit.

    Happy trails. t

    • Okay, now I’m worried! Ha! Your link is to your admin site, can you post the external link, because I know I (and others) want to hear more about what I’m in for! Thanks, Hope

  3. mysleepingdragon

     /  May 21, 2012

    Because we had no credit history in the UK, we had to pay 6 months of rent up front. Leases here are 6 months and then either month to month or a year. Receipts, we get two for every transaction. Such a waste of paper! Drives my husband crazy. But, yes, we once considered Italy and the red tape is amazingly tangled.

  4. Switzerland is known for its rules and regulations. As an American living there, it was tough for me to get used to all the rules. We built a house there and had to have the color of our house approved by a village magistrate before we could have it painted. And every rule is backed up by a stiff fee. There is a rule against making noise on Sundays–except for the gun shooting ranges, of which there are many! Go figure. I was always terrified of doing something wrong, like not having my ticket on the train. Your story of the poor tourist being accompanied to a bancomat to pay his fine is crazy!

  5. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your own experience! I bet we have rules here in the U.S. people think are weird, but we’re so used to them we don’t notice.

  6. All I can tell you is, if you stay long enough you will learn that the national pastime is “getting around” the regulations! All the things you listed are rarely tolerated by natives. And there is much more, of much more serious content, such as evading taxes and hiding bodies and nuclear scrap!! You will know you have arrived when you are “in the know”…and then you might wish you hadn’t!

  7. paulandzanna

     /  May 23, 2012

    We ran into the validation issue on the train from Rome Airport into Rome. Fortunately, the ticket checker was kind to us!

    Of course, we are about to experience lots of red tape as we plan to marry I. September in Monteriggioni. You can read about our journey at http://paulandzanna.wordpress.com

  8. I feel your pain..Boy, do I feel your pain! I found that the best way to wrap your head around all this red tape is to not even try, plead ignorance, shrug your shoulders and not stress about it. The Italians who enforce all this bureaucratic mess don’t even know which way is up, so the wide-eyed expat certainly doesn’t stand a chance. You’re not alone!!!

    • Ciao! Thanks for reading and for sharing your wisdom! Honestly, though, I’m not sure if I feel better or more scared…

      • I remember when I couldn’t get my Working Holiday Visa sorted out on the ground in Italy… I wrote a bit about it in my Italian Bureaucracy post, but I left out the part about me sitting in Piazza Salimbeni in Siena, crying on the phone to my mother, being so heartbroken and declaring that I’d have to come home early because I wouldn’t be able to work and I wouldn’t have any money… A woman nearby even passed me an unused napkin from a gelateria to wipe my tears and runny nose with! But, after my little moment of weakness, I went to my favourite Osteria, had an espresso, and went about finding an Italian way to sort things out. 😉 You can do it! Forza! Corraggio!

  9. And by espresso, I certainly meant prosecco. Honestly. Espresso is great for a jolt in the morning, but Prosecco cures all!


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