Can foreigners buy property in Sicily?
The peerless cuisine, the sparkling sea, the rich history three hundred sunny days a year, the climate of growing business opportunity… if we were going to list all the reasons our clients have for relocating to Sicily we’d be here all day!
With average prices just 1,041/m2, Sicily is currently the third cheapest region in Italy for real estate prices, and the market fell by 2.2% in 2020, making this an amazing time to find superb value here!
Whatever it is that draws you to our magical island, the time comes for thousands of people a year to make it their home and primary Residence. This can seem a daunting process, but we’re here to help!
In this article we’ll discuss the question of whether you will need Italian Residency, discuss the different routes to getting it, and talk about some of the specific challenges you’ll need to be aware of. Lastly we’ll touch on the possibility of applying for permanent Residence and/or Citizenship.
Afterwards, if you have any questions, our knowledgable support team would be delighted to help.
N.B. Tourist or Resident?
The first thing to understand is that Italian law considers every foreigner in Italy either a tourist or a Resident. As a rule, a tourist is a foreigner staying in Italy for less than three months. Even if you’re coming for work or study you will be considered a tourist if your stay is less than 90 days.
1) Can I Buy a Property in Italy as a Non-Resident?
Here’s a thing which many people find hard to believe: You do not need to be an Italian Resident to buy property in Italy! The requirements depend on whether or not you are an EU Citizen. Of course, if you’re British (sad to say) this will recently have changed.
If you are an EU Citizen, as long as you have a Codice Fiscale (Social Security Number) and an Italian bank account (which you can open as a non-Resident), you are welcome to invest in property anywhere in Italy.
By way of a quick comparison, you do need to be a Resident to own a car here. So in some ways buying a house is easier than buying the car you’ll be driving while you live in it – strange but true! At least it works to your advantage at this stage…
What does this mean in practice? If you are buying a property in Sicily to use as a holiday home, and you don’t plan on being here (or elsewhere in the Schengen Area) for more than 90 days in any 180 day period, you do not need to become a Resident here.
Non EU Citizens and Reciprocity
Your right to buy property without first becoming a Resident of Italy will depend on the treaties which may or may not exist between your country and Italy. In general, these are governed by what is known as the ‘principle of reciprocity‘, which in layman’s terms means ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours‘! If an Italian can legally buy property in your country with no strings attached, then you can expect the same treatment here. If there are conditions and restrictions, then similar ones will apply to you in Italy.
For example, Swiss citizens cannot buy a house in Italy with a surface area over 200m2, or with land over 1,000m2, because a similar restriction exists for us if we want to buy there.
British, American, Canadian and Australian citizens can buy property in Italy without the need for Residency.
You can find a full list of reciprocal agreements published by the Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri (Foreign Office), or check with the Italian consulate in your home country for further details.
Getting a Mortgage in Italy
With a deposit of 5-10% of the purchase price (as well as proof of income), it is usually possible to get a mortgage from an Italian bank. The Bank of Italy has published a guide to the industry, Buying a Home: Mortgages Made Easy, which can be downloaded from their site.
2) How can I obtain Italian Residency?
So, you know how to enter Italy as a tourist, and you may even be able to buy property here on that basis. But what if you need to become resident to buy, or you do want to stay longer? The first question, again, is whether you are currently an EU citizen.
If you have an EU passport, you can jump to the section entitled ‘I Have an EU Passport or a Permesso di Soggiorno‘. If you don’t yet, you will need a document called a Permesso di Soggiorno. Read on to find out how to get it…
I Don’t Have an EU Passport – Visas
If you are not an EU citizen, you are able to visit Italy (or any other EU country) as a tourist for a period of up to 90 days in every six month period. If you are entering the country as a tourist from any of the countries on this extensive list, which includes the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Israel, you do not need a Visa to enter the country as a tourist. Your passport will be stamped upon entry, and as long as you do not overstay this allowance you have no trouble.
If you plan to stay here for longer, you will need to apply for a long stay Visa. These can be applied for in advance online from your home country. The main criteria for this kind of Visa are these:
- you have a job here
- you are self-employed
- you will be starting a business here
- you are studying here
- you are reuniting with family who are currently in Italy
There are 20 different categories of Visa in total. For a practical guide to the requirements of each Visa, take a look at the section entitled ‘Requirements for Italian Residence Permit‘ on this page.
The cost and requirements of your Visa will vary, depending on the type you request and your country of origin. You might need to provide proof of employment, found an Italian company, demonstrate your income or savings, or invest in an Italian enterprise or charity.
It won’t surprise you to know that, as anywhere, the general rule is that the more assets you’re bringing to the table, the faster and smoother the process will be. Your purchase of property in Sicily may not automatically be enough to guarantee you a visa, but it will certainly help! If you are buying a home to live in here, the vendor will provide you with a document called a Certificato di Agibilità, which confirms that the property is habitable. You will need to show this when applying for some kinds of visa.
If you are considering a purchase and would like to speak to a local lawyer specialising in visas and immigration, please let us know and we will make sure you can speak to an expert.
I Don’t Have an EU Passport – The Permesso di Soggiorno
Once you arrive in Italy, you can convert this Visa into a Permesso di Soggiorno (Residency Permit). These run for between one and five years, depending on the nature of your application and your plans. You should start this process within eight days of your arrival in Italy. You can collect an application ‘kit’ at your local Post Office, and then take the completed kit with all supporting documents to the Questura (Police Headquarters).
After you have your Permesso di Soggiorno, you can register your permanent address with the Comune where you live, as described in the section below.
For the official line on this process, visit this official guide to obtaining a Residency Permit.
For an insider account, and to warn you in advance that the process is lengthy and can be frustrating, here is an account by an American who obtained a Residency permit in Rome a few years ago.
We strongly recommend enlisting the help of an Italian speaker who understands the process, and of course, we are here to help all of our clients.
A Permesso di Soggiorno costs between €70 and €130 depending on the duration, plus a €16 stamp, called a Marca da Bollo, which you can buy from many tobacco stores.
I Have an EU Passport or a Permesso di Soggiorno
If you are already a citizen of the European Union, relocating to Italy is already your right. You do not need a ‘Permesso di Soggiorno‘ (Residency Permit) and can stay here as long as you like.
If you do not have an EU passport but have a Permesso di Soggiorno (see above), you are also able to remain for the duration of your permit.
Provided you register your address with the Ufficio Anagrafe (Registry Office) in your Comune (Municapality) of Residence. If you are not, but you are a ‘dependent relative’ of an EU citizen, this will also apply.
You should register with your new Comune within 90 days of arrival. They will ask you to provide:
- evidence of your employment or self-employment, if you have it.
- evidence that you can support yourself, if you are not employed. This will include a health insurance policy and a declaration that you have the means to support yourself whilst you are here. We can help you prepare this!
- evidence of your course, if you are studying or training.
- evidence that you are a ‘dependent relative’ of an EU citizen, if you are not one yourself.
For a through explanation of this process, take a look at this guide for EU citizens relocating to Italy, published by the Italian police.
Registering your Residency is free, but you will need to attach a €16 stamp, called a Marca da Bollo, which you can buy from many tobacco stores.
What are the consequences of becoming a Resident in Italy?
The biggest and most positive result of your decision to make Italy your permanent Residence is that you are free to spend as much time as you like in this beautiful country! Whether you’re starting a new job, opening your own business or enjoying retirement, we can’t wait to welcome you here.
However, there are some important implications to this decision.
Becoming Resident here means becoming an Italian taxpayer, and filing annual returns to the Italian authorities (regardless of whether your work is here or overseas). You will also need to register with the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), the Italian healthcare system. This may incur extra costs.
You should also remember that it is not legally allowed to be a Resident of two countries at once. If you successfully apply for Italian Residency, you should inform the country you currently live in, which may have an impact on your tax situation and access to state-provided support there. We recommend speaking to a tax professional to make sure you’re making the best choice for you.
3) The next steps: Italian permanent residency and citizenship
While these are perhaps not concerns that need immediate solutions, if you are thinking about relocating to Sicily, you will have one eye on the long term situation. Let’s discuss a little bit about your options beyond the first years…
If you stay legally and continuously in Italy for five years, you can upgrade your Permesso di Soggiorno to an EC Residence Permit. This is a permanent Residency which allows you to come and go as you please. To reach this five year mark you will probably need to renew your Permesso di Soggiorno along the way, but this will be a simpler and much less painful process.
Official information about the EC Residence Permit is available from the Italian Police.
The permit is free, but you will need to spend €30 for the recorded delivery of your application by the Post Office, and attach a €14 Marca da Bolo (stamp).
How to get Italian Citizenship
Another route to permanent rights to remain in Italy is to obtain Italian Citizenship, and thus an Italian passport. You can qualify for this by:
- having an Italian parent.
- having a direct lineage (grandparent, great-grandparent or beyond) to an Italian citizen since the country was founded in 1861, provided that some conditions about voluntary renunciation of Citizenship can be established. If you think this may apply to you we recommend speaking to an immigration lawyer.
- marrying an Italian citizen and living in Italy for two years.
- being resident in Italy for four years, as an EU citizen.
- being resident in Italy for ten years, as a non-EU citizen (N.B. British nationals must now wait this full period of ten years, regardless of whether they arrived before or after Brexit).
The application takes two years to complete, and involves various fees. If you apply through a consulate overseas the application costs €300 (including translation and certification). If you apply in Italy the application falls to just €16, but the costs of translating and notarising various documents will fall on you. The issuing fee for an Italian passport is currently €114.
Where can I find more information about my Residency rights in Italy?
The Polizia di Stato have a very useful section on their website for Foreign Nationals.
The comprehensive guide published by the Ministry of the Interior, ‘How to Stay in Italy Legally‘ can be downloaded in .pdf form.
I’m tempted! What property can you offer me?
Take a look at our list of properties, all of which have been carefully selected for their suitability for foreigners who are thinking about relocating to Sicily.