Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 4, 2016

Sometimes Italy is ridiculous

I have to renew my Permesso di Soggiorno every year. I dread this. A couple of times everything has gone through smoothly, but this is not usually the case.

Yesterday I went to Lucca to the office that helps me with my application. The girls there know me now, and are always helpful. The forms were filled out, I went to the Tabacchi to purchase the stamp duty to attach to the form…then it was off to the post office.

The system to select the type of transaction has changed and I chose the incorrect one. The man at the counter informed me that I had made a mistake and I went back to get the correct number. Not five minutes later I was recalled to the same desk…a bit silly but OK. I was happy to be served so quickly.

He looked at my paper work, looked through all my photocopied passport pages and then asked ME how much I had to pay to process the Permesso. I replied that it should be him telling me how much it cost.  After all I didn’t go to the butcher shop to process my paper work. I went to the official post office where this is done.

He claimed not to know, asked another post office worker, who also claimed not to know. They both informed me that it was my responsibility to know how much I had to pay. I have renewed my Permesso 6 or 7 times and this particular trick has never come up before. The price seems to change regularly, so how could I know what it is?

I found out later that  my friend who applied recently had the same experience, but when she told them she didn’t know, they miraculously decided they did know the fee.

The situation is ridiculous. If they don’t have a list with the scheduled feesfor their own services, why don’t they? If I got treatment like this in Australia I would ask to speak to a supervisor, but in Italy we are at the mercy of a crummy public servant who hates his job and loves to wield a bit of power. Upset them at your peril.

Anyway, the man I was dealing with refused to find out and I had to go back to the other side of town to ask for help from the girl who helped me with the application.  She went online and got the fee for me and I went back to the post office.

This time I had to wait one hour for my turn. It then appeared  that when the original post office worker had looked at my passport pages he managed to get them out of order. My new helpful assistant threw them at me and demanded that I get them in order. Next time I must remember to staple them together…another lesson learned.

It was finally done, my paperwork was processed and I have an appointment with the Questura in a few weeks…the next trial awaits.

For the record I was charged €107.50 for the application and €30 by the post office for their excellent service.

People talk of the excessive beurocracy in Italy. I don’t think the rules and regulations are the big problem. I think the main issue is that many people in official positions can’t, or don’t want to do their jobs. I think they deliberately give people a hard time in the hope they will just go away.

You could lose the will to live in an Italian post office. It is just as well Italy is beautiful and we can forgive it for almost anything.

PS. When I went to the Questura I was informed that I had paid €20 too much. To get the refund I had to submit a form and attach a stamp which costs about €16…I didn’t bother.


  1. Getting anything done in Italy is ridiculous. I find the post office there at Ponte particularly tough. For a truly fun time, trying going to the catasto. That was an experience that pretty much did me in. Later found out that most locals would have sent a geometra to do what I, a foreigner, attempted to get done. The many, many layers of bureaucracy can frustrate the most patient among us. Thank goodness for the beautiful sights, great food and the joy of just being in Italy!

    • Yes, we have to try to ignore the rubbish and enjoy the best bits. I felt sorry for the people who had also taken the wrong ticket in the post office and seemed to be waiting even longer than I did. One poor woman just wanted to buy a stamp. She eventually just gave up and went home. Another threw her arms up and was upset that the system had changed yet again…and it is never for the better.

  2. I believe you. You have to experience it to believe it. And even then….some people would/could not digest this truth about your total day of frustration; but I know it to be the reality. I was waiting for the part when you popped into the closest bar for a very big ‘stiff one’. If there was a point of total disbelief, it would have to have been when YOU didn’t know the rates. However, you hung in there; your last line redeems it; your kindness and forgiveness ALSO (almost) unbelievable. Forte Debra!

    • I make a point of not writing negative stuff. If I don’t like something I usually just don’t write about it, but sometimes the stupidity does my head in.

  3. Yes Debra, the problem is the people who work in this kind of offices, but also who let these things happen. I could tell you a list of stupid and unuseful things about this. I think one day we have to start some rebellion! We cannot bear this kind of situations!

    • The situation requires people to stand up and complain. As a foreigner, this is difficult. There are language issues, not knowing the system and not wanting to be singled out for worse treatment. As I said, if this had happened to me in Austrralia I would go over the head of the person giving me bad service and something would be done. If enough people complained they would have to do things better.

      • Debra, I shared this incredible story on my Facebook too. wishing that this could help to better the things…

      • Something needs to be done.

  4. Deb, I suggest that next time you try the Viareggio or Forte dei Marmi Police
    They both deal with immigration, but are not as busy as the Lucca Questura. Rafael got his Italian passport at Viareggio and it was a breeze. And I would say that the Post Office will be easier to deal with as they are not as busy as Lucca.

    • The Questura is not as bad as the post office. Lucca is not all that busy, they are just completely inefficient. The woman in front of me spent most of her 45 minutes at the counter laughing and chatting. Everybody at the counters while I was waiting spent at least 30 minutes being served. This is ridiculous.
      Not all post offices deal with Permessos, but I can certainly try there, thank you.

  5. Post office in Alghero was great – sending a parcel abroad was like …. well, actually, I don’t know what it was like!

    • You were lucky. It completely depends on getting someone who actually wants to perform the task at hand. I have also had a couple of good experiences, but not often.
      Never go to a post office on pension day!

  6. One of my favorite (haha) memories in Ferrara was going to the post office to buy stamps to mail back to the states two birthday cards…..Paul was waiting outside and began to think I had been kidnapped when I did not come out for two hours!!!!

    • I stopped buying stamps years ago.

  7. Ditto France

  8. Well done Deb for getting through it yet again. I have been in many post offices in Italy to be able to visualise that attitude. We can see why Jim goes for 3 months. Yes, beautiful Italy makes up for it in other ways.

    • It is a complete pain going through this every year. You would think they would want us here spending money in their country. Mine is an elective residence. I can’t work, I don’t get any benefits, just permission to stay.

  9. I understand your frustration. On my recent stay in my mum’s small village, I ventured into the post office on the morning of my last day just before heading off by train to Venezia. I was sending a parcel of my things home to Aus. Their requests were difficult to understand but they had me running back to my aunt’s house to get her ID number because they wouldn’t accept a parcel sent home to myself without a local person’s address as sender. The workers spent ages meeting in the room behind the counter discussing what to do I am sure. Eventually had it sorted with minutes to spare before train left. Argh! The view from the post office was special though and I love going back to this village.

    • I have had several miserable experiences trying to post things home. It can take hours and sometimes parcels don’t arrive anyway. I try not to do it anymore. You would think that going to a post office to post something would be straight forward, but no.

  10. Sounds really frustrating and a lot like South Africa. I’ve never been in a n Italian Post Office. Thanks for the warning. 🙂

    • Try not to go, it might put you off Italy.

  11. I appreciate the honesty of this post. With a dream of living in Italy some day, if even for a short time, it’s good to know some of the realities. After all that frustration you had, I was touched and happy to read your very last sentence. 🙂

    • I love Italy, obviously, we bought a house here and I spend several months a year here, but they don’t make it easy. It isn’t easy for locals either. I just don’t know why they don’t demand better service.

  12. How long can you stay in Italy without a permesso? Can’t one get it here in Australia?

    • You can stay 90 days in 180 days in the Schengen countries…3 months, without doing anything. Any more than that you need a Permesso. The first time you need to get a visa at the Italian Consulate in your own country, another trial, then within 8 days of arrival in Italy you must apply for a Permesso di Soggiorno. You don’t need the visa step to renew it.

  13. We well remember this torturous process….we would never have survived the experience without your assistance. Such a shame you have to endure these people every year. Wish they would give you a longer Permesso di
    Soggiorno as you are such a great ambassador for Italy. Good luck!!!!

    • The process would be OK if it wasn’t for the difficult people along the way. There have been a couple of times when either the post office or the Questura went smoothly, but not both. I just have to front up each year and be ready for whatever rubbish they throw at me.

  14. I hope you got his name and took a photo of him

    • That really wouldn’t do any good. As I said, if this happened in Australia I could complain to a supervisor, not here.

      • Oh pity, at least you could have put his photo with your post (and name)

      • Debra, I had to argue a point with a postal officer here in Australia last week when filing a bit of paperwork for my mother-in-law’s estate. They handle death notifications for the ATO (AusTaxOffice). I had all the forms completed and printed out with all the required certified copies of documents. They insisted I needed the original Death Certificate and I said, no, that’s not what the ATO web site says. They refused to believe me, went to the manager, who also didn’t believe me so I looked it up on my phone. They were still reluctant to believe me when I showed them and I waited 40 minutes through various phone calls and consultation on their part. I was patient but insistent as I had only looked at the site in the morning and was careful, not wanting to waste a trip. Eventually they agreed to take the certified copy and there was no charge. I do sympathise with the Post Office here as I believe they really have a lot to know and possibly this rule had changed since they last took a death notification. Still a little frustrating and nowhere like what happens regularly there. You are a great ambassador for Italy and should be given a medal! And citizenship!;)

      • I know things are not perfect in Australia, but at least there you can go over the head of a reluctant attendant…not possible here. I despair every time I have to enter a post office.

      • It’s true Debra, attitude is everything and I don’t enjoy the blasé attitude in public offices there. You must be a patient person!

  15. With trepidation, I went into the Post office in Venice just for a couple of stamps. I well remembered the previous long waits, the socialising sessions at the counter, and expected at least half an hour to stand in line. They have done some sort of miracle, it was all pleasant and quick! It took the wind right out of my sails. 🙂

    • What a pleasant surprise!

  16. I was frustrated for you reading what you were put through and then I remembered the day in the Post office at Bagni di Lucca when they made me unpack my box of things I wished to post home to Australia. After half an hour you came looking for me – and after you speaking in Italian we got sorted, but had to buy three yellow boxes – couldn’t put it into one big one – a lot more money to pay, but by then I didn’t care – two boxes arrived safely and one went on holidays to who knows where.
    I have to say every year I do post a parcel home from the Post Offcie on Ille Saint Louis, Paris . It is a set weight ( 7kgs) and a set price and it usually arrives home before I get back from Europe.
    But Italy is wonderful and we forgive those small anoying experiences.

    • I remember that day. I have not posted anything since.

  17. As much as I bitch about the poor service mentality here in France, it sounds like the Italians are the real masters! As in so many things, it all comes down to communication, or lack of. Getting the right piece of information at the right place and time sounds like a real ‘parcours du combattant’ in Italy. But not without its comical moments! 😉

    • Italy takes things to another level, but it does depend entirely who you get at the counter. I have had a couple of attendants who have be great…2 in 10 years, not bad.

  18. Every year? Sounds a bit excessive!

    • 2 years ago I did an Italian exam. I passed, and I was told I could apply for a 5 year Permesso, but that came to nothing.

  19. Yes, isn’t it a shame that these workers have no pride in their work but rather derive pleasure in making things harder for those they are supposed to serve. On a side note anyone applying for a “loan modification” in the US should be prepared for similar service-they hope to run you off with minutia and are only happy to see you jump through their hoops!

    • I can’t decide whether they are lazy or just plain mean.

  20. Ugh! I was recently listening to a podcast where the host interviewed an American ex-pat living in Sorrento and she said the same thing.
    She said that the first thing you have to accept is that there is no proper queue. 🙂
    Glad that you’re done with that process for another year!

    • I’ve done the post office bit, but still gave the Questura to navigate.

  21. Ahhh la Bella Italia lives up to its reputation once again. It is sometimes hard to balance the beauty and the bureaucracy when you are caught in it. Thankfully it seems like you have got your permesso – for a year. So now continue to enjoy the beauty

    • Not quite, I still have to do the Questura bit in a few weeks.

  22. As one who has a short supply of patience, unfortunately, I can’t imagine staying sane through this process. My hat is off to you Debra!

    • I would love to really tell these people what I think of their rotten service, but I have to deal with them and it would only make things worse.

      • I get that…you did great!

  23. If the forthcoming brexit referendum puts the UK out of the eu brits regularly staying in Italy might be in for a sharp shock. Visas????

    • That will cause a bit of a stir.

  24. Hi: I had issues in Milan at the airport and the train station. it was not fun butthat once you get it Italy is beautiful.   ciao george

    • I have found that service here is either fabulous or completely bloody awful and there is nothing to be done about it.

  25. Sounds horrible. Based on your experience. As you know, I have family in Italy. If I’m staying for 3 weeks, do I need one? Does it matter if I’m staying with family or not?

    • No, you don’t need one. It is only if you are staying longer than 3 months. You are OK.

      • Whew … thanks!

  26. I guess waiting a year here for the Italian Consulate to process my dual citizenship wasn’t so bad after all? Grateful I didn’t have to navigate it in Italy!

    Friends sent me a Christmas card and I got it last week – we laughed – just in time for Easter!

    • The people working at the consulate in Brisbane are Italian and clearly did their training in Italy.

      • It is with great relief that I just read your comment about the consulate in Brisbane Debra! I thought from my dealings with them regarding my husband’s dual citizenship so far that it was just me they detested! We are still waiting for some sort of news after seven months…..

      • I had a terrible time at the Consulate in Beisbane until I got to know Franco. He was most helpful. Having said that, I don’t ever want to set foot in the place again.

  27. Oh my! I thought you were going to say that after 1 hour of waiting, they called your number and put a ‘chiusa’ sign in your face, as they headed out for lunch! I can relate!! I was at the Questura in Genova 3 times this week — and still nothing. The clerk cannot make a decision and has to take my paperwork to someone else, then there are 3 people standing in front of me telling me I am not the person who married my husband. They reject everything, including my translated marriage certificate and Apostille (translated and stamped by the president of Genova notaries). Silly as you say. So I thank the beauty outside the hidden basement-level Questura office for compensating for the sadness you’ve described… I’ve gone through immigration in Germany (eh-hem) and now after buying a lovely house in Italy, that system has brought the permesso di soggiorno process to a new level of ‘interesting’.

    • I spent 3 hours at the Questura in Lucca last week as part of the process. I know, because it has happened to me, that this bit can be done in about 10 minutes, but the charming chap was on a go slow and made us all wait at least 30 minutes…just because he could. With a bit of luck I will pick up my renewed Permesso soon, but you never know.

      • Oh my. I think waiting for ‘permesso’ is the norm, but 3 hours is excessive. The first time I went, I was #20, which means I was the last person they “took” for the day. They give only 20 numbers out to the first 20 people to arrive, because they know it will take them 4 hours to get through 20 people by lunch break at 12:00. They took me at 11:55, and I arrived at 8:00. I felt like a complete fool.

      • At our Questura you don’t get numbers, you just line up and wait.

  28. Hi Debra

    We are back in Lucca & applying for our PdS. Just wondering if you can tell us where you went to get help completing the forms. Also, this might seem a silly question, but did you have to pay E16.00 (previously E14.62) for the stamp from the tabacci + E30 for the Tariff as printed on the large envelope that comes with the kit + E107.50 for the application (so that is the amount we need to request the postal workers to charge us?). I had to laugh when I read your comment re you were not taking it to the butcher’s shop! We had the same situation exactly a few years back and like you had to go away & come back with the magical figure. Well actually we had to return 5 times I think before they were finally accepted our docs. I was so nervous writing out my application for the 3rd time that I wrote in pencil first & then wrote over the top in black pen. Rejected! They could see the pencil marks!!! Once we were rejected as we hadn’t photocopied the blank pages of our passport. When we returned with photocopies of the blank pages, someone else served us and ripped them up in front of us saying they didn’t need them. Oh dear, wonder what will happen this time.

    Michelle & Paul

  29. I feel your pain…waited for hours and hours to get my permesso, and the post offices really can drain the living daylights out of you. I had wanted to extend my stay in Italy after my student visa and permesso expired but wasn’t able to. Is there an option in the application to renew the permesso just as a foreigner wishing to reside there, or do you need a job straight away?

    • My Permesso is for Elective Residence. I can’t work or take advantage of the medical system. You would need to have a place to live, with a letter from your landlord and prove that you can support yourself. This site may help.

  30. Hi Debra,
    I wanted to ask if you could offer any advice re gaining a Permesso di Soggiorno, and also the requirement, as I understand, to have travel & health insurance for the whole 1 year period. I have just bought an apartment in Centro Storico di Todi, and will be travelling back there in late March for 4 months, to oversee the renovations. We are applying for a Permesso this week, and would appreciate any information as to good value health insurance options, or any hints re gaining the Permesso.
    Grazie mille,

    • I have sent a private email. There is more information in the category, Official stuff in Italy.

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