Today we will talk about forms. I moduli. When we first got our guidebook for Fulbright scholars in Italy, I read the section about what we would need to do as soon as we arrived. Then I put it aside, and eventually forgot it existed, immersed instead in the chaos of all the things that needed to be done before we left: passports, visas, figuring out who would stay in our house and take care of our aging dog, Molly, how we would pay our bills and prepare our taxes in absentia, seeing doctors. Time enough, said I, to read these instructions again once we arrived.
Once we landed, I began to read. Within 8 days of our arrival, it said–in bold red letters–WITHIN EIGHT DAYS–we would need to apply for the permesso di soggiorno, literally, the permit to visit. The application could be found at a post office. But not every post office. Only some post offices. Which ones? No one seemed quite sure. But first we would need to get a marca da bollo–something like a tax stamp–for €16 to affix to the document, once we had found a post office that would issue one. The marca could be purchased at any tabacchi. Why a tobacco shop? Well, why not? With the stamp affixed, we would have to put the application itself along with multiple documents (copies of every page of our passports, a copy of the Fulbright grant authorization, a copy of a letter from the Fulbright Commission to the local questura, or police station) into an unsealed envelope (provided with the application–the yellow-striped envelope, which is for non-European visitors, and not the blue-striped one, which is for EU members) and return to the post office–but perhaps not the same post office, it depends–and send it off to the questura by registered mail.
OK. First step: obtain the application kit. Our resident angel, Cecilia, the program assistant at the Fulbright office, volunteered to try to find one. But after she had visited two post offices without success, John decided to give it a try. At the post office at Piazza Bologna, just a few minutes from our apartment, there were multiple windows and a “take-a-number” machine. But the numbers were grouped by letter (A, C, E, U, L, P) and the lists of the various functions performed under the rubric of each letter did not include permesso di soggiorno. But wait, there on the wall, behind the number machine, was a hand-lettered sign; for the permesso, try group L. Group L it was: L255. He waited. L245. L246. Then the lady at the L window pushed her Chuiso sign out. John leapt forward. I am just looking for an application for the permesso di soggiorno, he said pathetically. She gave him one. No, he said, I need two, one for my wife. Your wife will have to come in person, she said. But I am not filling these out now, he said; I just want to take them away. Reluctantly, she handed over a second application kit and closed her window.
Second step: A visit to the Fulbright Commission, where our angel Cecilia filled out the 15-page application, printed entirely in Italian, despite the fact that it is intended for use by visitors to Italy. It turned out only four pages actually needed entries. Also, she photocopied our entire passports and provided the copies of the needed letter to the questura and Fulbright grant award. Now, she said, buy a marca da bollo at the tabac around the corner, then go to the main post office in Piazza di San Silvestro to turn in the application. Make sure to sign and date the application in front of the post office man.
Third step: Buy the marca da bollo for each application. See the big T in the street photo? That’s the tabacchi. Check.
Fourth step: Post office. Number machine. Push the button for group L, as in Piazza Bologna. Wait. Our number comes up twenty minutes later, and we go to the window, but no, L is not the appropriate group for the permesso at this post office; we need P. Pick another number, under group P. Wait. Our number comes up 15 minutes later. We go to the window. The very nice clerk goes through the documents. Everything is in order. We need to pay in cash. We don’t have enough cash (the permesso requires fees of €103 per person, plus €30 per application to send it by registered mail). But wait. Only the registered mail fee needs to be paid in cash. Whew! Hand over special credit card, acquired only for use in Europe, with a special chip. Doesn’t work. Post offices don’t accept chip cards. OK, try another, regular credit card. Doesn’t work. Try our debit card. Doesn’t work.
At the post office. Notice the frescoed ceilng.
Fifth step: Go to Bancomat and withdraw cash for payment. Of course, John’s card is blocked because we withdrew our rent money the day before, and Citibank, ever vigilant, thinks we are fraudsters, despite elaborate arrangements made with Citibank before our departure to prevent this kind of thing from happening. Use my card. Get money. Go back to window. (We are permitted to come right back rather than taking another number.) Sign and date applications. The sweet clerk once again checks everything, takes our money, seals the envelopes, stamps them with a flourish, and tosses everything into a basket.
Is that the end? Of course not. We have simply applied for the permesso. To actually receive the permesso, we need to visit the local questura, turn in four copies of a passport photo for each of us, and be fingerprinted. For that, we are assigned an appointment date right there at the post office: April 16. About halfway into our stay in Italy. Now the challenge will be to put that date and time, along with the address of the questura, somewhere where we will actually remember to go. Because if we miss this appointment, we will need to start the process all over again.
And now, we need to apply for the codice fiscale.