This was our last significant hurdle. I had done tons and tons of research on expat forums, and stories there vary wildly. Typically you see only people posting about their dismay at failing to get the visa, and only occasionally a post about success. And those typically never give very much in the way of detail that would allow me to gauge some kind of benchmark. So, I resolved that if ours was successful, I would give full details, even discussing that sordid topic of money. 🙂
We went to the Chicago Consulate. 11AM appointment. It was not particularly busy.
First – We made two mistakes. I’ve begun to learn that in Italy, nothing is “Joint”. Just like there is no joint tax return, there is no joint appointment for getting a visa. Make a separate appointment for both of you if you are a married couple. I made only an appointment in my name. Well crap, this is starting out well. Ok, I suppose since we are here I will do my application so we know who it will go when we have to schlep back for a second visit. Second mistake, even though the Consulate fees schedule says “Cash or Money Order”, what they really mean is Money Order only. I ran back downstairs and to the 7-11 a block away and got one. I was was in a hurry and did not take the envelope from my briefcase with the cash for both. Fortunately I had enough for one in my wallet, they do not take Credit Cards for money orders.
This is Italian bureaucracy however. Sometimes two no’s, equal a yes as you shall see further in to my narrative.
If applying as a couple, make two appointments. This was not at all obvious from the application instructions on the form or the Consultate website. The person at the first check in window said “Not possible” I figured I might as well have mine processed as long as we where there. The gentleman behind the Visa window carefully went over my package which had documentation for both myself and my wife. He nodded and circled things. Then he pushed my wifes application from the packet through the slot and said she should sign and asked for her passport. Then he pushed mine through.
Second, even though the Consulate site says Cash or Money Order, take only money order. Again we lucked out. I had only one money order (which I had to run to the 7-11 to get) But when I said I had cash for a second, he gave a little Italian shrug and said, ok, it is the end of the month, it will be fine.
Dress nice, smile. If they like you, no’s can end up as sure, it’s ok.
We wrote a nice cover letter. We avoided cliche reasons such as lifestyle and wanting to learn Italian. We focused on our existing connections to Italy. We had and exchange student 20 years ago and have remained close friends with him and his family. We went to his wedding, they made sure we sat in the family section. We wrote not about desire for lifestyle, but embrace of the challenge a new life in Italy will present. Our Consulate official carefully read our letter line by line. At the end he said looked up and smiled a little.
In my financial section I began with a summary of sources of income. I had a spread sheet showing how those sources would provide a monthly income (combined) of $6300 for a 20 year window, and a second senario showing $7000 a month for the first 5 years. I then had my backup showing sources and balances. On my documents I highlighted the balance numbers. On some, such as statement from Social Security, I highlighted the number of front, which is the full retirement at 65 number. The figure for taking at 62 is on a second page, but I have learned from may years dealing with auditors, that if you make it neat and make it easy, they are quite happy to take that route. If they wish to dig, fine, I will be truthful. It may have been to our advantage that we had a number of financial sources. My wife will get a pension, I have a 401K, we will both get Social Security. Mine beginning in June 17 and hers three years later. We have a couple small tax deferred accounts from a prior employer. Nothing big, but hey, anther 10K in the pool does not hurt. Finally we had three months of ordinary bank statements. Because our house purchase was not final until the 16th of September, and our visit to the Consulate was on the 28th of September, the August 31 statements showed a fairly high balance. Two thirds of that balance was gone after the house purchase, but again, if they ask, I will be truthful. If they don’t ask. (Insert small Italian shrug here.)
Lastly, I had a final section showing my airline reservations, health insurance confirmation, copy of marriage license.
The Consulate official asked perhaps one or two small questions about a document. He want us to confirm verbally that we were retiring in December of 2016, and to confirm our travel dates. He then quietly slid my wife’s application form through the window for her to sign, and asked for her passport. So! You see, sometimes no is not no. Then he takes hers back and slides mine out. I only have the one money order and I tell him, I can run and get one and be back in ten minutes, or I have exact cash. He pauses for a second and gives a small nod. Cash is ok. It is the end of the month and the deposit will go to the bank. On expat forums, I see so many posts about how people are frustrated with Italian bureaucrats. But as an accountant, I have dealt with American bureaucrats my whole working life. And I think one of the differences is that the Italians have the authority to say both No and Yes. In America, they must only follow narrow rules or be punished. They know that saying ‘No’, is always safest.
Our total time was just about 40 min. He asked a few details about arrival date in Schengen zone as he was putting in effective dates. Then he started to tell me that when we arrived in Italy we need to make sure we register at the Questura within 8 days, and then begin our Permisso process. Finally a bit of small talk. Abruzzo? Belissimo. If I ever pass by Casalanguida I will ask where the Americani live. I am sure everyone will know.
Other than a little hiccup thinking we would have to come back a second time because we needed two appointments, it was routine. We organized our documents with tabs between sections, and high lighted all pertinent information. We had slightly more than what the Consulate checklist showed, but not too much more. There is a fine line between the Italian love of documents and just throwing paper around. I had, in reserve in my briefcase additional documents such as full health insurance policy, three years of tax returns. Just in case. None were needed.
So, in summary.
Dress nice, good into letter (He did spend time reading this very carefully) and have organized documents. There was no hesitation at all regarding our showing a sustained $6300 a month income for two people. It seemed like we were well in excess of what his minimum expectation. I did not ask for detail. When a bureaucrat says yes, I am not going to ask them to explain their decision. Your mileage may vary, but I post this to give others some kind of frame of reference.