How to open an Italian Bank Account

This is Part II of my experience navigating the bureaucracy in Italy after relocating to Milan on a corporate expat assignment, and below I describe how I opened an Italian bank account, got an Italian ID card, and got La Residenza, or residency status. If you’d like to read about how I got my fiscal code, my work visa, and my permesso di soggiorno, read Part I, How Can I Work Legally in Italy?  This is not intended to be a step-by-step guide, rather is a description of my own experience, and any errors or omissions regarding the process are my own.

Having recovered from the bureaucratic ordeal of obtaining my Italian work visa and permesso di soggiorno, I decided it would be useful to have an Italian bank account. I had relocated to Italy as an expat, working as an employee of my company’s corporate headquarters in New York, but that was the only connection I had to the US. I had an Italian boss, and went to an office in the center of Milan every day in which I was the only foreigner. My title was southern Europe operations manager, and my region included France, Spain, Greece, and Israel. My new job was a lot of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my Italian boss and my Italian co-workers. I had found an apartment very close to Piazza Duomo, right in the center of Milan, and I boarded the subway every morning right in front of the city’s gorgeous cathedral. My boyfriend (now husband) had even quit his job and moved to Milan. Life was good, and I had the energy to dive back in to Italian bureaucracy.

Since I worked Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, and the bank opened at 10 am and was closed by 4 pm, a physical visit to the bank meant I had to take time off work. The banks were also closed during my lunch break. So I checked with my boss and left for what I assumed – based on my past experience with Italian bureaucracy – would be the rest of the day. After a 20-minute drive to the bank, a 20-minute wait in line, and a 20-minute explanation about the different types of accounts, the bank rep asked me:

Do you have an Italian ID card?

Unfortunately I didn’t.

“The bank will charge you millions” (of lire, since this was pre-Euro), he said, “with no ID card. Go get an ID card and come back when you have one.”

I assumed that getting an ID card would require forms, lines, and inconvenient opening hours, and I called the city offices, or Comune, to find out what I needed in order to apply for an Italian ID card. It didn’t seem too complicated: “bring your permesso di soggiorno, 3 properly-sized photos, and come any weekday between 2.30 and 3.30 pm”, they said.

After another chat with my boss about my excursion, I headed out of the office the next day and arrived at a branch of Milan’s Comune at exactly 2.30 pm. They asked:

Do you have La Residenza, Italian residency?

Unfortunately, I didn’t.

In that case, they said,  I needed to apply for La Residenza from the main office of the Comune first. The central Comune office was still open, they said. If you hurry, you can make it. Not wanting to take another half day off work, I ran out of the building, jumped on the Metro, and arrived at the main Comune at 3 pm. By 3.15 pm my number was called.

What do I need in order to apply for residency? I asked the woman behind the counter. Permesso di soggiorno, passport, and a photocopy of each, she said. Excellent. I had my passport and permesso di soggiorno in hand, and there was a photocopier right behind her.

But she said she couldn’t make the two copies for me. She gave me directions to the closest photocopier I could use: go outside, and around the corner, there’s a store where you can pay for copies, she said. It was a short walk, and I made it back quickly even though I also had to make change for the copier. I was lucky that the woman behind the desk back at the central Comune recognized me, took pity, and let me jump the queue so I could submit my application before the office closed at 3.30 pm.

It was only 4 months processing time for the residency, and since I had a permesso di soggiorno and could legally stay in Italy, that was okay.

After I had that, I could apply for an ID card.

Then I could bring my copy of La Residenza and my Italian ID card, and I could apply for a bank account.

Unbelievably, it all got done, and before the 1-year anniversary of my relocation to Italy.

So set expectations accordingly. In Italy, any bureaucratic transaction happens during regular working hours, and will require time off work. Government offices in general are not open over your lunch hour, before work, after work, or on weekends. Nothing happens quickly, and you must follow the process. When I talked to my Italian boss about all the time off I’d need to get myself set up in Italy, he didn’t enjoy hearing about it, but he just shrugged and said pazienza, (translation: there’s nothing you can do about it), so go do what you need to do. The Italians are used to it.

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