Visa options for investors doing business in Italy

For those who want to work, set up a business or retire in Italy, there are several visa options available. Italy is one of the top tourist destinations, famous for its design, fashion and lifestyle but also for being the world’s 12th largest economy, eighth largest manufacturing economy and third in EuropeItaly is a member of the European Union, a single market and free custom area of 500 million consumers. There are plenty of opportunities for any foreign investors to set up an activity in the country and different ways to obtain resident visas.  

ELECTIVE RESIDENCE VISA (ERV)  

This visa is for those who want to live in Italy without working. ERV requires the applicant to show a minimum passive income, which can’t be derived from work or salary, of not less than 31,000 euros per year and to have a suitable accommodation. 

How to prove the income? Applicants must submit documents proving a substantial and steady private income (including pensions or annuities) from property, stable economic and commercial activities or from other sources and proof of financial means, such as letters from the applicant’s bank indicating the financial status of their accounts, including amount of money in each account, copy of last pension, tax returns and so forth. 

Do I need to purchase a property? Accommodation can be rented, no need to purchase a property but if the property is of value, it will surely help the application. However, the consulate will focus its review on the applicant’s income that must be steady and proven with trustable documents. 

Can I bring my family? The spouse and children up to 18 years are entitled to a family visa, but applicants will need to prove a higher income, which is more than 20% for the spouse and more than 5% for each child. 

Can I work remotely? No, applicants cannot work and are not permitted to work from home, blog for payment, or otherwise dodge this restriction. 

Is this visa subject to quota limitations? No 

THE INVESTORS VISA  

In 2017, Italy introduced a specific visa for investors seeking to enter Italy to engage in capital investments that benefit the Italian economy. The Investors’ visa can be obtained by: purchasing million euros in Italian government bonds (to be kept for a period of at least two years); or investing million euros in a company or 500,000 euros in a “innovative start-up”; or donating million euros in philanthropic projects of public interest.  

When do I need to make the investment? Within three months from the date of entry, the applicant must provide documented evidence of having carried out the investment proposed in the application. 

How long is the visa for? The investors visa holder shall receive a two years valid investors residence permit (permesso di soggiorno “per investitori”) renewable for an additional three years further to proving that the investment is still in place. 

Is there an official list of philanthropic projects? No, the applicant must conduct his own search and contact philanthropic institutions or local authorities. 

Can I change my investment? Changes will be deemed admissible only in exceptional circumstances, assessed by the committee on a case by case basis. The foreign citizen will be asked to provide adequate justification for the changed circumstances and appropriate supporting documents. These evidences will then be analyzed by the committee, which will decide on their admissibility. 

Is this visa subject to quota limitations? No 

CREATE YOUR OWN “START-UP” COMPANY  

An interesting option for those who want to relocate to Italy and start a business, is the “start-up visa, which is aimed to non-EU nationals intending to set up an innovative start-up business. Companies must meet the conditions set forth by the law 221/2012 or join an already established start-up company. The applicant must: prove the availability of at least 50,000 euros to be used for the sole purpose of establishing and operating the start-up; or, at least 100,000 euros for joining an existing start-up and also submit a detailed business planThe key for obtaining the clearance from the Ministry is being able to submit an “innovative” project rather than the availability of funds. Applicants intending to join an existing start-up can obtain a work visa but must make sure that the investment is for at least 100,000 euros; they will be appointed as chairman, CEO, board member or auditor; and they will also work as self-employed for the company. 

When is a start-up considered “innovative”? Its innovative character is identified by at least one of the following criteria: at least 15% of the greater value between annual costs and turnover can be attributed to R&D activities; at least one third of the total workforce are PhD students, holders of a PhD or researchers; or, alternatively, two thirds of the total workforce must hold a Master’s degree; the enterprise is the holder, depositary or licensee of a registered patent (industrial property), or the owner and author of an original registered software. 

Does a start-up need to operate in the ITC sector only? This definition is sector-neutral: a company that meets the requirements set out above may operate in any economic sector and still be registered as an innovative startup. 

Is this visa subject to quota limitations? Yes 

START YOUR OWN BUSINESS  

If you do not qualify for a start-up visa but you still intend to carry out some activities in Italy, you can register an ordinary company, the most common type is an SRL (limited liability company) with a minimum  10,000 euros of registered capital. With few exceptions, Italy allows foreigners to register a new company entirely owned by foreign individuals or companies. A self-employee visa for the company’s director can however only be obtained when a company has been active for at least 3 years and issuance is subject to quotas. 

Can I hire non-EU workers with a new company? If the company is adequately funded, it can immediately hire non-EU workers, without the need of hiring a certain number of local workers (Blue Card permit.) This option is doable only for highly skilled workers who have at least 3-year university diploma and who are offered a minimum salary of 25,000 euros per year. 

What are the conditions and limitations? The law does not set any limitssuch as minimum capitalturn-over or number of local workers, but it leaves an ample discretion to the Immigration Office to assess the company’s financial ability to carry out the business and bear all charges relevant to the workers. Accordingly, it is always advisable to start a new business with adequate and substantial funds, in addition to the minimum 10,000 euros capital. In fact, the law says that any permits to foreign workers can be annulled or revoked if the company is established only with the purpose of favoring immigration. 

Is this visa subject to quota limitations? No, for Blue Card permitsYes, for self-employee permits. 

SELF-EMPLOYEE VISAS  

This visa works for individuals who are freelancers and do not have company that wants to sponsor their work permitThe issuance of the visa is subject to Italy’s quota-system, fixed annually and not all self-employment categories are available each year.  

What are main requirements? Evidence of suitable accommodation; proof of financial resources exceeding 8,500 euros (but consulates expect the applicant to prove the ability to have a much higher income); police clearance; clearances issued by the Chamber of Commerce or professional body that governs the activity the applicant intends to carry out. 

What are the main hurdles? This kind of visa is subject to the availability of quotas, usually issued in a limited number. Most consulates have a very restrictive policy and are very cautious before issuing a visa to an applicant who cannot guarantee to have a stable occupation and substantial remuneration in the country. Despite obtaining the necessary clearances in Italy, many applications are rejected by consulates on various grounds. 

Is this visa subject to quota limitations? Yes 

FAVORABLE FLAT-TAX REGIME FOR NEW RESIDENTS 

Individuals transferring their tax residency in Italy can apply for a special yearly flat tax of 100,000 eurosThe new regime guarantees full exemption from reporting requirements with respect to financial and non-financial assets abroad and from succession duties on assets outside Italy. To qualify for the option the applicant must not have been resident in Italy for at least nine tax years during the previous 10 years. 

What is the procedure? The individual may make request to the tax authority for an approval of its flat-tax status by means of a ruling process. 

Is it possible to obtain Italian citizenship by residency? Italy does not offer a specific citizenship by investment program. You can be entitled to citizenship only if you have Italian ancestors or by marrying an Italian citizen. If you have invested in Italy and obtained residency, you can apply for citizenship after ten years (four years for EU citizens). 

What are the requirements for citizenship by residency? Applicant have maintained a valid registration with the City Hall (residenza) for at least 10 years and must prove to have produced an income in Italy and paid relevant taxes at least three years before filing the application. 

Do I need to take a language text? Yes, unless the holder has obtained a CE permanent residency permit (which can be obtained after 5 years) or has an Italian school diploma. 

PURCHASE OF A PROPERTY  

As a general rulesubject to condition of reciprocity, Italian law permits the purchase of real estate by foreigners, even though they are not resident in the country or have a visa. The purchase of real estate, from a legal standpoint, is very safe in Italy. The purchase must be executed by the parties in front of a Notary Public.  

Do I need to carry out due diligence? The notary shall carry out a due diligence to check that the seller has a valid title on the property, that the property is free from any liens and that it is compliant with building and safety regulations. Depending on the kind of property, it can be advisable to appoint a technical surveyor to confirm that the building is structurally sound and that no major restructuring works are necessary. 

What if the property is under construction? By law, the builder - until closing is finalized - must provide a bank or insurance guarantee equal to price paid. The buyer is therefore protected against the builder’s bankruptcy or failure to complete the project.  

What about defects that should arise after the closing? For newly constructed buildings, the seller is liable for major defects of the property until 10 years after the closing. This guarantee does not apply to existing buildings which are usually sold “as it is”. Information about the property (such as owner, destination for which can be used) are listed and publicly available at the Land Registry (Conservatoria dei Pubblici Registri Immobiliari). 

RENTING A PROPERTY  

The average Italian lease contract is either four years with the option to renew for another four or three years with the option to renew for another two. Under certain conditions, contracts for shorter periods can be stipulated. It is always advisable to ask the landlord for proof of ownership (visura catastale) to make sure the signatory of the lease has the right to execute the contract. Customarily, the annual rent is increased every year by the inflation index calculated by Government Office (ISTAT). The tenant is entitled by law to terminate the contract at any time with a 6-month advance notice but only when serious grounds exist (to be proven by the tenant). Accordingly, it is always advisable to include in the contract a specific clause which would allow the tenant to terminate the contract also in the absence of serious reasons. All leases require a standard security deposit which can be either two or three months’ rent and this only covers damage and not unpaid rent.  

How much is the realtor’s fee? Realtors’ commission is normally one or two months’ rent or 10 to 20% of the annual rent but can be negotiated. 

For what costs is the tenant liable? The tenant is responsible for paying water, gas and energy and also for all service charges pertaining to the property such as central heating, lift maintenance, stair cleaning, ordinary maintenance of the courtyard and garden, cold water from central systems, and any costs for the administration of the apartment building and waste tax. The tenant is also responsible for costs pertaining to repairs to the sanitary fittings, electrical system, plumbing, gas and hot water systems, including an annual emissions check on the boiler.  

What about the landlord’s obligations? The landlord is responsible for all extraordinary expenses, such as renovating the roof, repainting the building and such things. Many landlords hold the tenant responsible for repainting the interior of the property at the end of the lease alleging that this is not to be considered normal wear and tear. Therefore, the repaint clause, if included, must be carefully evaluated and the tenant should make sure that a complete repainting is not requested. 

OPENING A BANK ACCOUNT  

A company needs to first be registered with the Companies’ Register (Registro Imprese) in order to be able to open an account. The officer of the company will need to provide the bank with proof of their powers (if the company has a board of directors, a specific board resolution shall be necessary) which are to be recorded with the Companies Register. If the Italian company is owned by a foreign company (rather than by individuals) the bankin order to comply with anti-money laundering provisionswill require evidence of the individual who is the final owner and the sole beneficiary.  

Can foreign citizens open a bank account? Foreign citizens residing in Italy can open an ordinary bank account. Non-residents can also open a bank account for “non-residents. It is increasingly difficult for foreigners to open a non-resident account and the applicant will need to prove that funds to be transferred are their own funds, to be introduced by an existing customer and confirmed not to be politically exposed and not subject to any criminal proceedings. 

How strict are anti-money laundering regulations (AML)? AML are strictly enforced in all European countries. Banks and professionals are obliged to carry out an extensive customer due diligence and to report any suspicious transactionsIt is increasingly difficult for foreigners to open a non-resident account and the applicant will need to prove that funds to be transferred are legal funds. 

What is a tax code? When opening a bank account, it is necessary to request a Tax ID Code (Codice Fiscale) which does not subject the applicant to pay Italian taxes (other conditions must be met.) The number is used to identify people and companies when dealing with authorities and is necessary when purchasing or renting a property, to register with the Health National Service and other purposes. 

PROCEDURE FOR INCORPORATION OF A COMPANY  

All types of companies are established in front of notary public by executing the Deed of Incorporation and Articles of Association of the company or filing a legalized copy of existence of the parent company in case of a branch or rep office. 

Who can sign for the shareholders? The individuals who will sign the deed, if they act in the name of a foreign company, will need to submit a legalized proxy proving their powers. The legalization must certify that the signatory is duly empowered to sign the proxy and can grant the powers to this parties 

When can a company start to operate? After execution of all deeds at the notary, the company is registered with the Companies Register (Registro Imprese) and is given a VAT identification number.  

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About the Author

Marco Mazzeschi
Marco Mazzeschi

Marco Mazzeschi is an attorney with more than 30 years of experience in corporate immigration and commercial law. He is the founder of Mazzeschi S.R.L, an Italian law firm with offices throughout Italy, including its headquarters near Florence. The firm, founded in 2007, specializes in business immigration and assists foreign investors who wish to do business in Italy. It works with Fortune 500 companies and foreign investors, and maintains an Asia desk in Taipei, Taiwan.

Mazzeschi is a graduate of the University of Siena, law faculty. He earned his postgraduate diploma in administrative law from the Academy of Public Administration. Mazzeschi also served as an officer for the Italian fiscal police in 1986 and 1987. Prior to founding Mazzeschi S.R.L., Mazzeschi worked for two decades in some of the largest Italian law firms. Mazzeschi S.R.L. is an official partner of Invitalia Business Network, Invest in Tuscany, the Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce, China Go Abroad and Jang Tai Global Assistance Alliance.

Mazzeschi is a frequent speaker at international conferences and routinely publishes in academic journals. He has been admitted to the bar associations of Milan and Taipei. He is an admitted arbitrator with the Chinese Arbitration Association and is a member of the editorial board for the scientific journal Asian Business Research. Mazzeschi is a visiting lecturer at the law school at Shandong University of Finance and Economics and the Chinese Culture University in Taipei. In addition to his native Italian, Mazzeschi speaks English.

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