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Frequently asked questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a notary?

What is a “public document”?

What is a loan?

What is a “mortgage”?

Can a foreigner buy a house in Italy?

Is a foreigner eligible to receive tax relief on a "primary residence”?

Can a foreigner who does not speak Italian be a party to a notarised contract?

What documents are needed by a foreigner?

If a foreigner has citizenship of more than one country, which one is considered?

Can a foreign public document be used in Italy?

What does legalization mean?

What is an apostille?

How much does a notarised public document cost?

I applied for citizenship. How can I check the status of my application?

What is a notary?

Particulars of "What is a Notary"

What does “public document” mean?

In countries with a tradition of Roman civil law (unlike countries with an Anglo-American tradition) the law ascribes special importance and effect to documents drawn up by a notary public (of the Latin type, or civil law notary). Article 2699 of the Civil Code specifically defines a public document as a “document drawn up according to the formal rules by a notary or another public official authorized to invest it with  public trust in the place where the document was written”. “Public trust” is a particular effect of a notarised public document that first of all is valid proof of a right a person has acquired (and is expressly so recognized by the Conventions of Brussels, San Sebastian and Lugano on jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgements in civil and commercial matters). For this reason, in all countries using continental law, all economically and socially important documents (from the purchase of a house, the setting up of a company or association, the writing of a will, to the recognition of a child born out of wedlock) must be executed before a notary; and when required the safe custody and/or translation of the same are entrusted to a notary.

What is a loan?

Particulars of "What is a loan"

What is a “mortgage”?

A mortgage is a guarantee granted to a lender that a sum of money will be repaid by another person.

The most common case is that of a Bank that lends money for the purchase of a house and that in order to be certain that the loan (and the interest) will be repaid to it registers a mortgage on the house purchased with its money (or on other real estate).

If the borrower, i.e. the person who must repay the mortgage, does not punctually make the instalment payments to gradually pay off the loan, the mortgage gives the Bank the right to apply to a court to have the house sold and the proceeds used to pay all that is owing to the Bank, returning anything left over to the borrower.

The sum shown in the mortgage contract as the specific amount of the mortgage, then, represents the maximum amount the Bank can demand by way of the court when exercising power of sale, though in any case the Bank may demand only the sum still owing to it.

Can a foreigner buy a house in Italy?

In general terms, our law permits the purchase of real estate by foreigners in the following different ways:

  1. non-resident foreigner: only if covered by an international treaty or there is a reciprocal arrangement whereby his country of origin allows an Italian to purchase a house;
  2. "resident" foreigner and his family members and stateless persons resident in Italy for less than three years: with a temporary residence permit for specific reasons or a long-term  residence permit;
  3. citizen of the EU or EFTA or a stateless person resident for more than three years: no limit.

It is  evident, then, that it is necessary - in order to know which documents are actually needed in order to acquire rights in Italy - to identify to which of these categories the foreigner belongs.

Is a foreigner eligible for tax relief on the purchase of a so-called “primary residence” ["prima casa"]?

Italian law tries to facilitate and encourage people to buy their own primary home (their so-called “primary residence” ["prima casa"]) through various reductions in taxes for the purchaser. Specifically, at the time of purchase, the purchaser pays 3% (stamp duty) if he buys from a private person or 4% (VAT) if he buys from a company (except for a few odd cases), plus a fixed charge for registering the transfer and mortgage (presently a total of Euro 336.00).

A foreigner, too, may take advantage of “primary residence” tax relief if he has the requisite qualifications, which are obviously the same as for Italians.

Article 40 of the Unified Text 286/98 provides for the so-called right of access to a primary residence (for more on this, see "House Purchases").

Resident foreigners registered with the official employment agency or who are employed or self-employed have a right of access, on the same terms as Italian citizens, to public housing  and facilitated credit for the building, purchase or rental of their primary place of residence.

Other tax benefits linked with the purchase of a “primary residence” have to do with the income tax deductibility (to a certain extent) of interest paid on mortgages taken out for the purchase of a so-called primary residence.

Finally, income produced by the “primary residence” is not subject to income tax.

Can a foreigner who does not speak Italian be a party to a notarised contract?

According to the notarial law, notarised documents must be written in the Italian language (Article 54).

This does not however mean that foreigners who do not speak Italian cannot enter into contracts – in a notarised form – in Italy.

Indeed, the notarial law provides that when the parties do not know the Italian language, the notarial document may be written in a foreign language (which all signatories to the contract know) so long as that language is known to the witnesses and the notary.

If instead the notary does not know the foreign language, then the document may and must be notarised with the aid of an interpreter who reads to those present the translation of the document prepared by the notary and guarantees that the persons present have properly understood the content and legal consequences of the document.

A public document which is written in Italian but has to do with a contract between persons who do not speak Italian or a language known by the notary is null, i.e. it produces none of the effects expected by the parties (for example, it does not effect the purchase of a house, it does not conclude a loan contract, it does not correctly register a mortgage).

What documents does a foreigner need?

Temporary residence permits and long-term residence permits.

Temporary residence permit

A temporary residence permit is a document issued to a foreigner who needs to remain in Italy for a period exceeding 30 days (Article 5 of Legislative Decree 286/1998; Article 10 of Presidential Decree 394/1999).

If issued for particular, obligatory reasons, a temporary residence permit gives the foreigner the status of “resident alien”, which in practice makes him “equivalent” to an Italian citizen, conferring on him almost all the same rights.

Non-EU citizens are considered resident aliens if they have a temporary residence permit for
a) reasons of work:
- employed or self-employed;
- running an individual business (in reality this does not exist as a separate clause: it comes under residence for reasons of work);
b) family reasons, but linked to temporary residence permits for reasons listed under the letter a).

If issued for other reasons, instead, a temporary residence permit does not give the non-EU foreigner rights similar to those of an Italian citizen unless there is the so-called condition of reciprocity.

Long-term residence permit

(Article 9 of Legislative Decree 286/1998, recently amended by Legislative Decree no. 3 of 8 January 2007, implementing European Directive 2003/109/CE)

This is an administrative document that allows a foreigner to reside normally in Italy, enjoying practically the same rights as an Italian citizen.

It has advantages over the temporary residence permit because:
- it is of unlimited duration and so does not need renewing;
- it allows the holder to carry on any legal activity except those the law expressly disallows to foreigners or reserves for citizens;
- it permits access to the services of the public administration.

For it to be issued, however, more stringent requirements must be met than for the temporary residence permit. It is issued:
- to a resident alien who has resided in Italy for at least five years with an unlimited renewable temporary residence permit, who can demonstrate he has an adequate income;
- to the foreign cohabiting spouse of an Italian citizen or of an EU citizen residing in Italy, or who fulfils the requirements to join that spouse (Articles 29 and 30 of the Unified Text 286/98).

It constitutes a valid identity document for 5 years from issue.

It confers the status of “long-term resident”.

Foreigners who are a danger to public safety are excluded from this status.

Foreign holders of expired residency documents who have applied for a renewal

A directive of the Ministry of the Interior of 20 February 2007 (following the necessary provisions) confirms that a foreigner whose residence permit is in course of renewal retains his rights until his case has been defined, so long as the application was made correctly and on time.

Circulars 16/2007 and 17/2007 of 2 April 2007 issued by the Department of Internal and Territorial Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior further clarified that an identity document (not valid for travel abroad) may be issued or renewed for foreigners enrolled at the Registry Office who have made application correctly and on time for the renewal of their residency document.

If a foreigner has multiple citizenships, which is considered?

In the case of persons having multiple citizenships, in order to assess what his legal status is in Italy (i.e. what “type” of foreigner he is), applying our system of private international law (Law 218/1995, Conflicts of Law) the practice is:
- if one of the citizenships is Italian: the individual is considered an Italian citizen;
- if the person has multiple citizenships but not Italian citizenship: Article 19 of Law 218/1995 applies, which means applying the law of the country with which the person has the closest links.

Can a foreign legal document be used in Italy?

Yes, a foreign document, that is a document written abroad, may validly be used in Italy, but it must have a number of specific characteristics.

In the first place, all Italian consulates abroad may receive documents to be used in Italy, even if all the signatories are foreigners.

If, instead, the document is written in a foreign language it must first be translated into Italian; this may be done by an interpreter abroad and certified correct by an Italian consulate, or it may be done by an Italian notary who knows the foreign language.

The document must also be legalized or carry an apostille. There are however international agreements amongst various countries (e.g. Italy, Austria, France, Germany) that render an apostille superfluous.

Finally, a foreign document must be lodged with a notary (or the notarial archive of the city). This filing is not necessary when the foreign document is attached to a document of an Italian notary, as for example a power of attorney.

What does legalization mean?

Legalization is indispensable for a foreign public document to be valid in Italy.

It consists only of the official certification - by the competent Italian consular or diplomatic authority abroad – of the legal status of the public official (or functionary) who has signed the document and the authenticity of his signature. If the document is issued by a foreign authority in Italy, it must be legalized by the Prefect in the district in which the foreign authority is located (except for the Aosta Valley, where this is a responsibility of the President of the Region, and the Provinces of Trento and Bolzano, where it is the responsibility of the Government Commissioner). Legalization, on the other hand, does not guarantee the validity or force of the document in its country of origin, and in this sense it is much less than a notarial certification, in that legalization (like an apostille) entails no check on or acceptance of the content of the document.

Lack of legalization, then, means that the document (though valid and with legal force in its country of origin) is not legally valid in Italy and may not be used by a notary. In particular, a foreign public document is not valid as such but merely as an unauthenticated private document.

If an Italian document must be used abroad, legalization – if requested by the foreign authorities – must be done by the Procurator of the Republic at the Tribunal in whose jurisdiction the notary is located who receives or authenticates the document. The signature of the Procurator of the Republic, in its turn, is legalized by the foreign Consulate responsible for that locality.

This is stipulated in Articles 30-31-33 of Presidential Decree no. 445 of 28/12/2000, which came into force on 7 March 2001.

Legalization is not necessary when the country from which the foreign public document was issued is a signatory to the Hague Convention of 5/10/1961 regarding apostilles, or a bi- or multi-lateral international convention that obviates the need for it. The Brussels Convention of 1987 on the exemption from apostilles in relations among countries of the European Union has not yet been ratified by all countries in the Union, and is therefore in force only among a number of them (for now only in Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland and Italy).

What is an Apostille?

This is a simplified – but absolutely rigid - form of legalization (in the sense that it must have  exactly all the formal characteristics stipulated in the sample attached to the Hague Convention of 5/10/1961 which governs it). It is valid in all the countries that have signed the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 and replaces legalization amongst those countries alone.

Like legalization, an apostille too is indispensable for a foreign public document to be valid in Italy.

Like legalization, an apostille consists of the certification of the legal status of the public official (or functionary) who has signed the document and the authenticity of his seal or stamp. It does not guarantee the validity or force of the document in its country of origin.

Each signatory country indicates which authorities are responsible for issuing the apostille. As far as Italy is concerned: notarial and judicial documents and those attesting marital status are certified by the Procurator of the Republic at the Tribunals in whose jurisdictions the documents are created.

For administrative documents (signature of the mayor etc.), instead, it is the responsibility of the Prefect of the place in which the document is issued (exceptions are the Aosta Valley, where this is a responsibility of the President of the Region, and the Provinces of Trento and Bolzano, where it is the responsibility of the Government Commissioner).

An apostille is not necessary when the country of origin of the foreign public document is a signatory to a bi- or multi-lateral international convention that obviates the need for it.

How much does a notarial public act cost?

Notaries provide the community with a complex service, they carry out a public function of the State within the framework of an independent profession.
The notarial deed not only regulates transactions between parties, but it provides added value in at least three respects:
- a contract signed before a notary is unchallengable and hence it avoids expensive and time-consuming litigation procedures;
- it is enforceable and hence it can be used to recover credits and it constitutes privileged evidence in a trial;
- the general certainty of rights ensured by the reliability of public registers provides conditions of social stability in a framework of legality which is indispensable for business transactions.
What about the fees charged by notaries?
How much of the bill we pay is actually the notary’s fee?
The costs of a notarial deed comprise: duties and taxes that the Notary collects on behalf of the State;  expenses incurred with the public administration offices for preparing the deed and subsequent obligations to be fulfilled after the signing of the deed; and the Notary’s fee for his services.
For instance, in transferring the ownership of a second-hand car, the Notary’s fee is on average, some 20-25 euros.  Most of the cost incurred by the purchaser (up to 400-500 euros)  are other charges, most of which are taxes.
The amount paid includes the expenses incurred by the Notary to ensure the efficient management of his office.  The Telematics forwarding of deeds to the Public Registrar’s Office is indeed possible thanks to an I.T. infrastructure that has been set up and paid by the Association of Italian Notaries. It connects the notaries to the Public Administration network. 

Users may address their queries about a notary’s fee to the Consiglio notarile distrettuale, the Notaries’ District Office.
In the case of a dispute over fees between the notary and the client, a determination will be made by a judge based on the parameters stipulated by the Minister of Justice's Regulation no. 140 of 20 July 2012, pursuant to Article 9 of Decree-Law no. 1 of 24 January 2012, converted into Law no. 27 of 24 March 2012, as indicated in the table attached to the decree.

I applied for citizenship. How can I check the status of my application?

From July 5, 2010 a web service allows all those who have applied for Italian citizenship to check on line the status of their application. The service is made up by the Department for civil liberties and immigration.