Bryan's Extended Stay Visa Story

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By: Bryan Schneider
August 2006

After our first visit to Italy in 1998 my wife Valerie and I developed a love for the Italian lifestyle, food, architecture and people. By our third visit we knew we had to find a way to live in Italy, but being 40ish and there were no signs of instant wealth coming our way proved to present some problems for any move to Italy. Valerie investigated the possibility of obtaining citizenship via her ancestral ties but that proved to be a dead-end. We decided we could financially afford a move to Italy for one year and began the search for the proper visa.

We are not athletes or actors and we are beyond our university days so those were not visa options. We looked into work possibilities, but we do not have the specialized skills in computers, law or medicine that companies in Italy required. Our only option was to apply for an Elective Residency visa (ER). From all of the information we could find it became apparent that this visa is intended for retirees with regular pensions or investment income, or for independently-wealthy individuals. We do not fit either of these categories; we are just average middle-class Americani.

We took an assessment of our assets:  we owned our increasingly-valuable home and we have the normal savings and retirement accounts that we will access in twenty years; we decided to cash in on the house and use a portion of those proceeds to finance one year in Italy. Searching the consulate and expat websites showed us that there is no uniform set of standards for granting an ER. We felt that our biggest hurdle would the amount of cash we would need to get approval from the consulate for our one year, for even though we felt comfortable knowing how much we would need based on our research and time spent in Italy, there is no scale or requirement stated anywhere. The best information that the consulates would provide was ¡°sufficient funds to generate income¡±. When I called the consulate to inquire for more specifics, their first reaction was that we were too young and that the ER is intended for retirees.  When given the details of our quest, they said that there were no other visa options for us. When I pressed for details regarding how much cash we would need, the response was that the amount would be determined at the time of our application; they could not provide even a range of funds required. Expat sites also provide no guideline as to minimum cash requirements.

Adding to these hurdles in applying for our visas was the fact that we lived in New Mexico and would be under the jurisdiction of the infamous Los Angeles Consulate, tales of which we had frequently heard before (all the stories are well-founded we would come to discover).  In addition, we would be going through this entire process via phone calls and postal service.

We applied for the visa with the Los Angeles Consulate fully expecting an approval, and as the date for our intended move approached, we packed our remaining belongings to move them for storage in Ohio, where we would also visit family before our departure. Three weeks before our departure date, after numerous phone calls to check the status of our visa, we were notified by the Los Angeles Consulate that our visa applications were denied and were only provided vague reasons for this denial. After many frantic phone calls to the consulate and consulting other expats who had similar experiences, we decided to abandon our dealing with Los Angeles as the consular agents were downright nasty to us throughout this process.  To bypass the L.A. consulate we established residency in Ohio so we could then apply for our visas at the Detroit Consulate. This proved to be a very wise decision; not only was this consulate close enough for us to drive to and have personal contact, but they were also much more civil to deal with.  (My advice to you if you are beginning this process and live in the jurisdiction of the L.A. consulate is, ¡°flee!¡±  Establish residency somewhere else¡­all the bad stories are true!)

We submitted the following documents with our visa application to the Detroit Consulate:

  • Completed visa applications
  • A letter explaining our reason for requesting an ER and brief summary of our finances
  • Letters from financial institutions verifying our funds
  • Two passport size photos per person
  • Our passports, valid beyond our time requested
  • FBI background reports (less than 6 weeks old) showing no criminal background
  • International health insurance policy with minimal $100,000 limits
  • Certified copy of our marriage license
  • Copy of on-line airline reservation to Rome
  • Lettera di Invito proving our housing in Italy
  • Copies of all of the above documents (plus a third copy for us to retain)

The application is available on your consulate¡¯s web-site and should only be signed in the presence of a consular agent. This agent will be either at the consulate or a person designated by the consulate in other states.  The consular web-site will list contact information for this agent. An application must be completed for each individual.

The letter we provided gave a brief request for the ER, indicating where we would live, how we would finance our stay, that we had health insurance and that we were fully aware we can not work with the ER.  We kept this letter brief and on one page.  On a second page we listed a clear outline of our finances, including both cash assets and investment assets (stocks, retirement, IRAs). We showed that we had $280,000 in liquid assets and $230,000 in investment assets. Included in the liquid assets was a substantial amount of cash that my sister-in-law ¡°dumped¡± into our account when she sold her home, just to make sure that the cash would be ¡°sufficient¡±.  After our visas arrived, we duly returned the money to her bank account.

We obtained official ¡°statements of account¡± from the banks holding our cash on their letter head; this is not a monthly statement but a brief letter stating the funds available on a specific date. Determining the amount of money needed to ¡°prove sufficient funds¡± was the one area where we had the most difficulty in obtaining details, from both the consulates and other expats.  No one wanted to give details on money figures.

The FBI background checks were obtained by getting fingerprinted at our local police station on their fingerprint stock, and sending the form along with required fee to the FBI in Virginia. We noted on the envelope and request form that we were applying for a visa in 30 days, so this expedited the FBI process. The information for the FBI is located on their web-site.

We obtained an international health insurance policy on-line that is valid for one year anywhere outside of the US. There are numerous companies that provide these policies via the internet, for minimal effort and reasonable costs.

We obtained a ¡°certified abstract of marriage¡± from the probate court for the county where we were married.

We reserved flights for travel to Rome on the internet and printed the itinerary, but did not actually purchase tickets until we were approved for the visa.

The Lettera di Invito proved to be another difficulty in the visa process. We have friends in Rome who offered us the use of their summer home during our stay in Italy without requiring a rental contract. We received conflicting information from consulates if this particular form would be acceptable, but the Detroit consulate provided us with this form, which we filled out, emailed to our friends in Rome who printed and signed it, and returned it to us along with a copy of their passport, as required.

The entire process for gathering the documents to present to the consulate took us six months as some required correspondence via mail (FBI, obtaining marriage certificate). A month before submitting our application was the busiest part of the process as we needed to obtain the bank statements, secure health insurance, search flights, etc. We assembled all of our documents neatly into a folder and included a page with a numbered index, and tabbed each form accordingly. The actual application process at the Detroit consulate took less than 15 minutes.  About two weeks later we received the self-addressed and pre-paid Express Mail envelope containing the coveted visa from the Detroit consulate.  We quickly booked flights and began our adventure abroad.

This article was submitted by one of the members of our forum Expat Talk
It is his personal experience in the process.


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