When I first worked in Rome well over 30 years ago, foreigners were obliged to queue at the Questura for a Permesso di Soggiorno, which lasted for one year in my case. If you started to queue at about 6 or 7 am, you usually emerged, hot and sweaty, with the document by lunchtime. The immigration police working at the Questura in Rome were notoriously nasty: they asked every female under 30 for a date and relished the opportunity to deny you the document and make you queue again if they could find a reason to do so.
Nowadays, as a UK national, I have no such problem because Italy and the UK are both members of the EU. I can come and go as I please and would also be able to work in Italy with few problems. As it is, I am self-employed under UK law and lucky enough to be able to pick up my laptop and work wherever I choose.
Despite this freedom, if you wish to spend long periods of the year, as I do, or even buy a house, you soon run into a need for a Codice Fiscale or tax code number. If you want to open a bank account or have a mobile phone, you also need Residenza.
The concept of residency does not exist in the same way in the UK. The UK authorities define your residency mainly by the place where you file your tax return (i.e. your “tax residency”) and it is therefore perfectly possible to have residenza in Italy and file your tax return in the UK, provided you spend more than 183 days (i.e. half the year) in the UK. See this article for more about taxation and residency for UK ex-pats.
Because I own two houses in Italy, I had to pay property transfer taxes and am bound to pay local council taxes to my Commune. These have gone up a lot since Italy tightened its belt in the current climate of austerity, but haven’t yet reached UK levels, despite the howls of complaint. See this article on local taxes in Italy.
I bought my main property in Capena already restored by a local builder, Mimmo, who has worked with old properties throughout his career and whom I have been lucky enough to know since my early twenties, when he was still apprenticed to his father. Mimmo bought a 16th century ruin and we agreed on the price he would sell it to me for when it was fully restored. I think this situation must be quite unusual as it involves a certain amount of trust by the vendor and buyer. An article on the house-buying process in Italy can be found here. Mimmo used chestnut beams on the wooden ceilings and hand-fired unfinished or grezzo terracotta tiles on every floor. The roof tiles are typical Italian terracotta tiles. I was overjoyed to take possession of my new property, but soon realised I knew nothing whatsoever about protecting or maintaining it and you will find articles in this section on things I have had to learn the hard way about owning a house made out of traditional materials, beginning with woodworm and terracotta floor tile treatment.