Thursday, October 6, 2011

La Dolce Visa

I fell in love and moved to Italy. Glamorous? YES.
Always unicorns and rainbows? Definitely not.

This piece details the process you must undergo to obtain a study visa in Italy. I have purposefully left out the manic episodes I suffered doing things the wrong way, and opted to focus on how YOU should do it should you find yourself at the beginning of this onerous journey. Gather as much information from blogs or any other resource you can. Talk to people who have already gone through the process if you can. And keep in mind that every Italian Consulate has it's own unique set of required documents, deadlines, etc, and so you must take responsibility to get in touch with the consulate of your jurisdiction to find out precisely what is expected of you. The experience herein reflects my escapade with the San Francisco Consulate.

Before you can apply for a study visa, you need to have a legalized translation of your degrees. This is called a Dichiarazione di Valore and as I discovered, it is a separate process from the visa. Do not email the visa office asking questions about the dichiarzione di valore, (you idiot). Instead, email the consulate's "legal department" and request a PDF of their requirements for obtaining the DV. 

The first thing I did was obtain an apostille for my high school and college diplomas and transcripts. To do this, you must contact your secretary of state in the state that issued the diploma to determine their exact requirements. For me it meant a California apostille for high school as well as a Washington apostille for university. These states differed slightly. For Washington I had to include the following:
  • original sealed transcript from my University and original diploma as is (neither notarized)
  • a check for $15 per document ($30 total) made payable to the secretary of state
  • a cover letter including the name of the school and country requesting the documents, my contact information, and information on where the documents should be mailed after they are apostilled
  • a pre-paid Fed Ex air bill so they could return the documents to me.  
For California, I had to get a notarized COPY of my high school diploma and a notarized official transcript. Furthermore, the consulate required a notary public to witness the REGISTRAR's signature on both the (opened) official transcript and the diploma (which means your school either needs to have a notary public on site, or you need to call a traveling notary public to come to the school). Written on the official high school transcript, it must say:
" I __________________, Registrar, certify that these are official high school transcripts from ______________ school/university."
On the COPY of the diploma it must say:
"I __________________, Registrar, certify that this is a copy of        (your name)    _ diploma from _______________ school/university."
Below each sworn statement the registrar must sign his name in the presence of the notary and a Jurat form must be stapled to each document separately. After this, you can send the notarized documents to the secretary of state's notary department. Include a cover letter (with the same information required for the WA letter above), a check in the amount of $20 per document, and a FedEx prepaid return envelope/air bill for them to return your documents.

The apostille should take roughly two weeks to arrive back in your hands.

While you're waiting for your apostilles to return, you must complete a typed translation of all your coursework. In my case, this meant a translation of (only) my university transcripts, formatted in the precise way as the original transcript, and a translation of both my high school and college diplomas. The translation needs to be accurate but it does not need to be done by a professional, nor notarized. And please make sure the translation is in Italian, (you idiot). 

Once your apostilles return and your translations have been completed, you are ready to apply for your dichiarazione di valore. Send the apostilled packets exactly as they were received (with the fucking staple right through your college diploma) along with the translation of your diplomas/transcripts. I was also asked to include a cover letter, two 2x2 passport photos, three additional official university transcripts, a completed "Domanda di Preiscrizione" (FORM A, which I found and printed from the Consulate website) and a prepaid return airbill (through USPS because according to the consulate, the other couriers are unreliable). Keep in mind that some consulates may only accept applications for DV's for schools within their jurisdiction. This means that if you went to a high school and college in different states, you may have to send them to different consulates (and it sucks to be you). CALL THEM if you're unsure. Once they're sent, wait 4-6 weeks, but keep in touch from time to time so they don't forget about you.

So now you have received your dichiarazione di valore. Breathe because you just completed the hardest part!  Now you're ready to apply for the visa. Keep in mind that you MUST do this in person. I had to fly back early and cut off five weeks of my travels in Europe just to show up at the bloody consulate in person. Also be aware of deadlines and their hours of operation for visas. Some consulates require appointments, some only take walk-ins. If your consulate does not require an appointment, prepare to get there one hour early so you can get to the front of the line. Either way, make sure you have everything ready- you only want to do this once, trust me. Bring the following with you:

1. Completed application form with a passport photo (2x2 inches) glued to the front. You can download this online.
2. Passport or official travel document (original and copy) valid for at least three months beyond the validity date of the visa requested. The passport must have a blank page available for the visa to be affixed.
3. Driver's License or State ID (original and copy) proving residence in that particular consular jurisdiction.
4. Alien Registration Card (original and copy) if you are a non-US citizen.
5. Letter of acceptance from the university, in Italian (original plus one copy). The letter (on official letterhead, signed and sealed by an official representative) must include the following:

  • name of the student
  • complete name and address of the school in Italy
  • the exact period of study including day/month/year and weekly hours
  • a statement that tuition, room and board, and health insurance will be covered, or that the university will help the student arrange these things

6. Affidavit of health insurance coverage (download from consulate website), signed and notarized
7. Proof of Funds. If you are self sufficient you must request a letter from your bank (on official letterhead, signed by a bank official) that states the exact balance of your account. You must be able to demonstrate that you have a minimum of $900.00/month for the extent of your visa (up to one year) in your account. If you are financially dependent, then you must provide an affidavit of support (downloadable form) signed by your sugar mama and notarized, as well as an original, signed letter from the bank stipulating the exact balance (and it must be recently dated).
8. Proof of adequate lodging for the entirety of your stay. This could be in the form of a lease or a signed and notarized letter from a family member with whom you will stay, or hotel reservation, etc. 
9. Proof of roundtrip flight reservations. (I only had to show my reservation for the way there, but some consulates may be different). 

Once you leave, your visa will arrive probably two days before your intended date of departure, making for a particularly sweaty week up until your departure. But you will get it and life will be GOOD!

Additional Information
I was not allowed to apply fewer than 30 days or more than 90 days prior to my departure to Italy.

You must go through the consulate office appropriate to your jurisdiction. Not every state has a visa office which means your consulate office sees residents not only of your state, but of your specific city/county. 

Be overly nice to any employee you interact with by phone, email, or in person. They are, as I have witnessed, understaffed so make sure they remember you by your kindness and not your inclination to act as an asshole. Keep in mind that although they are terribly inefficient, they DO have something that you need and that they can find any reason to deny you of this thing (or pull some strings in your favor).

Take advantage of emailing and calling and if you have someone who can speak on your behalf in Italian, it will make a difference on how fast you can get things done.

In boca al lupo!

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