Dear British Citizens living in Italy,
Welcome to the first of my regular “Passaparola” Newsletters to you and your families.
I would like to use this Newsletter to provide updates on practical issues that matter to you living here in Italy, from driving licences to healthcare, as well as to share my impressions 4 months into the job and my plans for the future.
As I said in my first video message in April, I very much hope to meet as many of you as possible, both at Embassy events and around the country. I’ve already met some of you at my ‘Town Hall’ meetings in Cagliari, Perugia, Florence, Bari, and Palermo, as well as at my Residence in Rome. I have very much enjoyed hearing your experiences of living here, particularly as I seek to learn more about this wonderful country myself.
My top priority, and that of my team at the Embassy, is to support you, British citizens living in Italy or San Marino, and British citizens visiting and travelling here. It has been a period of considerable change and uncertainty, I know, with the UK’s departure from the European Union; and the Covid pandemic has brought with it huge challenges.
A little bit about me. I arrived in Rome after spending the last five years as Ambassador in Paris, and my family and I are honoured and delighted to be here. My wife, Anne, is French, and we got engaged right here in Rome. We have three young kids. My own love for Italy goes back to my childhood. Although I went to school in the UK, I lived here for a few years between the ages 8 and 11 when my father, a naval officer, was posted to the NATO base near Naples.
But I still have much to learn about this country. So I set myself the goal of visiting all 20 Italian regions within my first 100 days since starting formally as Ambassador. My first official visit was to Naples – we even managed to visit the house near Pozzuoli where I had lived as a child. In recent weeks I have criss-crossed the country, mainly by train, and last month I made it to my 20th region – Basilicata. These visits have been an education in their own right and I certainly plan to continue to get out and about in the months to come. I will do all I can during my time as Ambassador to strengthen the already very close relationship between the UK and Italy – including, I hope, through the many hundreds of thousands of Italians living in the UK and the tens of thousands of Brits living here in Italy. I would really welcome your own thoughts and suggestions on practical ways to do this. And please do let me know places that you think it would be useful for me to visit – especially with a British presence or connection. I want to get out and about, flying the flag, as much as possible.
My initial months have inevitably been dominated by Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. My first act after arriving in Italy was to call on my Ukrainian counterpart to underline the United Kingdom’s staunch support for his country. The UK and Italy continue to stand shoulder to shoulder in our support for Ukraine and in holding Russia to account for its actions. Our Governments are in frequent contact on this and it will continue to dominate our cooperation into the autumn.
This summer we also celebrated the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen and did so, I hope, in appropriate style across Italy, with Queen’s Birthday Parties in Naples, Rome, Milan and – for the first time in 11 years – also in Venice. It has been a delight to meet many of you at them.
Throughout this period, my team and I have been continuing to work on the issues that affect your life here in Italy – those that flow from the UK’s departure from the European Union, or more generally. Let me use this Newsletter to give you some updates – starting with the most immediate concern, and certainly the one that is raised by you with me most frequently and which is foremost in my mind, namely driving licences.
UK driving licences in Italy
I know that many of you are understandably concerned about whether your UK driving licence will continue to be recognised in Italy, especially when the extension granted by Italy until 31 December 2022 for such recognition expires.
Let me set out where things stand. The British Government is working to reach an agreement with Italy on the right to exchange a licence without the need for a test. The discussions with our Italian colleagues are continuing and our objective is to try to reach an agreement in good time before the end of the year. As a reminder, if you moved to Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your UK licence until 31 December this year. If you moved here after 1 January 2022 you have 12 months in which to use your UK licence. We hope it will be possible to reach an agreement – that is our objective and we are working hard to try to deliver it. Nevertheless our advice is not to wait to exchange your licence. If you need to drive in Italy, you can take action now by applying for an Italian licence. This will, however, involve taking a practical and theory test. I know that the process is not a straightforward one and that there are delays in some areas to book an appointment for a test.
We will continue to work towards an agreement – that is our objective and it is an objective we share with our Italian colleagues. We will continue to provide updates, including in the next edition of this Newsletter, which will issue in September. In the interim, the best way to check is to look at our Living in Italy guide or to follow the Embassy’s social media channels on Facebook @ukinitaly, and Twitter (available in English @ukinitaly or Italian @ukinitalia).
Difficulties with local authorities
I am aware that some British citizens in Italy are still having problems engaging with local authorities such as town halls, immigration offices or the local healthcare office. In some cases long-term residents have been being treated as third country nationals with no rights under the Withdrawal Agreement. The new ‘Carta di Soggiorno’ is not mandatory – but we do know that some authorities require you to hold it to access services or even to re-register your residency.
We take these issues up with our Italian colleagues, and we have seen a reduction in the number of British citizens encountering problems as a result of our lobbying efforts. Italian Ministries have issued guidance across local authorities and service providers. But we continue to work with the Italian Government to resolve these issues as they arise and to report cases we receive to the relevant Ministries, as well as to the European Commission. I would just note that these issues are not unique to Italy – when I was Ambassador in France similar issues were cropping up for British citizens living there, which the Embassy would regularly take up on their behalf.
You can also raise a complaint directly with the European Commission here: Complaint Form for breach of EU law – European Commission (europa.eu). The European Commission also provides an assistance service which you can access here: Brexit: how UK nationals and their family members resident in an EU country can stay there after 31 December 2020 – Your Europe (europa.eu)
The ‘Carta di Soggiorno’
More than 12,000 of you have requested the new ‘Carta di Soggiorno’ from your local immigration office or ‘questura’. If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to make an appointment with your questura as soon as you can. This new residence card is the best evidence of your lifelong rights in Italy under the Withdrawal Agreement and it is available to anyone who was legally living in Italy before 1 January 2021. If you obtain it, you’ll be less likely to experience bureaucratic hurdles in the future.
Some good news on voting rights for long-term residents overseas! On 28 April the Elections Act, having completed its passage through Parliament, was granted Royal Assent. It delivers ‘votes for life’ for British citizens living overseas. The British Government now expects the changes in the Act affecting overseas electors to be delivered ahead of polls in spring 2024. The so-called 15-year rule will be abolished.
Any British citizen abroad who has been previously registered or previously resident in the UK will be eligible to vote in UK Parliamentary Elections. This includes British citizens born outside the UK who have resided in the UK.
You will be able to apply to register at the last address at which you were registered, or, if you were never registered, at the last address at which you were resident.
It is worth noting that there are no set rules about who can vote in UK-wide referendums. Instead, the franchise for each UK-wide referendum is determined on a case by case basis by Parliament in the legislation providing for that referendum.
I know many of you have long pressed for this change to the voting rules. I want to pay tribute in particular to the formidable campaign by the 101 year old Anzio veteran Harry Shindler, who has lived in Italy for many years and who has spent 20 years campaigning on this issue. It was wonderful to meet Harry Shindler last month and to be able to host him for dinner at the Residence – and to congratulate him in person.
Name discrepancy on documents
We are aware that some of you are experiencing difficulties accessing services or applying for Italian citizenship if you have changed your name (e.g. from your maiden name to your married name) or if your Italian or UK documents contain discrepancies in your name, such as a spelling mistake or a middle name that has been left out.
This is because Italian citizens very rarely change their name but frequently keep the same name for life. Italian authorities expect you to use one name throughout your life (forename(s) and surname) and all your official documents to use this exact name.
Our Consular staff cannot issue a confirmation of your identity even if an Italian authority requests this. We continue to work with the Italian Government as a priority to resolve this situation. In the meantime, please do read our guidance on proving your identity after a name change.
Covid-19 and travel between the UK and Italy
I am sure many of you are looking forward to seeing family and friends over the summer break including back in the UK.
Please check our Travel Advice pages for the very latest rules on travel between Italy and the UK – as you know from the last two years, these rules have undergone many changes, so it is always worth double-checking before you travel.
Where to find more information
Lastly, you can find the very latest information on our Living in Italy page, which includes details on residency, healthcare and benefits, pensions, driving licences, and how to get in touch with us. You can also read the Living in Europe page which is there specifically for those of you covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.
I wish you and your families a very happy, relaxing and safe summer.