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5 Laws to Know Before Studying Abroad in Italy

Italian bureaucracy is legendary, but as a foreign student in Italy, some rules and laws are more important than others. Get it wrong and you’ll fall foul of the law. So be smart and do your homework before you set off.

A residency permit is a must

You won’t have gotten past the immigration officials at the airport without being in possession of a student visa. However, you’ll also need to secure yourself a residency permit if you’re planning to stay in the country for over 90 days. Known as the Permesso di Soggiorno, this is one permit that you cannot do without. All foreign nationals visiting the country for the first time need to secure one within eight days of their arrival.

Make sure you check the website and get all your documents in order before heading to the post office. Once the post office has approved the forms, you’ll be given an appointment for the questura (immigration office). This is where you’ll formally apply for your residency permit. Make a note of what you’ve done: the permit usually lasts a year; so, if you’re planning on hanging around, you’ll have to do it all again next year.

Drugs are illegal

It can be tempting to think that if you’re away from home, the rules don’t apply. Not so.  While drug use is technically not illegal, possession is – and that can land you in jail even if there are only small amounts involved. It’s just not worth the risk.

Train tickets must be validated

Even the insignificant action of taking a train has a few quirks that you need to be aware of. Depending on the journey you’re planning to make, and things like how much time you’re able to devote to getting from A to B, the type of train and thus the type of ticket will vary. Take one of the high speed trains, for instance, and you’re better off booking in advance. You can buy your tickets online, choose a specific train and a particular seat and on the day, all you’ll have to do is jump on board.  

Take a regional stopping train, however, and there’s no need to book up front. You can buy a ticket from the machine at the station. But if you look carefully at the ticket, there’ll be no date and time marked on it, so if you don’t hand it in at the end of your journey, then theoretically it could be reused. To overcome this, ticket validation machines are installed at stations, usually on the platforms. Failure to validate your ticket means you could face a hefty fine, so make sure you’ve done so before getting on the train.

Renting a car requires additional items

If you’ve decided that you’d rather rent a car than travel by train, bear in mind there are rules involved with that as well. To comply with Italian law, you’ll need a warning triangle, reflective jacket and in winter, snow chains. Thankfully most rental cars will be equipped with these items. In addition, you must also wear a seatbelt and if it’s raining, dipped headlights are compulsory even in the daytime.

Don’t feed the birds in Venice, etc

Take a break from your studies to feed the pigeons in Venice or Lucca and you could be looking at a hefty fine.  You’ll face a similar penalty if you drink on the street in Genoa, though not in Rome unless it’s summer and after 10pm. In many cities, you could land yourself in trouble for buying goods from illegal street traders, failing to carry photographic ID or dropping litter.  You can’t bathe in a public fountain and don’t even think about eating your lunch perched on the steps of a historic monument.

If you’re beginning to think that the rumors about Italians and their rules are true, you’d be right.  If in doubt, ask.  After all, ignorance is no defense and you don’t want to waste your student budget paying fines.  

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