A visit to the ‘Agenzia delle Entrate’ in Italy demonstrates how bureaucracy can be annoying, beautiful and chaotic – all at the same time. The same could never be said for a visit to the Tax Office in the UK.
I’m in the courtyard of a historic palace waiting for the office to open after lunch. There’s a row of chairs outside. The chairs remind me of the stone benches outside the Roman villas at Pompeii. Two thousand years ago ordinary folk would wait all day, on those uncomfortable seats, outside in the hot sun, hoping for a moment of the house owner’s time. Perhaps they wanted to borrow money, ask for a job for their son or daughter or even suggest a fail safe money-making idea to a possible investor. My request is much simpler – I’m after a temporary ‘codice fiscale‘ so that I can officially rent an apartment in Venice for the next year.
The courtyard is very lovely, there’s a wellhead in the centre, made of carved Istrian stone and an interesting octagonal tower on one side. There are loggias, which are covered walkways, lined with classical columns. The whole place has an air of decaying, historic elegance about it. It’s charming!
On the dot of 2.30 pm, a key turns in a lock, there’s a great deal of huffing and puffing and a lady opens a large door, with a laborious grunt. The waiting ‘foreigners’ file in meekly, lambs to the slaughter. There’s me, two Ukrainian girls, a German hippy in some kind of an Indian Mahatma Ghandi type suit and a bearded American gent – probably an academic, probably from Colorado.
Once inside it’s like any visa or passport office I’ve ever been in. Glass windows to protect the staff from the abuses of the ‘foreigners’ and a queuing system. Take a ticket at the machine, fill in a form, wait on a plastic chair in front of a screen until your number is called. Mahatma is struggling to fill in his form, the questions are not clear and the answers are not obvious. Torture for an individual of Teutonic origins.
As soon as my number was called I knew I was going to be ok. The ‘Sportello‘ number was 8 – that’s my lucky number. All I had to do was make my way to window number 8.
Reason for being in Italy, said the handsome, sockless Italian. Working as travel agent, employed by British based company I blurted out. He nodded with complete and total disinterest. Why do you need a ‘Codice Fiscale’ he asked. Because I need to rent an apartment and to legitimise the contract between me and the landlord I need to register with the ‘Agenzia delle Entrate’. He nodded again. Proof of identity he asked. I handed over my British passport. He photo-copied it and then slowly, slowly transcribed the number and document details onto his computer. I looked around, fidgeted a bit, stared into space. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only 10 minutes, he printed off two sheets, stamped them liberally with various official looking stampy things, signed them, stamped them again and handed one over. Is that it I asked. He answered with a monosyllablic – yes.
I almost skipped out of the historic palazzo! I’d just managed to get a piece of paper, in my possession, that entitles me to a year in Italy and paves the way to a bank account, Italian phone and all the things you need in today’s ‘modern’ world! Yippee! Result. Now time for a nice little glass of ‘prosecco‘! A small celebration is called for I do believe.
Frequently asked questions:
- What is a ‘codice fiscale’?
- It’s like an English National Insurance Number it registers you in the state system and enables you to pay taxes, benefit from health care etc
- Why do you need one in Italy?
- You need a ‘codice fiscale’ to be recognised in Italy as a legitimate member of the population (rather than a visitor or tourist).
- Did Casanova have a ‘codice fiscale’?
- No of course he didn’t, he befriended wealthy women and was never short of a bed for the night. He didn’t need to rent an apartment like normal people.
- Why are Italians obsessed with bureaucracy?
- There has been such a concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, in Italy, for so many generations, that the Italian government is now obsessed with stamping out (or trying to) money laundering, tax evasion and unlawful activities of all kinds. Unfortunately the very wealthy employ top class lawyers to legitimise their tax evasion. So the only people that suffer from Italy’s bureaucratic nightmare are ordinary people like you and me. The super rich carry on doing what they’ve always done.
- What is the ‘Agenzia delle Entrate’?
- It’s the Tax Office – equivalent to the Inland Revenue (UK) and IRS (USA).
Venice – The ‘Agenzia delle Entrate’ is reached over a wrought-iron bridge, a small canal runs underneath. Many government offices in Venice are housed in beautiful, historic palaces.
For more on Venice and numerous stories and observations from Italy, The Alps and beyond explore my blog further:
Happy travels and Happy Reading!