This is part of my new interview series, designed to demonstrate the wildly varied ways we can live, work, and chase our dreams. Please keep in mind that, since these are interviews, the opinions, methods, and websites contained within do not necessarily reflect my own views or experiences. (Which is, in my opinion, part of what makes them wonderful.)
Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Dana Kaplan, who moved across the world from New York City to Stresa, Italy, where she manages apartments, blogs, and lives la dolce vita.
First, tell us about you.
I’m a city girl. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, went to college in Boston, and then moved back to New York City. After that, I raised my family in the suburbs, but my heart always belonged to the fast-paced cities and I always imagined that one day I’d be moving back to that lifestyle. So now, no one is more shocked than I that I live in serene, sleepy little Stresa, a small city of 5,000 on the shore of Lago Maggiore, in Piemonte, northern Italy. I’ve been visiting Stresa for many years, but it’s just in the past year, having earned my Permesso di Soggiorno visa, that I live here, that I am even able to.
When did you fall in love with Italy and what made you decide to move there?
It is so unexpected that I am here. I didn’t fall in love with Italy so much as with the Italian language. In fact, the first time that I visited Italy, I did so only begrudgingly, on a group tour, barely looking at the itinerary in advance. Little did I expect that three days into the tour, on top of the white marble mountain in Carrera, I would make the life-changing decision to learn Italian. And I did.
Back in the U.S., I immediately searched out classes to take, then others, and more, without pause. And learning Italian led to visiting Italy more. And visiting Italy more led to meeting Italians. Meeting Italians, eventually, led to how I have come to live here. I finally made the decision to try to obtain my Permesso, as without the visa the decision of whether to live here or not was rather moot. With my Permesso obtained, I have decided to spend the majority of my time here in Italy, where my life is most complete.
What kind of work do you do and how did you get a visa for Italy? How long did the visa process take?
I was fortunate in that I was doing editing work online, which I could do from anywhere. This gave me the time to visit Italy more often and to consider making the move. I was not looking to work in Italy; in fact, my visa, which is a Permesso di Soggiorno Elletiva, does not allow people to work here. You must have the independent means to stay here.
In my case, the recent sale of a house in the U.S. helped this. That said, I did not receive my visa the first time I applied. I did not meet the requirements.
I waited another few months, to coincide with when I planned to be in Italy anyway, and applied again. This second time I was successful. So I got the U.S. visa.
Then, another few months were necessary to take care of the Italian-side requirements (while in Italy).
On the U.S. side, the instructions for Italy were to visit the the Questura (police department) in Italy within eight days of arriving in the country. What the instructions don’t tell you is that when you do that, you discover that there is a long list of things to do, various offices to visit, forms to fill out, appointments to make, and so on.
On my very first visit to Questura, I was told that I should have gone to the post office first, filled out the “kit,” and received my Questura appointment. So I went back to the post office, filled out said kit, and mailed it. Each step in the Italian process was like this for me; basically two steps forward and one back. But one step at a time and with the help of my Italian partner, eventually this hurdle was crossed.
The steps included the kit, getting official photographs, giving fingerprints, obtaining an Italian fiscal code number, opening an Italian bank account, transferring money into this bank account, showing proof of a residency (where you are living), and more. The process is thorough. Officials came to my home to ascertain that I was really living there. With each requirement completed, there seemed to be some new requirement to complete.
Finally, on one visit to the local Questura office, I received my Permesso, which is a small, anticlimactic, credit-card-size identification card. I will need to repeat this Italian part of the process each year now; I am hoping it will go smoothly and that rules don’t change too much each time.
All told, the process took me about one year, including the failed attempt.
Any tips for people who want to get a visa to live in Italy?
I was discouraged after being turned down the first time. I began scouring forums and expat websites, looking for any first-hand information from those who had succeeded. The helpful hints I learned there, plus the clarification of rules that were unclear, made the difference the second time I applied. My advice to others, therefore, would be to do your homework well, don’t take for granted that it will be easy to obtain your visa, and be well- (or even over-) prepared.
What have been the biggest challenges of moving to Italy?
When I read this question, the first thing that popped into my head was food. Does that seem strange? That, in the country that the entire world considers the land of culinary delights, my greatest challenge is food? But in terms of a day-to-day, actually three-times-a-day, challenge, I must honestly admit it is food, or more precisely, the lack thereof.
I so miss the 24/7 availability of food, of any food imaginable, that I had in the U.S. Anything I had a craving for, at any time, I could have. Not so here.
I try to adapt by stocking up on some things and cooking what I can at home. But still, I really miss a good bagel…
That said, on the more serious side, it is a challenge being so far from my homeland and family. But both of these challenges are balanced by all the joys of being here.
What have been the greatest joys?
So yes, conversely, there are the joys. The one I experience daily is that I believe I will always see this world around me with the eyes of a foreigner and so each new place, each new view, I always see with child-like wonder. And to be surrounded by the staggering beauty of Stresa and Lago Maggiore is a thing that is good for the soul. These are joys and gifts that I am daily grateful for.
How has your life changed since the move?
The routine here in Stresa is so different. Yes, I have found that the stereotype is true; my life is simpler here, slower, than compared to my life in the U.S. And this city girl has learned that a slower pace might actually be a good thing. Almost everything I do is done somewhat different than before. Sometimes this leads me to think on how adaptable we are, as new customs quickly become, well, routine. While typing this, I needed to close all the doors and windows, as the wind is picking up and it may rain; even mundane routines like this are all completely new to me.
I must add that modern technology helps make this transition and adaptation easier for me. My circle of friends was always widespread (and my family, as well) so my being here does not radically change my interactions with many of them. And the fact that I can watch favorite shows and films, in English and/or Italian, on TV or my computer, also helps quite a bit. I feel I can have the best of both my worlds in this way.
What’s next for you?
Now that I have my visa, I plan to stay here in Stresa and to make this my main home. The principle business in Stresa is tourism and I assist my partner in renting out some holiday apartments. How wonderful to speak with visitors from around the world, all having come to see the sights that I live with every day. How wonderful to share what I know about Stresa with them and to learn new things from them.
I also write a blog about Stresa, which I began several years ago. It now has enough information to be a good database and resource for visitors.
My old career that I did in New York, interior design, has found a new outlet here as well, as I help decorate the rental apartments. And an old hobby, photography, seems to be creeping back into my life, for photographs for the blog as well as for my own pleasure.
In sum, it seems that many of my interests and abilities have found a way to be useful here in Stresa. This city girl, who never expected to live outside the city, never mind outside the country, has learned to adapt and be grateful to be in this place at this time.