Moving to Italy was Quite the Journey

I think it has been one of the most incredibly emotional journeys I have decided to take on. Having moved to Italy again has been like an intense enlightenment. Though it is not yet complete, the hardest part of it all has been done and now it is really about getting the paperwork done for my husband. In fact, it almost feels like a sure thing even though I know we still have much work ahead of us. But before I get carried away with this little rant, let’s take a look at what moving to Italy meant for us and how we were able to overcome some very interesting obstacles. 

Why We Moved to Italy?

I suppose, out of all the questions people ask when it comes to moving to Italy this one is one of the hardest to answer. It’s not that we do not know the answer, it has more to do with dealing with the truth of why we left South Africa. There is no easy answer. It is not for reasons of simply having the opportunity or some miracle job. The answer is much deeper rooted in trauma, medical pain, and a desire to create a safe home for our cats and ourselves. 

As I write this I can feel the weight of it all bear down on my shoulders. It comes to me in segments, like a flashback of moments that I need to concentrate on in order to string them together coherently. Still, it is better than no memory at all. Much of my previous life is lost to ether. In the end, it all fits together and is part of our reason for moving here. The best place will be the one I most open about, the medical side. I have a disease/condition called idiopathic syringomyelia. It causes a tremendous amount of pain physically and my emotions are never quite what they seem to be. The disease basically causes my body to react in somewhat unpredictable ways and physical pain in so many different ways. I managed to keep it mostly under control, provided I worked from home, until a few years ago. New symptoms started showing up that involve muscular spasms and episodes that can only be described as seizure-like. The pain is now in all of my joints, my spine, my back, and most of the right side of my body. I feel as though I am part of a person some days. It often makes me feel like I cannot truly be who and what I know myself to be.

It hasn’t been completely useless though. It has given me insight into a completely different perspective of the world. I am more compassionate but I am also uncomfortably strong and I persevere through situations that many would find unbearable. I am not trying to boost my own ego, it is just the truth of how it has turned out. In the same vein I have not learnt how to speak up for myself and I constantly feel indebted to people for paying attention to me. Not a healthy balance, but one that has helped me survive until now. We decided to move to a country where I could get the care that I so desperately need and perhaps even a permanent treatment plan for long-term management. Italy has one of the best medical systems in the world and as a citizen I am able to have access to free medical care. Being here also opens up the doors to care in other EU member states. Or the first time in my life I may have a real chance at true balance between a decent quality of life and treatment. It should be reason enough to move to another country if you can make it happen. 

When it comes to the aspect of traumatic events, I’m not sure I am ready to share that story publicly. It has been an arduous journey. I know that many South Africans and people from other countries with problems with crime, poverty, and a corrupt government would be able to understand and even empathise. I am not there yet. All I can really say for now is that we, my husband and I, had to deal with some scary situations that could have ended so much worse than they did. We are fortunate and privileged to have a strong support system. Between our determination and the backing of loved ones we were able to pull through and find light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps one day I will be able to speak of this pain openly. Afterall, talking about my disease honestly took almost a decade.

What steps did we take to make moving to Italy a reality?

Moving to Italy was not necessarily the easiest task to accomplish, and we are still in the last stages of making it happen. Italian immigration law can be a little confusing and it varies slightly from region to region. If I were to give any tips on moving overseas it would be to start with a plan. Gather as much information on the country and city/town/village you are planning to move to along with the laws and expected processes. 

Once we had gathered this information we went ahead and put together a plan of action connected to a calendar. Each step had to happen within a certain time frame and so our savings plan had to match it perfectly or it would delay things greatly. With the action plan in place we went and found out, as best we could, what the costs involved would be. From there we could work out what our savings plan would look like, essentially the percentage of our income we needed to put aside each month to ensure a successful immigration. Going from South Africa to Italy is difficult for a holiday, so coming here to live had further complications. Being an Italian citizen though, has made the situation easier. Meaning that finding an apartment and communicating with people here has been, mostly, unencumbered by needing to learn a new language or filing extra paperwork. 

As an Italian, I knew that I could apply to have my husband stay with me here in Italy and I was also fairly certain that it would need to be done through a Family Cohesion visa (permesso di soggiorno coniuge). The only thing I really struggled with was getting a timeline and knowing for sure that was the right route to go. It was then that we decided to employ an immigration attorney in Milan to assist us with the application process. This meant that our strict budget was pushed quite far. We could have done well with that money now but at the same time I am happy we decided to get the help of a lawyer, it would have taken me much longer to figure out the paperwork. The exchange rate between the South African rand and euros was not in our favour. Each dip drained our budget and meant that we would have less upon arrival. So, there were a good amount of factors influencing our potential to make the move, we eventually just jumped into the deep end. As many of you know, we also have cats that came with us here. Another challenge that influenced when we could make the move. Here are the steps we followed in a nutshell:

  • Get an action plan together
  • Prepare a savings plan
  • Start saving
  • Get paperwork in South Africa together
  • Prepare the cats and their paperwork
  • Find accommodation in Italy
  • Organise the shipment of our belongings
  • Ship our belongings
  • Confirm and pay for apartment
  • Get travel documents together for me and my husband
  • Secure the cat crates and final transport itinerary
  • Cats begin their journey
  • I fly to Italy
  • I register my residency at the new apartment
  • Receive the cats at the apartment
  • Get my identity card
  • Register our marriage in Italy
  • Get certificates for my residency and marriage registration
  • Get my husband over on a tourist visa
  • Apply for my husband to stay in Italy
  • My husband applies for his permit to live here (permesso di soggiorno)
  • My husband meets with the police headquarters (questura)
  • My husband gets his permesso di soggiorno 
  • After one full tax year here my husband can apply for a long term permit
  • Once 3 years have passed and he has learnt Italian he can apply for his citizenship

We had initially planned to move to Canada and so when we changed to Italy all of our planning had gone out the window. We had to start from scratch and aim for Italy. All in all the preparation for moving overseas was over four years. Getting to Italy itself took us around 2 and a half years but it will be closer to 3 years once my husband has his permesso di soggiorno.

What challenges did we face and how did we overcome them?

The two biggest challenges we faced were getting the cats over and saving enough money to make the move possible. I won’t get into the details of the costs this round but I will gather all the costs and write another article with all the information. 

As someone with chronic illness I know that living a standard life of going into the office everyday is not necessarily attainable to me but on the other hand I feel like I can do anything. I feel as though I can overcome any obstacle and make it work. Finding that balance has never been that easy for me, I have certainly done a lot better working from home and so that is what I focused on. My husband is also better equipped at working from home, remotely. We put all our effort into finding work that is remote based and found that we were able to make ends meet and save at the same time. 

We simply kept searching online for work and connecting with as many people as possible to get work through our company ontwerp. I work as a content writer and my husband is a graphic designer. Together we make a pretty good team. In all honesty we really scrapped by getting here. We were on course with our savings but two major events happened. The first was that we realised we needed a lawyer to assist us and the second was Jiji coming into our lives four months before we were set to leave. These took us off our budget significantly, mostly the lawyer fees. 

I was unsure that we would be able to make it but we did. We found a way to get through it all and put the money together. It took determination. We saved as much as we could. I treated our savings like a bill that had to be paid. Once in the savings account that is where it stayed. Not to be touched or used other than for our travel and move to Italy. Now with the prices of utilities going up, life is a bit difficult again but not impossible. A little motivation to do more can go a long way. A fair amount of tough decisions are still on the horizon. This road is not complete just yet.

What does the future hold for Urban Yolk?

The future is not set in stone for Urban Yolk. We are in the process of getting our ducks in a row and figuring out what exactly we need to do to secure our lives here in Italy. Nonetheless, there are still exciting prospects that we are currently exploring. 

I am in the process of cultivating relationships with new clients as well as creating exciting new opportunities with a dear friend and her awesome retreats she runs through Truly Italy. So, in other words, keep an eye on this space. A great deal is yet to come.