The Complicated Costs of Marrying a Dual Citizen

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My husband is an Italian citizen, but I am not. Consequently, although I’ve lived in Pescara the last three months, I am still legally a resident of Massachusetts. We’re waiting on a long-stay visa; until then, I’m here as a tourist. There are two ways the conversion could happen: I could be issued a permesso (the permission to stay) by the local Italian police department—which I have to request while in Italy. Or, I could apply for a family reunification visa at the Boston consulate, which I have to do while in Massachusetts.

Despite Italian bureaucracy’s somewhat deserved reputation, the holdups are all American. For the permesso, they need a letter from the American embassy which says Romie Stott is the same person as Romie Faienza; Italian women don’t take their husbands’ names, and I did (partly out of love, partly out of the Z that stands for Zorro). The American embassy has not made this their priority. For the visa, and for my eventual path to citizenship, I need an FBI document testifying to my empty criminal history file. I made a FOIA request in June, and the single-page testimonial didn’t arrive in Massachusetts until November. It’s now in Virginia, with the State Department, awaiting an apostille­—a special gold stamp that validates intergovernmental correspondence.

I head back to the States next week. Italy is part of the Schengen area, which means, for an American tourist, 90 days in, 90 days out. One assumes the American embassy will continue their lackadaisical approach to my national-security-noncritical request, and I’ll leave Italy with a full file of documents but no permesso. (Among other things, I’ll carry an Italian marriage certificate; my Texan one, the one I signed at my actual wedding, is on file in an Italian government office, waiting to be replaced with a heavily certified but less sentimentally freighted piece of American paper.)

How long until I get my visa in Boston? Who knows. The State Department will mail my FBI report to Italy; Italy will mail it back to me at “home.” I’ll make an appointment with the consulate, which could be difficult since it’s the Christmas holiday season, a time of unpredictable office closures in both countries. If I want to reserve an appointment using their online scheduling service, the next slot is in late January.

None of this is too unexpected. But the uncertainty weirds our finances. For example, I don’t have American health insurance, which wouldn’t cover me in Italy. I’m not in the Italian health system either, because I’m not a resident. I have travel medical insurance, because I’m a tourist. Simple.

What happens next week? I’m not traveling anymore; I’ll be medically “home.” I can go without insurance and maybe (but improbably) face a tax penalty which I might face anyway. (How Obamacare applies to Americans abroad is still being litigated.) I can enroll when I’m in Massachusetts and then drop it again when I leave, benefiting from a heavily subsidized premium thanks to my disordered financial situation, but that means subjecting myself to yet more paperwork, and the start and end dates won’t line up with my stay. Whether insurance is worth it—guessing the risks—is difficult when I don’t know whether I’m stateside for two weeks or three months.

Property insurance is odd too. My camera was stolen in Rome, and it was my camera, bought in my name and on my person. So although the theft was in Italy, it was covered by a homeowner’s policy in the states, at my Dad’s house, where I legally reside. We bought the replacement camera in Italy, from an Italian store, with my husband’s credit card. Therefore it’s now on our Italian renters’ insurance—which is in my husband’s name, since I’m not a resident, but which we bought through an American company, Clements Worldwide, since my husband is both Italian and American and American property laws are more generous. I don’t plan to bring the camera with me to Massachusetts, both because I travel light and because the last binational insurance claim took me a month of spreadsheets.

I haven’t filed income taxes yet, since the move is too recent, but I suspect they’ll be a nightmare. Until August, I had a steady job at a company in Virginia (although I worked remotely). My husband was a student. Now, I’m freelance again, for the first time in maybe 10 years. My husband is a contract laborer with Italian but not American tax withholding.

The situation raises a lot of questions: Will the IRS understand that he’s a foreign resident although I’m not? Do we need to file separately, even though for the first eight months of the year, when we made the bulk of our income, my tax withholding treated him as my dependent? Should I discourage my publishers from paying me on time, so I can push the “self employment” hurdle to 2016 and treat this year’s writing revenue as hobby income?

I’ll probably have to hire a CPA, which stings a little; I’ve always enjoyed filling out my taxes. (I have the body of an artist, but the heart of an accountant.) Meanwhile, we need to open an Italian bank account so we won’t be pecked to death by exchange fees; but I dread declaring the foreign account, which I suspect requires forms the bank won’t have.

As it is, I might hop a bus to Rome to make the case, in person, at the embassy, that this is an emergency, that I am an American at risk because of my American adherence to the American tradition of the married name (which in this case just happens to be Italian). Maybe that’s something I should have done last week. It’s hard to know. On the one hand, it is an emergency: I have five more business days before I board a plane and lose the chance of a permesso. On the other hand, what’s the negative consequence—that I hang out with my parents for a month or two? It’s the holidays. I like my parents. I’d visit anyway.

But it sure would be nice to know when to buy my return ticket (a one-way). Or how much to pack. Or how much to pay for insurance.

 

Romie Stott’s genre-bending fiction and poetry have appeared in Arc, Farrago’s Wainscot, Strange Horizons, Punchnel’s, Dark Mountain, and LIT. As a filmmaker, she’s been a guest artist at the National Gallery (London), ICA Boston, and Dallas Museum of Art. Her online portfolio is atromiesays.tumblr.com.

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