How to Freelance Around the Globe: ItalyBy Colton Cox October 19th, 2018
This is the third in a 10-part series on freelancing around the world. The Freelancer chose the top ten most popular countries of residence among contributors in Contently’s talent network, excluding the United States, and researched visa requirements, tax regulations, and other useful information for freelancers considering a move.
This week we’re exploring the sunny climes and delicious streets of Italy. What do ex-pats need to know before they pursue a freelance career in the world’s most famous boot-shaped country?
While Italy is notorious for the bureaucracy surrounding its immigration process, it’s also developed a strong reputation for improving the livelihoods of self-employed professionals. The country has built a robust social security and protection program for independent workers, including health and maternity benefits, and recent legislation offers contract protection to self-employed people across all professions.
What do they call “freelancers”?
The most common phrase used to describe a member of the gig economy is libero professionista, which conjures up rather revolutionary images of secret printing presses and barricades in the street. Occasionally, collaborati (meaning “collaborator” or “cooperator”) is also used.
How many freelancers live here?
It’s difficult to assess the exact number of freelancers in individual countries in the EU—they’re often lumped into the same tax and census categories as other self-employed people (entrepreneurs, for instance), so a precise number is hard to come by.
Regardless, freelancing is a growing sector within Italy’s economy. According to the Italian National Institute of Statistics, about a quarter of all working Italians are self-employed—roughly 5.5 million—which ranks second in Europe for rate of self-employment (just behind Greece).
What industries do freelancers work in?
The rise of a “creative class” consisting of architects, consultants, designers, journalists, video producers, etc., has been well documented in Italy over the past two decades. Studies indicate that creatives, who tend to congregate in the northern part of the country, are making a significant contribution to Italy’s economy, to the tune of nearly 16 percent of the GDP.
Get ready for a headache. The Italian visa system is, to put it generously, opaque, and often handled on a case-by-case basis. Search for guidance online and you’ll find individuals reporting various ways of obtaining the same residency. If you aren’t planning to marry an Italian, or if you don’t already have a student or training visa, you’ve got some work ahead of you.
If you’re a full-time freelancer making the jump to Italy, you’re likely to shoot for a self-employed work visa. You’ll want to look out for the (usually) annual Immigration Quota Decree that defines parameters and limits on the kinds of permits up for distribution in that year.
Non-EU nationals immigrating to Italy as self-employed people usually require a provisional clearance from the Questura—the Italian Police Commissary. You must receive this a maximum of 90 days before submitting a visa application. You also may need to coordinate with the local chamber of commerce to complete a Declaration of Parametri di Riferimento—a list of assets that prove you are capable of doing business without creating a burden for the Italian economy.
You’ll also need to provide recent proof of income, availability of lodging for the duration of the visa, and, of course, a valid passport. Whew.
Registering for taxes
Once you have your visa, you’ll need a codice fiscale—the Italian version of a Social Security card. You can apply for this at an Italian consulate or an Italian tax agency. With regard to your taxes, that all depends on how you’ve registered your business in Italy.
The easiest way to go is to operate purely as a freelancer. You’ll need to register for VAT and provide your VAT ID to clients. They will then withhold 20 percent of each invoice for the Italian government.
Registering as an LLC or joint stock company requires a bit of up-front capital, and while it can secure your practice for the long-term, it may also subject you to a corporate income tax. Bottom line: You’ll need an accountant.
Regardless of how you register, you’ll also have to pay IRPEF—personal income tax—which ranges between 23 and 43 percent depending on your income bracket.
Insurance options for freelancers in Italy
You may be obligated to regular payments to the National Social Security Institute (INPS) for pension insurance and social security benefits. These provide a variety of financial and medical protections, including access to the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale—Italy’s national health service.
In addition, you’ll need to acquire standard business insurance policies: professional indemnity insurance, which can protect you from claims of professional negligence, and public liability insurance, which can protect you from a variety of third-party claims for sickness, injury, and the like.
*Please note that Contently and The Freelancer do not offer legal advice, and those who are interested in freelancing internationally should complete their own due diligence, including research of visa laws, consultations with lawyers and consulates, and advice from other freelancers working in the area. This guide to International Employment from Clyde & Co. is a good place to start.