The legal status of foreigners in Italy is governed by the Italian Constitution in accordance with international rules and treaties and Italy’s membership of the European Union.
Based on the freedoms guaranteed by European citizenship, citizens of EU Member States can live and work in Italy under the same conditions as Italian nationals. For EU citizens, the rights and obligations of legal acts such as the purchase of a property or business, contracting a loan agreement or the setting up of a company are identical to those enjoyed by Italian citizens.
Pragmatically, the legal status of foreigners in Italy who are citizens of countries that are not part of the European Union may be equivalent. They may enter into transactions with legal validity in Italy if the condition of reciprocity exists with their home country i.e. only to the extent that it would be possible for an Italian citizen to undertake those same legal steps in the State of the foreign national who intends to operate in Italy.
To simplify the legal status of foreigners in Italy, the condition of reciprocity can be met by means of one of the many international conventions to which Italy has acceded for the mutual protection of investments by its nationals. Proof of the existence or otherwise that the condition of reciprocity is met must necessarily be conducted on a case by case basis. Responsibility lies with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since its outcome depends on the specific type of legal transaction involved as well as the national law of the counterparty, but is normally delegated to a Notaio.
Apart from the fulfilment or otherwise of the condition of reciprocity, citizens of states which are not EU members but who are residing in Italy may only enter into legal transactions if their stay in Italy is legitimate under Italian law. This condition requires the possession of a valid residency permit, proof of which must be shown to the Notaio prior to formalisation of any legal transaction.
In general, documents originating in a foreign country need validation by the Italian diplomatic and consular authorities abroad: this is called legalisation. In this way those authorities certify that the document in question was lawfully produced in its State of origin and its content is therefore reliable.
Given that legalisation is a procedure that involves an expenditure of time and resources that is hardly compatible with the requirements of modern commerce, most countries in the world – including Italy – have signed The Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 regarding the abolition of legalisation of foreign public documents. This Convention means signatory nations have allowed legalisation to be replaced, as regards documents from another signatory nation, by the appending of an Apostille, rendering the document valid in the foreign country.
Foreign nationals in possession of non-Italian documents needed for legal purposes in Italy must go to the authorities of the State in which the document was issued to have an apostille appended, thus making the document legally valid in Italy.
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There is however a very important case pertaining to the legal status of foreigners in Italy if they are of Italian ancestry, known as citizenship Jus Sanguinis.
Jus Sanguinis is the legal doctrine whereby the child of an Italian national automatically acquires Italian citizenship by birth right, even if this results in the individual holding dual citizenship.
People over the age of 18 who are of Italian male lineage have the right to Italian citizenship without time limits, even when born outside of Italy. Children of Italian mothers by birth can apply only if born after 1st January 1948. More details can be found on the website of the Ministero degli Affari Esteri.