The hottest ticket out of the U.S.: A second passport to Italy

While the height of the White Lotus craze has ended, the sun hasn’t set on everyone’s fascination with Italy. No one is necessarily flocking to the peninsula to spend their days having passive aggressive dinners; rather, they’re looking to make Italy a second home by becoming Italian citizens with second passports.

That’s what John Tarabini, a 62-year-old retired marketing executive from Silicon Valley, did. In April 2020, he applied for Italian citizenship along with seven family members to honor his late mother, who was of Italian descent. He received his citizenship in August 2021, and his second passport that November. He plans to stay based in the States while spending two or three months in Italy a year, he tells Fortune.

Having an Italian passport gives him and his wife flexibility to travel, he says, adding that splitting time between the two countries allows him to be a world citizen with a home away from home and gives his kids the opportunity to work remotely from Rome. It’s also a nice “escape valve” to have in your back pocket when you need a “respite from the 24-hour news cycle,” he admits.

Tarabani received his second passport through Italian Citizenship Assistance (ICA), which helps Americans get dual citizenship in Italy. ICA has seen “huge interest” over the past six years, Marco Permunian, its attorney and founder, tells Fortune.

Of course, Italy is appealing for its homemade pasta, gnocchi, and carbs of all sorts, but Permunian attributes the demand to increased mobility during the pandemic and “the elections and political instability” over the last few years. The flexibility of the Italian passport, which provides greater access to the European Union; the number of people who want to connect to their heritage; and the desire to travel now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted have also fueled interest, Tarabini believes.

When ICA opened in 2012, Permunian estimates they received about one or two enquiries a week. By 2016, they were getting about four to eight requests a week. From 2016 to 2020, enquiries surged by 400% and only grew from there during the pandemic: Today, the firm says it receives more than 800 enquiries a month.

Indeed, the rising popularity of a dual citizenship in Italy is part of a larger trend of digital nomads and ultra-wealthy individuals looking to get out of the country. Remote work enabled some workers to take advantage of tailored visa programs in countries like Portugal and Thailand. Meanwhile, wealthier Americans—motivated by social and political unrest, a high cost of living, and a disenchantment with America’s way of work—sought second passports or “golden visas.” About 13% of ultra high-net worth individuals are looking to apply for a second citizenship, per a new report from Knight Frank, which predicts the trend is just the “tip of the iceberg.”

The rise in citizenship by descent for Italians 

Second passports can be obtained through different avenues, including investment in property or or in an Italian start-up. A “golden visa” in Italy can range anywhere from €250,000 to €1 million, depending on the type of investment. 

But Permunian says the most popular and affordable route for Italian citizenship is citizenship by descent—qualifying for citizenship based on a tie to Italian ancestry. It’s been an option since 1992, but hasn’t become in vogue for Americans since 2016. It’s easier to get Italian citizenship by descent than other countries because there’s no generational limit, meaning even if it was your great-grandfather who was an Italian citizen, it still counts.

Italian Americans with an ancestor who was at one point an Italian citizen have a good chance of qualifying. That ancestor had to be born in Italy and considered an Italian citizen in 1861 or later (when the country first unified). That year isn’t normally an issue, Permunian says, because the big emigration from Italy to the U.S. happened during the late 1800 to early 1900s.

Usually Italian citizenship by descent doesn’t cost much—typically an application fee of €300. That’s peanuts compared to the hundreds of thousands or millions the ultra-wealthy funnel into investment programs like golden visas. Hiring an attorney through a firm like ICA can add to the cost, but make the process a bit easier. 

John Tarabini
John Tarabini with his second passport.

Courtesy of John Tarabini

It was well worth the cost for Tarabini, who, a little over a year and $3,500 later, secured his second passport (and one for his daughter). He says he spent extra on consultation from ICA, genealogy research, English to Italian translations, out-of-pocket expenses like ordering and sending documents, and more.

But the entire process isn’t as glamorous as living abroad seems—it involves a lot of paperwork, including divorce, birth, death, and marriage records for oneself and their ancestors that all need to be validated and notarized.

“Taking on Italian citizenship is kind of like solving a Dan Brown novel. It’s a real mystery. And there’s lots of clues, but you don’t know exactly what the path will be,” Tarabini says, adding that “there’s no standard or uniform process to the Italian citizenship application” and that requirements depend on statewide consulates. 

He learned things along the way that created hiccups down the road—like that his dad’s legal name was actually his middle name, and it had been misspelled to boot. What was a curious fact turned into a month of explaining records to the consulate. Despite it all, he says going through the process was worth it because it brought him closer to his background and his late mother.

Obtaining Italian citizenship by descent can technically be done by yourself, but Tarabini claims it might not be worth the gray hairs. “I suppose I could have done it, but it would have taken me three times as long, and cost me three times as much and had ten times the aggravation,” he adds.

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