It is not easy. I haven’t been able to find a step-by-step guide on how to do it, only some vague suggestions in forums and whatnot (sometimes, I even find some in English). And since I’ve just gone through the whole arduous process, I thought I might as well share the tidbits I’ve learned in the last few days. The process and regulations for non-residents/students are very different from Italian citizens, and none of the banks (so far) had any pamphlets or literature in English, so it can be quite challenging to look for the information you need ASAP. Here’s what I’ve found so far:
Should you open a bank account? I think that if you’re a student in Italy, but staying for only a short period of time (a few weeks, or a few months), don’t bother with getting a bank account unless you have a lot of cash on hand and no safe/ safety deposit box. If you’re staying for a longer period of time, more than 6 months to several years, there are several options for managing your cash–having money sent via money transfer service, accessing your cash via foreign ATM for a fee, or do it old-school and stick your bills behind the toilet or something. Some student dorms/ apartments may have safes or safety deposit boxes, but so far I haven’t really found any that offer it as an option.
I chose to open a bank account because it’s (theoretically) safer, you won’t worry about the physical stacks of cash hidden around your room/ apartment, and you get the convenience of bank services that you might find useful at some point during your stay.
In Italy, the biggest banks are UniCredit, Intesa Sanpaolo, BNL (a sister company of BNP Paribas), Banco Popolare, and some others (one of the bigger foreign banks in Italy would be Deutsche Bank). I spent a whole day trekking from bank to bank in order to inquire about opening a student account, but surprisingly, no one had any solutions for me & my situation, save for one–UniCredit! I do wonder, though, that since there are so many students in Florence year-round, why more banks don’t offer student-friendly solutions. All the other banks I tried told me that my stay (1-2 years) was too short of a period, or that it just wasn’t possible for a non-resident/non-tax-paying person to open an account.
So thanks, UniCredit! You weren’t the easiest to deal with, but you had a solution, which is more than the other banks had to offer!
First, before you can open a bank account, you need to get a codice fiscale (co-dee-cheh fish-ca-leh)–which is basically like a TIN number (tax identification number) that will basically be your reference number throughout your stay in Italy–at the Agenzia Entrate located at Via Santa Caterina D’Alessandria.
The wait at the Agenzia Entrate can be quite long, so better to go early (I think they open at 9–I’m not 100% sure though because we went before lunch) and bring a book or something. At the office, there is an information desk immediately on the right. Wait your turn and let the staff know that you are applying for a codice fiscale and then they will give you a form to fill out. There is an English version of the form, just request it. The staff will also give you a number. You proceed to the seating area right by the information desk, and there is a screen that flashes which number is being serviced and at which ‘window’/desk (sportello).
Once your number flashes on-screen, you proceed to the next room and go to the designated desk/ sportello.
Documents you’ll need: photocopy of passport (photo page), photocopy of visa (if applicable), photocopy of school certificate, and you’ll also need to fill out a short form when you get there
Information to have at the ready: your address in Florence
After the staff person types your information into the computer and checks your documents, you will be given a printout that will serve as your temporary codice fiscale until you receive the real card in the mail. This printout will suffice for the bank.
Once you have your codice fiscale, head back to UniCredit (the branch I went to was located near the Duomo, at Via De’ Vecchietti) and speak to an account manager who will assist you with the opening of your account. When you enter the bank, the row of tellers will be in front of you; the account managers’ area is on the left, where there are several cubicles. You can walk right up to the cubicles and check if they’re free to assist you. There are couches there in case you have to wait a bit.
For non-residents, they have a particular type of account called the “Conto Super Genius Non Residenti” or the “Super Genius” account. Basically, it allows non-residents to hold an account with ATM card and option to open an SDB (safety deposit box), for a certain fee. With this account, there is a monthly maintenance fee of 6 EUR. If you maintain a balance of 2,500 EUR and above, this monthly fee will be waived down to 3 EUR. If you receive money transfers into your account (like if your parents wire you money from your country of origin), then the monthly fee (for the month of the transfer) will be further waived 3 EUR. The fee waives are on a monthly basis, depending on if you meet one or both conditions. So if in a month you have a balance of more than 2,500 EUR and you receive a money transfer, your monthly fee will be 0 EUR. If you meet only one condition, then your fee will be 3 EUR. If you do not meet any condition, your fee will be 6 EUR.
If you wish to open a safety deposit box (SDB), the fee is 60 EUR per annum. The benefit of an SDB is that you can keep your passport & other important documents/ stuff there instead of lying around at your dorm/ apartment. The price is a bit high, though, so if you’re planning on keeping just your passport there, it might not be worth the spend.
UniCredit will also give you its IBAN code, which you will need if you will be getting money wire transfers into your account. Fees will (I think) be shouldered by the sender (inter-bank transfer fees, etc).
Creating your account takes 20-30 minutes and several forms to sign (sadly, also in Italian so my fingers are crossed that I haven’t signed over my soul or anything), after which you will hand over the money to be put into your account. Via Italian law, non-residents are limited to depositing not more than 10,000 EUR per month, and note that they abhor 500 EUR bills. Because of said Italian law or some sort of bank regulation, they can only accept 4 pieces of the 500 EUR bill (2000 EUR worth of 500 EUR bills). I’m not sure if that’s the standard or if they just gave us these figures for this particular transaction, but generally they hate the damn 500 EUR bills and prefer the discreet smaller bills instead. If you have more than 10,000 EUR to deposit, you will have to split your deposits into several months’ visits.
For ATM withdrawals, the minimum amount is 50 EUR, maximum amount is either 500 or 1000, I can’t remember just now what the machine showed. ATM card activation is immediate, unlike some banks which require you to wait 24 hours or something like that. I was able to test-withdraw 50 EUR from my account just moments after I said “bye” to the account manager. There is an ATM inside the bank as well as in a secure little room beside the bank entrance. You can also request a list of ATM locations from your account manager.
Documents you’ll need: passport and photocopy of passport (photo page), photocopy of visa (if applicable), photocopy of school certificate
Information to have at the ready: your address in Florence, the amount you will be depositing upon account creation, personal information, etc.
So, a lot of hassle and walking and documents, but in the end it was finally done. I don’t know about those other banks, but is it really so hard to give non-resident students some decent banking solutions? 😐 I didn’t think it would be this complicated or rare of a service that only one bank would offer it, but I guess that’s kudos to UniCredit for filling that gap in the market.
I’m thinking though that there is definitely a business opportunity for some sort of portable student SDB or non-bank-tied SDB for when banking (clearly) fails.