Using the Bilateral Visa Waiver
An issue that often arises is where and how you use the extra bilateral visa time.
For example, you may be seeking six continuous months in Italy (Schengen + Bilateral), as opposed to three months in the non-Italian Schengen zone (for example, Spain or Croatia) followed by three months in Italy on the Bilateral.
The Italian Consulate in Brisbane says 3+3 is OK (Feb 2022). But the same Consulate (different person Dec 2022) now says the treaty is under review and advises caution. You can find outline information on visas in Italy at the official government website of the State Police here: Polizia di Stato
What’s the legal position? Article 20 of the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement – paragraph 2a says: “The stay of an alien … may be extended in accordance with a bilateral agreement … upon request … lodged with the competent authorities … on entry or … at the latest on the last working day of his … 90-day stay”.
The Italy/Australia Bilateral visa waiver treaty remains in force. And it remains registered on the UN database of in-force treaties. More importantly, Italy, along with others, registered their bilateral treaties in the EU Exit/Entry system in 2018. This is probably a better reference than waving around a treaty signed perhaps 40 years before the Border Guard was born. And it is available in Italian. You can read more about the Bilateral Treaties in a post on Schengen-Shuffle here.
I know the uncertainty can be unsettling. If you are struggling then I think the best advice is to contact the Polizia di Frontiera or Immigrazione of the city you will actually be staying in Italy and seek confirmation of their interpretation in advance. You may not like their answer but at least you will know. And if it is positive then hard to refute. But be careful and precise in how you frame the question. Don’t ask for a “Schengen Extension” or an “Extension to Schengen time” or a “Bilateral Visa”. The bilateral visa waiver has nothing to do with Schengen rules. And it is a waiver of the need to have a visa – not a visa itself.
I chose to test this out and I now have first-hand experience with the Italian bilateral arrangement for those interested. Here is how it went.
Dichiarizione di Presenza
After 88 days in Spain, we sailed to Alghero, Sardinia, Italy. This put me at the cusp of the Schengen 90 day allowance. My wife had an EU passport with an intention to stay in Italy for more than 90 days, so she was required to declare her presence using a Dichiarazione di Presenza (Declaration of Presence) form.
I had read a Facebook post that a police officer, Carmen, in Carloforte, Sardinia had suggested using this same form for the Italy-Australia bilateral visa waiver. The form is typically for EU citizens – nothing specifically to do with bilateral treaties – but it provides a mechanism to prove that a) you declared your intention to use the waiver and b) exactly when it started. For me it was an excellent opportunity to compare processes for EU travelers and non-EU bilateral treaty visa aspirants.
We did this at the local Questura (State Police) offices on Via Kennedy in the ‘burbs of Alghero, about 1.5km from the old town center. Opening hours are limited so you need to check online before you go.
Preparing for the Questura
I prepared a statement translated into Italian explaining my circumstances including a Schengen day calculation. Based on the experience described in the Facebook post for Carloforte, I also downloaded a copy of the EU document List of Bilateral Visa Waivers. I used the Italian version, highlighting the bit specifying Australia as a bilateral visa waiver counter-party with Italy.
I had filled in the form Dicharizione di Presenza in duplicate specifying Bilateral Visa Waiver in italian, threw in two passport photos, and purchased a tax stamp or “bollo” for €16. Belts and braces: I also had ready a copy of the bilateral treaty in Italian, copies of passports, health insurance certificate, bank statements, return tickets home, and a Marina receipt.
Marca da Bollo
Some documents require an official stamp or Bollo. Read More
To get a Bollo you can visit selected newsagents and Tabaccheria to buy one. You may need to hunt this down – we tried three Tabaccheria before we found one able to sell us a stamp. Look for signs like this with the words Valori Bollati.
How it Went Down
The first lesson learned – get there early, before 09:00. We arrived at 9:40 and ended up behind six others who had been queuing since before 9:00. That didn’t seem like a big deal at the time (despite the stifling 40-degree conditions in the non-air-con hall). We soon discovered how long each person took to process their requests, and finally got to the counter at 11:30, only 30 minutes before closing.
Lesson 2 – there is no commonality between Questuras. We did not need the bollo tax-stamps (dang – I had already bought them!)
From others experience I fully expected denial as the standard response. For me, this was made more dramatic by vigorous jabbing at the entry stamp in my passport and perfect english: “You cannot stay in Italy – you have no time left”. I produced with an appropriate flourish my detailed calculation of Schengen days in italian and the Italian version of the EU document “List of Member States’ bilateral visa waiver agreements”. I had the italian text of the bilateral ready to go but it was never needed. Interestingly, my calculation was never questioned, nor my actual entry date. The desk officer then disappeared out the back clutching my paperwork.
We suffered 50 minutes of profuse perspiration (a combo of fear and the appalling heat), waiting for our man to return to the counter. I wish I had been a fly on the wall listening to the conversation between him and his boss in the back room! On return – no facial expression – just robotic mechanical action stamping the forms and handing them over, followed by a 1000-mile stare.
So what did I get? The signed form, with passport photo attached and stamps everywhere, exactly like my EU wife’s form. I fully expect to have the same discussion 90 days in the future when I leave Italy, albeit armed with another piece of ‘evidence’. I won’t be throwing away my wad of proof just yet. I hope this helps someone navigate the ‘process’ ….
Questions and Answers
This post and others in various forums generated some useful questions, answers and comments.
Question: How long does the bilateral agreement let you stay in Italy and when you exit to the next country say Greece? Does that time in Italy not count as being subject to the Schengen rule and give 90 days in Greece (for example) ? When can you return to Italy or are you excluded for a period of time once the bilateral agreement ends? How often can you use the bilateral agreement ?
Answer: The bi-lateral agreement can only be used after your 90 Schengen days have been used. As such you must leave the Schengen zone from the country with the bilateral agreement. I guess if you stayed a full 90 days in the bilateral country it might then be possible to re-enter Schengen. Unfortunately they are open to interpretation by the border official you happen to be dealing with.
Answer: All the bilateral treaties predate the Schengen Aquis so it is hard for anyone to be definitive about how the treaties should/will be applied. My poor analogy is that it is perhaps like asking: is a seatbelt mandatory on a horse and buggy? I believe that other countries such as Greece would have no option but to interpret time spent under a national bilateral visa waiver in another country as Schengen time. The Australian bilateral treaty with Italy allows reentry after 30 days. But I know from direct experience that Germany, for example, allows reentry after 1 day. I have not heard of anyone testing the Italian 30 day re-entry provision. Anyhow the world will soon change with EES and I think it gives good guidance as to how the Bilaterals should operate. The legislation establishing the Entry/Exit System due for introduction with ETIAS in late 2023 says:
The stay … may be extended in accordance with a bilateral agreement … upon request … lodged with the … authorities … on entry or during the stay … at the latest on the last working day of his … 90-day stay. Where the alien has not lodged a request … her stay may be extended … provided that the alien presents credible evidence which proves … he … stayed only on the territory of that Contracting Party. Where the stay is extended … the alien … shall be authorised to stay only on the territory of that Contracting Party and (must) exit at the external borders of that Contracting Party.
Comment: We entered Italy from France at Sanremo. We walked up to the police station with a copy of the Bilateral Agreement in English and Italian (with the relevant bit underlined), our passports ( and photocopies of our passport), and the Declaration of Presence filled out. The police in the Immigration section read what we had and were happy to stamp our forms, photocopy of the Decaration taken for their records with the photocopy of our passports, and wished us a happy day.
Comment: We had written to the Australian consulate in Milano enquiring about the agreement. We received an email confirming the agreement is still valid and we can automatically stay 180 days in Italy and we could also have that confirmed with Italian immigration if we wished to do so. We caught the train to San Remo to find a note indicating opening days (not our day) and ring for an appointment, but when we rang they hung up on us as we didn’t speak Italian. We have since spoken to an agent who works for super yachts and he indicated that showing the consulate email will probably be sufficient from his experience. So we are going with that.
Comment: I wrote to the Italian embassy in Canberra and got this response: “Australian Citizens can stay in Italy and in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days without an entry visa. The agreement you mentioned (Bilateral Agreements with Italy & Australia) is currently under review by the Italian Ministry of Interiors, which has a restrictive approach and interpretation of it because of the European and Schengen regulations. At the moment It is therefore advisable to plan your trip to Europe according to the stricter interpretation of the Schengen rules.”
Question: I wish to sail to Italy from France, using up to 90 Schengen days and then enter Italy using the bilateral visa waiver. But I then want to leave my boat in Italy and return home for a few months. I will be stamped out at the airport.
(1) Will I have trouble getting back into Italy with no Schengen days ín the bank?
(2) Does the time spent away count towards the bilateral ‘visa waiver of 90 days or did the count restart on return?
Answer: The bilateral visa waiver treaty between Australia and Italy says: “Australian nationals … who desire to enter Italy … will be able to enter, and remain … for a period not exceeding three consecutive months without a visa. … Australian nationals who have entered Italy without a visa, and have spent three consecutive months in the country, may re-enter Italy without a visa only after an absence … of … one month unless they obtain a special exemption from the appropriate authorities.”
So, no problem as long as you don’t plan to move on to another non-bilateral Schengen country after your 2nd round of Italian bilateral days. So that you know, I plan to test the one-month-hello-again provision from Sicily-Tunisia-Sicily this year. Fingers crossed. But, of course, the impact of ETIAS and EES on this cunning plan is yet unknown …..