In general, what is considered good business practice in the United States also applies when doing business in Italy. Business people in Italy appreciate prompt replies to their inquires and expect all correspondence to be acknowledged. Conservative business attire is recommended at all times. Business appointments are required, and visitors are expected to be punctual. The "golden keys" of customary business courtesy, especially replying promptly to requests for price quotations and orders, are a prerequisite for exporting success.
European business executives are usually more formal than their American counterparts; therefore, it is best to refrain from using first names until a solid relationship has been formed. Italian business executives tend to use titles indicating their position in the firm. During the first stages of conducting business, it is best to let the prospective buyer take the lead since the American approach of "getting down to business" may be considered abrupt. Avoid commenting on political events or making negative comments about the country. Some positive and sincere observations about the Italian culture, style, art, history, cuisine, or music are always appropriate. Friendship and mutual trust are highly valued, and, once an American has established this relationship, a productive business association can usually be counted upon.
Italian buyers appreciate style, quality, and service, but are also interested in delivered price. Care must be taken to assure that stated delivery dates are maintained and that after-sales service is promptly honored. Italians, and Europeans in general, expect that, after placing an order with a supplier, the delivery date be honored. While numerous factors may interfere with prompt shipment, the U.S. exporter must allow for additional shipping time and keep in close contact with the buyer. Meeting delivery schedules is of prime importance. It is much better to quote a later delivery date that can be guaranteed than promise an earlier delivery that is not completely certain.
Italy has a moderate rate of violent crime, some of which is directed toward tourists, principally for motives of theft. Petty crime (pick-pocketing, theft from parked cars, purse snatching) is a significant problem, especially in large cities. Most reported thefts occur at crowded tourist sites, on public buses, or at the major railway stations, including Rome's Termini, Milan's Centrale, Florence's Santa Maria Novella, and in Naples.
Every U.S. traveler must have a valid passport. No visa is required of U.S. citizens travelling to Italy for tourism or general business for less than 90 days. A visa is required for longer stays. Under Italian law, tourists who plan to stay more than eight business days have to notify their presence at the local police station (called 'Commissariato') through a simple form, called 'Dichiarazione di Presenza'. It is important that applicants keep a copy of the form.
U.S. citizens planning to work in the country must first obtain a work visa in the U.S. from the Italian Embassy or an Italian Consulate. The Italian employer must first obtain approval for a work permit. This permit is usually granted only for specialized work or skills. The Italian employer files an application at a Provincial Labor Office. If clearance is granted, the prospective employer is further required to obtain a work permit with the approval of the regional and central authorities. The permit is then sent to the worker so that he or she may apply for the entry visa. There are Italian consular offices in all of the largest American cities. The application process should be initiated at least three to four months before the visa will be needed. In some of the larger cities such as Rome and Milan, there is a long backlog in the processing of work permits, so it is advisable to apply well in advance if at all possible.
A person seeking to work in Italy in an independent or self-employed capacity files an application directly with the Italian Embassy or Consulate along with needed credentials demonstrating experience in the field of work.
U.S. companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States should allow sufficient time for visa issuance if required. Visa applications at all U.S. consular offices in Italy are conducted by prior appointment only. For further information, visa applicants should go to the following links.
As in many Western European countries, Italy's telephone dialing procedures have changed and the city code has become part of each telephone number. An example of a local call within Rome would be: 06-46741 (06 is the city code). Incoming long distance calls to Italy also require that the "0" in the city code be included when dialing. An example of an incoming long distance call from the U.S. to Rome is as follows: +39-06-46741 (39 being the country code, 06 the city code for Rome). Milan's city code is 02. Italians are avid users of cellular phones and will generally provide their cellular telephone number. When dialing to cellular phones, please note that no city code is used. Also, the "0" has been dropped from the prefix of all cellular phone numbers. An example of an incoming call from the U.S. to a cellular phone is as follows: +39-328-6187041 (39 being the country code, 328 a sample cellular prefix).
For Internet access, there is an abundance of Internet stations and cafes. This is due to the relatively sparse ownership of personal computers in Italy. Many of these stations cater to tourists and also provide easy access to international calling.
Rental automobiles are available at numerous locations. A valid state driving license is acceptable, accompanied by an international license (which serves as a translation only).
Italian is the official language and is spoken in all parts of Italy, although some minority groups in the Alto Adige and Aosta regions speak German and French, respectively. Correspondence with Italian firms, especially for an initial contact, should be in Italian. If a reply comes in English then the subsequent correspondence with the Italian firm can be in English. The use of Italian is not only regarded as a courtesy, but assures prompt attention, and prevents inaccuracies that might arise in translation. Most large commercial firms are able to correspond in various languages in addition to English and Italian, but a business overture or proposal is given more serious attention if written in Italian.
The importance of having trade literature, catalogs, and instructions printed in Italian cannot be overemphasized. The agent representative in Italy who has such material is in a far better competitive position than the one who can only show literature in English to prospective customers and consumers.
Medical services are good and medical standards compare with those in the United States. Common medical needs are readily obtained, and special supplies are normally available on short notice, including most pharmaceuticals. An international certificate of vaccination is not required for travelers from the United States. Drinking water is generally acceptable, although in the Naples area the use of bottled water is recommended. Sanitation is at American standards.
Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays
The time zone for Italy is 6 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time.
The usual Italian business hours are from 8 or 9 A.M. to Noon or 1 P.M. and from 3 to 6 or 7 P.M., Monday through Friday. Working hours for the various ministries of the government are normally from 8 A.M. to 2 P.M. without intermission. Bank hours are from 8:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. and 3:00-4:00 P.M.; they are closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Retail establishments are closed on Sundays although exceptions exist, primarily in tourist areas. In recent years, Italy has enacted legislation providing flexibility in retail store operating.
Italian holidays must be taken into account when planning a business itinerary. July and August are not good months for conducting business in Italy since most business firms are closed for vacation during this period. The same is true during the Christmas and New Year period. Italian commercial holidays are listed below and are when most commercial offices and banks are closed. Certain other days are celebrated as holidays within local jurisdictions. Italian holidays are also observed by the U.S. Embassy and Consulates and should be considered when telephoning or visiting the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service offices. When an Italian holiday falls on a Saturday, offices and stores are closed.
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings
Italy participates in the International Convention to Facilitate the Importation of Commercial Samples and Advertising Materials. Samples of negligible value imported to promote sales are accorded duty-free and tax-free treatment. Prior authorization is not required. To determine whether the samples are of negligible value, their value is compared with a commercial shipment of the same product. Granting of duty-free status may require that the samples be rendered useless for future sale by marking, perforating, cutting, or other means.
Imported samples of commercial value may be granted a temporary entry with exemption from custom charges. However, a bond or cash deposit may be required as security that the goods will be removed from the country. This security is the duty and tax normally levied plus ten percent. Samples may remain in the country for up to one year. They may not be sold, put to their normal use (except for demonstration purposes), or utilized in any manner for remuneration. Goods imported as samples may be imported only in quantities constituting a sample according to normal commercial usage.
As a result of various customs agreements, simplified procedures are available to U.S. business and professional people for the temporary importation of commercial samples and professional equipment. A carnet is a customs document that facilitates clearance for temporary imports of samples or equipment. With a carnet, goods may be imported without the payment of duty, tax, or additional security. The carnet also usually saves time since formalities are all arranged before leaving the United States. A carnet is usually valid for one year from the date of issuance. A bond or cash deposit of 40 percent of the value of the goods covered by the carnet is required, in addition to the price of the carnet. This will be forfeited in the event the products are not re-exported and duties and taxes are not paid.