Guide to Enrolment in the Economics PhD at Bologna for EU Students
Disclaimer: This guide represents my personal experience and illustrates the situation in fall of 2015. Parts of it may be outdated, so in doubt please check with the staff and more recent students. Please feel free to point out mistakes or obsolete passages, or even better, suggest corrections and updates.
On this page I want to offer some guidance for prospective students from other EU countries enrolling in Italian PhD programmes, with a focus on the PhD programme in Economics at the University of Bologna. Italy is not the most obvious destination for EU students, and while university staff has experience with the various formalities required from extra-EU students, these differ in some important respects for EU citizens.
While there are departments with greater resource endowment in Europe, Bologna is a very fine location if your research interests align with that of some of the staff. The advisory support is great, and so is the pressure to make progress. It's not excessive, however: everyone is just really interested in helping to form competitive graduates. There's also some non-negligible travel and visiting funding available, and apart from that, Bologna is a great and very unique place to spend some years of your life.
Let me assure you that all people I have met were very friendly and trying their best to help, but information is spread across a number of different “agents”, and I found it hard to get definite instructions on what exactly I was expected to do at some stages, in particular when you have to leave the department. So below I summarise the information I learnt, which has worked well for me in the end. For obvious reasons I still cannot guarantee correctness of anything that follows, let alone legal bindingness, so please only use it as a guide, not as authoritative instructions.
The length of this list may seem off-putting at first, but it consists of one-time expenditures necessary to get you started, and in contrast to visa/stay permit applications there is no uncertainty involved once you know where to go to ask for what.
First, note that official communication will run via the @studio.unibo.it email address, even if you have entered a different email address somewhere else in your application, and even if you will be contacted on this other email address for scheduling an interview.
The Department’s PhD administrators are doing a great job in making your life easy and will be able to assist you in many tasks, but there are naturally some things that you can only do on your own.
The staff of the University’s PhD office was also very nice when I was there, but keep in mind that when you are enrolling in the programme, so is anybody else starting their PhD, making this the busiest period of the year for the PhD office, so expect that replies to any of your emails are likely to take a while. On the other hand, maybe you won’t have any questions left having read this guide.
The Unibo IT help desk was very quick to resolve two issues I had before submitting my application, so feel confident in contacting them about technical issues regarding Studenti Online, because there is nothing the Department of Economics can do about such issues (apart from contacting the help desk themselves, of course).
The enrolment procedure for the PhD programme is similar to the one described here for the case of registering with “specialisation schools”. In case your application was successful, you will be able to download three different documents from Studenti Online: a “domanda di immatricolazione”, a “scheda/modulo di immatricolazione”, and a “modulistica integrativa per borsisti” if you are awarded a scholarship. The domanda contains each section in Italian and in English, you only have to fill in one of them. Sign the filled-in form and send it by mail to Unibo’s PhD office. You can find the address on its web page. More detailed instructions on this and the required enclosures will be sent to you by email by the Department of Economics.
You will need to pay the first instalment of the tuition fees in Studenti Online -> “Fee Situation - Enrolment”. Pretty self-explanatory. Payment takes place either by credit card or by printing a form and going to a Unicredit branch.
Your Unibo ID card ("badge") and PhD booklet (libretto) can be picked up from the PhD office approximately in mid-September. You will be most interested in the badge, as it is necessary to open doors out-of-hours (and also most of the bathrooms). To see if your badge and booklet are ready, check the .doc which can be found in the intranet under Ricerca -> Dottorati -> Carriera, opportunità e servizi per i dottorandi -> choose either Libretto or Badge per dottorandi.
Just a brief word on this, as there are better places for information on this (see some of the documents linked under Life in Bologna): start your house hunting as early as possible and well before the start of the semester, as then it can become very painful with a lot of competition. Keep in mind that about 20% of Bolognese inhabitants are students, and that Bologna is a prime destination for Erasmus students.
You will quickly come to understand that your Italian tax code is an absolute necessity, nothing will go for you without this number. As long as you don’t have an Italian or otherwise very common name, chances are that you can predict the codice you would be assigned following this advice. But for official transactions it is crucial that you are using a valid code (and one that has not yet been assigned to somebody else, of course).
To get your personal codice, either go directly to a direzione provinciale of the inland revenue agency (agenzia entrate) at via Marco Polo 60 or via Larga 35 (for opening hours, select “Bologna” for both Provincia and Comune di residenza in the linked web page; the offices are a bit outside the city centre, but easily reached by bus, Google Maps knows best), or to the University’s tax code desk, which offers this service in English during September (though it will take longer to receive the code, as an official of the agency comes around only once every week to collect all applications).
You can find the necessary application document and advice on how to fill it in in English here. You can leave blank the part asking for your address in Italy, but then you won’t receive a “tax code card” (essentially nothing but a plastic card with the code printed on it, but having a special ‘air of legitimacy’). Also you could just hand in another form updating your address later once you know it. Of course you would need to go there again.
An important topic which you should get sorted as soon as possible. Essentially you have three choices.
First, you may hear or read that remaining registered with the public healthcare/insurance provider in your home country is the easiest option. Now I'm not a legal counsel, but as far as I understand, this is only a valid strategy for stays of up to 12 months (correct me if I'm wrong), after which you either need to switch to the public health system of your new country of residence or to private insurance.
- Becoming a voluntary member of the Italian public health system (SSN), which costs €150/calendar year (January-December) ("voluntary" because you become a member automatically if you enter a regular employment contract in Italy). This will entail some bureaucratic burden, as after having paid the registration fee you will need to go and register in person, which as I have heard can take up to a day. I was actually advised against this option by university staff, claiming that foreigners tend not to receive equal treatment. If it wasn’t for this rumor, and assuming that your Italian is good enough that you are able to communicate with your general practitioner or any specialist you are referred to, good things are being said about the quality of health care services in Italy. Information in Italian about health care services in Bologna can be found here and here.
- Buying private insurance covering exclusively emergency treatment (this literally means treatment in cases that require a visit to a hospital’s emergency room) from INA Assitalia for €180/12 months. You can get this simply by going to any post office, asking for a payment form (bollettino di pagamento), and filling in as follows:
- Account number ("sul C/C n."): 92316009
- "di Euro": 180,00
- addressed to ("importo in lettere"): INA-ASSITALIA Agenzia Generale di Roma c. no. 82
- "Causale": Assicurazione Sanitaria per Cittadino dell’UE - Dodici Mesi
- and your private address in Italy at the bottom
The Department’s PhD administrators will help you receive your insurance police by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with scans of your payment receipt and your passport attached.
- Buying private health insurance, most likely in your home country, covering necessary medical treatments abroad. Again, due to the heterogeneity of insurance markets in Europe, I cannot give you a general estimate of costs, but there exist private insurance contracts aimed at covering stays abroad for extended periods of several years. I have a contract with a German insurance company and pay €60/month. An advantage of this type of insurance is that it gives you freedom of choice of doctors, meaning you can choose to see English speaking doctors (who often happen to only cater private patients and not serve as public GPs, though of course an Italian GP may be able to speak English, if you’re lucky). The information provided by Johns Hopkins university and the University of California linked below include lists of English-speaking doctors. I should maybe acknowledge that to date I was lucky enough not to require medical treatment during my PhD.
In case you choose private insurance you have to make your insurance provider fill out a certificate of conformity (available here on the right, form is in Italian) which you need to submit together with your residence registration (see below). Expect your insurance provider to take a while for this, therefore it pays off to get this done as soon as you have decided on an insurance provider.
Registration of residence
Registration of residence is necessary if you’re staying longer than three months, so that should be obvious unless you plan to drop out by December. Some told me that in practice it’s not necessary to do this as an EU citizen, but banks disagreed when trying to open a bank account with a foreign address.
- your registered rental contract, (if your landlord or estate agent can’t help you with this, the Unibo has a lease contract registration desk which I would recommend to contact for advice on how to do this)
- proof of health insurance, (see above)
- proof of enrolment, (available for printing on Studenti Online, go to “certificates and self-certifications”, choose either the second or third option, doesn’t matter, as long as it is in Italian, not in inglese. On the next screen, choose “self-certification”, which is the correct option when dealing with public authorities in Italy. You will have to print and sign the PDF.)
- self-certification of availability of sufficient resources. Actually you could create this certification by yourself, stating in writing in Italian that you will obtain more than the annual €5000 plus something required by the law, but the Department’s PhD office was able to issue some official-looking signed document for this. Just go and ask them.
With these documents you need to go to your local anagrafe (registry office, part of the Uffici Relazioni con il Pubblico). For Bologna the list is available here, just choose the office closest to your place. Registering your residence is free. You will be issued a certificate of having registered, proving that you have actually been at the anagrafe and done what you’ve done. This piece of paper was sufficient for me to open my bank account.
Actually, before finally registering you as a resident, an anagrafe official would be required to stop by your house and check whether you really live where you have stated to do. I agreed with the guy at the anagrafe for this to happen during the following three weeks, Monday - Wednesday mornings between 7:30 and 8:00. So I was excited waiting for the doorbell to ring, but nothing happened. Since I also didn’t receive a notice of deportation so far I guess it is not too big an issue for EU citizens.
It is also possible to register with the anagrafe as a “temporary resident” without the need to prove residence, but this might pose a problem with opening a bank account, apparently depending on the leniency or lack thereof of the bank employee you meet
Scholarships from the University of Bologna will in general only be paid to an Italian bank account, even though the relevant form allows you to specify IBANs not beginning with "IT". Apart from this it pays for a number of other reasons to have an Italian bank account, from saving international transaction fees to being able to conveniently pay bills and top up mobile phone accounts by using online banking.
I won’t be posting advertising for specific banks here, but the more international the bank, the more likely it is that one of the staff members speaks English, which is convenient particularly in the beginning, but it remains convenient throughout the PhD to be able to talk to someone in case something goes wrong with your money. Unless you plan to buy a house there is probably not much to be gained from the extra Italian experience offered by one of the many bance popolare, though they may have a denser network of cash machines.
Another thing worth knowing is that even though you start being eligible for receiving your scholarship from October of the year in which you begin your PhD studies, you will only receive the first payment to your bank account at the end of November. This first payment will consist of both the October and November instalment, and from then on you will get the monthly payment reliably at the end of each month (usually around the 25th). So be advised and plan accordingly to be able to survive the first two months.
INPS (social insurance carrier)
Finally, you have to register with the INPS (Istituto Nazionale della Previdenza Sociale) before the university will be allowed to transfer your scholarship payments. The amount stated on the PhD programme's website is net, but apparently the university still has to pay a certain amount of social insurance contributions on top of that.
Registration with the INPS can be made online or in person. Online sounds sleek, but you have to wait for a PIN code that will be sent to you partly by text message or email, partly by mail. When you go to the local branch in person you will be handed over the PIN code immediately. Furthermore, the INPS distinguishes between "ordinary PIN" and "dispositive PIN", but this is nothing you need to bother yourself with at this stage. To request the PIN online, on the INPS website click on "Il Pin on line". The ensuing page is available in Italian and German, with a tutorial video available in English. Make sure that you select "Residenza: Estera", even if you have already registered your residence in Italy, as your identification document will be non-Italian. The Bologna branch of the INPS is located in via Antonio Gramsci 6, which is close to the train station. The INPS website links to a wrong address somewhere outside of Bologna, don't get confused. Details including opening hours can be found on the INPS website by clicking on "Le sedi INPS", then searching for Bologna. I visited in the morning just after opening and was out again about 10 minutes later. The Department's PhD administrators will assist you with entering the PIN code in the correct spot on the INPS website, which will result in (just another PIN code and) a certificate of successful registration which you then will have to print and submit to the PhD office, together with the modulistica integrativa per borsisti and any other missing documents.
That's about it, you should be done now.
Life in Bologna
A collection of sites offering advice about life in Bologna:
- Unibo guide for international exchange students
- International women’s forum: very comprehensive, free to be read by men, too, though ten years old and therefore in parts a bit outdated
- Johns Hopkins university: has a branch in Bologna, apparently students of international relations spend a term or year of their studies here. An older version of the guide also exists, putting greater emphasis on issues of daily life. Also runs an interesting series of public events, you can ask them to put your email address on the mailing list. Also has two Twitter accounts, one for students and one for research.
- University of California: UC doesn’t have a Bolognese branch, but they do offer some info as if they had. So does Indiana University, including a Bologna City Guide, a Guide to Bologna Neighbourhoods, and comprehensive guide on house hunting which you can all find by browsing the website.
- Flashgiovani: a great service offered by the Municipality of Bologna, containing pretty comprehensive info, including on everyday issues like bus tickets etc.
- Some infos about the rich cultural and other life of Bologna which you will of course have no time checking out:
There seem to be about a million blogs by foreign people living (or having lived) in Italy and feeling obliged to sharing their experiences with the world, so by googling certain topics in English you will inevitably stumble upon them. Some of them that I have found most helpful:
I would be lying if I said that knowing Italian doesn’t help, but it’s absolutely not necessary for the programme itself, and most previous non-Italian students only started picking up some Italian after arriving in Bologna.
The Unibo language center offers Italian courses, with “extensive courses” running throughout the first and second semester, respectively, and “intensive courses” offered during September. The first course you take as a Unibo student is free, beginning with the second they cost something around €200.
There is an Italian course offered to beginners without prior knowledge, but it is based on use of a self-learning platform, which means that even though there are classroom meetings scheduled, these meetings consist of not much more than gathering in a computer lab and each student using the platform individually. I would recommend not wasting your free course on this and get some basic knowledge using other tools instead. If you’re curious, you can access the learning platform used in the course with your @studio.unibo.it login. It’s not even bad, despite using a bit outdated technology. Anyway, this way you can save your free course for level A2 or above. I don’t know about the quality of those courses, but at least they’re based on actual classroom interaction, and nothing makes you learn a language better than actually using it.
For all courses you have to take an online test, followed by an oral examination for all courses above complete beginner’s level. The exact dates for both are advertised here.
Different users need different plans, but this page gives you a good overview of the current mobile phone landscape in Italy. In any case, be prepared that compared to some other European countries, the Italian telecom market seems underdeveloped and expensive. The same can be said about a lot of things you might be used doing via the internet, which most likely will be unheard of in Italy. But then, of course, Italy has other qualities.
Some remarks on my main sources
The greatest share of information on enrolment (the part that does not come from personal experience alone) I have collected from the following websites, and adapted to the case of Bologna: The Welcome Office of the region Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (nothing similar exists for Emilia-Romagna, I’m afraid), Bocconi University, the Free University Bozen-Bolzano, the University of Milan, the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, and the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati Trieste. The Polizia di Stato advises on registration issues for EU citizens.