Self-Employment

Becoming a freelancer or self-employed in Italy

Want to be your own boss? Learn about freelancing in Italy, including taxes, registration, renting an office space, and finding work.

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Updated 15-5-2024

Italy has one of the highest self-employment rates in Europe, with around 10% of all employed people working for themselves. Freelancing gives you flexibility, simplicity, and control compared to working for an employer, but it may come with added logistical responsibilities and costs. Internationals can earn a living freelancing in Italy, but they must meet specific requirements and may need to apply for a work visa.

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What’s the difference between starting a business and becoming a freelancer?

As a freelancer, you can earn money working for yourself without going through the procedure of setting up an actual business.

Freelancing is a distinct form of self-employment where workers trade their skills under their name. Unlike business owners, freelancers don’t need to set up a separate entity in a legal or unincorporated sense.

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A few of the advantages of freelancing include:

  • Flexibility – you can choose your hours as well as where you work, for example from home, an office/practice, or mobile
  • Simplicity – you don’t need to go through the administrative hassle of setting up a business, and it’s usually cheaper in terms of startup costs
  • Control – you can generally choose your own clients or customers

However, there are also drawbacks and risks. You bear all the responsibility and are fully personally liable for any business debts. Furthermore, you have less job security and don’t get employee benefits such as holiday or sick pay. You will need to budget for these.

One more thing – you need to sort out your own freelance taxes and social security affairs. Because of this, you’ll need to seriously consider the pros and cons of freelancing before deciding on whether you want to give it a go.

Who can become a freelancer in Italy?

Italy welcomes individuals from the EU/EFTA who wish to work self-employed as a tradesperson or professional. The process of becoming a freelancer in Italy is straightforward and does not entail a minimum business capital requirement, unlike starting certain company forms in Italy.

However, if you are from outside the EU or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland), you will usually need to apply for the relevant work visa and residence permit.

Those from the EU/EFTA don’t need a visa or permit to work as freelancers in Italy. They just need sufficient income to support themselves until they get started, and must also register with their local municipality (comune).

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If you want to freelance in Italy in a regulated profession, you must demonstrate the required skills, knowledge, or experience to carry out the work. This may mean joining a professional body that governs the profession or obtaining a license to work in this field.

How to become a freelancer in Italy as an expat

How to obtain a work visa as a freelancer in Italy

If you want to work as a freelancer and need an Italian visa, you can apply for a self-employment work visa. This type of visa is valid for two years and renewable for up to five years, at which point you can apply for permanent residence in Italy.

You will need to meet the following requirements for an Italian work visa:

  • Authorization (nulla osta) from the Italian authorities that your work falls within the annual quota decree (decreto flussi)
  • Sufficient funds to support yourself when you arrive in Italy
  • Health insurance to cover the initial period of your stay before you qualify for Italian healthcare
  • Evidence of your qualifications and experience if you are applying to work in a regulated profession

Freelancers who work in regulated sectors in Italy are legally known as libero professionista (freelance professional). This is mainly used by professionals in specific careers such as lawyers, doctors, journalists, and architects. Freelance professionals trade exclusively under their name and sell services rather than goods.

The other legal form of self-employed individuals in Italy is ditta individuale (sole trader). This is a very similar category to Libero Professionale but tends to be for traders and artisans, such as plumbers, painters, hairdressers, and shopkeepers.

Sole traders often sell goods as well as services; however, the main difference is that they can employ others to work for them. Their trade name has to include their own name but can also include other information.

Administration and accounting procedures for freelance professionals and sole traders are the same. When deciding between the two, you must consider factors such as what kind of business you’ll be running and whether you plan to hire employees.

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You can partner with others in your sector to form a partnership or even set up a limited company. However, these types of business structures are different from freelancing, and you will need to follow different procedures.

Registering as a freelancer in Italy

The registration process differs slightly depending on whether you register as a sole trader or freelance professional.

For sole traders, things are similar to the process for limited businesses. You must register with the Italian Business Register (Registo Imprese), managed by the Chamber of Commerce (Camere di Commercio). In addition to this, you also need to register with:

  • Italian Tax Agency (Agenzia Entrate): so that you are registered for income tax, VAT, and any other business taxes
  • National Institute of Social Security (Istituto nazionale della previdenza sociale – INPS): for social security payments that will enable you to claim any work-based benefits and a state pension
  • National Institute for Occupational Accident Insurance (Istituto Nazionale per l’Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro – INAIL): for insurance coverage against work-based accidents and illnesses

You can now register for this together through Single Business Communication (ComUnica). The annual fee is around €200 for businesses with a turnover of up to €100,000.

Freelance professionals don’t need to enter the business register. However, they do need to register with the Italian Tax Agency and get a VAT number. Additionally, they need to register for social security. Freelancers in unregulated industries should register with the INPS. Regulated professionals may be able to register with a separate social security fund managed by a body within their sector.

Because freelancers and sole traders pay tax on their personal income rather than separate corporation tax, they don’t need a company tax number. Instead, they should get an individual tax number or codice fiscale from their local municipality immigration desk.

If you work a regulated profession in Italy, you must also apply for the relevant license through the industry’s regulatory body.

Administrative and financial aspects of freelancing in Italy

As a freelancer in Italy, you’ll need to maintain good administrative records of your income and expenses. Equally important is sending professional invoices to clients, as this is the key to getting paid. It’s worth noting that the administrative requirements for freelancers and sole traders are significantly lower than those for limited companies and large-scale businesses.

You’ll need to submit an annual tax return, but freelancers, as well as sole traders with an annual turnover of less than €700,000 (or €400,000 if selling services rather than goods), only have to submit simplified accounts detailing general income and outgoings.

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You should keep financial records in Italy for at least 10 years. If they decide to investigate something, the Italian tax authorities can ask you to provide records retroactively for this period. Many businesses now use accounting and administration software or apps to make things easier.

If you are a sole trader and hire any employees, even part-time, you must take responsibility for their tax and social security arrangements. This is an additional administrative burden that you will need to think about before hiring staff.

Banking for freelancers in Italy

In contrast to limited companies and any businesses or organizations that exist as a separate legal entity, sole traders and freelancers are not legally required to have a separate business bank account. However, opening an account purely for your business and professional activities is advisable as this will make it much easier to keep track of your income and spending. 

Opening a bank account is fairly straightforward, and most Italian banks will let you open a second account for business purposes. Some banks also offer tailored services and products for self-employed and freelance professionals.

Another option is to use a mobile or online bank. These are very easy to use and have English-language apps. Digital banks providing services in Italy include:

Professional insurance for freelancers in Italy

There are various types of professional insurance relevant to freelancers working in Italy. For example, you’ll definitely need to take out liability insurance if you operate out of public premises or work in close contact with the public.

What forms of insurance you need will depend on your specific professional activities but could include:

  • Professional liability insurance – Similar to standard liability insurance but protects against professional mistakes that may affect someone else’s income or reputation
  • Property insurance – You can take this out to cover your work premises or work equipment, with many insurers offering handy policies combining the two. If you work from home, you can get work equipment covered as part of a home insurance plan.
  • Vehicle insurance – You’ll need at least third-party car insurance for any vehicle on the road, plus there are also business-related insurances, for example insuring a fleet of vehicles
  • Cyber insurance – Worth considering if you work digitally or store any records electronically

You can compare Italian insurance deals on websites such as facile.it (website in Italian).

Which Italian taxes do freelancers pay?

Freelancers and sole traders don’t pay corporation tax in Italy. Instead, their business income is treated as personal income and taxed as one amount.

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Given Italy’s progressive tax system, you pay higher percentages on earnings above a certain level. Freelancers and sole traders can offset their earnings with various business expenses and deductions. There are also some tax credits available.

As a self-employed worker, you must submit an annual tax return and pay income tax in Italy. Freelancers can benefit from lower rates and tax discounts. For example, they can enroll at a lower flat rate for the first five years of trading if their annual income/turnover is below a certain amount (€85,000 in 2023). However, they won’t be able to offset income by claiming expenses.

Furthermore, self-employed workers moving to Italy can benefit from the relocation scheme (lavoratori impatriati), which only pays tax on a percentage of their income for the first five years.  

All self-employed workers in Italy need to register for VAT but only have to pay if their turnover exceeds €65,000 annually. The standard VAT rate in Italy is 22%.

It’s worth speaking to a financial expert who can advise on tax affairs before starting self-employment in Italy. Check the Expatica business listings for Italy for information on expat-friendly advisors.

Social security, health insurance, and pensions for freelancers in Italy

Freelancers and other self-employed workers must make their own social security arrangements in Italy. They generally make higher contributions since there’s no employer to top up the contribution rates.

Freelancers and sole traders in Italy should register with the INPS to make their social security payments. This will entitle them to benefits including unemployment (Indennità Straordinaria di Continuità Reddituale e Operativa – ISCRO), state pension (penzione di stato), and maternity leave (congedo di maternità).

Freelancers in specific regulated trades, for example, doctors, accountants, and lawyers can register instead with a fund linked to their profession.

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Sole traders who intend to employ staff must also register with the National Accident Insurance Fund (INAIL).

All self-employed workers moving to Italy can access the country’s public healthcare system as soon as they obtain their residence card. Many freelancers in Italy also choose to top this up with private health insurance.

Companies providing global expat-friendly health insurance coverage in Italy include:

Can you freelance as a second job in Italy?

Even if you have a standard job in Italy, you can earn a secondary income from freelance work. However, you must declare the additional money you make on your Italian income tax return unless you earn and pay tax on it in another country. If you’re being taxed on the money in Italy, this may impact your tax bracket in Italy’s progressive income tax system.

To do freelance work on the side, you will also need to ensure that everything is in your employment contract and work visa terms and conditions say you can take up additional work. If they do not, you must contact the Italian authorities to get permission to do extra freelance work.

Where can freelancers rent office space in Italy?

If you need office space as a freelancer in Italy but don’t fancy the idea of working from home, you could look for a co-working space. These shared office spaces are suitable for freelancers and entrepreneurs, consisting of shared facilities and sometimes communal equipment. 

Co-working spaces offer more than just a physical workspace. They provide invaluable networking opportunities that can significantly boost your business. Additionally, they allow independent freelancers to share premises and utility bills, reducing individual costs. 

If you are interested in a co-working space, check out websites such as WeWork and CoWorker. For more conventional office space, which you will rent alone, contact your local municipal authority (comune) for information on what’s available locally or look on a website such as offices.co.

How do freelancers find work in Italy?

As in most countries, successful freelancing in Italy involves being proactive, selling your services to potential clients, networking, and slowly building up a portfolio of good work. If you are new to Italy, you might have a small network of support to draw on when finding work quickly.

A small group of freelancers work together at an outdoor table over lunch
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Here are a few platforms worth checking out to get the work rolling in:

  • Freelancer and remote working sites such as Upwork, People Per Hour, Fiverr, and Guru are good starting points
  • Social networking sites can also be beneficial for promoting your talents. LinkedIn is the most well-known professional platform, but it’s also worth advertising yourself on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram 
  • MeetUp is great for sourcing like minds in your field to help build up your network 
  • If you’re looking for socially responsible, ethical, or sustainable contracts, you can try Elevator and Work For Impact 
  • eBay is great if you have products to sell and want to set up a small marketplace 

Support, advice, and training for freelancers in Italy

Here are some useful resources to help get you started as a freelancer in Italy:

  • Confcommercio – Italian General Confederation of Enterprises, Professional Activities and Self-employment, a membership organization offering support, advice, training and networking opportunities to self-employed workers in Italy (website in Italian)
  • Confprofessioni – confederation of professional freelancers bringing together 21 professional trades, providing a range of support and advice to members
  • INV Italia – National Agency for Investment and Business Development, with information on support and funding available including programs aimed at new startups
  • Made in Italy – Ministry of Enterprises initiative with information including a list of funding schemes for businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Ministry of Labor and Social Policies (Agenzia Nazionale Politiche Attive del Lavoro – ANPAL) – has information on current incentives to encourage young entrepreneurs
  • Incentivi – Ministry of Enterprises portal with information on incentives for businesses and entrepreneurs in Italy
  • Agenzia Entrate – Italian Tax Agency with information on tax and accounting for businesses and individuals