To go to Italy for a year we will need a visa. This is more than a passport but you need a passport to get a visa and your visa is stamped in your passport. Every country has their own visa requirements and the visa is issued by the country you are going to, whereas a passport is issued by your home country.
Italy has several different types of visas: for students, for actors/athletes, for workers, etc. We will be requesting an Elective Resident Visa (also known as an extended stay visa). This particular visa is for those who won't be working and will be self sufficient. Since we don't fit into any of the other Italian visa requirements this is the only real option for us. If you're staying less than three months, a visa is not necessary.
Visas are issued by the consulate that covers the state where you live. The consulates are under the direction of the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC and located in different regions across the US. Each state has at least a consular agent if there isn't a consulate. For example since we live in New Mexico, we come under the Los Angeles Consulate and there is a consular agent in Albuquerque. The consular agent can answer some basic questions and sign our application but it goes to Los Angeles for approval. Unfortunately, from what we have experienced so far and heard from others who have gone through this process, the Los Angeles consulate is one of the least helpful in the US to deal with. We hear nothing but praise for the consulates in places like Boston, San Francisco and Miami.
The basic requirements for this visa are that you don't become a burden on the Italian society. Do you have enough money? Do you have health insurance? Do you have a place to stay? Do you have a criminal past? Being able to answer these questions, plus some other details, is the basis for the visa application. A great source of information on this process for us has been the Expats in Italy website. Others who have gone through this process have noted that what the consulates and their websites list as required documents is not everything that they may ask for.
The consular agent here in Albuquerque will sign our visa application and we will mail it to Los Angeles with all of the necessary documents included. The catch is you can not submit you application no more than 90 days before you plan to arrive in Italy, and there is no guarantee you will be granted a visa.