All Italians (and just about everyone spending an extended period of time in Italy) have what is called a codice fiscale. It's an alphanumeric code that serves as a legal identifier for each person. Some people compare it to a social security number, but it has far more uses than an SSN and isn't as private.
In Italy, you need a codice fiscale to rent an apartment, buy a cell phone, enroll in the health care system, open a bank account, enroll in a class, make select purchases online, etc. The list goes on. You need it for everything and, in particular, anything that requires a contract of any sort. Unlike a SSN, you don't need to be a citizen of Italy to apply for a codice fiscale...anyone can get one.
As a foreigner, there are two ways apply for your codice fiscale. The first is to apply once you arrive in Italy. You go to the local Agenzia delle Entrate and apply in person. But, if you're like us and trying to complete the rental process before you arrive, you absolutely need it beforehand. As such, the second way to apply for a codice fiscale is through your nearest Italian Consulate.
We applied through the Italian Consulate in Philadelphia a few weeks ago and found them very efficient and communicative. They called for additional documentation from Rob and within a week we received our two codes. In about 2-3 more weeks, we'll receive the official cards from the Italian government.
We're thankful the process of requesting the codice fiscale went so smooth and happy to cross another "to do" off our move list.