You’ve done it! Sold all your stuff, bought your ticket, packed your bags, you’re moving to Italy. Look out la dolce vita, here you come! Not so fast expat. You’ve got a lot of work to do before you can legally drive through those Tuscan hills. Driving in Italy with a US license is only legal for tourists.
Driving in Italy as an American
Now if you’re a soon-to-be tourist who just shouted “YES!” and started wondering what side of the road Italians drive on (it’s the right by the way) there is one hitch. Americans need an international driving permit to legally drive in Italy and much of Europe. If you’re now wondering how to get an international driving license, skip down to that section header in this post.
If you’re an American expat living in Italy and worried if the rumors about Italian driver’s licenses are true keep reading. This is important. One of the most common (shocking) surprises for English-speaking expats once they get to Italy, is realizing how difficult getting an Italian Driver’s license is about to be. I myself was the bearer of bad news for the only other American expat living in Bardonecchia, Italy.
How to Get an Italian Drivers License
Telling my new expat bestie getting an Italian Driver’s license is not as simple as turning over her current American Driver’s license, felt like telling my Sister the truth about Santa Claus. The fact that the written exam to get an Italian Driver’s license is not given in English? Lump of coal.
While European countries allow drivers to convert their licenses from one country to the next, the United States and Canada are not so lucky. For us, getting an Italian Driver’s license means heading back to Driver’s Ed school, cramming to pass a notoriously difficult written test, six hours of driving with an instructor, and a practice exam… all in Italian. Plus, the car used to take the driving exam has to be a manual.
Wondering if you have to get an Italian Driver’s license when you come to Italy? That depends.
How to Get an International Driver’s Licence
European drivers have valid Driver’s Licenses in Italy. An American just visiting Italy? Don’t worry, you can drive legally in Italy with an international driving permit with a sworn translation. Thankfully the process (for Americans) is pretty painless and can be done with AAA’s $20 International Driver’s Permit service.
Driving in Italy for the first time? Be sure to get advice ahead of time from your local Embassy or Consulate office in Italy. The US Embassy provides information about driving in Italy, restricted ZTL zones, and how to handle traffic violation in Italy.
Speaking of traffic violations, if you are a new resident in Italy who needs to get an Italian Driver’s license stat, here are three reasons not to solely rely on information in expat forums. One, you don’t have much time. After declaring residency in Italy, the clock starts ticking. The Italian government allows new residents one year to hand over their current driver’s license and test for an Italian one. Welcome to Italy my friend! Tick tock.
Two, there is always a rebel expat who swears up and down they have been driving in Italy for years with their old Driver’s license and “never had a problem.” Don’t fall for it! While COVID has increased road checks, open borders in Europe mean police regularly pull cars over to check IDs and vehicle registration. With or without a traffic violation.
In the first eleven months of living in Italy, we’ve been pulled over three times. Each time we were driving legally, no violations. Still, as standard practice our IDs were checked, our vehicle registration was confirmed and we were free to go. While the stops were brief and cordial I’d consider this a word to the wise.
The third reason to verify information found on blogs, forums and Facebook groups? Laws change. Historically the Italian Driver’s license exam was available in English. Unfortunately this is no longer the case. Depending on where you look, you also find conflicting information about Drivers Ed classes being either optional, highly recommended, or mandatory.
My advice for anyone looking to live in Italy long enough to need an Italian Driver’s license? Get your information directly from the source regulating it. In other words, check with the Ministero delle Infrastrutture e dei Trasporti (Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport) directly. There is also il Portale dell’Automobilista (like the DMV in America) run by… you guessed it, the Ministero delle Infrastrutture e dei Trasporti. If you’ll be driving your own car (not a commercial vehicle) check current requirements for the Patente B aka the foglio rosa. So named because the Driver’s license itself is actually pink!
While the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport is the best place to get accurate information about how to get an Italian Driver’s license, expat blogs are a great place to get a sense of what the experience is like. Here are a few expats living in Italy who have recently written about their own experience getting an Italian Driver’s license.
Tips to Get an Italian Driver’s License from Expats
Giovanna is an Italian-American living on the island of Ischia. Her post on Limonata Lounge: How to Get an Italian Driver’s License is full of helpful details. She’s also on Insta!
Video: Tips to Pass the Italian Driver’s License Theory Exam
Linda Tinah’s video has tips for passing the Italian Driver’s License Theory exam. I particularly like what she had to say about when to take the exam! Take a look.
Here are links to a few of the key resources Linda mentioned in her video.
- Help! I Need My Foglio Rosa Facebook Group
- Guida e Vai: Italian Drivers License Practice Quiz App
- An Italian Driver’s License Textbook in English
The information above is what I personally found helpful in preparing to get my Italian Driver’s license. I’ll be honest, I’m very nervous about the process for one of the key reasons Linda points out in her video. The Italian Driver’s license test is known for being difficult. The language used is technical, not casual dov’è il bagno kinda stuff. So please wish me luck. Something tells me I’m going to need it!
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