After only four months in Italy I had successfully navigated the labyrinth system to get a permit of stay, taking what seems like dozens of passport photos, paying for dozens of marche di bollo, the required stamp (with newly raised prices!) and visiting multiple different bureaucratic offices; I’d also found an apartment, applied for residency, gotten married and started paying taxes. It was a lot, and I was ready to be done with my “settling down” phase and simply be settled.
Then, I found out I had to retake my driver’s license tests as well.
United States citizens can legally drive on their US license in Italy for up to a year. After that, they’ll need to get an Italian driver’s license.
Though many countries in the world have conventions allowing them to simply convert their driver’s licenses from that of their country to that of their new country, Europe and the United States, unfortunately, don’t have that relationship. Meaning that not only did I have to pay a lot more, but I also had to take the classes, study and pass the written test in Italian, do at least six hours of driving with an instructor and then pass the practice exam – all before my international license expired in the next six months.
People do it, but at the time, after all I had already done to set down roots in Italy – legally – it just seemed like too much. And like most bureaucratic things in another country, it wasn’t easy! Though I wanted to throw a fit, instead I threw myself into studying, learning how to say things like windshield and trailer hitch and acceleration lane in Italian. It was a pain in the butt, but I have to admit that what I learned has proved useful. Of course anyone can drive in Italy, but the road signs are different and the intersections much more complicated. I appreciate that I never have to doubt if what I’m doing is correct or not.
During the process, I discovered that many expats to Italy simply skip this step. Either they continue to drive on their U.S. license (illegal, but difficult to catch) or they drive with no license or they simply don’t drive at all. None of the above was an acceptable option for me. If that’s how you feel, this post is for you.
How to Get an Italian Driver’s License:
1. Find an Autoscuola
You can bypass the driving school or autoscuola and go straight to the Ufficio Motorizzazione Civile, Italy’s DMV, but it’s not recommended. Though you will save money, the test is considered more difficult and the instructors much harsher. Multiple legends recount the evil instructors who don’t pass the driving students simply to gain the money the driving school would have gained anyway. Perhaps it’s just a way for the failed students to feel better, but the autoscuola helps you to study and deals with your exams and paperwork, making the process much more streamlined.
2. Go to class and study
In most driving schools in Italy, the course for the written exam is not mandatory and it’s up to you to decide how much you need it. If you’re dedicated and proficient in the language you can study on your own at home. Though I didn’t go to all the classes, I found that it was a nice start for me, giving me a base vocabulary for the written exams and teaching me how the questions are formed, as they’re not always so clear. Your autoscuola will likely have an online quizzing system that you can use to study, but if not you can find multiple quizzes on the internet. Practice practice practice: you can only miss four out of 30 questions on your written exam to pass.
3. Practice with an Instructor
Like in America, you’ll have to complete a certain amount of hours of driving practice with an instructor. Though the minimum is six, many young Italians will be asked to do more before taking the exam. I only completed four since they knew I had been driving since I was 16, and though I was thankful for the saved time, I found that the practice wasn’t all a waste. There are certain driving rules that my instructor shared with me that came in handy for the final exam, such as how to handle roundabouts correctly, what gear to use during what speed limit and how instructors feel about passing cars that are double parked. Plus, I gained some tips about parallel parking on both the right and the left that have proved indispensable in parking-limited Italy!
4. Take the Written Exam
All your studying is for this. Though you likely already know how to drive, taking an exam with purposefully backwards questions in another language isn’t exactly a breeze. Study to learn the vocabulary, to know the different parts of a car in Italian and to be able to finish the exam once and for all. Oh, and remember to bring your ID!
5. Take the Final Exam
And the day has come: You now can take your final driving exam! Show up with money, your ID and patience and you’ll eventually get behind the wheel with one, if not two, instructors. Mine completely ignored my driving, regularly put his hand on my shoulder, and talked about America the whole time. I gritted my teeth, ignored the advance and finished in roughly five minutes. It seems they trusted my driving.
Ultimately, I learned how to navigate the draconian driver’s license system in Italy. This blog post from another American living in Italy recounts in great detail just how draconian this process can be, also how un-standardized. Though these are the steps I took, other expats have been able to talk their way out of the classes and driving practice and complete the process in a much shorter span of time.
Redoing a process that I completed as a teenager was a bit humbling, but the result means I can drive in Italy with no fear or worry of retribution. I know expats who have been here their entire life without an Italian driver’s license, but I wanted to do things right. This is my home now, it doesn’t make sense to live as if it weren’t.
Especially considering how quickly I adopted the Italian’s “sporty” driving style!