Perhaps you have never driven before but now you long to explore hilltop towns in a vintage Fiat (or just need to drive to work). Or perhaps you are an experienced driver but do not have a European driver’s license. Either way, you need to get an Italian driver’s license. The hard truth for most expats is that after a year’s residence in Italy, it is no longer possible to drive legally using a foreign license with an International Driving Permit.
Getting a driver’s license here is not a simple process. You may have heard stories about driving theory tests in English and exams involving a few minutes’ drive around Campo di Marte. Those are history: the tests and the process have changed as recently as February 2013.
After some preliminary work gathering photographs, medical certificates, marche da bollo and filling out forms at a driving school (autoscuola), you will have to pass a half-hour theory test (in Italian) consisting of 40 true/false questions, administered on a computer at the department of motor vehicles (motorizzazione civile). After you pass the theory test (with no more than four errors) you will be issued a learner’s permit (foglio rosa), which is valid for six months. You must take at least six hours of driving lessons at an autoscuola, including two hours of highway driving and two hours of driving after dark. Then you will have up to two attempts to pass the practical driving exam. The exam lasts about 40 minutes, and you will need to answer a few oral questions (again, in Italian) about car controls, engine lights and other such things, do some parking and turn manoeuvres, and drive, including on the autostrada.
None of this is impossible. Here are eight things that you should know before you start.
1. Improve your Italian
Your Italian will have to be proficient enough to handle theory statements such as ‘Frenare a fondo su strada sdrucciolevole.’ (False: you do not brake hard on slippery streets, ABS notwithstanding). You will learn a lot of vocabulary in the process of studying for the theory exam, but you need to have a reasonable grasp of the language before you start.
2. Check that your documents are in order
In addition to a valid permesso di soggiorno, you will also need a carta d’identità. Before you register with an autoscuola or get medical certificates, ensure that all of the information on these documents matches exactly. No spelling mistakes, differences in how your birthplace is identified or name variations are allowed.
3. Budget time and money
Autoscuola registration fees, driving lessons, medical certificates and other fees can easily add up to several hundred euro. Allow for dozens of hours to study for the theory test and, if you are an experienced driver, at least the minimum hours of mandatory lessons on the road.
4. Decide whether you need to learn stick shift
For those (like me) who had never driven a manual transmission car before, it took some extra time, money and effort to learn. However, if you do the exam in an automatic transmission car, your license will be restricted and you will only be allowed to drive automatic cars. It may also be difficult to find an autoscuola with automatic cars.
5. Find an autoscuola
The autoscuola will manage the paperwork with the motorizzazione and teach you what you need to know to pass the exams. There are many driving schools, so look for one in a convenient location. But remember that you will be spending several hours in a small space with your driving instructor, so understand who you will be working with and pick accordingly.
6. Plan when to start the clock
Medical certificates expire and there are time limits for registering for exams, minimum times between a second attempt to pass an exam, etc. Talk to your instructor about the details, but try to work these dates as much as possible around extended vacations and major life events, and build in some margins as you may not be able to schedule an exam for when you would like. Although the motorizzazione may be quite unpredictable in not offering exams for a few weeks at a time, your documents still expire regardless.
7. Get a car you can drive
New drivers (neopatentati) can only drive less powerful cars for the first year after getting their license. Depending on its specifications, even a Fiat Panda may be too powerful. This may mean buying, borrowing or leasing a new car. There is a website where you can check your car’s license plate to see whether it meets the new-driver requirements: http://tinyurl.com/n6ssq2f.
8. Manage your expectations and attitude
Getting a driver’s licence here is different than getting one in your home country. Getting a second driver’s license as an adult is different than getting a first one as a teen. Yes, it is a stressful, infuriating and occasionally scary process, but it is also part of integrating into Italy and you will feel a huge sense of accomplishment and relief when you succeed.
Sarah McLean got her Italian driver’s license in March 2013.