After going through the labyrinthine process of getting your permesso di soggiorno, carta d’identità, codice fiscale and health card, (congratulations, by the way) the next step in your integration into Italian society is get your Italian driver’s license.
You’ll find lots of posts on the internet about people’s experience how to get their driver’s license in Italy, but since I’m going through the process right now, you may want up-to-date info. In this post, I’ll go through in detail the following:
- The law about driving in Italy
- Driving school
- Theory lessons and exam
- Driving lessons and exam
- Driver’s License
- My experience
If you want to live in Italy and drive, you’ll need an Italian driver’s license. If you’re lucky and you already have a license issued by the EU or one of the countries on this list, you can simply convert your license to an Italian one. However, if you’re not from one of the eligible countries, like if you’re like me and have a license from the USA, during your first year as a resident in Italy, you’ll be able to drive with your license and International Driver’s License, but once that year is up, you’ll have to go to driving school and take the permit and driving exams. (sorry!) Warning: You’ll find on expat forums or Facebook groups that many people say that they’ve been driving for years with their US license and an International driver’s license and have never had any trouble, have even been stopped and let go, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to continue to drive after your first year. The problem is that often times a law may not be enforced and you may think it’s all okay, until one day you get checked by someone who is enforcing that law. I know it seems that every one breaks the rules and the police don’t bother checking, but it’s your responsibility to know the law and follow it.
Driver’s Ed aka the autoscuola
The easiest and most efficient way to get your driver’s license is to go through the autoscuola. If you live near the DMV, you can try to DIY the permit exam and do all the necessary paperwork yourself and save some money, but I’d only recommend this if you’re up for the headaches. You can read about how former American expat Diane Zahuranec did it herself on her blog Once Upon a Time in Italy.
Most people, however, go through the autoscuola. It costs between 600-700 euros and this price includes theory classes, driving lessons, all requisite taxes and stamps, a medical exam (basically an eye test with lots of stamps and signatures) and both the theory (permit) and practical (driving) tests. The school will take care of all the paperwork and bureaucracy with the DMV.
The theory lessons and exam
Once you sign up with the school, you can start taking the classes for the permit exam. The style of teaching and class size varies from school to school, but you will cover 25 chapters needed for the theory exam and also take as many practice exams as possible.
Chapter topics include: speed limits, different types of driver’s licenses, civil and penal responsibilities, first aid (it is a law that you must perform elementary first aid to those involved in an accident), parts of the car and motorcycle including the brake and suspension system, and other more familiar codes of conduct for driving.
The test consists of 40 true or false questions and you can get a maximum of four wrong in order to pass. The test is available only in Italian or French, so you’ll need to know enough of either language to take the exam. It covers a lot of topics and there are trick questions, even for native speakers, so you will need to take as many practice exams as possible in order to become familiar with the types of questions and the wording.
The classes at the driving school will help you with that and the lessons are taught in a way to make you as familiar as possible with the phrasing of the exams and examples of trick questions.
Once you and the teacher feels that you are ready to take the exam, you will be signed up for the next exam day at the DMV.
When you pass the test, you will be issued a foglio rosa, aka the ‘pink slip’. This is your driver’s permit.
Driving lessons and driving exam
Your driver’s permit is valid for 6 months, so you’ll need to take the driving exam before the 6 months are up. The earliest you can take the exam is one month from when you passed the theory exam, but you’ll have to take your driving lessons during that month anyway, so you’ll have time. You have a minimum of 6 driving lessons and can take more if needed. If you already know how to drive and have been driving in Italy already, this part should be easy. However, you’ll need to follow the instructor’s directions, even if you do things a little bit differently (like put your hands on the steering wheel a different way) as the instructor is teaching you the things they will look for during the driving exam. So, for the purposes of passing and getting your license, just do what the instructor says.
Congratulations! Through all of that hard work, you’ll be issued a Patente B driver’s license. You’ll be able to drive a car with up to 9 people (driver included). The Patente B also allows you to drive a scooter up to 125cc and 11kw engine as well as small-engine (up to 50cc and 15kw) 3 wheeled and 4 wheeled vehicles (like those little 3-wheeled Ape’s and flat bed trucks. This applies only within Italy, whereas in the rest of Europe, you would be allowed to drive scooters and 3 wheeled vehicles with a 50cc engine.
Regardless of whether you have held a driver’s license in a different country, you will be considered a new driver (neo-patentato) for the first 3 years. There are some restrictions as a new driver. For example, you will only be able to drive a car with an engine size of 55kw or less, which means no sports cars or big SUVs for the first 3 years. That doesn’t cancel out most cars though and you’d still be able to drive your Fiat 500, Panda or Punto. Mercedes and Audi also make smaller engine cars. Depending on where you live in Italy, you probably don’t want a big car anyway as the streets are narrow and crowded.
Here’s a list of top 10 cars for new drivers
Manual for your permit test – This is the book I used. I relied more on the lessons and the practice exams, but I would look up answers in this manual.
Free online practice exams – Very thorough. You can do practice exams based on one or more chapters as well as on everything.
Other bloggers’ experiences for getting their Italian driver’s license:
It took me about two months of lessons and active studying to pass the theory exam and one month of driving lessons before I took the driving exam (and passed). I know how to drive, but I needed to learn to drive a manual car, so the lessons were really useful.
The theory exam was challenging. I started taking classes at the driving school in November, but I only went once or twice a week and didn’t really start focusing until January. That’s when I started going four times a week and took practice exams at home. I probably spent on average two hours a day going to lessons and studying. I learned a lot of new Italian vocabulary and kept a list of words in the back of my notebook. Some of my favourite words and phrases are: pozzanghere (puddle), tergicristallo (windshield wiper), sinistro stradale (accident or literal translation – evil street event), and stare a cavallo (to straddle).\
I got the hang of it quite quickly once I put my mind to it and after a month of focused studying, I felt ready and the school signed me up for the next exam day at the DMV (motorizzazione civile) in Napoli.
On exam day, I got up at 530 am to take the first aliscafo (fast boat) to Napoli. There were 6 of us from the school that were taking the exam and we went with our theory teacher. Our exam fee included transportation to the DMV so that was all covered.
Once we were at the DMV, each of us were assigned to a group. We had to wait around until our group was called and then we could enter the building. We had to pass through security and they checked to make sure we didn’t have any cheat sheets hidden (like behind a wrist watch or in our hat or scarf. We were called into the exam room one by one and they checked our ID cards and codice fiscale (Italian social security number) and then they told us what desk to sit at. I had to put in my codice fiscale into the computer to log on and once we were all sitting our desks, we could start the test. We had 30 minutes to take the test. I answered the questions in about 10 minutes, but I took another 5 minutes to look them over. When I finished, I left the room and went back outside. Once all of us from the group finished the exam, they checked our answers and released the results which our theory teacher from the driving school collected. I ended up getting one question wrong which is pretty amazing.
Two days later I started driving lessons and I was ecstatic and relieved to find out that the driving exam would take place in Ischia and NOT in Napoli. I took a total of 18 driving lessons almost every day for a month before I took the exam.
I found the driving lessons a lot more difficult than the theory classes and I can’t really explain why. I already knew how to drive, but I needed to learn to drive a manual car. In a way, I had to forget almost everything I knew in order to learn and I was incredibly nervous driving on the narrow streets and driving in a place where NO ONE followed the rules. The most difficult part was listening to the instructor give me constant instructions in Italian, process what he was saying quickly, do what he said and also look at the road. There was this constant switching between listening, seeing and doing. I had to keep my eyes sharp, anticipate cars pulling into the street out of nowhere, and be prepared to stop and start on a hill. I sweated guts during each lesson and on one particularly bad day, I started to cry. The instructor made me stop the car and gave me a tissue.
I didn’t feel prepared at all to take the exam, but I was expecting it to be like when I took my driving exam in New York. Back then, it was just me and the examiner in my car. But here, you take the exam in the driving school car with the instructor and the examiner.
I wish I had known that! On exam day, I was a nervous wreck and terrified, but when I found out the set up, I relaxed a tiny bit. There were four of us that took the exam and I was the last person to go. As soon as we started, the examiner was curious about me being from New York and asked how I had learned to drive. The instructor and the examiner then started to chit-chat while I drove (the instructor later told me that they like to chitchat with each other to relax the driver, they understand how nervous we all are). I had to go up and down one of the main roads and go around a round about and then do parallel parking and a 3 point turn. At the end, the examiner had me sign some papers and I got out of the car. All four of us had passed and the instructor gave us our licenses and that was it.
After studying so intensely, going to lessons everyday for almost three months straight, it was almost anti-climactic. I was sad it was over and I wouldn’t see my driving school friends and teachers anymore.
But the nice thing, which I reminded myself, is that I’ll still see everyone because the island is small. Going through this whole process made me feel like it was another form of integration into Italy and it makes me feel more part of the island community.
Hope you find all of this helpful!