Updated: Jan 26, 2021
Once you have settled a little more in Italy, have your residence, permesso di soggiorno, and your tessera sanitaria and doc figured out, you might want to look into getting a driver's license. To be clear - if you are an American you can use an international driver's license for your first year in Italy. After that, you will need to go through the full process to get an Italian Driver License. If you are coming from another EU country, you may be able to just translate and convert your current license.
I personally have not yet gone through this experience, though it is my next step. Here, I just wanted to gather information about the process. To read some other blogger's experiences with the process, scroll on down!
Italian Driving Laws
If you plan on driving in Italy and living long term here, you’ll need an Italian driver’s license. As mentioned, if you are visiting you can use an International Drivers License to rent and drive a car short-term. If you are living here long term and have an American license, it is a bit different. In your first year as an Italian resident, you can see your US license and International Driver’s License. After this year, you are going to hop into Autoscuola and start from 0. If you are coming from one of the countries on this list, you are able to convert your driving license to be valid in Italy.
A little note: you will find some people living in Italy who do not follow these rules. You SHOULD follow the law; it is your responsibility. If you get caught? Well, you'll have to live with the consequences.
Autoscuola: Getting your Italian Driver's License
You can go through the whole license process without going to the famous autoscuola. However, due to the bureaucracy and all the complex concepts you will have to figure out (trust me this is hard even if you are a native Italian speaker!) you will want to go through an autoscuola. There is a lot of paperwork to file, and if you go through a school, they take care of everything.
The cost of the school varies A LOT. Some go for about 600 and others get up to 1000, so ask around the ones closest to you. These prices will cover classes, driving lessons, all taxes and stamps, a medical exam, and two exams you have to take. Ask for a breakdown to understand the price better. Just to get ahead of your questions: NO, YOU CANNOT TAKE THE TEST IN ENGLISH. Therefore, NO there is not an English language Autoscuola.
Italian Drivers License: Classes & Exam
As soon as you sign up you can start attending classes. You will get a book to be used in class once or twice a week. This will be reminiscent of your good old Driver Ed days. Think of this as studying for your permit exam. Classes will follow the book lessons and go over practice exams. There is also an app you can download to practice exam questions.
Classes are not mandatory; it is up to you when to go. But I would say get the most out of them as you can as you are paying.
You will learn all that you expect about driving laws, signs, road symbols etc. You will also learn about speed limits, which can be a bit confusing. But here is something new that is covered in the Italian exam: car parts and basic mechanic principles, and some first aid related or crisis response (what to do in an accident). This is what trips me up on the practice exams.
Your permit exam will be 40 questions, all true or false. No multiple choice - simply yes or no. You can only get 4 wrong, and questions are designed to trick you not only through concepts, but also with the language. Even native speakers struggle. Though not available in English, the exam is available in Italiana and French (and I thought Spanish but check with your local autoscuola, it could depend).
Exams are offered throughout the year. It is up to you and your instructor to decide when you feel ready and book your exam! Once you take it and pass you will get a driver's permit, also known as a foglio rosa.
Then on to practical- Italy Driving Lessons
Unlike our American permit, this permit is only valid for six months, so you will have to get moving on the practical exam to complete your license process. You have to wait at least a month from when you get your foglio rosa to when you can take the exam. During this time you will need to log some official driving hours. You will have at least 6 hours of driving lessons with an instructor. In theory, if you have already been driving a few years, then driving in Italy shouldn't be too tough to master. But remember the horror of driver's ed.... whatever little quirks your instructor asks for, do them. Even the mirrors, seat belt, hands on the wheel, direction to look - anything they mention. Remember they are teaching you how to pass the exam, so don't get offended at their criticisms.
Congrats you can now drive in Italy
Given you have passed, you will receive a Patente B driver’s license. Just like our American licenses, these different types of patente will let you drive different things. With B you can drive a car with up to 9 people and a scooter up to 125cc.
But it isn't over yet.... for your first 3 years of holding an Italian driver's license you are still considered a new driver (neo-patentato) . This comes with a few restrictions - for example, the size of the car engine you can drive. It also may affect your insurance.
So what is driving in Italy like?
Driving in Italy is not as crazy as you may think. Sure, cities have traffic and you have to keep your eyes open, but it is not much different than the traffic in other big cities. In cities you need to look for "ZTL" or limited traffic zones. They are in every historic city, and basically block you from entering the historic center.
If the parking lines are blue, you need to pay for parking. If white it is free, and if yellow, usually you cannot park there.
When in towns and out in the countryside lookout for "Autovelox" automatic speed cameras. These will be marked by signs in advance, as well as on Google Maps.
Also, get real comfortable with stick shift ;)
Manual for your permit test – The paper manual that can help you
Free online practice exams – a great practice resource!
Some other first-hand experiences that can help you get an idea: