When you move to Italy the chances are you will want to purchase a car or rent one and start driving on the roads. The public transport in Italy is very good however it won’t always be as convenient as driving yourself. This is especially true in the rural parts of the country. Even in the cities a car is a real asset that will give you and your family freedom to explore the city and it’s surrounding neighborhood.
Fortunately, the Italians drive on the right hand side of the road, just like in America; which will make your transition easier as you get used to navigating your way around the country.
That said though, Italians do have a reputation of being one of the most dangerous drivers in the whole of Europe! You’ll have to get used to being cut up across lanes and drive amongst the often extreme risk taking of the locals! But don’t worry, after the initial shock that you’ll no doubt experience you’ll soon get used to driving in Italy! If you are a bit nervous about driving in Italy then it’s a good idea to get some practice on the quieter country roads before taking on the busy highways or city streets.
One of the important things to keep in mind is that a vast majority of the cars in Italy, like in most parts of Europe, have manual transmission. Not “automatic”. If you reserve in advance, you will be able to rent cars that have automatic transmission.
What Type Of Driving License Do You Need To Drive in Italy?
To legally drive in Italy you will need a full and valid driver’s license as well as an International Driving Permit. The rules can seem quite complicated and they are different depending on where you are moving from.
What is an International Driving Permit?
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a document that is a translation of your domestic driver’s license which you must carry with you while driving in Italy. The IDP shows that you have a driver’s license from your home country and has been accepted as valid by the Italian government.
Citizens of the EU (European Economic Area).
If you’re an Expat who already has a valid driver’s license from a country within the European Union then you are allowed to drive in Italy without needing any extra paperwork. You can retake your driving tests and convert your license into an Italian Driver’s License however there is no legal requirement to do so.
You will, however, need to apply for an International Driving Permit. You will also have to renew your license within two years of arriving in Italy.
American and Non-EU Expats and Immigrants.
As a non-EU citizen the requirements surrounding the driver’s license are a little more stringent. If you do not have an EU issued driver’s license then you will need to exchange your domestic driver’s license for an Italian one within 1 year of arriving in the country.
You will also need an International Driving Permit that accompanies your American driving license. The IDP is accepted throughout the European Union which means you can travel all across the continent without needing to get new documents from each country that you visit.
While driving in Italy you need to have your domestic license and the International Driving Permit with you at all times.
After you’ve been driving for 1 year in Italy using your domestic license and your International Driving Permit you will have to exchange your license for an Italian issued one.
Getting Your Italian Driver’s License – Step by Step Guide.
The complete process of obtaining your Italian driver’s license will probably take several months, occasionally up to 6 months in total.
Firstly, you will need to go to your local Ufficio Motorizzazione Civile (Italian DMV) and fill in an application form. Once you have filled out the application form and paid the fee at the post office, you can return to the Motorizzazione with the following items:
- Your completed application form.
- Receipt from the post office that confirms your payment – the payment varies but will usually be under 50 Euros.
- 2 passport photos.
- Your domestic driving license as well as a copy of it that you can leave with the Ministry.
- A Medical Certificate (that confirms you are in good enough health to drive).
- 2 copies of the Medical Certificate.
- 2 copies of your domestic driver’s license (front and back).
- Your Permesso di soggiorno (permit to stay in the country) and 1 photocopy of it as well.
After you’ve returned your forms to the Motorizzazione you will be given your foglia rosa (practise permit) and a date to return to take your driving test. The test will usually be around a month later although it can be up to 2 months later.
Sign up with a local driving school where you will need to take your written test. You can study with the driving school or study on your own.
Take your test. The test has 10 separate subjects which are made up of 3 True or False questions. Make sure you read the questions carefully! To pass, you need to get 4 or less wrong.
After passing your written test you need to return to the driving school. You can then practise your driving before taking your driving exam. Your driving exam will usually be scheduled for about 1 month after your written test. If you fail the exam you can retake it 1 month later.
Once you have passed your exam you will be given your Italian license! Congratulations, you are now a fully legal Italian driver.
Important to Remember While Driving in Italy.
When you are driving in Italy it is a legal requirement to have your driving license, insurance documents and the car’s paperwork with you at all times. It’s also a legal requirement, right across the EU, that you must have at least 1 reflective safety vest with you as well. The safety vest is mandatory because if you break down you can put the vest on so that other motorists can see you while you are on the road side.
Do You Need Car Insurance to Drive in Italy?
Yes, in Italy it is a legal requirement to have your car fully insured. You will need to apply for a Carta Verde which is valid for 15 to 45 days after which you must apply for longer term insurance with an Italian insurance provider.
Other Driving Rules You Need To Be Aware of in Italy.
- It is compulsory to wear a seat belt at all times while driving in Italy.
- You are not allowed to use your mobile phone while driving although you can use it with a hands free earpiece. If you are caught using a phone you will be fined and may lose points on your license.
- Drinking alcohol and driving is illegal with the upper limit being 0.5 grams per liter.
- In Italy you drive on the right hand side of the road.
- While driving on the motorways and 4 lane highways you must only use the low beam headlights. High beam headlights can be used in cities and towns but only if no vehicle is oncoming. If a vehicle comes into view you must dip your headlights to the low beam.
What Types of Roads Are There in Italy?
There are 4 main kinds of roads in Italy:
- Super Highways – ‘Autostrada’.
- State Roads – ‘Strade Statali’.
- Provincial or Regional Roads – ‘Strade Provinciali’.
- Local or Municipal Roads – ‘Strade Comunali’.
You can drive on almost all of the roads in Italy for free except for the Super highways (Autostrade) in which case you have to pay a toll. You can pay the toll by credit card. For more information about where the toll roads are you can check with the Italian Highways Association to find out in advance.
However, if you want to avoid paying any tolls you can take other routes, although it will add time to your journey.
What Are the Speed Limits on Italian Roads?
When you’re driving in the towns and cities the maximum speed limit is 50 km/hr. On the main roads the upper speed limit is 90 km/hr and on the super highways you can drive up to 130 km/hr.
Overtaking Other Motorists.
In Italy, when you are driving you must stay on the right hand side of the road however to overtake a car in front of you must do so on the left. The only time when you can pass a car on the right hand side is if the car in front has signaled to turn left and has already moved into the center of the road to make the turn.
When Do You Give Way?
Motorists in Italy have to give way to vehicles coming from the right hand side; for instance, at a crossroads you must give way to cars on the right. However, at a Stop sign, you must give way to cars from both the left and the right.
Parking Your Car.
You are allowed to park on the right hand side of the roads outside of the towns and cities except on the major roads – like the Autostrade, at a crossroads or on a hill where you cannot be seen by motorists coming over the hill.
If your car breaks down you must put on your reflective safety vest and then set up a portable danger sign behind your vehicle. You should carry the danger sign in the boot of your car along with your safety vest.
Driving in Italy – The Perfect Way To Explore the Country.
Driving yourself is one of the best ways to explore the beautiful landscapes of Italy even if the prospect of getting behind the wheel can be a little daunting for Expats and others who are new to the country. Despite Italian drivers’ reputation for being risk taking and dangerous; as long as you follow the rules of the road and drive with some extra caution you shouldn’t have any problems.
You’ll need to be the most careful in some of the larger cities – such as Rome or Naples – where the traffic is far busier than in more rural areas of the country. The streets in the cities are often narrow and there is a lack of parking spaces if you want to stop! If you are visiting the major cities, and travelling by car, it can be a good idea to park in the suburbs and then jump on a train to get to the city center.