Brexit: What are the differences between moving to Italy before or after December 31st?

As we get nearer to the end of the Brexit transition period, there's one question we've been asked repeatedly by our British readers: what are the advantages and disadvantages of moving to Italy before December 31st?

Brexit: What are the differences between moving to Italy before or after December 31st?

Many British people who had cherished a long-term dream of moving to Italy are now considering whether they should accelerate their plans and move before the end of the year.

Moving to Italy is a big decision and everybody's individual circumstances are different, so while we can't definitively answer the question 'should I move before December or can I wait until next year?' here are some of the things to bear in mind from what we know so far.


Before – When asked what are the advantages of moving before the end of the year there is a two-word answer – Withdrawal Agreement.

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement covers everyone who is legally resident in Italy by December 31st 2020, which is when the transition period ends.

The agreement protects the rights of UK citizens in the EU (and vice versa) and broadly gives guarantees that people already resident can stay.

Brits in Italy are still being urged to to apply for a new residency document intended to help prove your rights, though there are concerns that it doesn't help, but the conditions under which you apply are in most respects the same as for EU citizens.

The Agreement doesn't cover everything and there are some caveats, but it does give a lot of protections.

Click here for full details of what the Withdrawal Agreement says and who it covers.

Two important things about the agreement – if you are already here by December 31st it covers you for however long you choose to stay in Italy and it is a legally binding international agreement. So even if the UK and the EU fail to agree a trade deal, the protections of the Withdrawal Agreement remain in place.

After – exactly what the deal will be for people who want to move to Italy in 2021 or after will be we don't know, it's one of the many things still to be agreed.

At this stage it seems most likely that British citizens will be treated in a similar way to non-Europeans like Americans or Australians. For them moving is considerably more complicated and expensive, involving visa, proof of financial means (for some categories) and residency cards.


Before – If you are already resident in Italy or planning to become so by December, you are entitled to register with the Italian state healthcare system (SSN). Health insurance is a requirement for all foreign nationals resident in Italy, including EU citizens, though you can opt for private medical insurance instead.

If you do not meet certain requirements – for example having an employment contract or being the family member of an Italian citizen – you'll need to pay annually (around 380 euros in most cases).

Find more information on registering, speak to your comune's ASL office. The Italian Health Ministry also has a PDF guide to the healthcare system in English available here.

For pensioners: a scheme known as S1 allows British pensioners to register with the Italian system, while the British state continues to pick up the cost of their healthcare. As long as they are legally resident in Italy before the end of the year then pensioners will continue to be covered by the S1 scheme.

After – At present there is no agreement in place on reciprocal healthcare costs, so for at least the first part of your stay you would need private health insurance.

The UK government has suggested it does not intend to continue the S1 scheme for pensioners who move to Italy after December 31st.

This could leave pensioners reliant on private health insurance, which can be difficult to obtain or extremely expensive for people with long-term health conditions. 

The EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) which many Brits have relied on for emergency healthcare, cannot be issued by the UK government after December 31st.

Pensioners already resident here and covered by the S1 scheme can continue to use theirs for trips back to the UK.

People resident and registered under the Italian healthcare system can obtain an Italian-issued EHIC card (known as the Tessera Europea di Assicurazione Malattia) that will cover their trips to other EU countries. If you already have an Italian state health insurance card (Tessera Sanitaria) you very likely have the EHIC already, printed on the back. It looks like this.

You need to make sure your costs are covered for any healthcare that you need while you're here. Photo: AFP


Before – if you are a British pensioner resident in Italy before the end of the year you will continue to receive your pension and your pension will continue to be uprated – increased in line with inflation, wage growth or price increases – for the rest of your life.

If you have worked in more than one European country your pension contributions in all countries will be joined together and paid as a single amount from the country you are living in when you retire. This applies to anyone resident by December 31st, even if your retirement age is many years away.

After – neither of the two agreements above – uprating or joint pensions – are guaranteed to continue and at present there are no arrangements in place to allow them to continue.


Before – At present in employment terms EU citizens are treated the same as Italian employees – and for people covered by the Withdrawal Agreement this should continue.

In practice we expect some confusion, particularly at smaller firms, around what procedures need to be followed for British employees, but in theory Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement should be able to take up new employment on the same basis they do now.

Job-hunting this year might be tricky however as Italy, like many other countries, is predicting a major recession due to the pandemic and months of lockdown.

After – Italian companies who are hiring a non-EU national who is moving to Italy to work need to jump through extra administrative hoops to justify why they are hiring a non-European. It's not an impossible task, but it does put non-Europeans at a disadvantage in the job market as most firms prefer to avoid the extra paperwork if they can find a similarly-qualified European candidate.

Again, we don't know exactly what residency requirements for Brits will be after 2021, but if they follow the current model for non-Europeans you will need a visa sponsored by an employer if you are coming here to work.

If you want to come and either set up your own business or work as a freelancer or contractor you could also need a visa and to provide proof of income or proof that your business plan is an economically viable idea.


If you still aren't sure whether to come now or later – couples do have the option of doing the move in stages.

If one partner makes the move before December 31st they will be covered by the Withdrawal Agreement and one of the rights it gives them is to be joined at a later date by a registered partner or spouse.

You will need to prove that your relationship began before December 31st but it is an option for couples where it is not possible for both partners to make the move in the next six months.

If you are a couple but are neither married nor in a civil partnership you will need to prove that you are in a 'durable relationship' and the Withdrawal Agreement states that countries must 'facilitate entry and residence' in accordance with their national legislation.


Member comments

  1. Your article says: “If you are already resident in Italy or planning to become so by December, you are entitled to register with the Italian state healthcare system.” This has NOT been my experience. I registered my Italian residence on 27 January 2020 as being financially independent. Despite this, the Umbrian Health Authority has refused to register me, even as a paying member.

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Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

British nationals living in Italy are becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of news about a reciprocal driving licence agreement post-Brexit, and say the current 'catch-22' situation is adversely affecting their lives.

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Italy who are currently playing a waiting game on the validity of their driving licences.

Those who are driving in Italy on a UK-issued permit currently have just over six months left before their licence is no longer accepted on Italy’s roads.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

That is, unless a deal is reached between the UK and Italy, or another extension period is granted.

Another extension would mark the third time the authorities have deferred making an agreement on UK driving licences in Italy.

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal deal on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

With just days to go before the deadline in December 2021, those still using a UK licence were granted a reprieve when it was further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

But the situation from January 1st, 2023, remains unknown.

In the remaining few months, British nationals driving in Italy who hadn’t converted their licence to an Italian one before January 1st, 2021 face the same choice again: wait and hope for an agreement or start the lengthy and costly process of taking their Italian driving test.

There is still no confirmation on reaching an agreement on driving licences. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Many UK nationals have contacted The Local recently to express their frustration, anger and concern over the situation, explaining how the possibility of not being to drive in Italy would profoundly impact their lives.

For some, it would mean not being able to get to work, losing their independence, not being to reach supermarkets for the food shop in remote areas, or not being able to take their children to school.

And in the meantime, many readers told us it means ongoing worry and uncertainty.

Reader David (not his real name), who moved to the southern region of Puglia shortly before Brexit hit, tells us he now finds himself in a “horrible catch-22 situation”.

He summed up the feeling among many of those who contacted The Local by saying: “It is highly concerning and not at all helpful for mental or physical health in a period when we are trying to settle in to a new life in Italy.”

He points out that, for him, retaking his driving test and getting an Italian licence would also mean having to sell his car and buy one with a less powerful engine.

“I realise that if I pass the Italian driving test and obtain an Italian licence, then I will be a neopatente (new driver) with three years of serious restrictions,” he says.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting an Italian driving licence post-Brexit

Newly administered licences in Italy carry restrictions including on the maximum engine size of the car the holder may drive, tighter speed limits on the motorway and extra penalty points for breaking them.

“In this situation, I am honestly dis-incentivised to get the Italian licence unless there seriously is a real ‘no deal’ scenario on the table,” he says.

“Because if I get an Italian licence now – and of course I could choose now to invest a lot of time and money to get it – and then an agreement is reached to exchange licenses, then I might find myself in a worse position than if I just waited to do an exchange.”

“I am sincerely hoping for an agreement to be reached for experienced drivers with a UK licence.”

James Appleton lives in Milan and says he feels “frustrated about the situation”. Although he concedes that he lives in the city with all the convenience that implies, he is worried about having a car sitting outside his flat that he can no longer drive from January.

“The frustration now is with little over six months left of the year, advice from the authorities has continued to be quite unhelpful,” he tells us.

“We keep hearing, ‘consider your options’. I know my options: I have to start the process of taking a test, which is expensive and lengthy, and which may turn out to be unnecessary, or wait until the end of the year. Those have been my options for year and a half,” he adds.

Frustration for many British nationals still waiting on a post-Brexit driving licence agreement. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

“I feel very much in limbo. If it gets to November and we still haven’t heard anything, I risk having a car that I can’t drive from January as my licence may no longer be valid.

My hope would be if there’s not to be a deal, let us know so there’s time to take the test,” James says. “I don’t want to find out with a week to go, like last year.”

He points to the fact that many other non-EU countries have reciprocal driving licence agreements with Italy, so why not the UK? Meanwhile, Italy is one of only two countries in the EU still not to have made a deal on driving licences.

While he said he didn’t want to sound “entitled”, the lack of clarity was simply confusing.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

Like many others, he tried but didn’t manage to convert his British licence in time as he moved to Italy shortly before the Brexit deadline.

James registered as a resident in December 2020, leaving little time to begin the conversion process. He admitted it was partly his fault “for not having realised the consequences of what was going to happen”.

But “there are some people in a position where it wasn’t so straightforward to convert your licence,” he notes.

This was true for another reader, who wished to remain anonymous. She tells us that she tried to begin the conversion of her UK driving licence three times in Imperia, where she lives, but was told to “wait and see what is decided”.

“No one has taken a note of my requests and attempts so I cannot prove my attempts to get this sorted or listed,” she says.

READ ALSO: How to import your car or motorbike to Italy

In her case, it would therefore be difficult to prove that she began the conversion process before January 1st, 2021.

She also faced setbacks when trying to convert her licence in time after applying for residency before Brexit.

On being told that she needed her final ID card (carta d’identità) proving her residence, she returned to her town hall but couldn’t get the card for another seven months due to no appointments being available.

“Then I couldn’t get the licence exchanged as the person dealing with this was not at work on the day I went. I had to fly back to UK then Covid restrictions kicked in, hampering travel and by then UK was out of Europe and the Italian/UK driver’s licence issues remained unsolved,” she added.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP

So is there any hope that an agreement will be reached and those driving on a UK licence won’t need to sit an Italian driving test?

At this point there are no indications as to whether a decision will be reached either way. The British government continues to advise licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while also stating that they’re working on reaching a deal.

The latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

So far, so much conflicting advice, as many readers point out.

Of those who have decided to take the plunge and sit the Italian driving test, some say it’s “not as difficult as it sounds” while others report having trouble with the highly technical questions in the theory test, not to mention the fact that the test has to be taken in Italian.

If you speak French or German better than Italian, the test may be available in those languages – but not in English.

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

“My question is why can’t you take your driving test in English? Adding it as an option for taking the test would help,” says Njideka Nwachukwu, who moved to Italy in 2019. She failed the theory test and has to try again, at a further cost.

Even if you find taking the test a breeze, the process is known to take around six months – if you pass everything first time – and to set you back hundreds of euros.

At the time of writing, neither Italian nor British government officials have given any indication as to if or when a deal may be reached, or an explanation of why the two countries have not yet been able to reach an agreement.

Nor has any explanation been given as to why this important aspect of life in Italy was never protected under the Withdrawal Agreement in the first place.

When contacted by The Local recently for an update on the situation, the British Embassy in Rome stated: “rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Thank you to everyone who contacted The Local to tell us how they are affected by this issue, including those we couldn’t feature in this article.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.