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DRIVING

Reader question: Will my UK driving licence still be valid in Italy after 2021?

With just over four months to go until UK driving licences are no longer valid in Italy, many readers have contacted The Local to ask how likely it is that Italy and the UK will make a post-Brexit agreement to allow Brits living in Italy to exchange their permits. Here's what we know so far.

Reader question: I didn’t swap my UK driving licence before the Brexit transition period ended. Is there an update on whether Italy will follow other EU countries in allowing us to exchange licences and avoid the pain of taking the Italian driving test?

Drivers with a UK licence who were officially living in Italy before January 2021 had some reprieve when the Italian government confirmed they could continue to use their permit for 12 months after the end of the Brexit transition period.

It provided breathing space for residents in Italy with UK licences, as they had initially been warned they may need to take an Italian driving test immediately.

The current agreement is valid until December 31st, which means those with a UK driving licence can keep on using them in Italy until this date.

But with the clock now ticking and no announcement on whether Italy and the UK will strike a deal to recognise each other’s driving licences, Brits in Italy are faced with taking a gamble – start the process of sitting an Italian test now or wait until an accord is reached.

READ ALSO:

If Italy and the UK don’t negotiate a reciprocal agreement, UK driving licences could no longer be accepted from 1st January 2022.

On the other hand, if a deal is reached before the end of the year, people with UK driving licences could end up escaping the notoriously tricky theory and practical tests, which have to be taken entirely in Italian.

There is no official update since the UK government said in April that talks were underway and a decision was still on the table, according to the British Embassy in Rome.

“Negotiations with Italy are on-going on a future agreement for UK nationals living in Italy to be able to exchange their UK driving licence for a local one without re-sitting their test,” a spokesperson told The Local in early April.

It now means Brits face a tricky waiting game and the hope that a deal is pulled off. If not, it means that British residents with a UK licence won’t be able to drive in Italy after December – until they’ve taken the Italian driving test to obtain their patente di guida (driving licence).

It can be a costly and lengthy process, with some foreign nationals in Italy saying it’s taken them years of re-testing due to the technicality of the language required.

Photo by Darwin Vegher on Unsplash

Am I affected if I’ve lived here many years?

Yes. Article 135 of Italy’s Highway Code states that drivers whose licence was not issued by another EU country – or Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway – have one year from the date they register their residence in Italy in which to get an Italian licence.

The article cannot be applied retroactively, which means that even British residents who have been here for years can begin counting their one-year grace period from January 1st 2021 rather than the date on which they actually declared residency.

So if you’ve been here years and never converted your licence, you’ll need to act quickly, but you can also currently use your UK licence until the end of the year.

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

Have other EU countries made deals with the UK on driving licences?

Most other EU countries have already announced that they have come to reciprocal agreements with the UK that will allow driving licences to be exchanged without the need for a test.

Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP

“All EU/EEA Member States, except for Italy, have confirmed reciprocal arrangements for exchanging licences, confirming that a retest will not be required for resident UK nationals,” wrote Conservative Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Transport, in response to the question of exchanging UK driving licences for one from an EU country.

France reached a deal in June after plenty of uncertainty for UK licence holders, previously even leaving some stranded without a licence altogether.

Meanwhile, Spain extended the validity of UK driving licences to the end of October, giving more British drivers the opportunity to complete their exchange for a Spanish licence or sit their Spanish driving test before the deadline.

Spanish authorities are still in talks with the UK government about a future reciprocal agreement “without the need for a practical test”.

READ ALSO: ‘Expect the unexpected’: What you need to know about driving in Italy

Do I need to get an Italian licence if I have a holiday home in Italy?

No. Only UK licence holders who have their full-time residence in Italy are required to get an Italian licence. Tourists and second-home owners can continue to use their UK licence when they visit and do not need an International Driving Permit.

Residents in Italy will end up only having an Italian driving licence, as you can’t hold two licences at the same time – so you’ll surrender your UK one when you get your Italian patente.

Does Italy have reciprocal agreements with other countries?

While residents with licences from other EU countries – formerly including the UK – can swap their documents without retaking a test, Italy does not exchange licences from most non-EU countries, including the United States, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand and currently, the UK.

Italy does have reciprocal driving licence agreements with around 20 non-EU countries, including Switzerland, Brazil, the Philippines and Turkey (full list here), which allow holders of these licences to swap their permits without taking an Italian test.

For more information on driving in Italy, keep an eye on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section and if you do go through the process of obtaining and Italian licence check the Italian government’s page on steps to obtain a Patente B.

Find all The Local’s Brexit updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

Member comments

  1. This should have been sorted by now, leaving people to worry about this is just not necessary. It is one of the reasons i have chosen to leave Italy.

  2. This is a nightmare. If I started the process with a driving school now do I have to surrender my licence and so if an agreement is reached before December then I have to go down the test route..as I have started that process?

  3. The article is good to read and my wife and I have both wondered if we should start the process of taking a driving test – seems a bit crazy to start and incur the costs and then scrap or worse as Joanna above be forced to continue.
    We similarly to Paul wonder if one of us should surrender residency and keep a UK licence. Its fairly pitiful to see they have 20 non EU countries sorted and the UK have obviously not put any squeeze on the Italians. Surely they could say you have two weeks to confirm and if you do not we will make all Italians in the UK sit a UK licence ? Its not strong arm tactics is just pure common sense and good manners. If the embassy staff read this article and comments could you please give us an update on who is causing the blockage. Name and shame the Italian ? or heaven forbid its Grant Schapps !!!

  4. Hi I think applying some pressure as a group on the UK Dept of Transport who are responsible for this and the Embassy in Rome is worthwhile otherwise it may be left at the bottom of the pile. I dont use facebook or twitter but that might be a good tactic to keep bringing it to the attention of the Embassy in Rome (Jill Morris)

    Below is the last reply I received from the DOT on 13/8/21

    Thank you for your email of 15 July 2021 about exchanging a UK driving licence in Italy.
    Department for Transport officials are currently negotiating exchange arrangements for UK licence holders resident in Italy and vice versa, as a matter of priority.

    UK residents living in EU countries were encouraged to exchange their valid
    licences for a local one before 31 December 2020.

    While those discussions are ongoing, the Italian Government have confirmed that UK licence holders can continue to use their UK licence for 12 months from becoming a resident in Italy and those who have been resident in Italy for more than 12 months can continue to use their valid UK licence until 31 December 2021. A test will be required to exchange a UK licence for a local one within this period.
    When available, updates will be made to the Living in Italy
    guide here and gov.uk pages will be updated as soon as future arrangements are finalised.

  5. This will definitely be sorted by next year… just the typical bureaucracy. You can either spend your life worrying about these things or forget it, go and enjoy a nice coffee or beer in the sun and trust that these things will work themselves out 🙂

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For members

BREXIT

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.

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