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DRIVING

‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

As Brits living in Italy could be required to sit an Italian driving test if a post-Brexit agreement on reciprocal driving licences isn't reached, one reader told The Local that it's really not as hard as you might think.

“If I can do it, anyone can,” Liz Walker, who lives in the southern region of Puglia, said when describing her experience of sitting and passing her Italian driving test.

At 68 years old and with a self-assessment of “limited” Italian language skills, Liz claimed she is proof that getting your Italian driving licence isn’t impossible – even if the process sounds intimidating to non-Italians.

Italy is currently one of the only EU countries not to have reached an agreement that will allow Brits living in Italy to swap their driving licences without resitting a test, but the UK government says that talks are still ongoing.

Once Britain left the EU, British residents joined a list of other countries that require drivers to retake their test in Italy in order to get an Italian licence (patente B) and be legally allowed to drive on Italy’s roads.

Brits are still benefitting from a 12-month grace period in which they can continue to use their British licence in Italy.

Since there are now less than four months to go, some drivers may consider starting to practise for their test so that they can still drive from January 1st – in case a deal isn’t made.

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

Liz decided not to gamble on the two countries reaching an accord by the end of December and her decision became easier when the Italian authorities refused to recognise her British paper driving certificate.

Although she’s from England, she didn’t have the plastic card version of her licence as she had been living in South Africa for the previous 40 years.

UK driving licence photocard. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP)

After moving to Italy in January 2020, she decided to start revising for her Italian driving test after repeatedly trying, and failing, to get the paper version of her licence recognised.

Italy does not exchange licences from most non-EU countries, including South Africa, so she couldn’t convert that licence either.

Many people The Local has spoken to about sitting the Italian driving test said it can be a lengthy, expensive and difficult process.

And for those who aren’t fluent in Italian, the country does not give the option to sit the test in English – making it even more challenging.

The theory test is often the part non-Italians who need to sit the Italian driving test find most daunting – with some readers telling us they’re still putting it off because they don’t feel confident enough with either the language or the large amount of detailed theoretical knowledge needed.

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

But Liz told us to “be prepared to sit down and study” and if you have that mentality, you’ll pass it.

So how did she do it if her Italian language skills are basic?

Despite not being able to speak much Italian, Liz said that she could eventually read everything after memorising the questions and terminology.

“I practised the theory test for around three hours a day for two-and-a-half months. Eventually, it becomes instinctive and you recognise what the questions are,” Liz said.

She began her studies during lockdown, taking advantage of the extra time on her hands as she was, like everyone in Italy in March 2020, unable to go anywhere.

Photo: Ilse on Unsplash

With the Italian Driver’s Manual in hand, Liz said she went through all 43 chapters and read every question, translating everything and jotting down words she didn’t know.

She practised online quizzes, took plenty of practice tests and eventually went to a local driving school (autoscuola) to book her theory test.

Only the driving instructor didn’t believe she could do it as she couldn’t speak Italian. He watched in disbelief as she kept sitting and passing practice tests with zero errors.

Liz said she paid a total of €200 for theory lessons at which she just turned up and kept passing practice tests.

Eventually, the instructor agreed to take her to the testing centre (with a €30 transport fee) for the official theory test, which she passed again with no errors.

“I was shaking like a leaf when I went to sit the theory exam, but once I read the questions slowly, I had no problems and finished everything within 14 minutes,” Liz confirmed.

You’re allowed a maximum of 30 minutes for 40 true or false questions and Liz said that it’s not difficult if you’re prepared to read what it says – and don’t assume.

READ ALSO:

She revealed that they ask the same question several times, just in different ways or inverted.

Her hard work paid off, as among the group of seven from her driving school, only she and two others passed – and they were all native Italian speakers.

Photo: Daniel Hansen on Unsplash

On to the practical test

Liz was told she needed to take 12 driving lessons, which she was surprised by, given she’s been driving her whole life.

In fact, six hours of driving lessons with an approved instructor are compulsory, as stated on the Italian Ministry of Transport’s website.

Regardless, she did the 12 hours as requested by the driving instructor, which came to another €240.

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

She found the instructor to be “dangerous”, noting that he didn’t adhere to ‘stop’ signs, overtook on roads where it’s not allowed and kept speeding.

“He broke every rule in the book,” Liz told us.

Fortunately and despite the hazardous tuition, Liz had no problems passing the test, which cost another €50.

It took 10 minutes with a short drive and some basic manoeuvres, such as reversing and a three-point turn, and it was over.

So after a few months of hard study and around €500 later, Liz received her Italian driving licence straight after passing her practical test.

Apart from lots of revision (and in her case, the willingness to overlook dubious driving from the instructor), Liz advised the key is to “go in with confidence”.

If you’re planning to sit your Italian driving test, the following sites contain useful resources to supplement your lessons, along with the Italian Driver’s Manual:

For more information on driving in Italy, keep an eye on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section and also check the Italian government’s page on steps to obtain a Patente B.

See The Local’s Dealing with Brexit section for more guides and updates.

Member comments

  1. Obtaining my license was about the same as in this article. I was fortunate to have a bilingual instructor. I paid 550 euro for the whole process, including multiple theory lesson. I spent many hours of study. Another good resource is
    https://www.rmastri.it/quiz-patente-b/ .
    An Italian driving license is required if one is a resident for more than 1 year, until then a license from a country that does not have reciprocity (such as the US) with Italy is OK

  2. I went through the same process. The autoscuola was indispensible. Even if proficient in Italian, one must still put in the hours of study to memorize the minutia contained in the manual. Beware of trick questions on the quiz.
    Also, be aware that after you pass the test, you will be a considered a neopatente, which menas that you will not be able to legally drive a car with more than 95 horsepower (and other restrictions on power), higher insurance, etc. The horsepower restriction is the biggest problem if you already own a car that is more powerful. I had to sell the SUV that I had purchased in Italy. I later became aware of this utterly asinine rule, which penalizes not only foreigners but also Italians who want their newly-licensed children to be able to drive the family car.

  3. I once went to a circus where one act did daring motorcycle stunts. Yet, the Italian crowd wasn’t impressed because it was just like normal driving in Italy. On the road I’ve seen drivers do incredible things that would get them thrown in jail in most other countries. Why is it that Italian drivers routinely mow through stop signs and drive the wrong direction on one-way streets, yet are incredulous when I make a right turn on red? “You can’t do that!” [gasp] And of course it’s always amusing watching mindfully rule following German tourists try to navigate Italian traffic. On the autobahn one can go 120kph in the fast lane, but on the autostrada you can pass on the right shoulder at 120kph. And yet everyone is required to pass a rigorous exam on rules that nobody actually follows

  4. We are Americans and my wife and I are residents of Italy. I agree with rbwallace that the autoscuola was indispensible. There are many trick questions, but if you keep taking the quizes and practice exams online, eventually will have seen every question on the Theory Test. My wife’s Italian is much better than mine so I was paranoid about the Theory Test, which is in Italian. So I took 250 practice exams online. I would just budget about an hour a day and take 3-4. No problem for either of us.
    The practical exam was pretty much an afterthought. The examiner knew we were both experienced drivers and really just had us do two or three basic things (which of course included parallel parking) and off we went.

    Now there is that little thing about not driving a car with over 75kW for a year. I won’t speculate on this post about the Hp/Potenza of our car. But, I will say that within that first year, I was stopped twice for roadside safety checks. The carabinieri went through every document I had in addition to my Patente (Certificate of circulation, insurance, my residence permit, etc.), and never said a single thing about the power of the car.

  5. Agree with the author: the theory exam is difficult, but totally doable if you’re willing to spend time to study. As a Vietnamese with little knowledle of the Italian language, my personal tip is to study in group and do quiz together-lots and lots of quiz to improve ability to translate and understand the questions. I purchased Quiz from https://www.qwizard.it/site/esercitati/ and found it useful thanks to its format (exactly like the real exam), with explanation after each error. 500 quizzes for 12,20eur I think it’s pretty fair.
    Note: starting from Jan 2022 the exam will change: 30 questions, 20 minutes, 3 errors allowed (instead of 40 questions, 30 minutes and 4 errors like before)

  6. Isn’t difficult?!?!??? Not exactly the article I was hoping for when I read the headline.

    “I practised the theory test for around three hours a day for two-and-a-half months. Eventually, it becomes instinctive and you recognise what the questions are,” Liz said.

    Isn’t difficult. This means she studied 225 hours (2.5 month x 3 hours/day), no? Am I misunderstanding this?

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BREXIT

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

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

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

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

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

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

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

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, 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.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“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.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

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

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

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

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

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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