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DRIVING

Reader question: How likely is a UK-Italy agreement on driving licences?

The window is closing fast for Brits living in Italy who use a UK driving licence. Many readers have contacted The Local to ask whether Italy and the UK are closer to making a post-Brexit agreement to allow Brits living in Italy to exchange their permits.

UK driving licences are due to expire in Italy. Here's what British citizens living in Italy need to know.
UK driving licences are due to expire in Italy. Here's what British citizens living in Italy need to know. Photo by Ilse on Unsplash

Reader question: I didn’t swap my UK driving licence before the Brexit transition period ended and haven’t yet sat my Italian driving test. As there are just a few weeks of 2021 left, is there an update on whether Italy and the UK will agree a deal on recognising driving licences?

Since Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, British residents who hadn’t converted their UK licence to an Italian one were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to use their British licence in Italy.

As those 12 months are up on 31st December 2021, readers are contacting The Local to ask if there have been any updates about an agreement being reached in the last few weeks of the year – and what it means if no accord is made.

Q&A: What is the British government doing to help Brits in Italy overcome post-Brexit hurdles?

While most other EU countries have already announced reciprocal agreements with the UK, allowing driving licences to be exchanged without the need for a test, there’s still no arrangement confirmed with Italy.

It means the clock is ticking for those who haven’t yet sat their Italian driving licence, as there is no guarantee that UK licences will be accepted from 1st January 2022.

A spokesperson for the UK government told The Local on Friday that negotiations are ongoing.

“We continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for UK driving licence holders with the Italian government. We have asked the Italian government for an extension to the December 31st 2021 deadline,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The Local has asked for further details on a possible extension.

UK nationals living in Italy can still use their UK driving licence until December 31st 2021. Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP

The Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas, Wendy Morton MP, told The Local in September that reaching an agreement on driving licences before the end of this year was “our absolute priority”.

“We absolutely are continuing to negotiate with the Italian government on the right to exchange a UK licence for an Italian one without the need to retake a driving test,” she confirmed.

The current advice on the UK government’s Living in Italy guide is that you can use your UK driving licence until December 31st 2021.

Extra time for those obtaining residency in 2021

However, some British citizens have a little more leeway, depending on when they got residency in Italy.

“If you moved to Italy after January 1st 2021, you can use your valid UK licence for 12 months from the date you became resident,” state the official guidelines.

Therefore, those who moved to Italy in 2021 and officially became a legal resident this year have 12 months from the date of residency. In theory, that means some UK nationals will have until the end of 2022 before needing to get an Italian driving licence.

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These were the rules before Brexit – the only difference now being that you may need to sit an Italian driving test after 12 months, whereas before Britain left the EU, you could exchange your permit without the need to take the Italian driving theory and practical exams from scratch.

As obtaining the patente di guida (driving licence) is known to be lengthy due to the technicality of the language required, there isn’t much time for those who haven’t yet started the process of sitting their Italian driving test.

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 theory and practical tests, which have to be taken entirely in Italian.

If no agreement is reached by the end of 2021

So where does that leave you if you hadn’t started the conversion of your licence by December 2020 and no agreement is reached?

It looks likely that you would need to retake both the theory and practical tests and, from January 1st 2022, you wouldn’t be allowed to drive on Italy’s roads until you do.

The British ambassador Jill Morris stated on the British Chamber’s latest update, “Until an agreement is in place, you will need to take a test to exchange your valid UK licence.”

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.

Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

The requirement only applies to UK licence holders who have their full-time residence in Italy. Tourists and second-home owners can continue to use their UK licence when they visit and do not need an International Driving Permit.

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.

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

Reciprocal driving licence agreements are in place between Italy and 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 a test

We will continue to post updates on this issue as soon as we get them. Find our latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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

Member comments

  1. Im thinking that if I do end up having to take a driving test in Italy from scratch – what legal basis will they have to take my UK license? If they cannot recognise its existence, how will they even know if I have one. It will certainly be more convenient for me to retain it.

    1. I suspect this is a legacy statement based on not being allowed two EU licenses at once – something enforceable through EU law and reciprocity of member states. I believe you have to be UK resident to renew a UK license but it’s hard to see how, outside the EU, they can stop you having both, at least temporarily. If we have to go through the rigmarole of taking an Italian test, it would be a further slap in the face to have the UK rescind your UK license but we live in odd times.

    1. Your Italian licence also has the number of your UK licence on it. I think we paid about 100 euros each and of course, you have to have a brief medical, which we had at the GP’s surgery – but some of the autoscuole have their own “medicals for licences” sessions.

  2. We have the Italian Highway code book and the translation of the same. Its an absolute minefield for the simple reason that they ask completely non sensical questions almost designed to trip you up. The local Italians say its crazy and dont understand how we can have driven as a visitor for 40 years and then as a resident for 1 year with no “P” on the car and then are required to take a test. Surely the way to resolve is just say all Italians living in the UK will need to sit a UK test ? what is unfair about saying that ? Having seen the driving here and the death rates per 100,000 the Italians should wake up and realise they are being unreasonable. OK so we know that they are Piano Piano and red tape is their game but in the meantime surely an extension is not unreasonable whilst they get their pencil sharpened, hole re-inforcers and tippex sorted. (shows my age) – but its bonkers.

    1. I bought the books and abandoned them straight away as being next-to-useless and an horrendous (in my darker moments I’d say ‘Italian’) way to learn. The app ‘QuizPatente!’ on Andriod though is excellent. I haven’t checked the iOS apps but there’s probably an equivalent. It’s entirely focussed on the questions and the theory directly relevant to them. When I started I was little better than 50% (basically a rhesus monkey) simply because the structure and technical nature of the questions makes it so difficult to understand or translate (Google is close to useless as things like ‘sostare’, ‘fermare’ and ‘arrestare’ mean very different things in Italian but are often translated as the same thing ‘park’ or ‘wait’ in English without the same specifcity) and much of the vocabulary is not everyday Italian. I’m not saying it’s easy but I did go from feeling exactly as you do now, to being very confident that I can pass the theory test even without being particularly proficient in everyday Italian. They are, strangely, very different skills. None of which means I want to have to pass the theory test, just that I no longer fear it as I used to.

  3. There is another awful implication of getting an Italian license which is that you’ll have a ‘neo-patente’ which limits the power/weight ratio of vehicles you can drive for 12 months so you might be forced to drive a little run-around for that time. You’re also limited for 3 years to 100kph on the motorways and dual-carriageways and have double-points for any infractions.

  4. Katie – My husband is an Italian citizen but holds a UK license, we are now resident in Italy. Will he still have to take a driving test to get a new license?

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DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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