Brexit: Time running out for UK-Italy driving licence agreement

There's just over a week left until UK driving licences are no longer valid in Italy. As the deadline draws ever closer for Italy and the UK to make a post-Brexit agreement to allow Brits living in Italy to exchange their permits, the UK government says that talks are still continuing.

There's just over a week left for UK driving licences to be recognised in Italy.
There's just over a week left for UK driving licences to be recognised in Italy. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

With just days left in 2021, many readers have contacted The Local to ask 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 of Italy 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.

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.

But now those 12 months are almost up, ending on December 31st 2021.

A growing number of readers have told The Local they are concerned about being able to drive in Italy from January and have asked for updates about an agreement being reached in time – and what it means if one isn’t.

A spokesperson for the British government told The Local on Wednesday that negotiations are still ongoing.

“We very much recognise the concern felt by many UK nationals regarding driving licences. Please rest assured our engagement with the Italian government on this continues at pace,” the spokesperson said.

Many hoped that Italy and the UK would have made a decision by now, which would allow drivers to continue using their British licence in 2022. As things stand, there is no time left start the process of sitting an Italian test, should UK licences not be recognised from January 1st 2022.

UK driving licence photocard. Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP

Although they confirmed no agreement is yet in place, the UK government spokesperson said that negotiations are continuing with the Italian government on the right to obtain an Italian licence without the need to re-sit a driving test.

The British Ambassador, Jill Morris, provided the latest update on a possible deal at a meeting in Naples last week, according to the UK government.

Both the Ambassador and the UK authorities confirmed they have requested an extension to the December 31st 2021 deadline, but there are still no further details on when this could come into effect or for how long it would last.

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

Wendy Morton MP told The Local in September that making a deal on driving licences before the end of this year was “our absolute priority”.

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

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 on a reciprocal agreement by the end of next week?

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.

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

The British ambassador Jill Morris stated on the British Chamber’s latest update, “Until an agreement is reached you will need to re-sit your driving test to obtain a local licence.”

“Both governments share the same objective of having the agreement in force as soon as possible in order to minimise disruption and limit the impact on daily life,” she added.

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.

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.

If Brits are eventually required to re-sit an driving test in Italy, there are other implications such as the type of car you’re allowed to drive as ‘new’ drivers or neopatentati.

According to the Highway Code, there are limits on the engine power of the car you may drive, as well as tighter speed restrictions in place for those recently certified in Italy.


Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Extra time for those who obtained Italian residency in 2021

Not all British citizens living in Italy are against the clock. Some 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.

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.

Does Italy have reciprocal agreements with other countries?

Although the authorities have indicated a deal between Italy and the UK is planned, albeit potentially slower than scheduled, it isn’t necessarily a given.

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 though, 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.

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. Again there is confusion in this article between “UK” licences and “British” licences. There is no “British” licence, per se, but licences issued by the Crown Dependencies could be generically described as British. Do the negotiations foresee recognition and reciprocal change of Jersey, Guernsey and IOM licences, as well as UK licences?

  2. “Both governments share the same objective of having the agreement in force as soon as possible in order to minimise disruption and limit the impact on daily life,”
    Have I missed something here? Someone’s telling porkies. What’s to stop me saying, if stopped, I’m a tourist, I’ve borrowed my friend’s car?

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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.