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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.

Italy’s government says it has allocated over 3 billion euros for road improvements.
Prepare for your Italian driving test with these handy resources. Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP

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.

Member comments

  1. I’m not sure if this stands up but if we were here before 2020 and have the permesso di soggiorno stating that we are protected by the withdrawal agreement then why doesn’t the driving licence fall in to this?

  2. Not a problem just for the British. Americans as well. Not having a license here, absolutely takes a toll on the quality of life here. Being an experienced , safe driver in the USA for over 50 years with only 1 moving violation, it’s depressing and costly to have to go back to the beginning. This is something that could be a nice revenue stream for the Italian Motor Vehicle Department. If you have been driving for more than 20 years, can show a valid USA (State) drivers license, present a document from your current (or recently current) insurance provider in the States that you have been a safe driver with limited violations… then offer the written exam in English… and if you pass it, exchange the license for a fee… €400 or €500. Why on earth should a veteran driver, with a good driving record have to start from the very beginning?

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For members

DRIVING

Why is it taking so long to book a driving test in Italy?

People trying to sit their driving tests in many parts of Italy are reporting long delays when booking their theory or practical exam. The Local looks at why this is happening.

Why is it taking so long to book a driving test in Italy?

Getting an Italian driving licence (or patente di guida) isn’t exactly a piece of cake, especially for foreign residents, who, besides familiarising themselves with the national Highway Code, must also achieve a high level of Italian language proficiency before taking the test.

But the process has become more of a challenge over the past few months for candidates experiencing long waiting times – up to five months in some cases – when booking their theory or practical tests.

READ ALSO: Who needs to exchange their driving licence for an Italian one?

As many local licensing offices (Uffici di Motorizzazione Civile, which are roughly equivalent to the UK’s DVLA or the US DMV) fail to explain these delays, candidates are left wondering what the problem is. 

The short answer is that Italy’s licensing department is facing critical understaffing problems, which, by the look of things, aren’t going away anytime soon. 

“The problem is national,” Emilio Patella, national secretary of Italy’s main driving schools’ union UNASCA, tells The Local.

“The size of the [licensing department’s] current workforce is half of what it was ten years ago, or half of what it should be on a regular basis.”

READ ALSO: Do you have to take Italy’s driving test in Italian?

Cars line up to cross the Italian-Swiss border

People taking their practical driving tests in Como face a waiting time of 140 days on average. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

This means that, presently, there simply aren’t enough employees around to meet the market’s demand – a situation which is the result of “over 20 years where few to no hirings were made”, according to Patella.

Not all local offices are currently registering gigantic delays, with waiting times varying from area to area based on demand and the number of staff available.

Regions in the north-west and north-east of the country – especially Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna – are bearing the brunt of the national crisis.

Como has the worst-affected office in the country, Patella says, with the average waiting time for candidates looking to take their practical test standing at 140 days (or well north of four months).

Other cities experiencing long delays include Brescia, Bergamo, Milan, Turin, Vicenza, Verona, Piacenza, Parma, and Reggio Emilia.

Katherine Sahota, a British national living in Brescia, has been trying to book her theory test since September, but says there have been “little to no appointments available” in the area.

While being denied the opportunity to book a test is sufficiently frustrating in and of its own, the issue is particularly pressing for Britons in Italy at the moment.

READ ALSO: ‘So stressful’: How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple’s Tuscan dream

The 12-month grace period allowing British nationals to drive across Italy on UK licences is due to expire on December 31st and, with negotiations over a reciprocal agreement between Italy and the UK showing no sign of progress, many British nationals have chosen to get an Italian driving licence. 

But the delays affecting many licensing offices across Italy are already undermining their efforts and mean it’s unlikely some residents will be able to get their licence before the deadline.

Sahota might just be one of them. 

“It is a helpless situation not being able to plan anything,” she tells The Local.

“I don’t think they understand how this affects the lives of people who need to drive for work, for families, for their own freedom of movement.”

Sahota’s situation, and that of many others across the country, isn’t being helped by the inherent nature of the Italian licensing system, which is built on a series of tight, consecutive deadlines. 

Red Vespa motorcycle and vintage Fiat

The Italian licensing system is based on a series of tight deadlines, which make candidates susceptible to even the shortest delays. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

After submitting a request to take the test, candidates have six months to pass the theory exam, within a maximum of only two attempts. They then have 12 months and a total of three attempts to pass the practical exam. 

Also, those who have to resit either exam can only do so at least a month after the failed attempt.

As a result of this, even a waiting time as ‘short’ as two months might keep a candidate from being able to retake an exam within the set timeframe. If this happens, the candidate has no choice but to re-enrol and pay all the enrolment fees again.

Several reports of residents not being able to retake an exam through no fault of their own have emerged over the past few weeks. 

Stefano Galletti, president of Bologna’s UNASCA office, said last week that candidates in the city “can barely take an exam” in the given time span, with longer-than-usual waiting times often keeping people from retaking in case of failure.

READ ALSO: Some of the best learner sites for taking your Italian driving test

While hiring more examiners looks like the solution to the problem, but increasing the Italian licensing department’s workforce might not be as straightforward as many would think. 

According to Patella, the Italian government will have to either implement a special hiring policy known as ‘piano straordinario’ – an option which, he says, hasn’t been considered so far – or delegate tasks to employees of other national agencies in order to fill the current gaps. 

But, even if one of the above measures were to be put into effect, Patella believes that “we would only manage to get back to a normal state of things in around three years” – that’s also because “being an examiner is not a very sought-after job and few people are still willing to do it”.

In the meantime, residents facing delays can get in touch with the Italian licensing department’s support centre to report their issue or ask for guidance. 

It’s also worth noting that residents are allowed to sit their driving tests in a province other than the one where they reside. 

However, if the province where they choose to take the test doesn’t border that in which they are resident, the licensing office can ask candidates to give a valid reason for the choice and to provide additional documentation.

For further information, contact your local licensing office (Uffici di Motorizzazione Civile). Find details of your nearest office here

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