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

Italy's international residents often find themselves needing to retake their driving tests due to the country's rules on foreign permits. Here's a look at how the rules apply depending on where you (and your licence) come from.

Some foreign nationals have to retake their driving test in Italy on becoming residents.
Some foreign nationals have to retake their driving test in Italy on becoming residents. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

Many of The Local’s readers from the US, Canada, and elsewhere have written in recently to check what the rules are on driving in Italy on a licence issued in their countries.

The issue of foreigners in Italy having to obtain an Italian driving licence has been in the news lately as the British government continues negotiations over whether UK nationals living in Italy can keep their pre-Brexit rights to drive on Italian roads with a British driving licence or not.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

This loss of rights has come as an unwelcome surprise to many British nationals in Italy, whether or not they may have voted for it. But these rules have long been in place for people moving to Italy from many other countries.

Who needs to get an Italian driving licence?

Simply put, the majority of people moving to Italy for the longer term from outside the EU are probably going to need to swap their licences.

If you’re a resident in Italy and want to drive on the nation’s roads, it’s mandatory to have an EU or Italian licence.

Note that this only applies to residents. Visitors do not face this requirement.

The Italian rules state that holders of a driving licence from most non-EU countries can drive in Italy for a maximum of one year from acquiring residence in Italy. After that, they’ll need to exchange it for an Italian licence or, if that’s not possible, retake their driving test in order to get their Italian licence.

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

Like the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa do not have reciprocal agreements in place with Italy allowing licences issued in those countries to be swapped for an Italian one in most cases.

If your licence was issued by another EU member state, you can continue to use it in Italy and there’s no legal requirement to exchange it for an Italian one, though it is recommended that you do so. The exchange will not involve retaking a test and will be a more straightforward swap.

There are also some countries outside of the EU which have a reciprocal agreement with Italy, meaning driving licences from these countries can be exchanged for an Italian one:

Here are the countries which currently have reciprocal agreements in place according to Italy’s Ministry of Transport:

  • Albania (new agreement valid until 12 July 2026)
  • Algeria
  • Argentina
  • Brazil (until 13 January 2023)
  • Philippines
  • Japan
  • Lebanon
  • Macedonia
  • Morocco
  • Moldova
  • Principality of Monaco
  • Republic of Korea
  • Republic of San Marino
  • Switzerland (until 12 June 2026)
  • Taiwan
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine (until January 24, 2027)

The following countries allow exchange in certain cases:

  • Canada (diplomatic and consular staff)
  • Chile (diplomatic staff and their families)
  • United States (diplomatic personnel and their families)
  • Zambia (citizens on governmental missions and their families)

READ ALSO: Explained: How to pay Italian traffic fines from abroad

The ministry states that conversion without retaking your test is only possible if

  • The foreign driving license was obtained before acquiring residence in Italy
  • The license holder has been resident in Italy for less than four years at the time of submitting the application (those who have been residing for more than four years will have to take the exam).

It’s unclear why certain countries have these agreements with Italy and others don’t, and what the criteria are.

Drivers with licences that may not be exchanged need to take a full Italian theory and practical driving exam to obtain an Italian licence.

Besides the considerable cost and time commitment of taking a test in Italy – not to mention the fact that the exam must be completed in Italian, requiring a very strong grasp of the language – those who do manage to pass the test face the additional hurdle of being considered a ‘new driver’ (neopatentato/a) in Italy.

Drivers in Italy are considered neopatentati for three years after passing the exam and face tighter restrictions in that time, as well as higher insurance costs.

Please note The Local is unable to advise on individual cases. To find out more about how Italy’s rules on driving licences apply to you, check with the relevant Embassy or Consulate or the Ministry of Transport uffici della motorizzazione civile.

Member comments

  1. The article states that an EU licence can readily be converted to an Italian one. This is not necessarily true. If the test was taken in the WU, then no problem. But if you present an EU licence converted from a licence not on the list of non-EU countries that convert in Italy, you will be refused.

    For example, Cyprus converts NZ licences, but Italy does not. A person with a NZ licence can convert to a Cyprus licence, and hold an EU licence, but cannot convert this EU licence to an Italian one.

    Crazy rules – but beware.

  2. What a shambles this is, if your Italian and come to live in the UK you can change your Italian licence for a UK one, crazy.

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Brexit Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home, survey reveals

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home, survey reveals

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.