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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.

Police officers stopping cars in Italy
People across Italy are reporting major delays when booking their driving tests. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

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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For members

VISAS

EXPLAINED: How to apply for an elective residency visa to move to Italy

The elective residency visa is a popular route to relocating to Italy, but the application process can be confounding. The Local asked the experts how to maximise your chances of success.

EXPLAINED: How to apply for an elective residency visa to move to Italy

What is an elective residency visa?

An elective residency visa (ERV) allows you to move to Italy for one year in the first instance, with a view to gaining permanent residency. You can’t work once you arrive or receive an ‘active’ income, so although it’s not a retirement visa it’s typically retirees who apply.

While the ERV is one of the most popular visas for those looking to make the move to Italy without job offers or family ties, it has a relatively high rejection rate, and the complexity of the process can trip up first-time applicants.

The Local interviewed three professionals who regularly assist clients with the ERV application process – Giuditta Petreni at Mazzeschi Legal Counsels, Nick Metta at Studio Legale Metta, and Elze Obrikyte at Giambrone & Partners – to get their insights into how to maximise your chances of success.

Where to start

You’ll need to apply for your ERV at the Italian consulate in the country and city nearest to where you are legally resident.

While the basic requirements are broadly the same, the application process varies slightly between countries and consulates. 

READ ALSO: ‘Seek legal advice’: Your advice on applying for Italian visas post-Brexit

In some countries, including the UK (but not the US and Canada), Italian consulates outsource the process of gathering applications and managing appointments to third-party companies like VFS Global.

In most cases you will need to make an in-person appointment to file your application. During the pandemic some consulates introduced postal applications, and a few have retained this option.

Some consulates accept ERV applications by courier post.

Some consulates accept ERV applications by postal courier. Photo by Joe RAEDLE/ Getty Images via AFP.

You’ll want to start by going to the website of your local consulate and looking over their ERV requirements and instructions. If anything is unclear or information is missing, ask for clarification.

The consulate has 90 days to process your application, though usually you’ll get an answer within weeks. It can take months to get an appointment at some places, however, so you’ll need to do your research and factor the average wait time into your plans.

Requirements

Generally, the key requirements for the ERV are:

  • One or more passport photos.
  • Your passport, which should be valid for at least 3 months after the date when your ERV would expire (you need to send in your actual passport, so plan not to travel abroad for 90 days).
  • Separate application forms for each person applying (even if you are applying as a married couple).
  • Proof of passive income of just over €31,000 per person or €38,000 joint income per year for married couples plus five percent per dependent minor.
  • A valid marriage certificate (re-issued in the past six months) if you’re applying as a couple, and a valid birth certificate (re-issued in the past six months) for dependent minors.
  • A property ownership deed for an Italian property or a rental lease agreement (not an Airbnb or other short-stay booking).
  • One-way travel tickets to Italy.
  • Proof of private health insurance.
  • An application fee of €116 per person.

Regardless of whether or not it’s required by your consulate, the experts we spoke to also recommend:

  • A cover/motivation letter explaining why you want to move to Italy. This should include as much supporting evidence as possible of your connection to Italy and commitment to moving there long-term – not just say that you really like the food and weather.
  • Another cover page with a clear summary of all the documents included in the application, what information they contain, and how they relate to each requirement.

READ ALSO: EU Blue Card: Who can get one in Italy and how do you apply?

You'll need to send off your original passport for up to 3 months when applying for an ERV.

You’ll need to send off your original passport for up to 3 months when applying for an ERV. Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP.

The experts’ advice

Two of the most common mistakes experts say people make when applying for the ERV is thinking they can come to Italy to open a B&B (this counts as working), and believing that having substantial savings is the same thing as a passive income.

READ ALSO: Digital nomad: What are the rules on working remotely from Italy?

“We’ve had clients come to us with very significant wealth – two, three-plus million – invested in the stock market, bonds, but they didn’t have any conventional income… so the consulate told them they would not qualify,” says Metta.

For people in this situation, lawyers or financial advisors can assist you in turning your savings into a passive income stream. Buying property that can be rented out is a common solution that is generally regarded favourably by decision-makers, say Metta and Obrikyte.

The next piece of advice is to include as much relevant documentation as possible with your application. For example, even though not all consulates require travel tickets, “it’s always better just to enclose them,” says Obrikyte.

Petreni says that in her experience, it helps if an applicant owns a property in Italy rather than signing a rental contract, as it shows you’re committed to relocating there.

Of course, you may not want to invest in a property when you don’t know for sure you’ll be able to move. Even as a tenant, standard rental contracts in Italy are for a minimum of four years, and temporary 12-month contracts tend to be viewed less favourably by the consulate, which wants evidence of a long-term commitment.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about navigating Italian rental contracts

Metta says he gets around this Catch-22 by advising clients who don’t own Italian property to sign a 12-month lease agreement but add a clause that allows them to leave with two or three months’ notice, explaining (largely for the consulate’s benefit) that they intend to property-hunt once in Italy as they plan to relocate permanently.

Lastly, Metta advises clients to book an appointment at the very start of the process – before gathering your documentation – in order to streamline things, as it usually doesn’t cost anything to book or cancel an appointment.

People enjoy dinner in a restaurant at sunset in southern Sicily.

People enjoy dinner in a restaurant at sunset in southern Sicily. Photo by ludovic MARIN / AFP.

The consulate is king

A key concept that applicants need to wrap their heads around at the start of the process is that your consulate has total control over your application, and can introduce additional requirements at will.

In fact, says Petreni, it’s not so much the consulate as the one individual working there who has all the power to decide who gets an ERV: “One consulate can be very strict, but if the officer changes, then it can become a friendly consulate.”

Unfortunately, you can’t choose a consulate with a more ‘lenient’ officer, as you can only apply to the one where you’re legally resident.

READ ALSO: Visas and residency permits: How to move to Italy (and stay here)

Because of this, you want to be careful to couch your requests in the politest of language and be humble in your dealings with anyone at the consulate. “You don’t want to go there and say ‘oh, here is the printing of the law’ and this and that – absolutely not,” says Metta.

You also want to avoid doing anything that could even imply you’re making a demand. For example, you’ll want to book your travel tickets for at least 90 days after your appointment date – the full period allotted for them to make a decision.

The most alarming discretionary power held by the consular officer from an applicant’s perspective is their ability to stipulate a passive income threshold that is far higher than the official minimum of €31,000 per person or €38,000 per couple.

Petreni says it’s “typical” for the consulates Mazzeschi deals with to require three to four times this amount.

Metta’s experience is less extreme – “in general, they will honour the €31,000, one person and €38,000, spouse” – but he’s also dealt with consulates that interpret the rules as requiring €31,000 per person, regardless of whether they are married, and a few routinely say they won’t take less than €100,000 per person.

Unfortunately, consulates are allowed to do this, as the minimum is “purely indicative” says Petreni – while it feels unfair, they ultimately have the power to set their own thresholds.

Visitors walk down a street in Bolgheri, Tuscany in October 2017.

Visitors walk down a street in Bolgheri, Tuscany in October 2017. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

What to do if you get rejected

Fortunately, it’s not necessarily the end of the line if your application is rejected on financial or other grounds.

Metta says his colleagues frequently contact the officer in charge at the consulate if they’ve issued a rejection to try and negotiate a solution, and this often works.

In a recent case where a client was asked to show income of €100,000, “we contacted the person in charge, exchanged correspondence, provided some extra legal support in terms of evidence and official sources, and we got another appointment and the person finally got their visa,” he says.

Obrikyte says it’s typical for consulates to issue a ‘pre-rejection’ letter before delivering their final answer that specifies what the sticking point is, giving you a chance to fix the issue.

READ ALSO: ‘Arduous process’: What to expect when applying for Italian permanent residency

“In that occasion it is possible to try to negotiate and change their mind, and this happens very very often,” she says.

If this doesn’t work and you receive an official rejection, you can appeal in court. Obrikyte says that in her experience, simply notifying the consulate that a claim has been filed has caused them to change their minds and issue the visa.

Metta, however, advises against filing an appeal, due both to the time and expense involved and the danger that it could work against you.

“If you go through court, that requirement will pass, but there will be… I don’t want to say retaliation, but there will definitely be a dragging, forever, of the process.”

Instead, he advises clients to start from scratch and reapply. “Usually what we recommend is, let’s rearrange your finances and submit the paperwork – it will be so much faster, easier.”

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. For further information on the ERV and how to apply, visit the Italian foreign ministry’s visa website.

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