Italianista’s Guide to Getting Your Driver’s License in Italy

So you want to drive (legally) in Italy? If you’re American or from another country outside of the EU that doesn’t offer a reciprocal license program, after one year of residency in Italy, you are not allowed to drive on your previous license anymore! To make matters worse, since 2012 getting a license is no longer a self directed adventure, but now EVERY person (even if you’ve been driving for years and years) must enroll in an autoscuola – or driving school – in order to obtain this elusive patente (driver’s license in Italian). This means, it costs more money, takes longer to do and requires a bit more forza on your part.  So are you wondering where to start? I am here to help, since being newly (Italian) licensed myself!

The first step in this process is finding a driving school you like. I visited a few and went with the one that had the nicest staff and was close to home. It was definitely not the most glamorous I had seen, but I really enjoyed the people that worked there and it was walking distance from my apartment (if you’re curious, I went to Autoscuola Arno and I absolutely recommend them).

*Side note: One big consideration in all this is the cars here generally have manual transmission. If you are absolutely against this, you will need to find an autoscuola that has an automatic car – and not many of them do. Additionally, you will receive a mark on your license that prevents you from driving any type of car besides an automatic, which could be problematic when renting or buying a car. It’s up to you, but it might be worth it to learn manual if you don’t know how already, as that is the norm in Italy.

You can also base your school on price, but for the most part, the price of the course is regulated, so you don’t really need to shop around, most schools cost about the same, and they all include the same things:

  • Courses and a book for your theory test
  • One attempt at the theory test  (some don’t include this – so be sure to ask)
  • Driving lessons after you pass your theory (you must do 6, one hour lessons)
  • One driving test for your actual license

You might find some offer a discount if you “self study” and don’t attend their classes, or they offer two attempts at theory (you might need it) and other benefits. On these finer details is where you could shop around a bit but prepare yourself, the price is usually between 600-800 euro when all said and done.

While evaluating autoscuole, you should also ask what happens if you fail the first theory or driving test, as especially with theory (the test is ONLY offered in Italian and SERIOUSLY it is HARD). Some places will offer a free retry and other places you’ll have to pay additional fees.

You will also need to decide what kind of license you want to get. For most people, the “patente B” is the correct one, as it allows you to drive scooters up to 125cc and all type of passenger cars. If you plan on driving tourists, busses, moto-GP type motorcycles, or huge trailers this would not be the license for you. But for everyday “life” it’s the one you want. If you’re unsure, you can ask at the autoscuola.

So, now that you’ve picked your school, there will be some paperwork to fill out. The school will give you instructions on this but so you’re prepared you’ll need:

 – A health certificate, (Certificato Anamnestico) from your doctor (medico di base works) and this costs money, usually 40-60 euro (even if you go to your ASL assigned doctor you still have to pay.

– Fototessera (these are specific sized photos, get at least 4)

– An eye exam specific for driving. Some schools offer this in house – that is by far the easiest option. It usually costs 50-60 euro.

– A marca da bollo (a kind of tax stamp that costs 16 euro – you can buy them at a tabbacchi shop)

 Be sure to ask your specific school if you need anything else and then follow their requirements. Normally, until you’ve completed all the steps above, they won’t proceed with your official enrollment.

Once you’ve handled all that and you’re officially enrolled, it’s time to start studying for phase one: the theory test.  Your school should offer you (or ask you to buy) a driving manual. This is definitely worth getting as it allows you to write, take notes, search the index, etc and I personally read the whole book, made note cards on words I didn’t know and also on the street signage (warning – to an American, their street signs are completely illogical – you’ll just have to get over it ;). I also downloaded an app: Quiz Patente Ufficiale.

Honestly, this app is EVERYTHING. I did not attend a single lesson at the school, but I took about 300+ quizzes before attempting the actual theory test. I highly recommend studying with the app, by doing the quizzes and studying your mistakes. As a bonus, some of the questions were questions I saw on the actual exam too – so it’s legit! And, it’s free! For reference I had completed almost 50% of the quizzes when I took the theory test and passed, plus had revisited almost 100% of my errors. When I talked to the other students who passed most had completed 40-70% of the app as well. Less than that, and the students had failed, so I really recommend dedicating yourself to those quizzes and the app.

Beyond that, my personal study method was to read the book, make note cards, review information, and of course study quizzes via the app. I took quiz after quiz after quiz and made more note cards after discovering things I clearly didn’t retain from the book. If you prefer to attend classes, they will do practice quizzes there as well, and review the book. It’s up to you to decide how you study best, but I promise you this, if you don’t study you won’t pass the quiz. When I took mine there were people there on their 7th, or 8th attempt! (NB: If you don’t pass, you can take the test again, but not sooner than one month and one day after the first attempt).

In my opinion:  I think one of the hardest challenges of the theory test is not the test itself but the Italian. It is written in a way that it tricks native speakers, so for non-natives, it can be super challenging. Honestly, I learned so much new Italian, studying for this test and I already spoke fluently. If your Italian isn’t already near native, this will be the hardest part. You will need to really study the terms and understand the grammar, which is why the practice quizzes, are all the more crucial.

After you feel ready to take the real test, let your driving school know and they will schedule your theory exam. I asked for it about a week or two before I knew I would be ready so I didn’t waste a ton of time waiting because the appointments take some weeks to confirm. The driving school will let you know what day and time the test is assigned – you can’t change this appointment once it’s set, so be prepared to drop everything to go. Alternatively, inquire early about how the process works to get signed up for the theory test. Some schools do it differently, but most of the time, the date is assigned a bit last minute.

The day of your test, you might travel with others from the school to go to the motorizzazione (the Italian version of the American DMV) together or you can ask to meet them there. You will have a set time slot, and FYI they are ALWAYS late but you should still be there on time!

Once it’s your time slot’s turn, they will call your name and you will head into an exam room.  You’ll be required to turn off your phone and leave your belongings at the entrance. You are then assigned a computer and you’ll have to log in with your codice fiscale (so if you don’t have it memorized, bring the card). You’ll also need your carta d’identità and your permesso di soggiorno (unless you’re an Italian citizen).

The exam itself is completed on computers, with you answering 40 true and false questions. You can only get 4 questions wrong and pass the test. Once you’re done you submit the test on the computer and you get your results shortly thereafter (same day). If you pass, you will be awarded the elusive, foglia rosa or permit (it’s pink colored thus the nickname), that your autoscuola will provide to you.

With permit in hand, you will need to place a big letter P on the back of your car (for principiante) and you can begin practicing driving legally (don’t forget to be accompanied by someone else with a patente for at least 10 years!).  Also, some cars with too much horsepower are not allowed to be driven by neopatentati (new drivers) so if you are planning on driving a Ferrari in the first two years of having your license, the answer is NO. You can check your car type with your driving school to be sure. Also, it’s best to start practicing right away, especially if you don’t know how to drive a standard transmission, because the foglia rosa expires after 6 months! It can be renewed, but it’s a hassle that’s really not worth the headache and money if you can avoid it.

You’ll now also need to schedule the mandatory 6 hours of driving lessons with an instructor from your school.  Once you’ve completed your hours (attention: unless arranged differently this will be on a manual transmission car, so if you’ve never driven one you might need more practice than 6 hours) you can ask to take the test. The driving school will schedule it for you and usually it takes a few weeks or even a month to get an appointment.

The driving test will be using the car from the driving school and it will last 30 minutes.  Your driving school will inform you where and what time your exam is happening.

Tip: It’s a great idea to schedule and hour or two driving with the driving school the day before the exam. You can review everything and ask questions, and get re-familiar with their specific car, in case you’ve been driving a different one.

The day of the exam, you will meet at the designed testing area (can be anywhere in the city or nearby cities). Then before driving, the proctor will have you answer some questions on theory. These can be about anything from the rules for newly licensed drivers, to what the symbols on the dashboard mean. Once you pass this part, you can start to drive.  In Florence, they have you drive outside the center but always in city conditions and make you do things like parallel park (called parcheggio a “S”), parking “a L,” (which is backing into a spot), using a roundabout, and merging into traffic.

Once your done they will review your mistakes and tell you if you passed or failed. They will hand over your license right away if you passed – yes, they bring your license right to the test – and then you’re done! If for some reason you failed, you will have to reschedule through your school for another time, not sooner than 1 month and 1 day after the previous attempt.

In the end, after doing this whole process myself, my best advice to you, especially if you’ve been driving forever like I had, is forget all you know. The instructor can clue you in on specifics here, but there are a lot of little differences (hand placement for one) and little tricks the driving proctor will do to confuse you. Be prepared to drive differently how you might normally, and make it a habit since day one after you get your permit to drive as your instructor advises. They know best, and so you really want to trust them and their suggestions. I am not going to lie and say it was easy, but it is POSSIBLE!

11 Comments

  1. James (Giacomo) Morando

    Rachael –

    Your articles are so thorough and informative. Much appreciated!

    A suggestion of the subject matter for a future article – issues around dogs (and perhaps pets) in Italy.

    • Hi James, Grazie! I am glad to hear that! Thanks for the idea, do you have specific questions/issues or do you just mean, dogs in general in Italy?

  2. James (Giacomo) Morando

    It could be a broad topic. Here are some suggestions to stir your creative process:
    the various rules and regulations around bringing your dog into Italy, whether from the US or other EU countries which I have recently researched (microchips in Italy are standardized 15 digit codes which are not always used in US), vaccination requirements, Vet health certificates and USDA endorsement requirements), benefits of and how to get an EU pet passport from an Italian vet, internal transportation issues with a dog in Italy (trains, ferrys, auto rental), how to find pet friendly rentals and hotels, Italian laws as to dogs such as leash laws, restrictions and issues surrounding dogs in public places, restaurants, beaches and parks, tourist spots, pet etiquette and attitudes towards dogs in Italy, neutering requirements, availability and choices of quality dog food, availability of dog groomers…

    • Ciaoooo, wow I think I could have a whole blog (or book even) just on this topic! Thanks for all the ideas, I tackle some of these for sure! 🙂

  3. Karen Panicali

    HI Rachel,
    What an wonderfully informative article! And its timing couldn’t be better!
    Tomorrow I go to the Auto Scuola to complete the eye test and get the actual exam application going.
    Of course, I don’t feel ready… I never will.
    With your article, I know questions I should ask tomorrow… THANK YOU!
    Karen

    • Hi Karen! I am happy to hear from you and hear the timing was spot on! I hope it goes well with the next phase and you pass the test. Please let me know how it goes! 🙂

  4. This is so thorough Rachel! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this for all of us wannabe Italian license holders! I loved the tip before the manual driving test. I will definitely be following your advice. Thanks again for the book :).

  5. Gwynn Bridge

    Thank you Rachel. I am terrified about the whole process. My Italian is basic and the Book is so huge with words totally new to me.
    Oh well, have downloaded the app and will start working on it.

    • Hi Gwynn, I wish I could say the Italian was easy, but I am sure if you commit yourself to learning and studying you can do it. Are you taking general Italian lessons as well? Might be good idea as well. Keep me posted!

  6. Fantastico! What a thorough step-by-step guide! Auguri on getting your license 🙂 I downloaded the app just for fun, and to get to know the meaning of Italian street signs a little better.

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