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Driving in Italy: A Little Wisdom Goes A Long Way

Driving in Italy: A Little Wisdom Goes A Long Way

Sometimes, wisdom is simply having the good sense to just listen to valid information so that you can save yourself a lot of major issues and headaches.

Let me explain: a few years ago, I relocated a manager of a major aerospace company who was Italian-American. As per my process, I explained very carefully in writing to both him and his HR manager, that he could drive for up to one year with his state-issued driving license from the date on which he requested his Italian residency; otherwise, after that date, he could have problems should he ever get stopped by the police.

After numerous conference calls regarding this matter, he felt that because his grandparents were Italian, he knew Italy very well and that no one would ever stop him and check his license. The HR manager kept insisting that because he had an international driving permit, there was no need to take the driving test in Italy to get an Italian driving license. Once again, I put in writing that I was not comfortable with this situation, but I had done all I could to make him compliant in Italy.

Two years into his assignment, he called me sobbing—yes, this grown man was reduced to tears! He had been stopped by the police outside of Varese, and after checking up on him, they confiscated his license and impounded his car. As a result of not being able to drive, his assignment ended early, and he was forced to move back to the US. 

This situation could have been totally avoided if they had had the wisdom to take into consideration the following:

  • – An international driving permit is nothing more than a translation of your license; it has no legal value whatsoever.
  • – The US does not have a federally issued license. Instead, each state issues its own license, and Italy does not have an agreement with any US state. In fact, even if you move from New York to California, you must get a new license. Interestingly, in France, state-issued licenses from some states can be exchanged for a French driving license, but this is not the case in Italy.
  • In Italy, a license from a country, state, or territory with which Italy does not have a reciprocal agreement, is valid for one year from the time you request Italian residency.
  • – Before the window of one year expires, if you wish to continue driving in Italy legally, you will need to take the Italian driving test. Unfortunately, this is only available in Italian (French and German are also available upon request).

The following is not possible:

  • – You cannot just show up in France and ask for a driving license if you are not a resident there.
  • – The same applies to Switzerland, where the test is available in English.
  • – Interpreters are not allowed to accompany you to the test in Italy.

These are just some of the workarounds people have suggested to me. I know that it is not easy, especially if you don’t speak Italian, but the only way to get an Italian driving license is to take the test.

When valid information is presented to you, please have the wisdom to take it, as you may save yourself a lot of stress and anxiety.

That’s my pearl of wisdom for today.


Damien O’Farrell Mobility Services provides bespoke immigration services nationwide in Italy and relocation services in the first-tier cities of Rome, Milan, and Florence. For more information, please contact inquiry@damineofarrell.com.

Easy Milano

Easy Milano is the online publication for the international community of Milan. We offer practical tips, key information and essential insights about living and working in Italy. Easy Milano has been assisting English speaking expats in Milan since 1999.
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