It's funny, of all the questions I get about moving to Italy, one of the most common is: "do you have to drive manual?"
Yes. I do.
But before you freak out and decide not to move to Italy because you deathly fear manual transmission, let me give you a few tips.
First...Is Manual REALLY the Only Option?
Not at all. You can buy a car with an automatic transmission...but expect to pay dearly for it. When I was pricing new cars, the automatics were €10.000 more than manual. For used cars, the differential would be less, but it's harder to find a used automatic car.
My advice? Conquer your fear and save the money. Here are more tips.
Second...Do I REALLY Need a Car?
I've written about this before, but it really depends on where you live. If you live in Rome, absolutely you can (and should) get around without a car. But if you move to Calabria, where things are more spread out, you're probably going to need one.
1. Rent a Manual Car BEFORE You Move
This, I think, was sheer genius on my part. Before I moved to Italy from San Diego, I rented a Fiat 500 (which happens to be the car I own here in Italy now) and grabbed my car-loving friend Jason to practice in a parking lot for a few hours.
Given I had learned how to drive manual at the ripe age of 17, I had forgotten a lot...but was surprised at how much I remembered. After a few hours, I felt a bit more confident.
2. When You Arrive, Rent an Automatic Car
This might sound counter to everything else I'm saying here about learning to drive manual in Italy, but when you first arrive in your new country, rent an automatic. They're easy enough to find as rentals.
Why do I suggest this? It's stressful enough to acclimate yourself to driving in a new country after a long flight and all the emotional stress of moving abroad. Why add one more stress to that pile by driving manual on unfamiliar roads? You'll have plenty of time to adjust.
3. Spend Time Familiarizing Yourself
Read the manual or download the English version online. Italian cars have a few different buttons (like one I've never seen that makes it easier to turn your wheels to get out of a tight parallel parking spot), and you don't want to be fiddling with them while you're driving.
4. Go to Driving School
I put this off for a year, and I don't really recommend starting driving school if your Italian isn't up to snuff because you're going to learn a TON of new vocabulary. But you will learn a lot about driving, and after you pass the written exam, you'll get behind the wheel with your instructor, which can help you build confidence.
5. Be Patient
I was so damn frustrated for months of driving manual. I'd get embarrassed every time (which was every day) the car stalled out on a hill or at a stop sign.
But then, piano, piano, it got easier. I started listening to the car and realized it told me when it wanted to shift. I realized no one was mad at me for my car stalling out in the middle of the street. And I built my experience and my confidence.
Now if I had a choice between buying an automatic or a manual...I might just choose the manual!