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After 6 Months, I Have My Italian Driver's License

Yet another major accomplishment on the books! After six grueling months (okay, not grueling, but definitely annoying and time-consuming), I am now the proud owner of an Italian driver's license.


I get asked a lot about getting a patente as an expat, so let me share my experience.




Step 1: Find a Driving School

I do NOT recommend going through this process on your own, even if you're fluent in Italian. As I told you a few months ago, there are a possible 7,000 questions on the written test, and these questions are so much more in-depth than what we have to know for the driver's license exam in the US.


In Soverato, there are three driving schools, I think. I was referred by several people to Autoscuola Gagliardi because the infamous owner, Pante, speaks English.


I had no idea at the start how helpful that fact would be.


I've been driving for 30 years, but Italian driving school really knocked the wind out of me. We read and discussed chapters upon chapters about road signs, towing a trailer, big wheel trucks, following a snowplow...my brain still hasn't recovered from the overload.


The fact that the instructor spoke English came in handy when we encountered a new word. I learned more vocabulary than driving rules!


My class met three times a week for an hour and a half. Longer if he stopped for a smoke or coffee break. After five months, I felt ready to take the exam.


Step 2: Take the Written Exam

The first exam is a theory exam. I'd been taking tons of online quizzes, so I knew what to expect. Still, I was a ball of nerves before the test.


Before I could schedule the test, I had to take an eye exam and get a medical form filled out by my doctor, saying there were no health issues that would prevent me from driving.


Once the test day arrived, an employee from the driving school drove me and a young guy to the test center outside Catanzaro. The test room looked like a classroom; there were about 30 desks spaced evenly, a computer on each.


The test itself didn't take very long. There were 40 questions, and you could miss up to four. After the last student finished the test, we were given our results. Unbelievably, I didn't miss a single question!


Step 3: Drive for a Month

While I was ready to get the process over at this point, I had more work to do. You can't take your driving test until a month and a day has passed from the written exam (odd, I know). In that time, I had to take driving lessons.


Now, I've been driving for 30 years, so I didn't feel like I needed lessons, but Tonino, my instructor, had other ideas. I quickly realized that the way I drive every day is very different from the way I was supposed to drive for the exam. Here are some examples:


  • To turn the wheel, I had to turn it gradually between my two hands, rather than turn the whole thing with one hand.

  • To go in reverse, I could only look in the back window, not the mirrors. I found this so hard!

  • I was supposed to go turtle-slow every time I passed an intersection or turned.

  • Before getting out of the car, I was supposed to put both hands on the door handle and turn my body to make sure there was no oncoming traffic.


Over this month, Tonino, who was more accustomed to instructing teens, would yell at me when I didn't remember to remove my foot from the brake while backing up to park. When I didn't understand what the Italians call il bilanciamento (balance), performed on a hill while giving a little gas and easing off the clutch, he scolded me. I found my confidence waning day by day.


And yet, by the end, I was remembering to look before opening the door, and I bilancio'd like a pro.


Step 3: Take the Driving Test

Again, on the day of the test, I was nervous. Chalk it up to it having been decades since my future depended on the results of a test.

The test had three phases: in the first, the proctor would ask questions about the car, the lights, or what to do in case of an issue. The second was driving and parking locally, and the third was driving outside of the city.


Four other driving students (all in their teens or 20s) went before me, and they all came out smiling, so I felt pretty confident.


But within three minutes of starting my test, I was nearly in tears.


The proctor asked how to turn on the front fog lights. I aced that. But then he asked how to turn on the rear fog lights. I had no idea. In all honesty, I hadn't been taught. Probably Tonino thought I'd learned how to do so 30 years ago, but not all cars have rear fog lights!


I sputtered and stuttered for a few minutes, then randomly flicked the same knob I used to turn on the front fog lights. Bingo. I'd found it. Phew.


Another trip-up was during parallel parking. Now, any adult who has ever parallel parked knows that you rarely get it perfect in one go. I'd been practicing with no cars behind me, so when I had to park for the test, it was in a narrow spot between two cars.


I got into the space but then pulled forward to straighten out.


"You were supposed to do it in one go, but that's okay," the proctor said. I think he just wanted to go home.


At the end of the ride, I signed a form and got my Italian driver's license on the spot! Apparently, they prepare them, assuming you're going to pass. I walked away with SUCH relief!


Final Words of Wisdom on Getting Your Italian Driver's License



I realize I've probably frightened you out of ever wanting to drive here, but trust me. Getting your Italian driver's license won't be the hardest thing you do as an expat in Italy.


Just plan for your life to be consumed for a few months by all things related to driving. Plan ahead, because if you get pulled over after a year of living here, you either have to have an international driver's license (which expires after a year, so you probably won't have this) or a translated copy of your American license. And I never found the appropriate place to translate the license, so I just took my chances.


You'll need about six months for this process, but it could take longer. And my final advice: STUDY!

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Congratulations! I knew you could do it with flying colors!😎

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