Posted by: debrakolkka | May 8, 2010

Getting an Italian drivers’ licence


Stupidaggine is an Italian word I have come to know and love.  It means stupidity, foolishness, silliness etc etc.  It applies very well to the process of acquiring a licence in Italy for so many reasons.

Before I describe the hideous business, firstly I will tell you why I am now in this position.  Because we are in Italy for several months of the year we thought it would be a good idea to buy a car.  Hiring a car, particularly an automatic, which I prefer here, can be expensive, reinforcing our decision to buy.

To do this we needed to get a Carta di Identita – a kind of residents’ permit.  As usual there is really nowhere to find out how to go about applying for this in logical order.  Mine took roughly 2 years to get as there was much to and fro between Italy and Australia.  From my experience this is the order in which you need to do things.

1. Get an extended stay visa in Australia.  The details of this are shown in another blog – January 2010.

2.  Apply for a Permesso di Soggiorno within 8 days of your arrival in Italy.  To do this you can get the necessary forms from a Post Office, usually the main one in a large town like Lucca.  Smaller branches don’t know about them.  You will need help to fill out this complicated form. There are offices designed to do just this in most towns.  Alternatively, you can go direct to one of these offices and start from scratch here.

3.  Take the form with the stamp duties – there are 2 fees,  one payable at the post office and the other can be bought at a Tabacchi –  to the post office, lodge it and pay the next lot of fees.  Keep the receipts you will recieve, you will need them when you get your appointment with the Questura.  You don’t really get an appointment.  You are given a time and date, but then you just go in and stand in line with everyone else.

4.  Wait.  When it is your allotted day you go to the Questura, take your receipts, passport with visa, 4 photos, proof of financial status and proof of ownership of a residence here,  or where you are staying.  You will be fingerprinted, photographed and sent on your way.

5. Wait.  Eventually your Permesso will be ready to collect.

6.  With your Permesso in hand, go to the local Comune and ask for a Carta di Identita.  Be prepared to be shouted at.  Stand your ground.  If you are lucky your paperwork will be processed and a couple of weeks later a member of the Polizia Municipale will visit your home to make sure you actually live there. The one who came to visit me was very nice.

7.  Wait.  With a bit of luck your Carta di Identita will be ready in a few weeks provided all your paperwork has been correct.

Had I known the order of the procedure it may have taken less than 2 years.  Anyway, once I had the Carta di Identita I was able to buy our Toyota Corolla,  which we are most happy with.

The next piece of information filled me with horror.  Once in possession of the Carta di Identita I had one year to get my Italian licence.  I didn’t have time to do this last year when we bought the car so I started the process when I arrived in Italy in February.   There was another stumble when I found out I had to get another Permesso before I could proceed with the aquisition of the licence, but once that was taken care of I was off to the driving school.

The lessons are conducted in Italian.  My Italian is fine for everyday stuff, but not sufficient to understand the theory of driving here.  Fortunately, there is a book of instructions in English and Italian.  It took a week to arrive.  Once I looked at it, my heart sank.  I have never seen a more complicated, ambiguous, ridiculous book – ever!  Stupidaggine!!!  It is full of translation errors, large and small, but even without these it takes a great deal of patience and perserverance to navigate.  If I don’t pass my test this time I will look for a school where English is spoken.  Had I known how difficult it would be I would have searched for this prior to starting. I’m not even sure if such a thing exists.

I have been attending lessons and studying the book for about 5 weeks.  This has been stop start as we have been trying to fit in a bit of sightseeing and doing all the wonderful things we come to Italy to do.  For the last few days I have been practising the exam questions on the computer at the driving school.  This has given me a little confidence as I have been getting most of the questions correct.  It all depends of course, on the type of questions on the day.  I have been dreading questions about 3rd Party Insurance and whether your licence can be withdrawn immediately, withdrawn, suspended or revised and the reasons why.  I am also shaky on signals made by a policeman and whether a sign is regulatory, hazard, information etc, etc.  It isn’t enough to know what the sign is telling you, you must know what type of sign it is.   The positioning of St Andrew’s crosses at level crossings has me confused, and is there a flashing light at a crossing with or without gates?  It is in the lap of the gods as to whether the questions are easy or not.

This morning (Friday 7th May) was the day of my driving theory test.  I was up bright and early and having a last look through the theory book.  I arrived early to meet my instructor who took me to the place where I was to take the test.  There was a group already installed in the room doing their test so I waited.

Soon it was my turn and I was ushered in with a group of about 10 others and were shown to our computers.  I am so glad I was able to have a bit of practice and knew what to do as all the instructions were in Italian.

The test began and the first question was about a particular give way sign.  Of course, there was one of the dreaded questions.  Was it a regulatory sign?  I said yes, but I was far from sure.  Next question, sure enough, 3rd Party Insurance and a really complicated one.  Then came “What type of vehicles can you drive with a type B licence?”  Surely that is written on the licence.  Fortunately, the right of way question was fairly simple and there were a couple more I was reasonably sure of and before long it was over and I had to confirm my amswers.  I counted in my head at least 5 answers I was not confident about – more than enough to fail.

We were ushered out of the room to wait until the test results were collected.  Soon we were called back in and one by one called up to the desk.  The rest of the group pushed their way in front of me so I arrived just in time to hear my name called.  I had no idea whether I had passed or failed as I couldn’t understand what the woman said.  I asked if I had done well and she sort of said yes.  I couldn’t  tell from the piece of paper she gave me as it was just marked in one place and signed.  I looked through my theory book and found that I had got the sign question and the 3rd Party question right so I started to get a bit of confidence.  I didn’t really know I had passed until my instructor came back to pick me up and he looked at the form.

I have never been so relieved in my life!!!  I didn’t even care when he told me I can’t do the driving test next week as they are booked out.  I will have to come back in September before my learners’ permit runs out to do that – something to look forward to.

If you ever have to do this, allow yourself plenty of time, get help from someone who has done it and try to find an instructor who speaks at least some English.  Good Luck!!!  Let me know how you go.

I’m sorry there are no photos.

Click here and here to read parts 2 and 3


  1. Good for you for passing on the first go – many people don’t! A word of advice? If you have time when you come back, take a lesson or two behind the wheel – they have some odd quirks (at least they did here) and if you don’t know them, you can fail – at least so my instructor said. But heeeeeyyyy, maybe he just wanted me to take more lessons??! Anyway, good for you, and come back soon.

    • Thank you for that advice. I’m planning to have several lessons before I tackle the driving test. I am used to driving on the other side of the road, so I need to learn how to reverse park here and I would like to know the course I am likely to be taken on. I wish I had seen your blog before I started, it would have helped me a lot. I don’t usually write such long posts, especially without photos, but it may help some other poor wretch through a horrible ordeal.
      I am enjoying your stories about life in Rapallo – a particularly lovely part of Italy.

  2. Great news – Good on you Deb- know what a challenge it was for you ( or anyone applying for a driver’s licence in Italy) And no one is feeling sorry for you having to go back in September to sit for the final actual driving test.

    di cant

    • I am so pleased the theory test is over and that I passed first time. I was not at all confident. Now I have a few months to prepare myself for the next step.

  3. […] A long and miserable tale about the theory test is told in an earlier post – Getting an  Italian Driver’s Licence – 8th May.  If you feel like putting yourself through it, go back for a […]

  4. Hi Debra
    Being a fellow ‘southern-hemispherer’ i ( and my wife) were faced with the same predicament… I passed my theory test in Dec 2010, but my wife got a real stinker… now the bad news.. she not only has to re-write, but as of January its only offered in Italian ( in Perugia) OMG… what now…?? needless to say, as you, our day to day Italian is ok… but for this ambiguous technical language.. not so good… any ideas or words of wisdom?

    • That is terrible!!! Is that just Perugia, or is is possible to try somewhere else? Sometimes different rules apply in different places. I don’t think I would be able to do it in Italian. This seems incredible unfair. Have you been to an ACI office?(automobile club of Italy) They were the people who offered me the only sensible advice I got. I would be prepared to beg on my knees to do the test in English. Have a look at An Expat in Rapallo – there is a link on the right side of the blog. She did the test in Italian and may be able to offer suggestions if that is your only option. Good luck! Please let me know how you go.

    • I am wondering if you had any luck finding a place to take the test in English, I’m crossing my fingers!

      • I was able to take the test in English, but 2 months later that changed and I believe all tests are now done in Italian.

      • Drats! That’s what I was afraid of.

      • I wish I could give you better news, but I believe that all tests are in Italian . It really was a horrible experience. I am just glad I passed first time, I would hate to go through that again.

  5. A great article about the frustrations of trying to follow rules in Italy. Lucky it is such a beautiful country so all is forgiven once you have the papers in hand. Maybe you could also tag it ‘Permesso di Soggiorno’ as points 2 – 5 would have been very helpful when I was applying for mine and found so little information on the internet.

    • Getting information on how to do anything here is impossble. You don’t know what to ask, because you don’t know what yoy need and NOBODY seems to give correct information. Everything is trial and error and I am reluctant to say my information is correct because things change constantly.

  6. […] If you want to read about the horror of obtaining a drivers’ licence in Italy click here. […]

  7. Couldnt you have gone to say England and bought a car there?

    • No, perhaps if I was an EU citizen, but I am Australian. Believe me, if there had been another way I would have done it.

  8. wow, i’ve been living here a year now and i’m just about to put myself through this. crikey. the exams and study books are all in italian now because of the translation issues. i speak, write and read well enough of italian but it’s a different situation…and the costs are phenomenal: they require a medical on top of the stamp duties, exam costs and lessons: all in all around 1000 euro!!
    i’m also from australia but carry a british passport – unfortunately not a british drivers license…i’m seriously considering transferring to england to study and reside and go through a simpler process there. at least then i can change it when i come back here. it’s that, or the dodgy bus service!

    • This really was one of the worst things I have ever done in my life. I wanted to scream almost every day. At least I was able to do the exam in English, which I think is not possible any more. The translation mistakes made everything worse, but my Italian is not good enough to deal with the ridiculous questions asked.
      Luckily I passed both theory and practical first time. I don’t know whether I would have had the courage to to it again. A friend took 3 times to get through the theory.
      It cost me about €1,000 as well. If we had known the consequences of buying a car (this is why I had to get a resident’s permit) we would have continued to rent.

  9. […] License: How to Get My License; I mean of course I want to be able to drive however if you know me my real dream is to own a Cream […]

  10. I have taken the written test twice and failed. I find the questions to be more of intelligence to understand Italian than of driving They deliberately write many of them to confuse the reader and make passing very difficult for stranieri like me. I hope that someday I will meet one of the persons who design the written test!
    What would be good is to take a test which has questions about being a good driver. Instead I got a question about should I turn the air off when the temperature is zero degree C. and hits my neck. Come on! These questions also confuse Italian speakers. This is nonsense, and over the top. Someone needs a job kind of thing.
    I spend hours and months learning driver language and more often than not they use new words and terms to confuse me. I have taken over 6,000 questions from the helper sites, (there are two of them).

    • I have just seen your comment. I agree, the questions are ridiculous and designed to confuse. I have just renewed my licence after 5 years. I didn’t dare let it expire.

  11. Very helpful thanks. Can you tell me if you were using your Australian license to drive while doing your italian license course ? I am in a similar situation. Thanks Tim

    • I was able to use my Australian licence for one year after obtaining a resident’s permit. I got my licence within this period.

    • I was told that my American license was good for one year. I also got an International license , which is good for only one year.
      I am putting together a booklet comprised of the most difficult questions, goofball questions and some vocabulary. I will make it available on amazon kindle books for a couple of euros. It is not to get rich but to help people like myself who had to devote waybtoo much time for a ridiculous test. I am 68 years old, drove most of my life on Los Angeles and San Francisco and never got a ticket or was in an accident.And….I stop for stop signs!
      Good luck.

  12. Hi I have one question. Is the theory test in italian or english? I speak little of italian only

  13. It took 6 months of intensive hard work but I finally got this license.
    (They wont convert my australia license so i had to get an Italian one..)
    I studied hours per week for the theory and did many practice questions on the app.
    The practical lessons were necessary to unlearn bad habbits.

Leave a Reply


%d bloggers like this: