Italian driving school, or “scuola guida”, is a required part of getting your Italian driver’s license if you are an American becoming a resident in Italy. There simply is no way around it – well, at least not that I am aware. Be sure to research finding the right school and instructors (theoretical and practical). Don’t take this part lightly, and be sure to get recommendations from people who actually have attended a particular school. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with these folks.

Also, be aware that going through the entire process of getting your license is a rather substantial financial commitment. You’ll be paying for the classes, theoretical and practical. And, you’ll be paying several fees and bolli (tax stamps) for your application and tests, and you’ll also pay to get medical certificates from local doctors (one for general health and another for an eye exam). It adds up pretty quickly. I think I paid close to 800 euro by the end. Because I gave myself 9 months to study and take the required tests, the financial “bite” didn’t seem as bad (not all fees are required up front).

Charts, charts and more charts in driving school.

Charts, charts and more charts in driving school.

Unless you are already a whiz at speaking and comprehending written and spoken Italian, I’d recommend that you give yourself a lot of runway for making yourself ready for the exams. When I attended my first class in driving school, I felt incredibly overwhelmed – for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the instructor, a beautiful and kind woman, spoke with such velocity that I could only discern a few words or phrases here and there. At that time my Italian proficiency was still perhaps that of an advanced beginner, but I knew I was completely out of my depth. Secondly, it was like I was in high school again. You see, the class was populated mostly with “youngsters” and a few people from other countries that, like the U.S., don’t have driver’s license agreements with Italy. This was a recipe for great angst, and I had plenty of it. In fact, after the first class, and after reviewing the driver’s manual (more on that in an upcoming post) I went home and poured a giant glass of wine to try and stop my head from spinning.

Getting into non-freakout mode took a few weeks, and the adoption of a strategy. My strategy was to attend classes when I could (they were offered four nights a week for one and a half hours each), and start attuning my ear to the cadence of the lovely instructor, while simultaneously tackling the manual, which is ONLY in Italian. I weighted my strategy, early on, to studying the manual, and utilizing some online sample tests. I backed off from attending classes when some family emergencies back in the U.S. required my presence, yet I kept my study materials with me at all times. I got a kick out of sharing my driver’s manual with family and friends back in the U.S. while watching their eyes widen in amazement and disbelief. The driver’s manual is easily 3x the size of any driver’s manual in the U.S., and the knowledge requirements are far deeper (e.g. how engines, diesel and gas, are constructed and how they work).

Fast forward six months, and I decided to put a stake in the ground for a “pass date” of my license. I also wanted sufficient cushion before I reached my first anniversary of residency, when legally I would be required to have an Italian driver’s license, and when my U.S. license would no longer suffice. This was in case I failed any of the exams and had to re-take them (usually at least a month before the test can be re-administered due to scheduling requirements).

For the last three months, I studied intensely, and attended more and more classes. As I approached the dreaded written exam, given ONLY in Italian, my instructor took to calling on me more and more in class. My reading comprehension had improved dramatically and I was able to translate about 80% of the manual without referring to a dictionary, but my listening comprehension was lagging. Still, I found my brain actually was starting to pick up more and more, and I didn’t make a total fool of myself. I appreciated the “tough love” of the instructor.

Another post speaks more about the written exam, but fortunately I passed with flying colors (only one error) on my first try. Woohoo!

Then came six hours of practical driving lessons. Usually there were a couple of other students sitting in the backseat (we took turns). Yes, that high school vibe again, and there I was in a car with dual controls for the clutch and brake, and a sign in the back of the car displaying the fact that a novice was at the wheel. “Yes, Jed, just swallow your pride and keep moving forward.” I kept saying this to myself. And, in my particular situation, this was combined with a driving instructor who was a brute of a man, which is why I strongly urge talking to people who have already attended a particular school.  More on that later…

You can’t skip over the practical driving lessons, or you will not be allowed to take the practical driving exam.

I passed my practical driving test without a problem, but not without anxiety. I was surprised to have had less fear from the written exam. Go figure, since I have been driving for so long.

That’s the process in (kind of) a nutshell. I hope this provides an understanding of what will be required of you from a time, financial, mental and emotional investment. Check out the following for more particulars.

Lastly, while this may all seem intimidating, I recommend embracing the process, having fun with it, and letting it improve your Italian and your understanding of the culture.

Disclaimer: These are opinions based on my own experience, and in no way should be a substitute for your own research and education for properly following the process of getting your Italian driver’s license.