These two topics, getting your Italian driver’s license and your car, may seem to be marginally connected. WRONG. I dodged a bullet on this one, thanks to coincidence. Let me explain….
Prior to moving to Italy I confess I was lax in my “due diligence” in understanding and connecting the dots regarding getting an Italian driver’s license and buying a car in Italy. In no way did I expect that my Italian driver’s license would affect the my choice of car. Basically I had “lucked out” by going for a Fiat Punto, after establishing residency and while still driving with my U.S. driver’s license. You see, once I had my Italian driver’s license, I discovered the following: For the first year, a new driver (to Italy) isn’t allowed (legally) to drive a car that is deemed to be too powerful for someone who is such a novice. Yes, I can hear you saying “But, I’ve been driving for so many years in the States.” Too bad. With your new Italian driver’s license you are put in the same class as an 18-year old on the roads of Italy for the first time.
My Fiat Punto, fortunately passes under the threshold at which I legally am able to drive. I had been toying with the idea of a Fiat Giulietta (I’m still fantasizing about having one), but I went with the Punto, which was also available in a metano (methane gas) version. Gas and diesel are outrageously expensive in Europe, so my decision was one of economy. The Giulietta houses a more powerful engine, and one that would have exceeded the power threshold. In short, had I bought the Giulietta, I would not have been able to drive it once I was driving under the authority of my Italian driver’s license.
So, take this in consideration when you buying a car in Italy. Be sure to check the Italy driver’s manual and/or a certified driving school instructor before you make your purchase. If eventually you want to drive a more powerful car, then consider buying a cheaper used car that meets the requirements for your first year.
You are also expected (legally) to drive at a lower speed than other drivers during the first three years of having your Italian license. As posted in the Mototouring website, under “Speed Limits”:
“A driver who has held their licensee for three years or less must not exceed 100 Km/h on motorways and 90 Km/h on urban roads (even if the limit is higher).”
As for the process of buying a car in Italy, you first must be a resident. And, to have your residency, you first must have your permesso di soggiorno*. Both your residency card and permesso will need to be presented to the car dealership before they can complete the transaction, register the vehicle, and provide you with the license plates. You also will need to provide proof of insurance, and your codice fiscale (Italian tax number). For more information, check out AngloInfo.com, which is an excellent resource for many other expat related matters.
First year restrictions aside, you’ll want to consider carefully the different fuel options of your vehicle. I’m sure you already know how pricey fuel is here in Europe. Filling up your tank certainly will leave you saying “ouch” each time you hit the fuel stations. You’ll find many more car makes and models available in Italy for diesel. And, if you are serious about finding ways to economize, consider the many GPL (liquid propane gas) and metano (methane gas) options. Currently GPL is more prevalent in the “green” fuel category, and many more stations carry it. But, with a GPL vehicle, you may be prohibited from parking in some underground garages (not an issue with metano). Metano is becoming more widely available, but currently where we live in Umbria, there are only a few stations that sell it. And, you won’t find it self service (nor for GPL). My 2013 Fiat Punto runs on metano, but also has a tank for benzina (gas) which gives me assurance that I will be able to still drive a good distance if I can’t find a station selling metano. To fill my metano tank costs about 11.50 euro, and this buys me about 210-220 kilometers. I’d say that is pretty decent.
Bottom line…research this topic fully and have a plan of action. Also, be prepared to lease a car for several months (four months in my case) until your residency is established and you have the necessary documentation* in hand. I found the best, and most competitive pricing (full insurance included) with Peugeot Leasing through AutoEurope.com.
*The mail receipt for your permesso di soggiorno, because it will be your first application, will not be accepted by a car dealership.
An important disclaimer: These are simply my opinions and observations based on my experience of getting an Italian driver’s license and buying a car in Italy, and are in no way meant to be a substitution for your own research and decisions in how to proceed.