If you’re American, and you want to drive in Italy, you can’t dodge this requirement.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings if you haven’t already figured this out. Practical driving instruction in Italy is required. Italy and the U.S. don’t cooperate regarding existing driving privileges, obliging a new resident (after a year’s grace period) to hold a valid Italian driver’s license. That means a fairly involved process and significant expense attending scuola di guida (driving school), passing a written exam that is only given in Italian, and then taking a practical driving exam. As if the written exam isn’t daunting enough (read my previous post about it), you have to hop in a specially marked scuola di guida vehicle and start from scratch. You can’t bypass the practical driving instruction in Italy on your way to the practical exam. Believe me, I would have it if had been possible.
But, I am living proof that it can be done and the patente di guida procured!
I was watching Out of Africa and a scene in which Meryl Streep’s character is philosophizing about how a bend in a road sometimes is a blessing so that you don’t get freaked out about what lays in wait further on. We might not journey on if we know too much. I can apply that to my nine-month journey of scuola di guida and the written and driving tests. So, this informs my advice to you if you’re coming to Italy to live and are fretting about the driver’s license experience. Take it in pieces! Start with the classroom experience and learning the unfortunately substantial manual for the patent di guida. Pass the written exam. Then start wrapping your head around practical driving instruction in Italy.
Okay, let’s start managing expectations for the experience…
Dispense with any notions of a romanticized experience.
You’ll be a needle in a haystack if you end up with eye candy as an instructor, whether in the form of a handsome Italian man like Raoul Bova or a stunning Italian woman like Monica Belluci. Perhaps they exist but I haven’t seen them, and I’ve peered in many a driving school car when stopped at a traffic light.
Count yourself lucky if you get an instructor, male or female, who is measured and even-tempered. This is Italy, after all, and Italians are passionate in everything they do, so the likelihood of moments of “energy” during practical driving instruction in Italy is high.
It’s a return-to-high-school experience.
For me, as if weeks in the classroom with mostly teenagers weren’t enough, climbing into the instructor’s car with a giant “Scuola Guida” plastered on the back made me cower inwardly. I had to park my pride and indignation at the unfairness of being a solid driver with decades of experience under his belt. There was no getting around this. Any high that I had from passing the written exam with only one error (a rare feat, even for Italians) evaporated.
Then there was the instructor, who I will call “Pietro” for the sake of privacy. Pietro was an older Italian man who seemed nice enough at first, especially when he took me on a private drive for me to show him my stuff. But, when the actual driving classes began and I had an audience in the backseat, he was a different person.
About the backseat… Unless you are paying extra for private instruction, don’t be surprised if you have a couple of other students (teenagers again, most likely) waiting for their turns. My first outing was with two girls who mostly were chatting with each other (thank God).
Dual braking controls
Pietro had his own set of braking controls, which he used frequently. I believe he was determined to let me know he was in charge even though I was a seasoned driver. Maybe I was overly sensitive, but I felt he would go out of his way to correct my driving, often unnecessarily. And, man could he be vocal. One minute he’d be muttering, “Piano piano” (slowly slowly) when I entered a roundabout, then he’d be shouting, “Vai vai!” (Go go!) seconds later when I needed to exit the roundabout.
I had to practice my best breathing and restraint techniques.
On one hand, I had Pietro interrupting my natural braking intuition and barking inconsistent orders. On another hand, I had to navigate a road populated mostly with Italian drivers. That includes the speedsters impatient to get past that damned scuola di guida, tractors, little Apee cars that sputter along, and overly cautious elderly drivers who can barely see above the steering wheel and who drive at a pace well below the speed limit. Yes, I was stressed for the first time driving in Italy (apart for driving in Rome).
If I’d thought Pietro had it in for me, the American, he was even harder on the young Italian girls. Even from the backseat, I could see shoulders tensed in fear.
I just had to go with the flow. Not only is this rule becoming a cardinal tenet for living in Italy. It’s becoming, more and more, a tenet for my life. Crap happens. Difficult people seemed to be placed in my path to hammer this point home.
My experience with practical driving instruction in Italy is by no means the experience you will have.
If I had to do it all over again, before signing up with the particular driving school I attended, I would have interviewed both the classroom teacher (she was awesome) and the practical instructor to be sure I’d found a good fit with both. If you end up residing in a place with multiple scuola di guida options, I’d visit them all and try to talk to other students who have graduated to get their take. I believe that most driving instructors are solid, respectful, and exemplary teachers so don’t be fearful!
My advice, just do your homework to be sure. Then you’ll cap off your journey to earning your Italian driver’s license with a smile on your face!
Other resources: If you want to explore more online details about taking the Quiz Patente di Guida B, check out this site (though you might have to translate it in English)
Hi Jed, Great article! As we get closer to that big move this is the one thing on my mind! I think many people think of the dream of moving to Italy but this is the reality that hits right in the gut that everyone who wants to drive needs to know! I like your comment that you thought of it as an opportunity instead of an inconvenience. I too think it will push me to learn Italian faster and be my first real challenge! I have driven many times over the years in Italy and they are, from what I ‘ve seen, pretty good and alert drivers. The Italian government takes driving seriously and it shows. Sadly almost every time I leave my home (in Florida) I witness at least one accident on my journey and sometimes many more.
I did have two questions if you can answer for me. First, do you know (or how we can find out) if my wife who is from Italy and had a drivers license years ago, has to go through the same process or can she get her license reinstated? 2nd, Do you know if they have the manual in English for studying purposes? It would be nice to at least study and get comfortable with the laws then just need to translate before taking the test. Thanks for your blog and great articles! Viva Italia! Bill
Hi Bill, Sorry to be so long in responding. I wish I knew the answer to the question about your wife’s previous Italian license. It may very well be a matter of for how long her license has been expired. I’m afraid that if it has been several years, your wife will be obliged to take only another written exam. Hopefully, she won’t have to enroll in driving school for the written and practical parts. I’d recommend reaching out to an automobile agency in the area in which you will be residing. They’re the experts and can advise you. As for a manual in English, check out this translated manual (available only from amazon.it, so you’ll have to pay for shipping to the u.S.): https://www.amazon.it/patente-cittadini-stranieri-listato-patenti/dp/8899120226/ref=sr_1_1?__mk_it_IT=%C3%85M%C3%85%C5%BD%C3%95%C3%91&dchild=1&keywords=patente+di+guida+per+stranieri+inglese&qid=1606227634&sr=8-1
In bocca al lupo! Jed
Thanks Jed and be safe!
Germany is similar, but they have an “understanding” with each of the 50 states. With my SC drivers license it was a simple paperwork drill and I had my license. I have a friend from MO that had to complete the complete drill (sans driving class) all in German. My children each had to complete the course (not cheap at all 2k-3k per child +) each failed 1 of the 2 test (over 80% of first timers do) so that was an additional 1k per child. Quite a bit different than your friends taking you out on the backroads of Twin Lakes or up around Daniel!
Stay safe Jed! The numbers for Covid are up throughout Europe this fall!
Yikes! Chip, I had NO idea it is so costly in Germany. Maybe the logic is to get people to take it seriously since so much is on the line! Remember Coach Curtis teaching driver’s ed? Such a different experience. I’m stying safe, mostly inside and away from people!
Hysterical! I’ve been playing online at Patentati.com and I’m off to a bad start! lol! Question: The answer options are V and F. If I select V, it puts an X over it which is confusing to me. Does the X signify I’ve selected that letter or is the F (without the X) considered to be my answer. I always feel an X through a letter would negate it! How funny am I…. oh brother…. Thanks as always, Jed. Even working on the translations is helping my Italian vocabulary efforts and I’m learning the rules of the road simultaneously! Ciao for now.
I’m glad you’re laughing. Yes, the X signifies your choice, not negating it! The whole thing became fun for me when I switched my mindset from inconvenience to seeing it as an opportunity! Hope all is well!
Jed, that picture of the Girl in the drivers seat and her Instructor is hilarious. The expression on her face is priceless. I’m reading this while at work, and its a good thing there are no co-workers that can hear me laughing!!
Love your site. Looking to return to Italy the moment we can!!
Hi Peter. During my own practical driving lessons, the emotions scrawled on young faces were such as these. So, no exaggeration. A friend who was taking instruction from the same fellow said he made one girl cry. Yikes! I’m glad I coaxed a laugh from you at work. Italy awaits!
Fantastic narrative, filled with humor and perspective. This is one step in resettling in Italy that many Americans are not aware of. Nor at all prepared for, despite years of driving. Its just one of a series of “trials by fire.” For some, this will be hottest.
I’m glad you enjoyed this post. You’re right, many Americans relocating to Italy gloss this one over. I’d put it in the bucket of the bigger challenges. Best to start studying well ahead of time!