It finally happened to me––a random roadside check by the Carabinieri.

And thank goodness my driver’s license and car documents were in order. For months I’d be cruising past the Carabinieri random checks. Would they choose me and put out the dreaded red paddle in my path, signaling me to pull over for their inquiry? I’d passed so many of these stops in the last few months, without getting pulled over, that I knew I was well outside the law of averages and my time would soon come.

It’s crazy how my heart would race, passing these stops, even though I knew I had absolutely nothing to fear. And, just a few days ago, when the Carabinieri did indeed motion for me to pull over, I was nervous. Why? Well, it was my first time going through this type of check and actually, I was driving a loaner car from the car dealership while my revisione/inspection (more about that in next week’s post) was being done on my car. Would the loaner car’s libretto (car registration) be in order? Was the insurance up to date?

Carabinieri are thorough.

At least these guys were. Up-to-date libretto? Check. Up-to-date revisione? Check. Valid insurance and valid driver’s license? Check, check.

These latter two things were confirmed once the Carabinieri had taken the car libretto and my driver’s license back to their car to check through their system.

But here’s where a new resident of Italy really needs to be prepared––questions about your specific living situation in Italy. If you have been living as a resident in Italy for more than a year you’d better have an Italian driver’s license. Otherwise, your car can be seized on the spot and you could face onerous consequences for not complying with the law.

For me, I was proud to present my Italian driver’s license for which I’d labored so long and hard to obtain. Then, the officer quizzed me about where I was registered as a resident, asking me to spout off my exact home address. With this information in hand, he walked away to confirm all I had told him. Within a couple of minutes, he was back, smiling and thanking me, and sending me on my way.

Their quota for pulling over a certain number of vehicles had been completed and they could head off for lunch .These fellas couldn’t have been nicer. So there’s no reason to fear an uncomfortable interrogation––unless you are trying to skirt the system.

Don’t attempt to live in Italy long-term without getting your Italian driver’s license.

I can’t tell you how many people have asked me about a “workaround” to being required to have the Italian driver’s license. Many people DO get away with this, primarily by hiding the fact that they’re an Italian resident and just showing their American passport and their valid U.S. driver’s license (and often times an International license). But if the Carabinieri look closely at your passport and they see that you’ve been in Italy for a long time, they’re going to get suspicious and start asking questions.

Also, if the car you’re driving is registered in your name, that’s a dead giveaway that you’re a resident, since you can’t own a car unless you’re a resident. You don’t want to be doing this anyway, owning a car and driving without an Italian driver’s license if you’ve been a resident more than a year. Why? Any car insurance you might have purchased is null and void if you’re outside the law in this regard.

Some people try to dodge this by driving someone else’s car. But the problem can become more far-reaching. If you’re involved in an accident, driving someone else’s car (or your own), and you’re found to be driving unlawfully in Italy, the liability spreads to the owner of the car. This includes financial and criminal liabilities.

What sane person would want to take this risk? I wouldn’t. And this is why I never encourage people to put off getting their Italian driver’s license, and why I would NEVER lend my car to an Italian resident without them being in possession of a valid Italian license.

Believe me, I understand the desire to avoid the requirements of getting an Italian driver’s license. It’s one of the more difficult pieces of assimilating to life here. The only way I’d suggest of avoiding this is to give up driving in Italy altogether. I’m actually hoping to ditch my car in a few years and become a more frequent traveler by train. But I’m not quite ready to clip my driving wings. All in good time…

So, my recent random stop by the Carabinieri is what prompted me to write this post with greater urgency. I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I am well within the law, and my car documents and inspections are up to snuff. Maybe it’s my imagination, but the Carabinieri do seem to be stepping up their efforts to make sure people are driving legally. I’d hate to see anyone living here or planning to live here caught unawares! Prepare accordingly.