For a time, I had some doubts that I would write this post. Notwithstanding the fact that I’ve driven since 16 (15, with a permit), never been in an accident or gotten a ticket, I momentarily doubted my capabilities of getting a driver’s license in Italy.
But I did it! I passed both the theory and practical exams. Here, I hope to explain it for other expats whose driver’s licenses cannot be converted from their home country’s to Italy’s.
What you need
First, you need to pass the theoretical part of the exam. See how I went about that here, How to get a driver’s license in Italy, Part 1. All of the documents you need are already taken care of by this point.
Then, beginning a couple of years ago, Italian law made it obligatory to take six hours of driving lessons with a certified Autoscuola before taking the exam. So if you did the theoretical part by studying independently, as I did (thus saving a couple hundred euros), now you need to sign up with a school. The six hours of driving include two in urban areas, two suburban, and two on the highway.
Third, I don’t know if all driving schools require this, but I had to stop by the school for two hours of theory lessons several days before the exam. That’s right: don’t forget everything you learned on the theoretical exam you passed months before, because the examiner will ask you questions during your test. Granted, they are usually practical (and thus easy for anyone who has driven before), but you never know what they might throw at you.
Examples of questions:
- What do you need to check before going on a long-distance trip?
- What do you do if the oil/battery/antifreeze light turns on?
- What documents do you always need when you drive?
But they might get technical, too. Our instructor made sure we knew:
- The colors of the different signals and buttons of the car
- Limitations for neopatentati, or new license holders
- Where to find what information about things like the weight your car is allowed to carry, pressure for your tires, how many people you’re allowed to transport, the energy class your car is in, or horsepower.
- And even the minimum width of the battistrada, or tread.
- How to change a tire (theoretically…not practically)
Why, for a moment, I thought I wouldn’t pass
I was initially very confident. The moment I turned the key and began to drive, I realized that I had not forgotten how, nor was driving in Italy particularly difficult as I feared it might be. Sure, the roads are narrower and there were more cars than I’m used to, but otherwise it’s the same.
But over the next few months of mandatory lessons, I began having serious doubts.
It felt like every Italian I spoke to said they did not pass the first time. “Bocciato,” they said, “failed,” “kicked out.”
Then, my driving instructor would say things like, “Tranquilla, stay calm, you’ll be fine, I’m trying to schedule your exam as soon as possible because you’re ready,” and then he would mutter, “If he fails you I’ll be so mad.” It left me wondering, but why should there be a question of me failing?!
But these are not the only reasons I thought I wouldn’t pass. The true reason lies with a certain substitute instructor that I now believe the Autoscuola purposefully assigns students at least once to put a fire under them. It certainly did to me! This man told me in no uncertain terms that I could (and likely would) fail so horribly that I would have to take the theory exam over again, and that it was incredible I hadn’t killed people while driving before. The lesson shook me up badly and also confused me, because everything I did was incorrect—from the moment I turned my blinker on to pull out into the road (he found something wrong with that too). For this man, everything I did would have gotten me bocciata from the exam.
“Who taught you to do that?!” The other instructor, your boss.
But I survived that grueling, horrible hour and I also realized (searching hard for a silver lining, here) that I needed to focus on the many rules of precedence and, most importantly, think for myself instead of just following what the instructor says.
But the guy could have been kinder about it.
“Take the whole day off for your exam,” my instructor advised me. The Autoscuola schedules the exam day.
I pictured finishing my exam and then relaxing to enjoy the rest of my day off.
Actually, it took the better part of one anxiety-ridden day.
Three of us were scheduled to take the exam that day. The instructor took us to the testing site (this sounds very Area-51) at 11-11:30. We each drove around for a few hours, stopped for a couple of breaks, and anxiously awaited the arrival of the examiner, who came at 2:45. That’s almost four solid hours of high-strung nerves. I volunteered to go first, because no way could I wait even longer.
First, the examiner asks you a theory question or two. He asked me about lights. Then I had to do a three-point turn, drive around…and that’s it. No parallel parking (my weak point), though he did ask the next girl to parallel park.
The licenses were already made and waiting in an envelope. The examiner told me I had passed and handed me my license, so I didn’t have to resort to Plan B: taking the envelope and running. He said, “Check and see if the signature and information is correct.”
Only slightly trembling with relief and happiness, I took the license, looked it over—
That was not my signature under my name! A certain Giulio had signed underneath my photo. And perhaps, somewhere, a certain Giulio has my signature written under his photo. I had to fill out some forms after the other girls took their exams to sort this out, and hopefully I will have my license in hand next week. UPDATED: I received my license ten days later. The signature is barely legible because the DMV scanned a carbon copy of my signature. Apparently this “shouldn’t” matter. I was back home after all of this around 5:30. So, I did not have a free afternoon to take advantage of Italy’s summer sales like I hoped. But that’s okay! Because I passed.
- €200 to change over from privatista, or doing the theory exam independently of an autoscuola, to sign up with the autoscuola
- €186 for six hours of driving plus the exam (€26 per hour, €30 for the exam)
But, I saved a couple hundred euro, at least, because some unscrupulous examiners apparently make money by failing students and then asking for €100-200 to “pass;” and, some schools say there is an “exam tax” that costs several times more than the actual €30 that it is supposed to be. Plus, signing up with the school from the very beginning costs several hundred euros more.