Learning Italian: Studying for the Italian Driving Permit

Snow DriveDriving in Italy is not for the faint of heart. The curves, the speed, the mountains, the goats, cows, dogs and kids, and the dreaded stick shift. I was crowned queen of the road in nineteen-ninety-two in a small town on the outskirts of Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The first time my father taught me to drive I was thirteen years old, and his blue Ford Bronco had aged significantly despite its young years. We were driving old country roads out by the old Avondale store on Stewart Road, the Rolling Stones sang i can’t get no satisfaction on the dust filled, static speakers. Memories were being made, moments to remember.

Then we hit a ditch and ended up sideways.

It was sensory overload, the happiness, the stones, the ice cream parlour, my first taste of freedom and the large curve in the road.

For some reason, unbeknownst to my thirteen year old self, I had thought the old Bronco would automatically straighten out, I didn’t realize I had to control it with the steering wheel. I was only driving 10 kilometers per hour when we found ourselves tilted sideways in the ditch with the ice cream shop not far in the distance.

We roared with laughter, changed places in the truck and went for ice cream.

Four years after that incident when I was seventeen, I got my license to drive in Canada.

Today, twenty-one years after being honoured with a Canadian driving license, I am not legally able to drive, in any country. My Canadian license expired this past October, and to renew I must visit the DMV in Canada, in person.

Did you know:

  • If you are planning to move to Italy and have a driving permit from outside of the European Union, you can legally drive in Italy for one year provided you have an international driving permit.
  • After one year driving with an international driving permit, you are required by law to take the exam for the Italian driving permit.
  • All tests are in Italian.
  • Here’s an awesome link which provides exam questions to study for the Italian license.

I’ve been in Italy almost six years and think I’m finally ready to take the official exam. I’ve teamed up with other expats in Italy who are also studying for the Italian driving permit or Foglio Rossa.

Leah from Help! I live with my Italian mother-in-law started a wonderful group on FB called Help! I need my Foglio Rossa where we can support each other in our endeavour to become road warriors.

I finally took the on-line test, in Italian, and did better than I had expected. There are 40 questions, some with diagrams and you have thirty minutes on the clock. Good luck.

italian driving test1

11 errors. Not suitable to drive in Italy. FAIL!

italian driving test results

Keeps track of how many times you take the test and compares score. Today was my first try.

This one threw me for a loop! I still don’t understand it’s meaning nor what the sentence says.

What in the *$*% is this all about?

What in the *$*% is this all about?

Now if only driving stick shift were as easy as studying for the Italian driving permit, I’d be set.

What I learned today:

  • I need to study a lot more.
  • Groups like Help! I need my foglio rossa will help me achieve this goal.
  • Italian driving exams are all sorts of crazy.
  • I will need the support and guidance from said group in achieving this goal.

Check out expat Elizabeth’s tales of woe in Umbria – My Italian Driver’s License Part 1: House Arrest. For the sake of our sanity – let’s drive! 🙂

Can you offer any tips, whether it’s driving stick shift or taking the exam?

70 thoughts on “Learning Italian: Studying for the Italian Driving Permit

  1. Did you ever take the test? I’m now studying for it ……. my Italian is not good and there are so many words that I don’t understand.

    The Facebook group seem inactive now that most people have passed their test. Just wish there was a support group – I need it badly as I can’t live without driving here ……..

  2. Hey, thanks for the information! I am completely terrified looking at the questions. My italian is terrible and I need to take my test. I cant seem to find an Italian – English guide book anywhere. Do you know where i could find it?
    Also, is there a predefined list of questions that they choose from?

    This exam really depresses me since i know the rules but cant understand the questions 😦

    Please help!

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  5. Hi Jennifer,
    I’m going through the exact same thing right now…and the questions are ABSURD. The best part is that I did a couple of test exams with my Italian husband and brother and sister in law and we got 7 questions wrong! I’m averaging 10 wrong at the moment, after studying and taking classes since September. The only reason I’m going for the license is, in the worse case scenario of having an accident where insurance would be needed, I’m pretty sure the Italian insurance company would find out that I’ve been a resident for more than a year and I’d have to pay out-of-pocket…
    The stick-shift is another nightmare…but one I haven’t even begun to think about since I can’t pass a freaking practice exam!
    Good luck to you…If all the nonnas on the roads can drive, surely we can too!!!!

  6. On my one visit to Italy nearly 47 years ago, I didn’t drive but the taxi rides were and still are, the most terrifying moments of my life…so much so that I am commenting on it all these years later.

  7. After years of patient observation I’ve come to the conclusion that the gear shift is something most women, regardless of their background, consider an annoying option. I believe that the driving license examiners have also come to the same result, so I really wouldn’t worry too much about that. The skill you have to develop, in order to master the gear shift, is to listen to your engine, but alas, that’s exactly where problems arise. Unfortunately most women cannot conceive anything dumber than “listening” to an engine, they are good at listening to so many other things, but not to an internal combustion engine or electrical motor for that matter. The issue here is really all about the female attitude to machinery in general. Us men, which before growing up were boys, in our play fantasies, always consider our cars or planes or trains, as if they had a soul of their own and somehow we learn to respect “their feelings”. To make it clearer, girls when playing with dolls also believe they are alive feeding them or dressing them up etc. and I dare say that this would also explain a lot about the difference of attitude between men and women from a humane point of view. Women care about others; men are just worried about the last time they checked the car’s tire pressure. But back to driving skills, revving up an engine in 1st gear and driving recklessly around town is just too excruciating for the male gender even to consider, whilst it is not uncommon to notice women drivers tear the heart out their cars by just pressing the accelerator and going about doing their errands, regardless. They just don’t hear what’s going on under the bonnet, unless the engine halts thus forcing them to evaluate if it’s time to fill up the tank with gasoline. Automotive engineers in North America came to terms with this many years ago and came up with the automatic gearbox, which is actually cheaper to produce, and is the norm in the States (and Canada). But here, in the land of Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeos, where the purr of a perfectly tuned engine is more seductive than a beautiful woman – we remain stuck with the gear shift, be it, in its many artistic designs, but I’m afraid it will so remain firmly planted between the front seats for many more years to come.

  8. Hello! I found my way here through PN’s blog, and I’m glad I did 😉 Good luck with your new mission… I needed help getting used to automatic gear changes in the US; I had the feeling that the car had a mind of its own 🙂
    I’ve just been through exchanging my UK licence for a French one, which was the administrative equivalent of a canine obstacle course – wriggling under nets, jumping through hoops and going back to the beginning to start again… nothing compared to PN’s experience, however.

    • Hello and thanks for stopping by. Can you please tell me who PN is? I’m sure it’s a fellow blogger but I’m stumped at those initials.
      There are always hoops for us to jump through when it comes to expat life. I can’t be without a car now, it’s been too long. I’m more freaked out about driving stick-shift.

  9. Jennifer
    What a dilemma, can you borrow a test from someone that has already taken one? This way you are somewhat prepared for what to expect? This looks like just the same as any test, one must study very hard and be as prepared as possible and take it slow. I so wish you the very best of luck with this one! Can your husband help at all or any family there or close friends? I would ask everyone who has recently taken the test for any help they can offer! But in the end I have a feeling that you are worrying for nothing for you will pass with flying colors! Shake out the nerves and go for it! Have a beautiful day!

    Love and Blessings,
    The Sard/American

      • Jennifer

        Try and go out with someone you trust and is a good driver, you drive so this way you can gain your confidence and know the patterns of the way they drive better! You can do this, I believe in your ability and if it does not happen for some strange reason, you can give it another go! You can write and take amazing photos not everyone can, so they practice! You will amaze yourself with your abilities to do so many different things! Relax and it will all fall in place!


  10. I googled up the sign “Sporgenze pericolose” I think they give a choice of true or not true. Is this sign the one that should be hanged in a car when transporting something sticking out?. I think the answer is “Falso” The sign should be red stripes…

  11. Better to have a Belgian driving license; it never expires. Perhaps is not a bad idea go back to Canada, get your licence renewed,and back to Sardinia.

  12. I’m a resident in Rome from the USA. I’m here on my French passport and had to get my Italian license or at least start the process within a year of getting my residency.

    I knew that getting a license in France or Germany was no joke so I was somewhat prepared for Italy. Key word, somewhat.

    I studied like crazy, went to the autoscuola twice a week for classes, and passed the theory exam on the first try.

    Advice, really focus on the signs. There are over 400 of them and the majority of the questions on the exam (or at least three years ago) are regarding signage.

    I was very worried about driving a stick. I had NEVER driven one and I had to learn in Rome. I was almost in tears my first day overwhelmed by all the scooters and general chaos.

    My school was excellent though and I had great instructors. I will probably still buy an automatic but I do enjoy driving a stick when not stuck in city traffic.

    Good luck!

    • Ciao Arlene,

      Thanks for popping in and commenting. I could not imagine driving in Rome, I’m sure I’d also be in tears! There’s just too much traffic for me I’d freak out! Off to study street signs, thanks for the tip. 🙂

  13. Thanks for the links Jennifer! After 6 years in Italy I too am just about ready to get my Italian driver’s license because as you said, the international Canadian one expires yearly (even though I renew it yearly)… but, I am ready and willing to learn how to drive Italian style! In Canada we learn to drive in snow, in Italy we learn to drive with one hand while gesticulating with the other (at times both) while smoking and talking or sending and sms on the cell phone and cursing at anyone who dares to honk whilst complaining about the political situation to anyone who happens to be nearby (in or out of the car). I can’t wait 🙂

  14. Until last year the test was offered in English. I am going to continue to use my IDL til they tell me I need to get the Italian license, hoping by then that at least it will be again offered in English. So absurd that the US doesnt offer Italians the possibility of taking the test in Italian, so I dont blame the Italians for tabling this. However, if immigrants have to go to court in the US, a translator is always provided. So, why dont they extend foreigners a translator for the driver’s test? And this would go for Americans who live in Italy too. As for the shifting, its totally a piece of cake, just go to a stadium parking lot and practice. You can certainly do this, and its fun besides. You will never want an automatic again.

  15. Best of luck, I will follow this with interest. I am so glad I only had to swap my UK licence for an Italian one. dealing with Mr Cretino must be easier than re taking a driving test.

  16. Made me smile (ruefully) … remembering my license shenanigans in Sri Lanka. About the stick shift – having recently bought a manual car after several years of driving an automatic, I was nervous, as you can imagine, doing the test drive. The thing I noticed, and the advice I proffer, is to listen to the engine. You can hear the engine escalate (thus necessitating a gear change). The foot to hand co-ordination will come naturally after a little practice WHEN you’ve stopped making “stick shift” an issue! Remember the gorgeous sense of freedom on that back road with the ice cream shop up ahead – driving ‘stick’ is fun and once you’ve got it, any day, driving those curvy roads will remind you of that sense of freedom. Debra’s right – you can do it.

  17. Interesting post, Jennifer–especially since this is something I will have to face in my newly adopted country. I wonder how you get around without a license. We have great public transport; I bet you do too.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  18. The gear stick is your friend Jennifer, you can practise doing a hand dance…clutch in up, clutch in down, clutch down up, right, up etc etc. best tip is just relax your hand and just use the palm so your not gripping the stick for grim death. Listen to the car instead of watching speedo for when to change gear, the engine whine gets louder when ready for change.

    • Ciao Jane,

      Thanks for the great tips! I have driven a stick albeit with a lot of problems and I’ve been known to roll backwards, one too many times, while trying to climb a steep incline, much to the amusement of the peeping eyes out shuttered windows. 😉

  19. @ Elizabeth Heath “chi ti ha dato la patente” is the first (Italian) thing that comes to mind – it translates “who the heck passed you at the driving test” Let me explain. The driving test question Jenny posted is basically saying “a truck with that reflective orange sign stuck on the back of it is a warning for hazardous ‘protruding’ goods” – true or false. The answer is FALSE. It is beyond my capacity of understanding why ,here in Italy, the driving tests are so tricky. They require superior reading skills and grammatical understanding, when the European Union and the corresponding international driving organizations, world wide, have spent millions of euros or dollars or whatever to draw up simple and immediately self explicative international roads signs that require no reading skills at all. I suppose that’s what living in Italy is all about, it is the art of making simple issues really complicated otherwise things would be so boring. I’m not allowed to post images here but I have some resources on my pc regarding Italian driver sign language I have a couple of useful images that would look just fine amongst the other obnoxious quizzes the ministry of transport has so far produced.

  20. Thanks for letting us know…just hoping that you’ll take the time to notify the rest of the world once you get your eyetie driving license. We will, of course, be needing some pre-warning in order to adopt precautionary measures, nothing important, just some silly things like reinforced bumpers and better insurance…..just in case 🙂

  21. I did this a couple of years ago and it is one of the worst things I have ever done in my life. I went to driving school for the theory for 6 weeks. The instructor was a pig and I left in tears almost every day.
    I passed my theory first time! At that time I was able to take the test in English, but the instruction book was full of translation mistakes, making it very difficult indeed.
    Then came the driving test. That was another nightmare, but I passed and I now have an Italian licence.
    The whole sorry tale is on my blog under the category Official stuff in Italy.
    Your Canadian licence wouldn’t do you any good anyway. If it was British you could just go to the office and swap it over, but that doesn’t work with Australia, USA and Canada.

    • It would certainly make life easier if we could swap our Canadian license for an Italian one. After driving for 20 years and now this! The worst part of it really, is the stick shift! That freaks me out!!

      • Hi Jennifer,
        I’m sorry about you having to pass a test in Italy to get a driver’s licence, when you already have a Canadian one and are a perfect driver. The problem is that international relations are based on a principle of reciprocity. Italy recognizes and converts all foreign licences without a new exam to citizens of countries that do the same for Italian citizens. If you visit the site of MINISTERO DELLE INFRASTRUTTURE E DEI TRASPORTI, you will come across a section called Norme Generali per la Conversione e il Riconosciemento delle Patenti Estere with a list of countries whose citizens do not need to pass an exam in Italy for driving if they already have a licence. Among them are Algeria, Argentina, Japan, Israel, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, and many others. But Canada and the United States are among those countries that prefer not to sign an agreement with the Italian State to grant Italians with an Italian licence the possibility to convert it into an American licence even if they live in the USA, probably because they dont trust our driving (with some reason,?!!!!) They make an exception only for the diplomatic corp and their families!!! In fact my first husband, who was a Sardinian man with an American drivers licence had to pass an exam when he came back to drive here after 2 years, while my second husban, a Serbian, did not need to do that (THANK GOD!!!!! he would have probably failed!!!!!!)
        Anyway, congratulation for passing your test!!!!

      • Ciao Tamara,

        Yes, there are politics which surround most decisions and I prefer to stay out of them. Thank you kindly for your comment. I haven’t passed the test yet, I’m still in study mode. 🙂

  22. The orange/numbers question is asking whether this sign goes on the back of a vehicle/truck carrying hazardous goods. The answer is “true.” I don’t know what the numbers mean, but just respond “true” and you’ll be OK!

  23. Great post! Thx for the shout out too.
    United we shall drive!
    My license expired in January but there is a way to ask for an extension so i am hoping to get an extra six months before i need to go back to Canada to renew it. Fingers crossed.
    Also, that orange sign is a category of some sort for transporting dangerous materials…it is pericolo 🙂

    • Thanks, Leah! You’ve inspired me, we need to do this, I can’t continue without a license. I’d probably just get a little vespa or smart car, I would NOT get a stick shift, hell no way!

  24. That question with the orange numeric sign is basically saying, “This is a sign on the back of a truck indicating it is transporting dangerous goods.” The answer is true. I have no idea what the numbers mean, but it doesn’t matter! Just answer “true.” 😉

  25. No tips from me. I epicly failed my Russian written test (I got 7 out of 20 questions right), said SCREW THAT, went back to NYC and renewed my American license, which is enough for me to rent a car here on occasion, or even a buy one, when I’m mentally ready. I’m good till 2021!

  26. I drove in Japan on an international license, having only had my U.S. license for one week. As you can imagine, there were absolutely no incidences of me stuck on narrow mountain roads and crying . . .

    I can’t offer any tips for your test, but I do want to offer up my good luck wishes!

      • The speed limits were pretty low and roadblocks like traveling cattle few, so it ended up being a pretty good place to get my driving bearings. The only exception was my one day a week up in the mountains. It was easy to get lost, and the roads were very, very narrow there, with houses and other obstacles giving only an inch or two of clearance on either side. I think I’d fare better now, but my first couple of weeks in a rental car while they fixed up my personal car? Ouch!

    • It totally sucks! I even tried to renew my license the last time I was in Canada, but they have some strange law that you can only renew if it’s within 8 months, and I wasn’t in that time frame. 😦

      Oh, and they will be exasperated updates, probably with wine in hand. 🙂

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