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DRIVING

Reader question: How likely is a UK-Italy agreement on driving licences?

The window is closing fast for Brits living in Italy who use a UK driving licence. Many readers have contacted The Local to ask whether Italy and the UK are closer to making a post-Brexit agreement to allow Brits living in Italy to exchange their permits.

UK driving licences are due to expire in Italy. Here's what British citizens living in Italy need to know.
UK driving licences are due to expire in Italy. Here's what British citizens living in Italy need to know. Photo by Ilse on Unsplash

Reader question: I didn’t swap my UK driving licence before the Brexit transition period ended and haven’t yet sat my Italian driving test. As there are just a few weeks of 2021 left, is there an update on whether Italy and the UK will agree a deal on recognising driving licences?

Since Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, British residents who hadn’t converted their UK licence to an Italian one were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to use their British licence in Italy.

As those 12 months are up on 31st December 2021, readers are contacting The Local to ask if there have been any updates about an agreement being reached in the last few weeks of the year – and what it means if no accord is made.

Q&A: What is the British government doing to help Brits in Italy overcome post-Brexit hurdles?

While most other EU countries have already announced reciprocal agreements with the UK, allowing driving licences to be exchanged without the need for a test, there’s still no arrangement confirmed with Italy.

It means the clock is ticking for those who haven’t yet sat their Italian driving licence, as there is no guarantee that UK licences will be accepted from 1st January 2022.

A spokesperson for the UK government told The Local on Friday that negotiations are ongoing.

“We continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for UK driving licence holders with the Italian government. We have asked the Italian government for an extension to the December 31st 2021 deadline,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The Local has asked for further details on a possible extension.

UK nationals living in Italy can still use their UK driving licence until December 31st 2021. Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP

The Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas, Wendy Morton MP, told The Local in September that reaching an agreement on driving licences before the end of this year was “our absolute priority”.

“We absolutely are continuing to negotiate with the Italian government on the right to exchange a UK licence for an Italian one without the need to retake a driving test,” she confirmed.

The current advice on the UK government’s Living in Italy guide is that you can use your UK driving licence until December 31st 2021.

Extra time for those obtaining residency in 2021

However, some British citizens have a little more leeway, depending on when they got residency in Italy.

“If you moved to Italy after January 1st 2021, you can use your valid UK licence for 12 months from the date you became resident,” state the official guidelines.

Therefore, those who moved to Italy in 2021 and officially became a legal resident this year have 12 months from the date of residency. In theory, that means some UK nationals will have until the end of 2022 before needing to get an Italian driving licence.

READ ALSO:

These were the rules before Brexit – the only difference now being that you may need to sit an Italian driving test after 12 months, whereas before Britain left the EU, you could exchange your permit without the need to take the Italian driving theory and practical exams from scratch.

As obtaining the patente di guida (driving licence) is known to be lengthy due to the technicality of the language required, there isn’t much time for those who haven’t yet started the process of sitting their Italian driving test.

On the other hand, if a deal is reached before the end of the year, people with UK driving licences could end up escaping the theory and practical tests, which have to be taken entirely in Italian.

If no agreement is reached by the end of 2021

So where does that leave you if you hadn’t started the conversion of your licence by December 2020 and no agreement is reached?

It looks likely that you would need to retake both the theory and practical tests and, from January 1st 2022, you wouldn’t be allowed to drive on Italy’s roads until you do.

The British ambassador Jill Morris stated on the British Chamber’s latest update, “Until an agreement is in place, you will need to take a test to exchange your valid UK licence.”

Residents in Italy will end up only having an Italian driving licence, as you can’t hold two licences at the same time – so you’ll surrender your UK one when you get your Italian patente.

Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

The requirement only applies to UK licence holders who have their full-time residence in Italy. Tourists and second-home owners can continue to use their UK licence when they visit and do not need an International Driving Permit.

While residents with licences from other EU countries – formerly including the UK – can swap their documents without retaking a test, Italy does not exchange licences from most non-EU countries, including the United States, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand and currently, the UK.

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

Reciprocal driving licence agreements are in place between Italy and around 20 non-EU countries, including Switzerland, Brazil, the Philippines and Turkey (full list here), which allow holders of these licences to swap their permits without a test

We will continue to post updates on this issue as soon as we get them. Find our latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

Member comments

  1. Im thinking that if I do end up having to take a driving test in Italy from scratch – what legal basis will they have to take my UK license? If they cannot recognise its existence, how will they even know if I have one. It will certainly be more convenient for me to retain it.

    1. I suspect this is a legacy statement based on not being allowed two EU licenses at once – something enforceable through EU law and reciprocity of member states. I believe you have to be UK resident to renew a UK license but it’s hard to see how, outside the EU, they can stop you having both, at least temporarily. If we have to go through the rigmarole of taking an Italian test, it would be a further slap in the face to have the UK rescind your UK license but we live in odd times.

    1. Your Italian licence also has the number of your UK licence on it. I think we paid about 100 euros each and of course, you have to have a brief medical, which we had at the GP’s surgery – but some of the autoscuole have their own “medicals for licences” sessions.

  2. We have the Italian Highway code book and the translation of the same. Its an absolute minefield for the simple reason that they ask completely non sensical questions almost designed to trip you up. The local Italians say its crazy and dont understand how we can have driven as a visitor for 40 years and then as a resident for 1 year with no “P” on the car and then are required to take a test. Surely the way to resolve is just say all Italians living in the UK will need to sit a UK test ? what is unfair about saying that ? Having seen the driving here and the death rates per 100,000 the Italians should wake up and realise they are being unreasonable. OK so we know that they are Piano Piano and red tape is their game but in the meantime surely an extension is not unreasonable whilst they get their pencil sharpened, hole re-inforcers and tippex sorted. (shows my age) – but its bonkers.

    1. I bought the books and abandoned them straight away as being next-to-useless and an horrendous (in my darker moments I’d say ‘Italian’) way to learn. The app ‘QuizPatente!’ on Andriod though is excellent. I haven’t checked the iOS apps but there’s probably an equivalent. It’s entirely focussed on the questions and the theory directly relevant to them. When I started I was little better than 50% (basically a rhesus monkey) simply because the structure and technical nature of the questions makes it so difficult to understand or translate (Google is close to useless as things like ‘sostare’, ‘fermare’ and ‘arrestare’ mean very different things in Italian but are often translated as the same thing ‘park’ or ‘wait’ in English without the same specifcity) and much of the vocabulary is not everyday Italian. I’m not saying it’s easy but I did go from feeling exactly as you do now, to being very confident that I can pass the theory test even without being particularly proficient in everyday Italian. They are, strangely, very different skills. None of which means I want to have to pass the theory test, just that I no longer fear it as I used to.

  3. There is another awful implication of getting an Italian license which is that you’ll have a ‘neo-patente’ which limits the power/weight ratio of vehicles you can drive for 12 months so you might be forced to drive a little run-around for that time. You’re also limited for 3 years to 100kph on the motorways and dual-carriageways and have double-points for any infractions.

  4. Katie – My husband is an Italian citizen but holds a UK license, we are now resident in Italy. Will he still have to take a driving test to get a new license?

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BREXIT

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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