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DRIVING

Brexit: Time running out for UK-Italy driving licence agreement

There's just over a week left until UK driving licences are no longer valid in Italy. As the deadline draws ever closer for Italy and the UK to make a post-Brexit agreement to allow Brits living in Italy to exchange their permits, the UK government says that talks are still continuing.

There's just over a week left for UK driving licences to be recognised in Italy.
There's just over a week left for UK driving licences to be recognised in Italy. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

With just days left in 2021, many readers have contacted The Local to ask 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 of Italy 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.

It provided breathing space for residents in Italy with UK licences, as they had initially been warned they may need to take an Italian driving test immediately.

But now those 12 months are almost up, ending on December 31st 2021.

A growing number of readers have told The Local they are concerned about being able to drive in Italy from January and have asked for updates about an agreement being reached in time – and what it means if one isn’t.

A spokesperson for the British government told The Local on Wednesday that negotiations are still ongoing.

“We very much recognise the concern felt by many UK nationals regarding driving licences. Please rest assured our engagement with the Italian government on this continues at pace,” the spokesperson said.

Many hoped that Italy and the UK would have made a decision by now, which would allow drivers to continue using their British licence in 2022. As things stand, there is no time left start the process of sitting an Italian test, should UK licences not be recognised from January 1st 2022.

UK driving licence photocard. Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP

Although they confirmed no agreement is yet in place, the UK government spokesperson said that negotiations are continuing with the Italian government on the right to obtain an Italian licence without the need to re-sit a driving test.

The British Ambassador, Jill Morris, provided the latest update on a possible deal at a meeting in Naples last week, according to the UK government.

Both the Ambassador and the UK authorities confirmed they have requested an extension to the December 31st 2021 deadline, but there are still no further details on when this could come into effect or for how long it would last.

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

Wendy Morton MP told The Local in September that making a deal on driving licences before the end of this year was “our absolute priority”.

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

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 on a reciprocal agreement by the end of next week?

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.

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

The British ambassador Jill Morris stated on the British Chamber’s latest update, “Until an agreement is reached you will need to re-sit your driving test to obtain a local licence.”

“Both governments share the same objective of having the agreement in force as soon as possible in order to minimise disruption and limit the impact on daily life,” she added.

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.

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.

If Brits are eventually required to re-sit an driving test in Italy, there are other implications such as the type of car you’re allowed to drive as ‘new’ drivers or neopatentati.

According to the Highway Code, there are limits on the engine power of the car you may drive, as well as tighter speed restrictions in place for those recently certified in Italy.

READ ALSO:

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Extra time for those who obtained Italian residency in 2021

Not all British citizens living in Italy are against the clock. Some 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.

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.

Does Italy have reciprocal agreements with other countries?

Although the authorities have indicated a deal between Italy and the UK is planned, albeit potentially slower than scheduled, it isn’t necessarily a given.

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.

Italy does have reciprocal driving licence agreements with around 20 non-EU countries though, including Switzerland, Brazil, the Philippines and Turkey (full list here), which allow holders of these licences to swap their permits without taking an Italian 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. Again there is confusion in this article between “UK” licences and “British” licences. There is no “British” licence, per se, but licences issued by the Crown Dependencies could be generically described as British. Do the negotiations foresee recognition and reciprocal change of Jersey, Guernsey and IOM licences, as well as UK licences?

  2. “Both governments share the same objective of having the agreement in force as soon as possible in order to minimise disruption and limit the impact on daily life,”
    Have I missed something here? Someone’s telling porkies. What’s to stop me saying, if stopped, I’m a tourist, I’ve borrowed my friend’s car?

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BREXIT

‘So stressful’: How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple’s Tuscan dream

One couple from Manchester found the home of their Tuscan retirement dreams, but the stalemate over a UK-Italy driving licence agreement is throwing their future into question.

'So stressful': How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple's Tuscan dream

Iain and Lynn Gosling lived and worked all their lives in and around Manchester – at a bank, where they met, then in various schools – but had always dreamed of retiring in Tuscany.

In 2018, with the Brexit clock ticking, they decided to take the plunge, and after a lengthy Place in the Sun-style hunt, they finally found their ideal home.

The podere (farmhouse) they chose just outside the town of Pomerance, in the province of Pisa, checked all their boxes: it had an olive grove, was close enough to the beach, had a friendly local community, and the town was particularly invested in green energy, sourcing most of its power from renewables.

Most importantly, it was just over an hour’s drive from Pisa airport, meaning they could regularly go back and visit family in the UK.

READ ALSO: ‘We bought the cheapest house in Piedmont and live mortgage free’

“We’d holidayed in Tuscany for 20 years, and the views and everything were even better than where we’d been holidaying. So we kind of thought we struck gold really,” says Lynn.

“When we saw it, we just knew, and when we went into the town it was such a good, welcoming feeling.”

Iain and Lynn's podere in Pomerance.

Iain and Lynn’s podere in Pomerance. Source: Iain Gosling.

The couple began building a new life, learning Italian and befriending local residents. They were careful to take the necessary steps to secure their future in Italy before the Brexit deadline, registering with the town hall and later obtaining carta di soggiorno residency cards.

But – like many other British nationals in Italy – the pair didn’t anticipate that almost two years on from Brexit, negotiations for a reciprocal driving licence agreement between the two countries would have stalled. It’s an ongoing state of limbo that threatens to make their retirement dream unworkable.

While with hindsight the pair would have exchanged their driving licences before the Brexit deadline, they believed a deal would soon be reached – especially as the UK allows EU licence-holders to drive with almost no restrictions.

“If we cannot drive in the short term, I’m sure we can find a way round it somehow,” says Iain. “Longer term? No, not really.”

READ ALSO: Do you have to take Italy’s driving test in Italian?

A 12-month grace period granted in 2021 is due to expire in January unless an agreement is reached, forcing UK drivers to choose between taking an Italian driving exam that could well turn out to be unnecessary, or gambling on a last-minute deal that risks leaving them without a valid licence if it doesn’t materialise.

For Iain and Lynn, who live a four-minute drive from the town on hilly country roads without access to public transport or pavements, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice.

“I’d be absolutely lost without driving,” says Lynn, who judges that without a car the couple would have to make daily hour-long round walks into town to buy basic necessities.

They decided that Iain would take the exam so that at least one of them would still be able to drive in the absence of a deal, and booked his theory test for November to give him time to prepare.

As a minimum of 32 days must pass between passing the theory test and sitting the practical exam, he’ll only just secure his Italian licence in time in the event that there’s no agreement – if he manages to pass both on the first go.

READ ALSO: Some of the best learner sites for taking your Italian driving test

Iain and Lynn outside their Tuscan farmhouse.

Iain and Lynn outside their Tuscan farmhouse. Source: Iain Gosling.

“So – no pressure on the theory test,” says Iain, who plans to fly back early from Christmas holidays in the UK to sit his practical exam if he succeeds in passing the former.

The couple know they could have begun the process earlier. But the test requires answering the same theory questions as a native Italian speaker and a taking mandatory six hours of practical lessons, and it isn’t cheap – Iain and Lynn estimate the total cost to be just under €1,000.

What’s more, those who pass an Italian driving test are classed as new drivers (neopatentati) for three years, which comes with a range of restrictions on speed limits and vehicle engine size, and a zero tolerance policy on alcohol.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

All this has made taking the test a last resort for people who believed the UK and Italian governments would have reached an agreement by this point – or have at least issued clear guidance as to what action UK licence-holders should take.

The UK’s ambassador to Italy stresses that negotiations continue – though has encouraged British residents to book an Italian driving test.

A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Rome told The Local in October: “Since August we have continued and intensified further our work with our Italian colleagues and have made progress towards our shared objective.”

Lynn says: “Over the last six months it was very optimistic, everything we were hearing. It’s just in the past two months that we’ve thought, well, wait a minute.”

If Iain doesn’t manage to pass the test before the deadline and no deal is reached, “we are stuck,” he says.

“This situation is so stressful.”

READ ALSO: How UK drivers in Italy face new problems after passing Italian driving test

The couple fear that without the ability to drive, their current lifestyle would be unsustainable.

“You wake up thinking about it, and you go to bed thinking about it,” says Lynn. “Anxiety, that’s how it makes you feel.”

“Someone will turn around and say, well why didn’t you take your driving tests 12 months ago so you’re not in this situation?” says Iain. “But if all the signs were encouraging from the ambassador, we thought well OK, we can keep our benefits here and we don’t want to lose them.”

While the embassy insists that negotiating the agreement is its top priority, Iain worries that the recent political upheaval in both the UK and Italy has pushed the issue on to the back burner.

“We have no choice but to have faith in our British representatives to deliver and soon too, because the previous regulation extension was far too late,” Iain says. “We need to know now so we can make definite plans and contingencies.”

Despite the stress, Iain and Lynn are determined to do all they can to find a way to remain in Pomerance, where they say they’ve been embraced by local residents and have become good friends with their Italian neighbours who occupy the other half of their semi-detached property.

“We don’t want to give this up,” says Iain. “We love it here and we want to stay.”

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