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DRIVING LICENCES

EXPLAINED: What’s in the Italian driving licence theory test?

The theory quiz is by far the most daunting part of Italy's driving test. We take a look at what the questions are about and what you’ll be asked to do on the day of the exam.

Vintage Italian Fiat and Vespa motorcycle
Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

There are all sorts of reasons why people who’ve relocated to Italy may want to get an Italian driving licence, not least because of the potential lack of a reciprocal agreement (an arrangement allowing foreign nationals to exchange their licence with an Italian one) between Rome and their country of origin. 

As things stand, people from the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa are not allowed to swap their ‘original’ licence for an Italian one. 

READ ALSO: Explained: Who needs to exchange their driving licence for an Italian one? 

And, while the Italian Highway Code states that non-EU nationals can freely drive in Italy on a foreign licence for up to one year from the moment they become Italian residents, drivers will be required to get an Italian licence at the end of that grace period. 

Unfortunately though, the Italian driving test isn’t exactly a piece of cake and that’s largely because the theory exam, which candidates must pass in order to progress to the practical test, requires quite a bit of technical knowledge and cannot be taken in English. 

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

So, for those who are considering getting an Italian licence and might, one day, be faced with the dreaded quiz, here’s what the theory test is about. 

For starters, once they have put in a request to take the theory exam, candidates have six months and a total of two attempts to pass it. 

Foreign nationals are generally advised to take the test through a driving school (autoscuola) as they will not only help you with all the relevant paperwork but will also provide you with the adequate training regarding the exam questions. 

That said, residents can also choose to take the test privately, which means that they’ll deal with their local licensing office (Ufficio di Motorizzazione Civile, which is roughly equivalent to the UK’s DVLA or the US DMV) directly and book their exam independently. 

Regardless of which path you choose to go down, the structure and procedures of the test are the same for all candidates. 

READ ALSO: Why is it taking so long to book a driving test in Italy?

The theory exam consists of 30 questions of the true or false type and each candidate is given 20 minutes (that’s a little over half a minute for each question) to answer them. 

Italian police officers setting up a roadblock

The Italian theory test consists of 30 questions ranging from road signage to civil liability. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Only three mistakes are allowed, with any number of errors equal to or above four resulting in a failed attempt. 

The questions presented to candidates are randomly selected, which means that some sections of the Italian Driver’s Manual (Manuale di Teoria) might not figure in the test at all. 

That said, you should know that the exam questions generally refer to the following macro-subjects: 

  • Road signage
  • Driver’s duties
  • Speed limits and restrictions to circulation
  • Safe following distance
  • General rules on vehicles’ circulation
  • Right of way
  • Braking, stopping and pulling over
  • Rules on overtaking
  • Use of indicator lights and horns
  • Personal safety equipment
  • Driving licences, circulation documents and penalty system
  • Road accidents and proper response
  • Driving under the influence and first aid
  • Rules on civil liability and insurance
  • Pollution and respecting the environment
  • Basic knowledge of car parts and vehicle maintenance

So, what actually happens on the day of the exam?

Barring some rare exceptions, the theory exam will take place at your local licensing office. 

Prior to the test, examiners will ask you to produce a valid identity document and the copy of a medical certificate testifying to good mental and physical health. After these formalities, you’ll be asked to take a seat at your designated station. 

Please note that you won’t be allowed to take any electronic device nor any notepad to your station. 

Cars queueing before road stop

Candidates only have two shots at passing the Italian theory test. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Once at your station, you’ll find a pc with a touch screen, which is where you’ll be taking the exam. 

By law, all candidates are shown a brief video tutorial prior to the test. After that, it’s game on.

Candidates cannot ask their examiners any question during the course of the exam – this includes questions about words or expressions that one might not know. 

It’ll be possible for you to move freely from one question to the other (i.e. you don’t have to answer a question to progress to the next one) and change your answers. That said, you’d best keep an eye on the remaining time (this is usually shown in the bottom-right corner of the web page).

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

Once you have reviewed all of your answers and submitted the test, you will be automatically logged out of the exam page.

What happens after I take the test?

Results will be made available online the day following the exam. 

If you pass, you’ll get the ‘pink slip’ (or foglio rosa) and you’ll have 12 months and a total of three attempts to take the practical test.

If you fail, you’ll have to wait a month before you can have another go. Should you fail your second attempt, you’ll have to re-enrol and submit a new request to take the theory exam (this means paying all the relevant fees again).

Member comments

  1. I am not sure what type of license this article is referring to. The Patente B, which is the normal operating license for motor vehicles has 40 questions in its theory exam, not 30. And the threshold for failure is 4 missed questions, not 3. That said, if you go to a good driving school here and you really practice the online practice exams, the Theory test is not that hard. Some of the questions seem like trick questions, but if you look at how Italian drivers actually behave, they do have a purpose. I highly recommend a decent school and the online exams. As a U.S. driver for nearly 50 years, I was skeptical of the school, but, instead, found it to be a very valuable learning experience.

  2. Anybody who does not use an autoscuola is foolish, IMHO. Amazingly, there can be trick questions on the theory exam, designed usually to trip up non-Italian speakers (e.g. following distance at xxxkm/h is a meno yy meters v. almeno yy meters). The autoscuola instructor will guide you through this potential minefield. The patente process is truly bureaucrats gone wild. Good luck!

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ROME

What are the best Rome neighbourhoods for international residents?

Whether you're moving to Rome for the first time or are looking for a new neighbourhood to live in, here are five of the best 'quartieri' for foreign nationals.

What are the best Rome neighbourhoods for international residents?

Testaccio

Testaccio is a historic working-class Roman neighbourhood that’s become increasingly popular among international residents in recent years.

It’s surrounded on two sides by the Tiber, meaning you can walk along the river into the centre of town; and has good transport links, as it’s right next to both Piramide metro and Ostiense train station.

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With its bustling food market and old-school Roman restaurants, Testaccio is a foodie haven, and you’ll often see food tours huddled around the market stalls nibbling on supplì and pecorino (though it’s mercifully otherwise relatively free of tour groups).

Testaccio's historic food market is a major draw.

Testaccio’s historic food market is a major draw. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP.

At one point it was ancient Rome’s river port and a commercial hub, so you’ll also see interesting Roman ruins like Monte Testaccio, a little hill formed entirely of broken clay pots (a 2000-year-old trash heap) or historic archways that made up part of the old quayside.

Trastevere

Located just across the river from the city centre, Trastevere is one of Rome’s most picturesque neighbourhoods, with the characteristic cobbled streets, terracotta-coloured dwellings and draping vines that many foreigners think of as quintessentially Italian.

READ ALSO: Six things foreigners should expect if they live in Rome

That also means it’s extremely popular with tourists and foreign students, who throng its piazzas and labyrinthine alleys year-round.

There’s no shortage of restaurants and bars in which to while away lazy afternoons and evenings; in fact there’s little else, and you’ll have to do a bit of digging to find ordinary shops and services.

Trastevere is popular with tourists and students.

Trastevere is popular with tourists and students. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP.

Its central location means Trastevere has less of a neighbourhood feel than somewhere like Testaccio, but if you’re looking for a buzzing area that’s just a short stroll from some of Rome’s most famous monuments, it could be the place for you.

Pigneto

If you’re moving to Rome but wish you were in Berlin, you might want to venture east of the centre to Pigneto, where the cool kids go.

Its grey apartment blocks and grungy aesthetic might not make it much to look at, but its cheap(ish) rents and refreshingly un-stuffy vibe are attracting increasing numbers of young people.

Pigneto makes up for in coolness what it lacks in beauty.

Pigneto makes up for in coolness what it lacks in beauty. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

Pigneto’s main strip of bars and restaurants, relatively quiet during the day, comes to life in the evenings and especially on weekends, when it turns into a vibrant party hub.

As well as having a fairly youthful population, the area is more of a cultural melting pot than many other parts of the city – though for a truly international experience you’ll want to go even further east to Tor Pignettara, where you’ll find some of Rome’s best non-Italian food.

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Monti

Just a few hundred feet from the Colosseum, Monti is practically in the city centre, though it’s still managed to retain its own distinctive personality.

It’s a trendy district where you’ll find a mix of stylish wine bars, chic restaurants, vintage clothing stores and high-end boutiques.

READ ALSO: ‘Why I used to hate living in Rome as a foreigner – and why I changed my mind’

Monti’s prime location means rents are high, and you’ll sometimes have to contend with crowds of tourists as you push your way to your front door.

But if you want to live in a fashionable and attractive neighbourhood that’s in Rome’s beating heart, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option.

Rome's trendy Monti district is a stone's throw from the Colosseum.

Rome’s trendy Monti district is a stone’s throw from the Colosseum. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Prati

Heading to the northwest of the city centre, just east of Vatican City, sits the elegant residential and commercial district of Prati.

This neighbourhood’s broad avenues, attractive residences and upmarket shopping streets have historically made it preserve of upper-class Italians, many of whom work in surrounding offices or the several courthouses that fall within its boundaries.

Prati’s grid-like shape and heavily-trafficked roads mean it doesn’t have much of a neighbourhood feel, but it has plenty of sophisticated restaurants, cafes and bars.

It’s also just across the river from Villa Borghese, one of Rome’s largest and most attractive parks, with easy access to the world-class Galleria Borghese art gallery.

READ ALSO: Six essential apps that make life in Rome easier for foreign residents

Rome's Prati district is just across the river from leafy Villa Borghese.

Rome’s Prati district is just across the river from leafy Villa Borghese. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.
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