Foreign drivers could get simpler way to exchange licence under EU proposal

The EU Commission on Wednesday presented proposals for new EU driving licence rules which could make it easier for people from non-EU countries to swap their licences.

Foreign drivers could get simpler way to exchange licence under EU proposal
Vehicles pass through the Vienne-Reventin toll gate on the A7 freeway in Reventin-Vaugris, France. An EU Commission proposal could make it easier for holders of non-EU driving licences to switch to EU licences after moving to EU member countries. File photo: JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP

In a statement, the Commission said its proposal would “modernise driving licence rules” across member countries.

One of the changes included in the proposal would allow drivers from non-EU countries with road safety standards considered ‘comparable’ to the EU to more easily exchange their existing licence for an EU one.

Under existing rules across the EU, holders of driving licences issued in non-EU countries often need to re-take driving tests to be granted an EU driving licence after moving to the EU.

In some cases, this can lead to experienced drivers having to spend a significant amount of time and money on taking a new driving test, and in some countries taking compulsory driving lessons before being able to take the test. 

This is a particular problem for Americans since agreements on swapping licences are done on a state-by-state basis so that, for example, Americans in France whose licence was issued by the state of Maryland can simply swap it for a French licence, while those whose licence was issued in California have to take a French driving test


Under the EU Commission’s proposal, drivers from countries it identifies as having high enough road safety standards will “be able to exchange their licences for EU licences either without having to repeat training or testing, or by carrying this out based on uniform conditions throughout the EU”, the Commission states.

The countries which would qualify for this will be confirmed at a later date, it said.

The procedure for approving a non-EU or “third” country for the scheme would involve that country being identified by the Commission and then each EU member state given a six-month deadline to provide its opinion on factors including driving licencing standards and road infrastructure in that country, according to the text of the proposal. Should the country be approved, it would be reviewed every four years. Approved countries would be listed on the Commission’s website.


Another element of the proposal could make it easier for those foreign residents who do have to take a test, but giving them a helping hand with the language.

People who do not speak an official language in the country where they take their test to a high enough standard – and bear in mind that driving tests involve some quite technical language – will be allowed to take the test in another country in which they do speak the language, the Commission said.

This means that, for example, a US national living in Germany who does not speak German might be permitted to take a test in Ireland “if it is not possible to use an interpreter to assist them”.

“This will make life easier for mobile citizens within the EU, especially young people, by ensuring they are tested on their driving skills rather than their language knowledge,” it said.

An aim of the broad package of proposals published on Wednesday is to remove “obstacles to cross-border mobility,” EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said in the statement.

“Today’s package of proposals seeks to simplify rules on driving licences while adapting them to technological and medical progress,” Vălean said.

The proposals also aim to improve road safety “through better cross-border exchange of information on traffic offences and driver disqualification for the most serious ones. Safe driving is crucial in our efforts to halve road deaths and serious injuries by 2030,” she said.

The Commission also proposes “the introduction of a digital driving licence valid throughout the EU, and new provisions to facilitate the enforcement of traffic rules across borders”.

The introduction of a digital driving licence would be a “world first”, the Commission said. The move would “simplify the recognition of driving licences between member states”, it noted.

Switching procedures online will meanwhile make it easier to replace, renew or exchange a driving licence, it added.

Additionally, the proposed rules will allow young drivers to gain experience through an “accompanied driving scheme”.

This means that learner drivers will be able to obtain a licence from the age of 17 but will not be allowed to drive unaccompanied until they have turned 18.  

Drivers who pass aged 17 will be able to drive alone from their 18th birthday, and to work as a professional driver as soon as a specific job allows. This will help address a current driver shortage, the Commission said.

Rules allowing accompanied driving at 17 already exist in some member states, including Germany and Austria.

A number of new safety rules are also included in the proposal. These follow best practices already in place in several EU member countries, according to the statement.

A dedicated IT portal will provide easy access to information on the road safety rules in place in each EU member state, while broadened sharing between national registers will give more effective punishment of safety-related traffic offences committed by non-residents across member states.

Disqualification for serious offences would become EU-wide. Currently, it can only be enforced in the country which issued the licence. Serious offences include excessive speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or causing death or serious injury as a result of a traffic offence.

The proposals must be considered by the European Parliament and Council under the EU’s normal legislative procedure.

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Americans in Italy: What to know about planned changes to EU driving licence rules

The EU is proposing changes to its rules on swapping driving licences, which could be good news for many Americans in Italy - here's what you need to know.

Americans in Italy: What to know about planned changes to EU driving licence rules

What’s the change?

This is something that is being proposed at an EU level, to make it easier for residents in EU countries who have a driving licence from a non-EU country to swap their licence for a local one.

At present some people who have non-EU licences can simply swap them for a licence from the country they live in, while others have to take a driving test – and in some countries also take compulsory lessons – in order to get a licence, even if they have been driving for many years.

Whether they can swap or have to take a test depends on which country they live in, and where they got their licence.

Now the EU wants to create a list of countries that have ‘comparable’ driving standards to the EU, and allow people who have a licence from those countries to simply swap their licence for a local one, whichever EU country they live in. Find full details of the proposal here.

What is the situation in Italy?

Anyone who lives in Italy and holds a non-EU licence may drive on that licence for a year, but after that they must exchange their licence for an Italian one.

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

Across the EU, whether or not you can swap your licence depends on whether your home country has an agreement in place with the country you live in.

Several non-EU countries do have agreements in place with Italy, including – since December – the UK, but the US, along with Canada and Australia, does not.

This means that if your licence was issued in the US, you will have to take an Italian driving test (both theory and practical).

As well as being time-consuming and (for those whose Italian is still at beginner level) challenging, it can also be extremely expensive as most driving schools will insist on at least a few lessons first.

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

The EU’s proposal would mean that, provided the US is accepted as a country with comparable driving standards, anyone with a licence issued in the US could swap it without having to take a test.

The changes won’t affect Italy’s domestic systems around making the licence swap, which can still be time-consuming.

How soon will this happen?

Don’t hold your breath, the EU is notorious for taking its time over any changes.

The change is part of a package of measures around standardising driving licences across the EU, which must be considered by the European Parliament and European Council under the EU’s normal legislative procedure.

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

If they are approved the European Commission will draw up a list of countries that it considers to have comparable driving standards to the EU, and then each of the 27 EU member state would be given a six-month deadline to provide its opinion on factors including driving licensing standards and road infrastructure in that country, according to the text of the proposal.

It’s likely that we’re talking years rather than months for the changes to come into effect, but we will keep you updated in our driving section HERE.