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Do I Really Need an International Driving Permit to Drive in Italy?

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.

Driving in Italy can be a challenge. Don't make it any harder than it needs to be!

Driving in Italy can be a challenge. Don't make it any harder than it needs to be!

One of the most confusing questions that faces travelers heading to Italy is whether they need an International Driver’s Permit, otherwise known as an IDP. It’s a valid question and one that we have asked and debated over and over again before leaving on vacations to a host of European countries.

For the first few trips we made to Italy where we planned on driving a rental car, we made sure to get one before leaving. And as many seasoned traveler friends had predicted, not once were we asked to produce the document while renting the vehicle. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t need the permit—it could just have been our good fortune to not have had any reason to interact with the local police.

International Driving Permit

International Driving Permit

In Italy, Having an IDP Is the Law

While there are a few European countries that speak English and will recognize a United States driver’s license, you need to keep in mind that there are many nations, including Italy, that don’t. And this is where the International Driving Permit is legally required along with your home country driver’s license.

Please note that the IDP is not a European Driver’s license, but a permit that translates your existing license into many different languages. What it does is allows the police over there to easily write out a ticket to you with all of your information already translated via the IDP.

Can you imagine the confusion and stress if presented with a situation where you don’t speak their language and the foreign police can’t communicate with you? If you don’t have an International Driving Permit and you get pulled over, you run the risk of being fined, which will then make the $20 you saved by not getting the permit seem trivial.

Look at it this way: it’s a legal requirement to carry an International Driving Permit in countries that require you to carry one, so it’s probably a good idea to make sure you have it before departing. Fines for not having one can run up to several hundred euros and have to be paid within five days or else the fine goes up dramatically.

International Driving Permit

International Driving Permit

Some Commonly Visited European Countries

Countries that require you to carry an International Driving Permit along with your countries driver’s license:

  • Italy, Greece, Spain, Austria, Germany, Poland, Croatia, Czech-Republic, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Countries that recognize a United States or Canadian driver’s license and also speak English:

  • Ireland, ​Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England

Non-English speaking countries that do not require an IDP, but where it’s a good idea due to the language barrier:​

  • Portugal, France, Switzerland
Countries that recognize an International Driving Permit

Countries that recognize an International Driving Permit

Where to Get an International Driving Permit

An International Driver’s Permit can only be purchased through your local American or Canadian Automobile Association branch or through the American Automobile Touring Alliance, otherwise known as the AATA.

You will need to bring 2 passport-sized photos or purchase them there in addition to the fee for the permit (which usually costs no more than $20). If you come across another website that offers to issue you an IDP, don’t be fooled—the AAA and AATA are the only agencies authorized by the US State Department to issue an IDP. The permit is good for one year from the date of issue.

As a general rule, the cars in Italy are small.

As a general rule, the cars in Italy are small.

Hopefully, if your trip goes smoothly, you’ll never be asked to show your permit, but if for some reason you wind up dealing with the police because of an auto accident or a speeding ticket, you will most likely be asked to produce the permit. The bottom line is that for $20, it’s a good thing to have just in case you have an issue.

That’s one small vehicle.

That’s one small vehicle.

Over the last 10 years, we have driven rental vehicles in Italy, Greece, France, and Spain, and not once has the rental car company asked us for our International Driver’s Permit. It would seem that it’s more of a requirement to drive, rather than a requirement to rent a vehicle in these countries.

It has certainly helped that good fortune has followed us on our adventures and we have managed to avoid any vehicle accidents or issues involving the police. We have received tickets while in Italy, one for speeding and one for entering a restricted driving zone, but both of those tickets came in the mail months after returning home.

Beware of the Limited Traffic Zones

Beware of the Limited Traffic Zones

What to Expect When Driving in Italy

Driving in Italy can be a stressful experience. Some European countries are worse than others, but Italy is regarded as one of the more challenging. Just the language barrier of not being able to read road signs combined with driving on unfamiliar roads can create anxiety.

As a general rule, we have found Italian drivers to be somewhat impatient and aggressive, especially in the larger cities. They drive fast, tailgate if they think you are not going fast enough and will jump at the first opportunity to pass you.

Beware the Limited Travel Zones (ZTLs)

Another thing to consider is that many cities have ZTLs, or limited travel zones that are restricted to just the locals who live there. Enter one of these restricted areas and you will receive a hefty ticket in the mail a few months after returning from your trip.

How will they know? Look carefully and you will see the cameras everywhere. Once they get your plate number, they will trace it to your rental company and get your information from them. Pretty sneaky, but very effective.

Oh the places you can go, when you have the freedom of a rental vehicle.

Oh the places you can go, when you have the freedom of a rental vehicle.

Italian Roads and Cars

Other things to be aware of when driving in Italy are the narrow roads and the use of round-a-bouts, which are used extensively so be prepared. Just always remember who has the right of way when entering and traversing through the round-a-bout. Vehicles already in the round-a-bout have the right of way and cars trying to enter the rotary need to yield.

One last thing to consider if you want to rent a vehicle in Italy is that most of the rentals come with a manual transmission and the cars tend to be on the smaller side, so pack light. Vehicles with automatic transmissions are available, but they come at a hefty premium. If you are not completely comfortable driving a manual transmission, you may want to reconsider your plans for driving. If you do decide to throw caution to the wind and drive, be sure to utilize a Garmin or some other navigation aid to make life easier for yourself.

Hard to forget our lime green Fiat rental

Hard to forget our lime green Fiat rental

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 10, 2020:

Yes, we have friends who are supposed to go to Italy soon and are having to cancel. The coronavirus is causing all kinds of travel problems, good to just stay home for now.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 10, 2020:

This is good information to know. Thus far, we have never driven in Europe, but have always taken public transportation, or have a friend do the driving. With Italy shut down now due to the spread of coronavirus, it may be a while before people who care to visit Italy are able to do so.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 26, 2020:

Thank you, Linda. We are still at the point where we would drive in Europe if we had to, but we try avoid it. Europe has much better public transportation than here in the US, especially the train systems, so it's pretty easy to get around without having to drive.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 25, 2020:

This is a very useful article, Bill. I've never heard of an IDP before and I'm sure I wouldn't want to drive in Europe during a visit, but for those who do want to drive the information that you've shared is important.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 25, 2020:

Thanks Heidi. Driving in Italy is definitely not for everyone. In some parts of the country, like Tuscany, it's almost a necessity to really explore the area, but in the cities it can be a challenge.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 25, 2020:

Yes, I do believe once Brexit happens UK citizens will need the IDP to drive in Italy. This coronavirus certainly has the potential to drag on and disrupt a lot of travel plans. Hopefully by May it's not a problem so you can get to Venice.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 25, 2020:

Good to know. And on that note, I think I'll board the tour bus. :)

Seriously, great information from someone who's definitely been there, done that. Thanks for sharing all your travel-wise tips with us!

Glen Rix from UK on February 25, 2020:

UK citizens currently don't need and IDP. All changed will change from January 2021, now that we are no longer Europeans :(

I have a flight booked to Venice in May but judging by the current trajectory I can't see the corona virus subsiding in the near future. Seriously thinking about cancelling, as I am in an at-risk group.

I have driven from Aulla north to Switzerland and then on to Zebrugge. Certainly not for the faint-hearted. But the worst drivers seem to be in the Sorrento area - I had never seen so many dented cars on the roads before visiting there!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 25, 2020:

Yes, driving in Italy is not for the faint of heart, especially in the cities and more populated areas. The news on the Coronavirus in the north is very concerning, hopefully they mange to contain it. Thanks for stopping by, enjoy your next visit to Italy.

Adrienne Farricelli on February 25, 2020:

Driving in Italy is not the easiest task for those not used to chaos especially in the deep South where things get quite hectic,and then most cars in Italy have the shift. My hubby dreads driving there when we visit our family. Hopefully the coronavirus crisis subsides soon so travel to Italy will go back to norm.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 25, 2020:

We considered doing that after receiving the first ticket we got, but ultimately decided to pay it. If you don't pay it I imagine you would eventually hear from a collection agency. My real fear in not paying it would be what happens on our next trip if we got pulled over or involved in an accident? I did read that the statute of limitations on traffic fines in Italy is 5 years so I assume that eventually it would just go away?

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 24, 2020:

Let me ask a terrible question. What happens if you receive the ticket in the mail months after your visit and decide not to pay it? Just hypothetical, wink wink.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 24, 2020:

What a great story, Chuck. Pretty funny. We’ve had a few tickets in Italy, now they just take your picture with a camera and mail you the ticket. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 24, 2020:

Thank you, Donna. We were unaware of the requirements years ago before we started traveling to Europe, but quickly realized that this was something we needed to get. Have a great day.

Chuck Nugent from Tucson, Arizona on February 24, 2020:

Bill - great Hub. I have always obtained an International Driving Permit when renting cars and driving them outside of the U.S. or Canada. While I have always had one on my person when driving outside of North America the only time I had to show it was a number of years ago in Mexico. I was stopped for speeding despite the fact that there were no signs posted showing the speed limit. Mexican friends had told me that such stops were mostly bribe opportunities so I offered to give the officer the money to pay the fine for me and he accepted The next day on the way to the airport in a taxi cab we passed the spot where I had been stopped and the same policeman had another victim. Sitting in the front seat I looked over at the dashboard and noticed that the speedometer in the cab didn't work but I could see that we were going faster that I was doing the day before. Instead of slowing down the cab driver honked his horn and waved and the policeman smiled and waved back. The cab company had obviously already made advance payments to the officer's superiors to avoid being stopped at that particular place on the highway.

Donna Rayne from Greenwood, In on February 24, 2020:

Bill, I didn't even know this existed! Wow, I learned something new today and if I ever visit another country, I will know what to do, so I thank you very much!

Have a wonderful day,

Donna Rayne

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 24, 2020:

Thanks Liz. I didn't even consider the effects of Brexit, but I fear you are correct that you will need an IDP in Italy and other countries as well.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 24, 2020:

Thanks Bill. The first time we went over to Italy we knew nothing about it. I have since read way too many horror stories of the police asking tourists for it and being immediately fined 280 euros for not having the permit. I will always gladly spend the $20 for peace of mind when we are there.

Have a great week.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 24, 2020:

I fear that after Brexit has gone through, those travelling from the UK will also require international driving permits in the EU. I bet the one occasion you don"t get one will be the time when it is asked for. The reputation of drivers in Italy is fearsome. This is a helpful guide for anyone planning on driving in Italy.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 24, 2020:

I learned something new, Bill! For some reason, it never dawned on me that an international driver's permit was even a thing. I have never heard of it. I just assumed you went abroad and you were good to go if you had a driver's license. Silly me!

Have a fantastic week, my friend!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 24, 2020:

Thank you Pam. We have been fortunate and a little lucky in our experiences with driving in Italy. With the aggressive nature of drivers in Italy it is always a little scary.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 24, 2020:

This is all new information to me and I think I would be frightened to drive myself. Not being able to read the signs would make it difficult also. It sounds like you have done very well during all your travels. Thank you for this information.