Expats have a multitude of options for getting around in Italy, including public transport, bringing their own car into the country or buying a new or used car. Pros and cons of each must be weighed up to see what the most cost effective and convenient option is. 

Most of Italy’s cities are congested and chaotic. Therefore, for expats, buying a car in Italy might not be such a good idea if they're staying within the city limits. While Italians might feel comfortable driving in Italy, expats may not be as immune to the unpredictable Italian driving culture.

Another problem is that Italy's major cities were designed to accommodate medieval and Renaissance transportation, which is to say, foot traffic. Coupled with limited parking, driving in Italian cities requires that expats navigate through pedestrian-only zones, one-way streets and extremely tight alleyways. Hence, most expats prefer to take public transport.

That said, public transport may be useful and cheap, but freedom is limited. A car can be beneficial for expats wanting to explore the rest of Italy and beyond. 

Expats can buy a new vehicle in Italy or ship or drive in their car into the country. While importing one’s car into Italy by shipping it in or driving it in are valid options, vehicles must then be registered which has the potential to be a tedious process.

Many expats may prefer to buy a car in Italy, especially as this means expats can choose a left-hand-drive car which is preferred for driving on the right side of the road.

What to consider when buying a car in Italy

When the distance between the car door and tiny alleyways is mere millimetres, size matters most. Size can also mean the difference between getting into tiny, almost non-existent parking spaces in Italian cities and driving around aimlessly for another hour.

There are many affordable small cars on the market. Smaller cars tend to lack power, baggage space and speed, which may limit travel within Europe. Like anywhere else in the world, expats should consider buying a reliable car that’s locally made, such as a Fiat, to save in buying and on mechanic fees. 

Expats should be aware of the costs of having a car. On top of usual maintenance, car owners must pay an annual car tax, car insurance and have vehicle roadworthy tests carried out. The annual car tax is called Bollo and can be paid in various locations including expat’s local ACI, banks and post offices. Cars that are older than four years old require vehicle roadworthy tests, called a revisione, every two years.

Furthermore, driving can be costly given that many Italian highways have a toll system.

Once the decision has been made to purchase a car there are several ways to go about it.

Buying a car in Italy 

To buy a car in Italy, expats must be an Italian resident, and therefore must have applied for temporary or permanent residence.

Expats must then decide if they want to buy a new or second-hand vehicle as well as choose a good local car dealership that can explain the process properly. This local garage can also provide aftersales services, so expats should find a garage that is recommended by others.

Once they have found the right vehicle, expats must go to the ACI Public Registry Office with a certificate of residence, ID, tax code and proof of insurance to register the purchase and change of ownership. 

If buying a used car, expats may request a mechanic to ensure it is in the agreed condition. Additional documents from the owner will be required to register the transaction.

Car insurance in Italy

Car insurance, or assicurazione auto, in Italy is expensive. However, things have improved in recent years, especially as the competition amongst insurance dealers has increased.

There are two main types of insurance – comprehensive (casco), which can be prohibitively expensive, and third party (responsabilità civile), which is the bare minimum available in Italy. Extra coverage is available at an additional cost and ranges from theft to natural disasters.

Those who get into an accident might also be liable for any medical fees that are a result of the accident, so expats will need to investigate health insurance options as well. 

Driving licences in Italy

Expats with an EU licence can drive in Italy without problems. EU citizens are also given the option of exchanging their current licence for an Italian one, which can be done at a Driver and Vehicle Licensing Department.

Citizens of select non-EU countries can exchange their licences for an Italian licence within one year of attaining Italian residency without having to sit any tests. However, old licenses will no longer be valid. Up until they have an Italian licence, these expats will need to obtain an International Driving Permit, which is a translation of their present licence.

For other expats, including Australians, Canadians and expats from the USA, there’s a 12-month grace period where expats from these countries can drive on their current license in Italy. After that, they will have to take driving lessons and pass a written and practical driving exam.