Driver’s Licenses

Here is some basic information on the legal requirements for driving in Italy.

Using your US license

Your US driver’s license is valid in Italy for a limited time (typically for short stays). In theory, an International Driver’s Permit is required. This permit is basically just a translation into various language of the material on your license card. It has no validity in its own right. You can get one at a AAA office in the US. Over the last 20 years or so, the IDP has rarely been a hard requirement. However, recently there has been some report of car rental agencies requiring it. If you get particularly unlucky, you might find a policeman who demands that one be shown.

The Patente di Guida

Once you gain residency in Italy, you have one year to obtain an Italian driver’s license. Although the police may not give you trouble for driving on an American license after a year, they are entitled to do so and might well impound your car. (Remember that in Italy, the police are allowed to stop you without cause.) Moreover, if you get into an accident without a valid license, your insurance coverage may be void. Nuff said.

Earning a driver’s license in Italy is a big deal, and is especially challenging for those not fluent in Italian. You must pass both a theory and a practical driving test.

For experienced drivers from the US, the theory test is the biggest hurdle. The test is given only in Italian (or in German or French if you happen to live in a specific provinces adjoining France and Austria). It consists of 40 true/false questions that are often tricky, full of very specific detail, and written in a strange bureaucratic language more akin to a logic exam. You must get 90% correct to pass. Most non-Italian speakers wind up studying for many, many hours to practice for this test. Even Italian speakers find it difficult. After reading the material covered in the exam (a 600-page book), most people take practice exams until they reliably get only one or two wrong. A reasonable estimate is that you might wind up taking 300 practice tests.

Before taking your theory exam, however, you must obtain a medical release from your doctor and also be examined by a doctor qualified to do medical tests for driving. (This latter test is not rigorous, and largely involves the paying of a fee.) NB: If you wear hearing aids, you will be required to provide documentation from an audiologist that your devices work correctly.

In Italy, the DMV is called the Motorizazzione which typically has offices located in or near provincial capitals (and perhaps other places in populous provinces). Don’t expect to just show up and take a theory test. Tests are scheduled ahead of time, typically with large crowds of teenagers and a monitor who acts like a schoolteacher.

After passing your theory exam, you are awarded a foglio rosa, e.g., a learners permit. You now must wait a period of time (a month and a day) before taking your practical exam, and during that time you must accumulate a minimum of 6 hours of practice driving time with an adult who has been licensed for at least 10 years and who is under the age of 60 (under the age of 65 if your car happens to have a passenger-side brake pedal).

By comparison, the practical exam is easy, although that depends entirely on the nature of your examiner who, in addition to judging your driving, is allowed to ask you detailed questions about, for example, the operation of your car or the proper procedures for administering first aid in a road emergency.

There exists a thriving driving school industry in Italy. For many people from the US, it might make sense to contract with a school to take classes, get materials, conduct driving practice, and handle documentation and test setup. It won’t be cheap, of course. Expect to pay on the order of €600 for all of the above. You can, of course, arrange to do these things by yourself and there is no shortage of written an online course material. However, you might find that your practical exam is a bit trickier than if you were under the guidance of a licensed driving instructor.

Immediately after passing your practical exam, you will receive your license. Your license number will have a P at the end because you are now a neo-patentati. Neo-patentati are special in that for the first year, they must drive cars no more powerful than 55kw. Also, for the first three years, such drivers are limited to 100 km/h on the autostrada and a maximum of 90 km/h on other roads. Moreover, penalties for new drivers are double what they are for others, and driving after the consumption of ANY alcohol is prohibited. You may question whether all of these rules are strictly enforced for adult neo-patentati with years of driving experience. YMMV.

Owning a Car

(This section deals with some of the issues that car owners encounter. We won’t approach the idea of where or how to buy a car, but simply outline the requirements for making a new (or used) car legal in Italy.

We note that buying a car in Italy is much different than doing so in the US. In the US, it’s difficult to get out of a dealership without buying. In Italy, this seems not to be the case. Things happen slowly. You probably can’t drive off with a car even if you want to because the dealership will want to see an insurance contract and payment first, and these things generally must be arranged elsewhere.

If you’re thinking of moving a car from the US or other non-EU country to Italy. Don’t. Just don’t.

Registering a Car

Car registration is handled by the Motorizazzione Civile, the Italian version of the DMV. As AAA does in the US, the ACI (Automobile Club d’Italia) can help with performing this registration. In either case all cars must be added to the Pubblico Registro Automobilistico (PRA). Residence in a comune is required to register a car. As you might expect, car ownership registration requires roughly €80 in fixed fees, plus a provincial transcription tax which varies by location and the power of the vehicle. In Ascoli Piceno province, the APT is currently €4,56 per kw (measuring of the power of your engine in kilowatts). As an example, the small engine size that newly licensed drivers are restricted to for the first year is 55 kw.

This page from the ACI provides an overview of the vehicle registration process and required documents. There is an office of the ACI at
Viale Indipendenza 38/a in Ascoli. The Motorizazzione is a bit further out of town in the industrial area on Via della Tessitura.

Cars with non-Italian plates must be registered in Italy within 60 days of arrival. It is possible to register a car in Italy that was previously registered in a different country, but the documentation requirements (plus translation expense) are significant.

If you buy your car from a dealer, all of the above will probably be done for you. Once your car is duly registered, you will be in possession of a Carta di Circulazione which must be in your car at all times. You will also get a receipt with a long alphanumeric string that can be used to look up your digital ownership certificate in the PRA. Keep this safe at home because you will need it should you want to sell your car.


Insurance in Italy is for the car, not the person. All cars must have a standard 3rd party liability insurance policy (responsabilità civile autoveicoli). This provides liability coverage for damage you car does to other people or property. The terms are pretty standard and there aren’t any options that we know of. You will need such a policy before you can drive your new (or used) car out of the dealership. Expect to pay at least
€650 a year for a RC policy for a small car. In a big city, it might be considerably more.

You can also choose to buy insurance for theft and fire, damage to your car that is your fault (Kasko), or windshield damage.

A number of us in Ascoli contract for insurance with an office of Assicurazione Generali on Via Napoli. Their prices seem sensible, but we haven’t done a detailed survey. If you are coming from the US and can get a record of no claims from your US insurer for the last 5 years, this might save you some money on your car insurance.

Legal Requirements

When driving, you must keep the following three documents in your car:

  • Your driver’s license
  • The Carta di Circulazione for your car
  • Motor vehicle insurance certificate (carta verde)

Every year, you must also pay a “bollo”, a road tax if your will. This payment is due on the anniversary of your car’s first registration (perhaps by a previous owner). You can pay this tax online, or at the ACI, or at any tabbacheria.

Starting when your car is 4 years old, a “revisione” is required every two years. This is a general car checkup analogous to a smog check in California, except that it covers more of the car’s operational functions. Certain mechanic shops that bear the moniker “centro revisioni” are licensed to perform this test. The date of your next revisione is indicated on your Carta di Circulazione.

In many parts of Italy, including Le Marche, winter tires are required from mid-November to mid-April. Buying two set of tires is a pain, we know. It may be the case that certain all-weather tires are acceptable for both seasons. You can instead carry a set of chains during wintertime, but this will not be a happy solution if you actually encounter snow or ice (which you might). If you wind up with two sets of tires, you should be able to find a mechanic who will perform tire changes for you and store your off-season tires. Mounting both sets of tires on rims makes this process a lot easier.


Many Italian cities are short on space, so parking comes at a premium. You may find that an urban parking space, whether at your dwelling or in a commercial garage, costs a fair fraction of your housing expense. Some sort of reserved space is nevertheless preferable because reliance on on-street parking can add considerable stress to your daily life. We have noticed that in some communities, individual public parking spaces are sometimes informally allocated to specific residents. If you don’t know about or abide by such unwritten customs, it might cause some neighborly discomfort. Even reserved parking spaces are often quite a lot smaller than folks in the US are used to. This is yet another reason why smaller cars are preferable for most Italians.

Most small Italian cities have designated parts of their city centers as ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato). These restrictions are often enforced with cameras that photograph the license plates of cars entering the ZTL. If you enter without permission, you will receive a hefty fine (multa) in the mail. If you try to appeal the multa, you will probably lose and then have to pay more. If the letter containing the multa doesn’t reach you right away for some reason, you might miss the payment deadline and then have to pay more. Some ZTLs don’t have cameras, in which case you most probably will only get a multa if you try to park therein.

Center city residents usually can get permits to enter and park in a ZTL if they reside there. If there are multiple ZTL zones, you will get permission only for the one where you live. In Ascoli, yearly parking permits cost €25 and can be purchased from SABA (the parking lot concessionaire) at their offices in the Torricella parking garage. Bring proof of your residence address, and place the resultant parking pass in a visible place on or near your windshield.

Traffic Enforcement

You will not often find police-manned speed traps in Italy. What you will find is a plethora of speed cameras, any one of which can detect you speeding and cause a ticket (multa) to arrive in your mail. (See the section on ZTLs for a discussion on multe.) Speeding tickets not only cost money, but deduct points from your license. You start with 20 points, and each regular speeding ticket deducts 4. So, a persistent speeder could lose his or her license in a single cross-country trip.

Speed cameras come in multiple varieties. Many local municipalities install them at the town limits on the main road, right around where the speed limit is reduced to 50 kph. The presence of a speed camera is always pre-announced by law with a sign indicating “controllo elettronico della velocità”. Mapping applications like TomTom have downloadable location data for cameras which cause the TomTom device to emit a beep as you near one. In rural areas, many speed cameras don’t actually work. But you never know.

The Autostrade have a much more robust system of speed cameras. On older roads, there are single point systems (or one per lane) which measure your speed one time. More advanced systems on newer roads, however, keep track of cars along long stretches of roads at multiple points and thus can calculate your average speed along those stretches.


If you take trips often, you will probably want to acquire a Telepass device for your car. This device allows you to use the Telepass lane on the Autostrade and thus avoid stopping at toll plazas. It can also be used to pay for parking in certain areas. Your Telepass account can be associated with a bank account so as to pay bills for tolls only a monthly basis. Enquire at your bank to get one. Or, you can stop at one of the Autostrade areas marked PuntoBlu,

The ACI not only provides car registration, but it also sells insurance, maps, and road incident coverage (much like AAA in the US). If you like the idea of having a number to call for help if your car breaks down, you might want to enquire about joining ACI.

Public Transportation

Here is a quick overview of the major forms of ground public transportation in Italy with a particular focus on those available in the vicinity of Ascoli Piceno.


The advent of the Freccia system of high-speed trains in Italy ushered in a new era in high-speed transport. These trains are fast, fairly priced, generally clean, and are supported by a robust online ticketing system. For Freccia trains, advanced seat reservations are required. Buy your tickets online at the TrenItalia website, or use a third party seller such as The services are largely similar. Tickets purchased online, either in digital or paper form, are largely acceptable for travel.

The main lines stretch from Salerno and Naples in the south to Milano, Torino, and Venezia in the north, stopping at Roma, Firenze, and Bologna. The three grades of service (Rossa/Argenta/Bianca) are largely indicative of how many stops are made. The FrecciaRossa is therefore the fastest and has the fewest stops. A slower line stretches south-east from Bologna along the Adriatic Coast down to Bari and Lecce. For much of this length, there is only one track per direction, so delays are more likely. A newer track connects Napoli and Bari.

An alternate train service provider, Italo, offers FrecciaRossa-quality service on a few of the mainline routes. Be careful, though, because some of their routes do not reach the central stations of their destinations. And while you can buy, for example from, a ticket which connects Italo and Freccia trains, you will not be due any recompense if you miss the connection.

Below Freccia-level service, there are also many Inter-City trains which also require seat reservations. These have more stops than the Freccia trains, and usually operate on older rolling stock.

Then there are a variety of express and local regional level trains. Generally, a train number with four digits will be faster (fewer stops) than one with five. For these trains, no seat reservation is possible. If you buy a standard paper ticket, don’t forget to punch your ticket in the yellow machines on the track platforms (even if you just bought it from the machines or agent in the station lobby).

If you are over 60, you might want to apply for a free CartaFreccia Senior card on the TrenItalia website. Holding this card can give some advantages when booking tickets.

Train service to Ascoli Piceno is rather slow. There are about ten trains a day (fewer on Sunday) to either San Benedetto del Tronto (00:45) or to Ancona (1:55) on the main Adriatic line. These trains arrival tend to be scheduled to follow the departure of fast trains on the coast line, so if you want to make a connection, you will often have to wait a maximal interval. You might find it more convenient to find other transportation to or from the San Benedetto station and pick up, or depart the train there. Unfortunately, only a few of the Freccia trains stop at San Benedetto.

Intercity buses

Curiously, in Italy, large buses are referred to by the English name “pullman”. The etymology of the word clearly harkens back to the Pullman Company who operated railroads in the US and the UK in the late 19th Century.

Intercity pullman buses go everywhere in Italy and are a very popular form of transport. You probably can go to anywhere in Europe from a major hub like the Tiburtina bus station in Rome. It’s not the prettiest place in Rome, but it can be useful, and it is co-located with the Rome Metro. Multinational bus lines such as FlixBus are available between many Italian cities, but the regional carriers are too many to count. Most support ticket sales on the web.

It’s easier to get to Rome from Ascoli by bus than by train. There are two main routes. The Via Salaria heads directly over the Apennines from Ascoli along the route used by the ancient Romans. The road is windy and slow, but the total distance is about 50km less than the other route which takes the Ascoli-Mare Raccordo to A14 on the coast, and then follows the A24 to Rome through the Gran Sasso tunnel. Both routes take about the same amount of time. Your preference probably depends on your tolerance of windy roads.

START Spa. and Cardinali are the only two bus lines that offer the Salaria route, and those buses don’t continue on from Rome to the Fiumicino airport if you’re headed there. The coastal route is served by a large collection of bus lines: START, Cardinali, Flixbus, Gaspari, RomaExpress. Most of these lines terminate further up the Marche coastline, only stopping momentarily at Porto D’Ascoli and San Benedetto del Tronto. The coast route buses almost all visit either Fiumicino or Ciampino in addition to Rome. The trip from Porto D’Ascoli to Rome takes about 3 hours. Continuing on to Fiumicino takes most of another hour.

If you plan to get on or off the bus at Porto D’Ascoli, be sure to research the bus stop in advance because it is a gas station and is not immediately obvious. Some of the lines above offer connecting buses between Ascoli train station and Porto D’Ascoli. For those that don’t, you’ll have to find another way to get bdtween Ascoli and Porto D’Ascoli.

Local buses

START Spa. offers local and extra-urban bus service around Ascoli and to between Ascoli and most of the major comunes in the area. Complete timetables can be found on their website. Bus tickets, both single tickets and long-term passes, can be bought at tabaccherie and at newspaper stands.


Ancona and Pescara have small regional airports that are about 1:15h from Ascoli by car. Pescara has flights on Volotea to Palermo and Catania, and Ryan Air to Brussels Charleroi and London Stansted and other RyanAir destinations. Ancona has similar routes, plus flights to Munich on Lufthansa. Neither airport is particular well connected to public transportation, but both have adequate parking facilities.

Ciampino and Fiumicino are the two major airports for Rome, with Fiumicino being considerably bigger and better connected. Both are roughly four hours from Ascoli by bus (3 hours by car), but only some of the bus lines stop at Ciampino. Fiumicino has huge amounts of long stay parking, both public and privately operated. There are close in parking structures as well. Considerable discounts can be had by booking ahead.

Occasionally, very competitive airfares can be had through Milan Malpensa, which has the advantage of being easily reachable by train. However, the train trip is long, and requires a change at Milan to the Malpensa Express which takes another hour to the airport on the other side of the city.


(Most everyone needs to get around. If you live in a large city, public transportation may be all you need. However, life in small cities or the countryside often requires the use of a car. Here’s some basic information on both. Keep in mind that much of what’s written here pertains mostly to our corner of Le Marche, and that, as with many things, your experience may be quite different in different parts of Italy.