Buying a Car in Italy
A wise man once said driving in Rome was the greatest test of a person’s agility, cunning and above all, patience. He wasn’t wrong. Rome, like most European cities, is congested and chaotic. Then again, so are all of Italy’s cities, whether you’ve chosen to make your new home Milan, Perugia, Naples or Florence. Even Siena gets its fair share of traffic jams.
For expats, buying a car in Italy might not be such a good idea if you’re staying within the city limits. While Italians might feel comfortable driving in Italy, expats may not be as immune to the erratic and somewhat inconsiderate driving style of Italians.
Most people tend to forget that Italy’s cities weren’t built for cars. They were built for medieval and Renaissance transportation, which is to say, foot traffic. You can literally drive yourself insane trying to navigate the pedestrian-only zones, one-way streets, limited parking and extremely tight alleyways, which is why most expats prefer to take public transport.
That said, a car can be a blessing on those fantastic weekends and holidays when you want to leave the city behind and explore the rest of Italy and beyond.
What to consider when buying a car in Italy
The first and most important thing you should consider when buying a car in Italy is size.
Size matters where the distance between your car door and the alleyway you’re trying to squeeze through is mere millimetres. Size can also mean the difference between getting into that tiny, almost non-existent parking space in Italian cities and driving around aimlessly for another hour. For the locals, size also improves the odds for double parking without getting in trouble, not that you should adopt that particular custom.
There are plenty of affordable small cars on the market, but it’s a good idea to know what your plans are before you buy. Smaller cars tend to lack power and speed, so if you’re dreaming of driving to Poland and back in a weekend, you’ll need to keep that in mind. Like anywhere else in the world, you’re also better off choosing a car that’s locally made if you’re looking to save on repairs and mechanic fees. Fiats are widely recognised as the most affordable and reliable Italian cars and you can get your hands on the parts for them fairly easily.
Where to buy a car in Italy
It’s not a coincidence that most Italians drive new cars. In 2008, the Italian government introduced a ‘scrappage scheme’ where anyone could get a hefty rebate for trading in their decade-or-older car and buying a new one. The scheme ended in 2009, but it still pays to buy a new car in Italy. For starters, you’ll have no problems entering more pollution-wary cities like Milan and Turin, where they sporadically ban and fine cars that aren’t the latest environmentally friendly models.
But aside from that, buying a new car is simply less stressful, especially if you’re new to the country and don’t speak Italian well. You won’t have to worry about filling in excessive paperwork, and you’ll save on insurance and the annual car tax (bollo), which varies in cost depending on how environmentally friendly your car is, how big your engine is and whether it takes diesel or petrol.
You can find a list of accredited car dealerships (concessionarie auto) in your chosen city online, but before you buy, you need to make sure you have:
a residency certificate (certificato di residenza),
a tax code (codice fiscale),
proof of insurance, and
The dealership should take care of all other paperwork, but if you’re unsure, you can go to the Agenzie di Pratiche Auto for help. Their fees will be included in the cost of the new car.
If you’re really itching to buy a second-hand car though, it’s important to research thoroughly and always get it checked by a mechanic. Some good online second-hand car websites are Autoscout24.it, the motori listing on eBay.it, Dassario.it and Subito.it.
Once you’ve found something you like, you’ll need to go to the Italian Automobile Club Public Registry Office (Automobile Club Italiano Pubblico Registro Automoblistico) with the car’s owner and transfer ownership. You’ll also have to pay an ownership transfer fee. Always do this yourself and if possible, bring along an Italian native or someone who understands the process well just in case you make a mistake. The Agenzie di Pratiche Auto can also help if you’re in doubt.
Paperwork for car buying in Italy
There are a few steps you have to take before you can get your new car out and onto the road.
First, you need to register the car with the Office of Motor Vehicles (Ufficio della Motorizzazione Civile) and register your act of sale with the Italian Automobile Club Public Registry Office, if your dealership hasn’t already done so.
Then you will need to pay your car tax (bollo). This is an annual tax and can be paid at your local bar (tabaccheria), bank or post office. Make sure you stick the receipt they give you somewhere in your car in case the police stop you.
Finally, don’t forget to get a reflective jacket if your dealership didn’t provide you with one. It’s illegal to drive in Italy without this jacket in your boot.
Car licenses in Italy
If you hold a current EU license, you can drive in Italy without problems. However, it is a good idea to check if your license is all in order and meets international standards. You can do this at your local comune or provincial Office of Motor Vehicles. While you’re there, register your license to ensure a speedy renewal in case of theft or damage.
EU citizens are also given the option of exchanging their current license for an Italian one. You can do this at your local Office of Motor Vehicles.
Citizens of select non-EU countries can exchange their licenses within one year of attaining Italian residency without having to sit any tests. However, your old license will no longer be valid. Check with your embassy to see if you’re eligible.
For other expats, including Australians, Canadians and expats from the USA, there’s a 12-month grace period where you can drive on your current license in Italy. After that, you will have to take driving lessons and pass a written and practical driving exam.
Italian car insurance
Insurance in Italy is fairly expensive, but things have improved in recent years. For one, there’s a lot more competition than before, so be sure to shop around. The Italian word for car insurance is assicurazione auto.
There are two main types of insurance – comprehensive (casco), which can be prohibitively expensive, and third party (responsabilità civile), which is the bare minimum you can have in Italy. However, you can pick and choose extra coverage ranging from theft to natural disasters for an additional cost.
Bear in mind that if you do get in an accident, you could be up for more than insurance. According to Italian law, you can be liable for any medical fees brought about by the smash too.
Always make sure you have proof of your insurance when you drive or you could get a hefty fine. For added security, it’s a good idea to pick up a Green Card or International Motor Insurance Certificate, which you can get from your insurer.