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Driving and Public Transport for Expats in Italy

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: April 2014


The Italian road network is of high quality and is extensive, covering more than 300,000 miles. Though Italy is in a relatively safe country to drive in, with a fatality rate of approximately 7 deaths per 100,000 people per annum, Italian drivers have a bad reputation. This is largely deserved, as driving tends to be aggressive and overtaking cavalier. The best way to cope with this is to drive defensively. Or use the generally excellent public transport system instead.

If you are from a country in the European Economic Area, you are permitted to drive in Italy with your existing licence indefinitely. Citizens of certain other countries are permitted to drive in Italy using their existing licences for twelve months, as listed here:


Citizens of other countries must exchange their licence for an Italian one, a process requiring a large amount of paperwork and up to four months. In addition to your driving licence, insurance and registration documents, whenever you are driving in Italy, you will need to have the following with you:

The last two items are needed in case of a breakdown. You must put the high-visibility jacket on before you step outside your vehicle and display the triangle on the road 30m behind your car.

The speed limits in Italy are 130 km/h (81 mph) on a motorway (autostrada), 110 km/h (68 mph) ondual carriageways, 90 km/h (56 mph) on other stretches of open road, and 50 km/h (31 mph) in built-up areas. Most autostradas are tolled, and you will pay per kilometre travelled. If you are planning on doing a lot of driving in Italy, you might want to get a ‘Viacard’ to get a discount and speed up passing through tollbooths in most newsagents, garages and similar shops.

Driving in Italy is on the right, as is the case throughout continental Europe. The drink-driving limit in Italy is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. Random testing is in operation, and is especially active during the holiday periods. Failing a blood-alcohol test could lead to your car being impounded and you being imprisoned. Road signs are in Italian or bilingual in minority language areas.

Note that more than 70 smaller cities in Italy have been designated ‘Slow Cities’ and have banned cars from their historic centres.


There are over 12,000 miles of track in the Italian railway network, most of which is owned by the state company, Ferrovie dello Stato (FS). Trains are run by Trenitalia, whose English-language homepage is here:


High-speed (alta velocità) trains run from Turin to Florence and from Rome to Naples, and Eurostar and other companies run medium-high speed railways connecting many other cities. The high-speed trains are rather expensive, but other trains are economical and are the most efficient mode of transport in the country, certainly for short and medium distances. If you are from outside Europe, it may be worth buying a Eurail Italy Pass to save money further.

Six Italian cities have metro rail networks: Turin, Milan, Genoa, Rome, Naples and Catania in Sicily.

Buses and Coaches

Italy has several different coach companies. Inter-city coaches and buses run a very good service and are good value for money. In part, they complement the train service, as they provide a service to many of the towns and cities in hillier areas which trains cannot reach.


The largest Italian airline is Alitalia, which runs an extensive network of flights across the country. In general, it is only worth flying reasonably long distances, or to/from the islands, otherwise train travel is cheaper and often works out as quicker.


Ferries are an important means of transport between Italy’s mainland and its numerous islands, especially for those who want to continue their journey in a car. Services are available from Genoa, Livorno and Civitavecchia (a port near Rome) to Sardinia, and from Naples and Reggio di Calabria to Sicily. There are also ferry services run to other islands such as Elba and the Aeolian Islands.



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