Americans visiting Italy as tourists and intending to drive should obtain an International Driving Permit before leaving the U.S.
If the permit expires while abroad, you may apply for a new one by mail through the American Automobile Association (AAA), Worldwide Travel Dept., 1000 AAA Dr., Heathrow, FL 32746, tel. (407) 444-7000, fax (407) 444-7380.
Tourists may also use their valid American driver’s license if accompanied by an official translation in Italian. Americans registered as residents with the local Vital Records Bureau (known as Anagrafe) must apply for an Italian license within one year of the date of registration.
Unfortunately, there is no agreement for reciprocal recognition of drivers’ licenses between the United States and Italy. The Italian Ministry of Transportation has determined that bearers of U.S. driver’s licenses cannot obtain an Italian license directly in exchange for a domestic one. Interested individuals must comply with the usual requirements prescribed for obtaining an Italian license, (a written test, a driving test, a medical examination, and pertinent documents).
Traffic Violations in Italy
U.S. citizens driving in Italy are reminded that they must adhere to the local driving laws and regulations. Vehicle traffic in some historic downtown areas of cities and towns throughout Italy is limited by a system of permits (called “ZTL” and functioning the same way as an EasyPass system in the United States might on the freeway). Cameras record the license plates of cars driving in parts of the city that require a permit. Although most of the automated verification stations are clearly marked, if a driver passes one it is impossible to know at the time that a violation occurred or has been recorded. Violators are not pulled over or stopped, and there is no personal contact with a police officer. The fines imposed for these violations should be forwarded to the U.S. citizen’s residence abroad within 360 days from the date of the violation. Should the statute of limitations run out the fine must still be contested before the competent Italian authorities in order to avoid payment. The fines are cumulative for each time a driver passes a control point.
A similar system of automated traffic control cameras is in place in many parts of the highway system and is used to ticket speeding violations. The ticket usually includes a short section explaining how to contest, or appeal, the ticket.
The ticket(s) may or may not be directly from the municipal police. The local Italian authorities usually outsource the debt collecting for violations committed by overseas visitors. The debt collecting company effectively buys the debt and then takes it upon themselves to obtain reimbursement from the driver of the car. In the case of a rental car company, a request for payment is sent to the company who in turn normally provides the name and address of the person renting the car at the time of the violation. The advantage of this for the overseas visitor is that instructions for payment or appeal are in English.
In general, Italian law allows two ways of contesting the fine. One can either write a letter to the Prefetto (local representative of the national government) of the city where the violation occurred asking them to cancel the ticket, or one can file an appeal through the Justice of Peace (Giudice di Pace) for that city (in person or through a legal representative). A list of English-speaking attorneys can be found at Local Legal Services.
Public Transportation: Train/Metro/Bus
Travelers must purchase train or metro tickets and validate them by punching them in validating machines prior to boarding located near the entrance of train or metro. Failure to follow this procedure may result in an on-the-spot fine by an inspector on the train or metro.
Travelers must purchase bus tickets prior to boarding and validate them immediately after boarding. Tickets may be purchased at tobacco stores or kiosks. Failure to follow this procedure may result in an immediate fine imposed by an inspector on the bus. If the violator does not pay the fine on the spot, it will automatically double and will be forwarded to the violator’s home address.
Travelers can contest metro or bus fines by writing (in Italian) to the Customer Service office of the Transportation Company of the city where the violation occurred requesting they cancel the ticket within 30 days of notification of the fine. If the local Transportation Company rejects the request, travelers can file an appeal (in person or through a legal representative) through the Justice of Peace (Giudice di Pace) for that city. A list of English-speaking attorneys can be found at Local Legal Services.