The long and the short of it is this: if you live in Italy more than a year, you MUST have an Italian driver's license. Lots of people used to get away with not doing this, but lately people are getting HUGE FINES for driving here without the proper translated document. To get that international driver's license you have to plan ahead. Here is a website where you can apply for one.
This is just a translation of your driver's license, but it's more official, because it also has a picture of you, I suppose. By itself it means nothing. It must be accompanied by your VALID US license and a passport. It generally takes 4-6 weeks to get one. I checked with the local police here, and they do not accept any other documents for American drivers, so, if you want to drive, get one or take the bus.
If you are a permanent resident in Italy, on the other hand, I suggest you suck it up and take the course sooner rather than later!
Yes, I know, I know, you have been driving since you were 16, blah blah blah and I know how BELOW you it is to have to take driver's ed again, I know I know. I feel your pain. I was once where you are now.
Now shake it off, dry off the tears, and sign up.
A couple of things for you to know.
1. You can't do it on your own, even if you *technically* can
You will want to save money, hassle, and embarassment by studying on your own, but it doesn't work that way, my friend.
For one, the test is goddamn hard. Impossible. Crazy. Trick questions, strange language, wacko. You will need the help of a professional to show you the right approach to the written part.
Then there is the fact that driving schools produce drivers, but it often feels as if the whole testing bit is rigged. Meaning, if you are in a school, you WILL pass the exam. If you are not, you probably will not pass. I could write a book on this whole strange and complicated relationship between the instructors and the examiners, but the thought gives me a mild case of the tremors.
2. It is expensive, but you really do learn a lot!
The theory classes are one thing (I urge you to attend them), and they continue all year long, you jump in where you want, do all the lessons and then it starts over like a Merry-go-round. People jump on and off when they need to. It's actually pretty clever.
Then you have to do a minimum of hours behind the wheel with an instructor. I had to do six. It was helpful. My teacher actually explained how to park. I had never thought about it. And his explanation means that I can get into ANY car, not just mine, and park it like a pro (well, maybe that is going a little too far).
Imagine learning how to drive AGAIN NOW knowing everything you know. You may be pretty good, at driving in the States, but, seriously? Even a monkey can drive in the States. Italy is a totally different party, Dears.
For most of us, when we learn to drive at age 16, we are just trying to get the machine to move and stay on course (the car I used for my driving test did not have power steering, by the way!).
Now, you can go all Formula 1 if you want to. I became a better driver the second time around. Really.
3. Drver's Ed in Italy gives you a window into the Italian mind.
Sometimes it is not pretty, but it is interesting anyway.
4. Rules here are different and your eyes look in all the wrong places.
It takes some getting used to. The first time I realized that I would have too look to the side instead of ahead and to the right to see a stoplight, it was a little disconcerting.
5. It can help your Triestino.
I got really good at Triestino by taking driver's ed class in Trieste. It didn't matter that most of the students were foreign. The teacher taught in Triestine the whole time. Fascinating.
6. The first year you get your license you have certain rules you have to follow like:
zero tolerance for alcohol.
you can't go over 100 kph
you can't drive cars that have too much power
In fact, that first year is a real pain.
So yes, I know you are a good driver, but do this ASAP. Get it out of the way. You can even do it at 7:00 in the morning if you want.
That is what I did. Then at 7:30, when I was free and legal, I hit a bus.
No one was hurt.
But, don't do that.