Renting a Car in Italy: Your Comprehensive 2020 Guide

Renting a car in Italy: Naples
Naples, Italy

Renting a car in Italy may at first sound a little daunting. Afterall, Italians don’t have a reputation of being the calmest drivers in the world, do they? In reality, driving in beautiful Italy is not as difficult as you may first think.

Why Rent a Car in Italy?

Renting a car in Italy is the best way to get around some parts of the country. Regions such as Puglia, Reggio Calabria, and Southern Italy, for instance, have very poor transport links.

Train and bus networks in some parts of the country are virtually non-existent. This makes it extremely difficult to see everything without having your own wheels.

Renting a car in Italy provides you with a lot more flexibility in your schedule. This means that you do not have to plan your Italy itinerary around public transport timetables. It also gives you the opportunity to take spontaneous detours, and stumble across quaint little villages and medieval towns that you perhaps would not have otherwise found.

The Argument “For” Public Transport

There are still some circumstances where public transport may be the best way of getting around Italy. If your route around the country focuses on major cities, you may be just as well to use buses and trains.

Major cities are often congested. Furthermore, the presence of the “Zona Traffico Limitata” zones can make getting around a headache.

What to Expect When Driving in Italy

It is important to have some awareness of road rules and customs before renting a car in Italy. Italians drive on the right-hand side of the road like the majority of Europe.

Tell someone that you’re considering renting a car in Italy and they will probably frown at you and look at you with a deep sense of concern. The stereotype of Italian drivers is usually a depiction of someone aggressive, ferocious, and whom makes a lot of elaborate hand gestures. In reality, driving in Italy is not that different from driving elsewhere.

Rules for Driving in Italy

By law you must wear your seatbelt, and blood alcohol content must not exceed 0.5%. It is also illegal to drive in certain historic “zona traffico limitato” areas and huge fines are due to those who break this rule. I have expanded on this in a separate section below.

Italian police have been known to stop and check drivers at random, so be mindful of road rules and always carry your identification and your International Driving Permit with you just in case.

Considerations for Driving in Italy

It is important to note that some roads in Italy can be incredibly narrow. Other roads in rural areas may not be as well maintained as what you are accustomed to at home.

Although rules and regulations are in place to stop people from speeding, driving under the influence, or driving without a seatbelt, these rules are often broken. When driving in Italy, the importance of being aware of your surroundings and the actions of other drivers is more evident than ever.

Requirements for Renting a Car in Italy

There are several requirements for renting a car in Italy that you need to have in mind. These are summarised below.

  • You must be at least 18

  • You must not exceed the maximum age outlined by the rental company (commonly 70-75 years)

  • Most drivers under 25 will be charged an additional rental fee

  • All drivers must present a driving license and an international driver’s permit

  • Insurance is essential

  • Theft cover is highly recommended

  • You will be charged for a full tank of gas when you return the car, regardless of the level of petrol/diesel inside when you return it

Age Requirements for Renting a Car in Italy

Renting a Car in Italy: Puglia
Puglia, Southern Italy

The minimum age for renting a car in Italy is 18. However, you should have had your driving license for at least a year before you are allowed to rent a car.

The upper age limit for renting a car varies depending on the provider. This is commonly between 70-75 years of age.

Finding a Car Rental in Italy

It is necessary to make plans in advance if you are hoping to rent a car in Italy. This is especially the case if you are travelling during the busy summer season.

In addition to the limited supply, increased demand during the summer months drives up the prices of car rentals. Reserving your rental car in advance often enables you to secure a lower price. It also helps you to ensure that you get the specific vehicle that you want.

Choosing a Rental Company

Numerous reputable car rental companies operate in Italy including the likes of Avis and Sixt. Browse rental options online via comparison sites in order to ensure that you are getting the best deal.

Smaller, independent rental companies may also offer good prices. However you should be sure to check their reviews to ensure that they are reputable. It is possible to have the car waiting for you at the airport on arrival.

Size Matters

When it comes to renting a car in Italy, size matters. By “size matters”, I mean that the smaller the better (still just speaking about cars here!)

Many roads and mountain passes in Italy are extremely narrow. You don’t want to experience heart palpitations every time someone passes you on a mountain pass. Forget the monstrous SUVs and opt for something more compact.  Not to mention, it will save you a fortune on gas!

Renting a Car in Italy:
Manual Vs Automatic

Both manual and automatic cars are available for rent in Italy. You can opt to choose whichever type you feel more comfortable driving. That said, the majority of cars here are manual.

If you prefer an automatic car, you really must make sure to organise your car in advance of arriving in Italy. Waiting until you get to Italy to organise your car rental can mean that all that is left are manual vehicles.

Learning to drive a stick shift in Italy is not only undesirable, but it can also be dangerous.

Car Rental in Italy:
Find Cheap Italy Car Rentals

Renting cars in Italy
Renting a Car in Italy: Procida Island

Price is obviously a big factor when searching for a rental car in Italy. Despite what you may imagine, car rentals in Italy are not all that expensive.

This seems to be a common misconception that a lot of people have. In reality, you can definitely hire a car here for a lower or equivalent cost to most countries in Europe.

Consider Your Collection Point

One thing that can dramatically impact the amount that you pay for your Italian rental car is where you collect it from. If you arrange to collect your car in big cities such as Bologna, Milan, Florence, or Naples, it is substantially cheaper than collecting it in smaller towns and airports (e.g. the Dolomites or random towns in Southern Italy).

This is not a marginal price difference. We are talking $300 for 2 weeks versus $300 for 4 days. As such, you should be sure to take this into consideration.

Acquiring an International Driver’s Permit

It is essential for any non-EU that wishes to drive in Italy to acquire an International Driver’s permit. You may never get asked to show this. However, it is better to be safe than sorry.

You should always make sure that you have your permit with you. International Driver’s Permits cost just $15. The specific requirements and application process varies from country to country.

This website provides a breakdown of the process to follow for each nationality, depending upon where your driving license was issued. British Travellers are currently exempt from this requirement. However, this may be subject to change following the Brexit changes in late 2020.

Get Comprehensive Insurance Cover

Procida, Southern Italy
Procida, Southern Italy

Getting comprehensive car insurance is good practice when you rent a car anywhere in the world. You never know what may happen and it’s best to prepare for the worst.

Car insurance is not mandatory in a lot of European countries. Yet in Italy, it absolutely is.

Theft Cover

You must have basic CDW coverage for renting a car in Italy. It is worth also paying for the theft cover. This is particularly the case if you plan on travelling in Southern Italy and Sicily where rental car break-ins are far from unheard of.

It is advisable to purchase your car rental insurance in advance, just like your rental itself. If you book your rental car online, then try and add the insurance later, you will wind up paying a higher price for it.

Credit Card Insurance

This is a very important thing to remember. If you have a credit card that has insurance, you may automatically assume that you are covered for renting a car in Italy. However for the majority of card providers, Italy is excluded from the areas that they cover.

Ensure that you read the small print of your policy. Check whether you are covered by your credit card company before travelling to Italy and picking up a rental car.

Navigating Roads and Using the GPS

It is not necessary to spend a lot of money on buying or renting a GPS when renting a car in Italy. Instead, make use of offline map apps such as Google Maps and Maps.Me. The latter still detects your location even when offline.

In conjunction with these useful phone apps, you should also ensure that your phone supports international roaming (without being extortionately expensive to do so). Alternatively, pick up a local Italian Sim card. Many Italian phone providers (including TIM and Wind) offer reasonably-priced tourist sim packages.

Understand Zona Traffico Limitato Zones (ZTL)

Asolo, Northern Italy
Asolo, Northern Italy

It is very important to be aware of Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) zones when driving in Italy. These zones are in place to protect historical and cultural areas. If you inadvertently drive through STL areas, you will be slapped with a hefty fine.

There are over 200 ZTL zones across Italy. Each of these is well marked. However, you need to know what you are looking for. A ZTL zone is indicated by a sign that has a big red circle on it, depicting that no cars can enter the zone.

You should also keep in mind that the entry points to ZTL zones are heavily monitored by surveillance cameras. If you pass into the zone, your license plate number is recorded and a ticket is automatically issued.

Try to be careful with this. A lot of people have unknowingly driven into a ZTL zone when driving down a one-way street. Arriving home from your Italy vacation to see that a zTL fine has been sent to you via international delivery is surely not the kind of souvenir that you want.

ZTL Zones – Things to Keep in Mind

  • GPS systems often suggest driving right through ZTL zones as they have no idea of their presence and just offer the shortest route. This is something to be mindful of. Make sure you look out for the ZTL signs.

  • ZTL zone rules vary from city to city. Typically you cannot pass through the zone from 8 am to 8 pm.

  • If you see someone driving into a ZTL zone, don’t follow them and assume it will be okay. Either they may have a pass to enter, or they may have made a mistake.

  • If you accidentally enter a ZTL zone it is probably not possible to just turn around again. Most of these areas are comprised of narrow one-way streets. Continue on until you exit the zone.

  • Some cities with ZTL zones allow residents/permit holders to pass through. Don’t mistake this as the zone being okay for you to enter.

Safety in Italy

If you follow all of the tips provided in this guide, your driving experience in Italy ought to be enjoyable and trouble-free. You can then worry about the more important aspects of planning a trip to Italy like where to find the best gelato, and how to eat 7,000 tons of pasta without gaining a pound.

Driving aside, there are some safety considerations to think of. In Sicily and Southern Italy especially, rental car thefts are a common problem.

Always be mindful of where you park your car and don’t leave anything on display inside the car. Remove all valuables and luggage and if you can, leave your car with an attendant or in a paid car park rather than randomly at the side of the road.

Returning Your Rental Car

Treviso, Northern Italy

One small thing to keep in mind about returning your rental car is the gas situation. You will be charged for a ful tank of gas when you drop off your car.

This happens regardless of whether you return the car with an almost full tank of gas, half a tank of gas, or a gas tank that is just teetering above emtpty. This is a peculiar formality, but a formality nonetheless.

Do not fill up your tank before returning the car. This way you will save money as you will be charged for a full tank on your final bill anyway.

Additional Considerations for Driving in Italy

Additional things to consider while driving in Italy are detailed below.

Toll Booths

There are a lot of toll booths scattered along major roads and motorways in Italy. The total toll cost per journey can quickly add up – often exceeding €30-50.

Toll booths should be marked on your phone apps. Ensure that you always have plenty of cash with you as cards are not accepted at toll booths.

Travel Insurance

General travel insurance is just as important for your trip to Italy as your car rental insurance. This should be considered an essential purchase wherever in the world you travel.

Parting Words

Do you have any further questions about renting a car in Italy? I used to live in Italy (In both Naples and Catania in Sicily) and rented cars on numerous occasions. I am happy to answer any queries that you may have. Feel free to ping me an email or drop me a comment below. Buon viaggio! Melissa xo


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

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