How to get a German driving licence

How to get a German driving licence

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The rules for getting a German driver's license vary greatly depending where you come from, with even individual US states having different agreements with Germany.

Getting a German driving licence can be tricky for expats, but Jeff and Karen Smith had done their homework, and they were on top of it. They knew their Michigan licence s were only valid in Germany for six months, giving them that long to exchange them for their Führerschein, so they went about taking care of business soon after they arrived.

But things didn't quite go as planned. To start, the first aid classes they were told they'd need to take in order to exchange licence s weren't offered until near the end of their six-month window. That was okay – they could finish them and the rest of the paperwork before the deadline. And the required eye exams took five minutes. So far, so good.

Until they tried to apply for the licence s. One office sent them here, another there. Two weeks, a dozen trips to half-a-dozen offices and a couple of hundred euro later, they still hadn't got their Führerschein, the first aid courses turned out to be unnecessary, and their Michigan licence s, mailed between offices, went missing.

Speaking of the Führerschein fiasco, Karen puts it mildly: "I had no idea it could be this hard."

Well, it doesn't have to be. I live in Baden-Württemberg, and to trade my Colorado licence for a Füherschein all it took was EUR 35 and two trips (one to apply, the other to pick up my new licence ) to the Bürgeramt (sorry, Jeff and Karen).


Different countries, different rules

So why was I so lucky? Good question, frustrating answer. Like with many bureaucratic procedures in Germany, what you need to do to get your Führerschein depends on where you're from and where you live; although traffic law is federal and not state law, each office has its own approach to handling the law.

EU citizens read no further; your licence is unconditionally valid in Germany. Americans, Canadians, and South Africans? Relax; in most cases you can trade licence s easily. Everybody else: You'll need to do it the hard way, but take heart – you can do it (mostly) in English.

But let's start with the universals. Wherever you come from, you can drive legally in Germany with your home licence for six months after settling in Germany. And if you're certain you'll stay here less than a year, you can petition at your local Führerscheinstelle to extend that period to cover your stay. Just bring a certified translation of your home licence (see below) and proof of your intended length of residency; like a plane ticket, or a work contract.


Exchanging your licence for a German driver's licence

If you'll be staying longer than a year, though, you need a Führerschein to drive in Germany after your first six months in country. If your home country (or American state) has a licence exchange agreement with Germany, you have up to three years to swap – after that, you've got to do it like the Germans do, from scratch.

Canadians and South Africans can trade with ease. So can many Americans (but not from all US states), a detailed list of these privileged countries/states, so-called "Anlage 11 FeV (Listenstaaten)" can be found here: www.fahrerlaubnisrecht.de.

Please note that if you want to get your foreign drivers licence (from a non-EU country) accepted in Germany you need to prove to have lived for at least 185 days without interruption in the country that issued your driver's licence during the time the licence has been issued.


Call ahead

Exchanging your home licence for a German one is usually straight-forward. But to minimize difficulty, Karen Smith advises, "Call the exact office that will issue your licence to find out exactly what you need to bring, and get the name of the person you talk to." Try the uniform number for public authorities when you aren't sure of which office to connect with.

Sounds obvious, but sometimes several offices will have a hand in the exchange, and in Karen's case, each one she contacted gave her a different set of requirements. Among the most common are an eye exam (just about any optical shop can do it, for about EUR 5), and an official translation of your home licence (ADAC translations are widely accepted – the Smiths paid EUR 72 for two).

Also, to avoid costly misunderstandings, Karen further advises that when you apply for your licence , "Bring a German."

Generally, when you trade your home licence for a Führerschein, the Führerescheinstelle will keep your home licence . In some cases, though, you can keep your home licence for a small fee. If you'd like to keep it, you should mention that when you first apply for your Führerschein.


Good news and bad news

Moving on to the less fortunate, Australians and New Zealanders; good news, bad news time. Good news: negotiations between Germany's government and yours' for similar exchange agreements are underway. Bad news: that doesn't help you at all right now. Read on.

To get your Füherschein, you'll need to take written and practical exams, and maybe some driving lessons - depending on your existing driving skills, too. Fortunately, you can do most of it in English.

Should you have to do your diving test again, negotiate with the driving school that you only take the mandatory minimal number of lessons! When a teacher does not come up with significant reasons why you might have to take more, then go to another school (Fahrschule).

Please note that effective 1 July 2011 the minimum age for driving in Germany with a foreign drivers licence is 18 years.


One step at a time

For those who only have to take the tests, "You generally have to allow two months for the whole process," says Christine Timmer, who runs an English-language Fahrschule in Munich.

Typically, the process goes like this. First, you complete the requisite eye exam and first aid courses (eight hours, available through the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz or Malteser for EUR 25). In addition you will have to provide an eyesight test by an authorized doctor related to driver's licence that is not older than 2 years. Then, with those certificates, your translated licence , a recent biometric passport photo, your most recent residence registration form (Meldebescheinigung), and (sometimes) the registration information from your chosen Fahrschule in hand, you apply for your licence at the Führerscheinstelle (call first for exact requirements).

It usually takes between four to six weeks to process your application, giving you time to prepare for and take the written and practical exams with your chosen Fahrschule. Practice materials for the written test and the test itself are available in English. You'll take the driving test in German with your driving instructor and an official examiner. Don't sweat the German part, though, says Christine. "It's really not that difficult, if you're prepared and understand a bit of German. The examiner really doesn't say a lot." And when you pass, you get your new licence on the spot.

How long you'll spend preparing for the tests at your Fahrschule depends on your previous driving experience. Christine Timmer's typical student requires two to six lessons. She charges EUR 51 a lesson, plus EUR 80 for the written test and EUR 150 for the driving test, but rates vary, she cautions. Altogether, then, you can expect to pay around EUR 500.


Worst case scenario

The worst case Führeschein scenario is having to take a full driving course, like young German drivers do. "To get a regular driver's licence ," Christine explains, "you have to take 14 theory classes and at least 12 driving lessons. Driving schools usually offer them twice a week, so that takes about seven weeks. Depending on how quickly you learn, it can be done in about three months; but it usually takes longer, because of holidays and so forth. You start with the classroom sessions, and then move on to the driving portion, taking them in parallel so you learn the rules and also how to apply them." How many driving lessons you'll need to take depends on how quickly you learn. With 12 as the minimum, and 50 on the high end, the full licensing course can cost between EUR 1000-2000.

You can take the course at an English-language driving school like Christine's, but don't think it'll be easy, she warns. "Take your time, start things early. Take it seriously, although you may be annoyed about it. And look for a driving school that has experience with licence conversions (if you're able to exchange licence s), because not all of them do."
 

No more cheaper options

Until 2011 you could fairly easily get a driver's licence from other EU countries.  Driver's  licence tourism has now been abolished by European law. The important detail is "residence". You are only supposed to get a licence for where you live. The authorities are now thoroughly checking whether or not you really live where you say that you do.

For further information, see:

  • www.adac.de (enter "Führerschein- Übersetzung" into search bar for info on licence translation)
  • www.fahrerlaubnisrecht.de (a complete legal guide on all issues related to driving licences in Germany)

 

For more information on driving in Germany, read Expatica article Driving and parking in Germany.


Expatica / Updated by Marco Dilenge and Alexander Baron von Engelhardt foreigners lawyer and legal journalist.

Marco Dilenge is the Regional Marketing Manager of Crown Worldwide Group, the parent company of Crown Relocations.
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28 Comments To This Article

  • Troy posted:

    on 4th September 2016, 11:20:13 - Reply

    When changing your Australian did you have to do any tests?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • JW posted:

    on 18th July 2016, 14:57:05 - Reply

    Usually taking a full course people pay more than 2000 Euro, I know someone paid like around 3500 Euro.
  • kathy posted:

    on 6th July 2016, 13:26:51 - Reply

    So true I wish had known this before I got here.
  • KumarGaurav posted:

    on 9th June 2016, 15:01:24 - Reply

    Exactly. Germany is not so International. If you are just landed in Germany, germans expect that you start reading / writing in German language. If you ask for an english version of a book or a letter they cannot provide you. This is because GERMANS ARE NOT EVEN 'OK' IN ENGLISH.
    But they are helpful and very good by nature, I must say.
  • nicholas posted:

    on 4th April 2016, 11:45:59 - Reply

    Is it possible to get your licensed in Germany after the six month period? Is it then the full process?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Graham posted:

    on 6th September 2015, 16:35:32 - Reply

    Excellent news. Thanks for posting Jane that's saved me a huge headache not to mention time and money. Many thanks again. Oh in Melbourne by the way. Cheers :)

  • Elsa posted:

    on 28th August 2015, 16:17:23 - Reply

    Hola! I am a Mexican with a US drivers license from Wisconsin, since I lived there the past 7 years (I have a US resident card). Now here in Germany when I tried to exchange it for a German license they denied it because I was here on 1998 to study German (4 months only...). Now they say the US license must be from before 1998. I didn't even live in the US then! Is this even a logical reason? They saw my current passport, with my working visas for the US, and my US green card and of course my German blue card. Anyone could give me any tips on how to respond to this? Thanks much!!
  • Rebecca posted:

    on 29th July 2015, 15:31:58 - Reply

    I can't find a date when this was written but i'm guessing it's pretty dated judging by the dates of some comments. I'm an Aussie living in Berlin. Anyone got any specific tips? I'm getting an eye test done today and was told to go to the Burgeramt to submit my documents. Upon further reasearch I have also found this place called the Fahrerlaubnisbeh%uFFFDrde. I actually find it a bit confusing because everyone says something different. I'm guessing this is dependent on where in Germany you are, and where you come from. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.
  • eve posted:

    on 5th August 2015, 12:39:47 - Reply

    Hi MARC,
    could u tell me how you went about this process? Did u set up residency in Germany? I have been thinking about doing something similar, perhaps use a German residency as "Nebenwohnsitz" ?
  • Jane posted:

    on 25th June 2015, 15:35:38 - Reply

    This blog is false in regards to Australian license conversions. I live in Baden-Wurttemburg and I wasn't required to sit any exams.

    I had no problems in converting my Australian licence to a German one.

    1 get a translation at the ADAC

    2 Submit the translation , and an afa david saying that your Australian licence is not a fake one. Pay about 35 to the Landratsamt (Freiburg) .

  • Christina posted:

    on 8th March 2015, 12:11:32 - Reply

    Michigan has reciprocity
  • raja posted:

    on 14th February 2015, 10:57:12 - Reply

    i have small doubt can you please clarify my doubt. I have completed my driving theory class in 4th januvary 2015. And i have passed it. From then, How many months i have to complete my practical driving license? I have no idea ,please help me?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our free Ask the Expert service or forums]

  • gan posted:

    on 11th October 2014, 23:40:57 - Reply

    Nice article. Gives enough information to start with. Thanks a lot...
  • Just A Man posted:

    on 28th September 2014, 15:54:26 - Reply

    Would someone please tell me in which driving school I should go to? I don't speak German, so I need to find a school that deal with me in English!
  • Ray posted:

    on 7th March 2014, 09:05:50 - Reply

    I'm from Ohio which fortunately has full reciprocity with Germany; however, it requires me giving up my US drivers license. I would certainly prefer NOT to do that since a driver's license in America is your official form of identification... I was told that I could right a "Letter of Exception" stating why I need to keep my US license. Has anyone had experience with that yet?
  • Carolyn posted:

    on 18th February 2014, 22:54:30 - Reply

    [Edited by moderator. If you have a question for Expatica staff, please contact us at expaticaservice@expatica.com]
  • kirsty posted:

    on 1st February 2014, 12:08:54 - Reply

    Thanks you so much for this article. I am an EU citizen but need to get my license replaced because mine was stolen. They demanded that I prove residence in the country where it was issued (also EU) which I just can't do because it was years ago. You state that this rule is only for non-EU citizens.
    Thanks loads. Now I know I have a chance, I'll check out the links and demand that they do their homework next time I go in and see them.
    It's shocking, they've been telling me I need to redo my test, but I don't think they even know the rules themselves.
  • Patrick posted:

    on 1st December 2013, 22:22:21 - Reply

    I am Canadian, Driving cars and motorcycle for about 19 years. They exchanged my Car license, no questions asked. For the motorcycle Its like I come from another planet. I needed to do their first aid course altough I am a certified CPR. Then now I have to do a theory and practice test with the TÜV. I went to a farschule and they gave me soem sort of access to an online testing site. But there is no theory! Although the website has some things in english, their Fahrschulbuch is in German only. How can someone learn anything if you dont speak German just yet??? How am I supposed to learn anything for the Motorrad Klasse? Anyone? [Edited by moderator]
  • abcman posted:

    on 3rd May 2013, 19:44:07 - Reply

    Could someone please tell me what the German DMV takes as proof of residency from the US?
  • Amin posted:

    on 21st January 2013, 13:51:28 - Reply

    i have had a USAREUR drivers license, as well at NATO
  • Justin posted:

    on 12th January 2013, 15:30:24 - Reply

    The funny thing is that I got my initial driver's license from Virginia, a state in America which has full reciprocity with Germany. But when I moved to New York, American law requires that you change your license to the state where you legally reside. Of course, little did I know 15 years ago that I would fall in love with a German girl and eventually move countries. Seeing that NY has no agreement with Germany, I had to take (and pay for) all of the tests...

    But I'm not complaining. I'm just happy they don't make you take all of the classes and driving lessons, which would have cost LOADS more. And I feel bad for Germans coming to America, who ALL have to take theory and practical tests to get a driver's license. It's interesting that citizens from either America or Germany can rent a car and drive in the opposite country, but if they move there everything changes. Bureaucracy, I'll tell ya...

    Here's how my experience went if anyone's interested in reading:
    http://www.farfromnewyork.com/2012/12/20/a-learning-experience/

    Happy driving!
  • Traian posted:

    on 23rd September 2012, 17:23:58 - Reply

    a serious question: how come that so far nobody sued those european states for DISCRIMINATION?! Suppose an american settles in Germany, drives for a while with his american license and that at some moment he must go to driving school, etc, etc, that is his license, although valid in the states, becomes invalid in Germany. Well, that individual can still go to Italy or Spain and drive legally, even after his licence became invalid in Germany! What a cacophony! Maybe someone should sue those cooks at the European Court. Have a nice day!
  • MARC posted:

    on 5th June 2012, 14:24:34 - Reply

    I'm a US/Irish dual citizen with Italian residency, Unfortunately, Italy no longer allows driver's test in English, and I can't pass in Italian. I was hoping I might set up residency in Germany over the Summer to exchange my AZ DL for a german license, which I could use throughout the EU. [Edited by moderator. Please post (elaborate) questions on Ask the Expert or on our Forums. If you have questions for the Expatica staff, please contact us directly.]
  • Mohammad posted:

    on 29th March 2012, 22:52:11 - Reply

    @Liz: Probation period is for anyone who got his license within less than 2 years at the time of applying to a German license (Umschreibung) or reciprocity process. In other words, you need to prove/show that you drove more than 2 years before applying for a license trade. This can be seen from the issuance date on the license or (in case of there is no such date), you need to [edited by moderator] provide special official documents for this purpose. That is my experience for my non-EEA license which is not too in from a country in the agreement list here: (http://www.fahrerlaubnisrecht.de/Anlage FeV/Anlage 11.htm). Best, Mohammad
  • Liz posted:

    on 23rd January 2012, 13:01:41 - Reply

    I did my german license last year in Hamburg. It was a nightmare (yes! Always bring a German along!!!). I had to do the first aid test, eye test, the theory lessons plus the driving lessons - cost me alsmost 2000€!!! I see from above that I might have been led astray! ?? if law has now changed for aussies in HH (a friend of mine from australia also had to do the same thing)?? They also took my australian license!

    My question is though - when we do the whole thing as I did, do we go straight to be a "full driver" or are we in the "probezeit" like a first time driver?
  • Sarah posted:

    on 3rd November 2011, 13:09:59 - Reply

    Aussies in Stuttgart:

    I was told by a few different Fahrschulen in Stuttgart that I had to sit both the theoretical and practical exams despite this years' change to the conditions for Australians.

    Luckily, I went out to the countryside to apply for my exams only to be told, by a very honest driving instructor, that I didn't need any. So I saved a good couple of hundred euro.

    READ UP: http://www.verkehrsportal.de/fev/anl_11_australien.php?output=text (this is in German and tells you everything you need to know).

    Now all I need to organise is:
    - an eye test.
    - a first aid certificate (basic course, 8 hours).
    - a translation of my driver's licence.
    - an official passport photo.

    Fingers crossed...
  • Robert posted:

    on 20th October 2011, 19:29:07 - Reply

    I was amazed at how quick and easy it was to convert my USA state license to a German one. ADAC translation took 15 minutes and a week wait. Resident registration 20 minutes. Getting a 35x45mm photo another 15 minutes and then 40 minutes at the license office. done!

    I did learn that some state licenses can be converted to German class C or C1 (light truck). The conversion to C requires minimal paperwork. However, the C1 would also require medical and vision certificates and lengthy first aid class. So I would ask what your options are for your particular state or province. And if you don't read German it will save you some time to get a copy of the application form in advance (Antragsanlage - Beiblatt). It's a simple form, but you don't want to be trying to figuring it out on the spot.

    Good luck!
  • Greg posted:

    on 14th September 2011, 13:55:11 - Reply

    FOR AUSSIES in MUNICH:
    Everything you need to know is here...
    http://www.muenchen.de/Rathaus/kvr/strverkehr/fuehrersch/umaustr11.html

    It is, however, in German.