From driving licenses and permits, to tips for motorists on the road, here’s everything you need to know about getting a German driver’s license.
When it comes to driving in Germany, you can use your driver’s license for a set amount of time. Different conditions exist, however, depending on whether you have a European Union (EU) license or a non-EU license.
Citizens from the EU/EEA (European Economic Area) can always drive in Germany using their national license but everyone else will need to get a German driver’s license after their first six months of residence in Germany.
Driving in Germany
The driving age in German is 18 years (for cars), which means younger drivers who have a license in their home country will not be able to drive in Germany.
Everyone more than 18 years old can drive in Germany using their foreign driving license for the first six months of residence. After this non-EU/EEA citizens (EU plus Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein) will have to extend or exchange their license for a German license. They may also need to take a written exam or driving test.
EU/EEA citizens driving in Germany
If you’re a citizen from an EU or EEA country you can drive in Germany using your own national driving license for the duration of the validity of the license. You will never need to exchange it for a German license, nor do you need to provide a translated copy.
You must, however, fulfill these conditions:
- It must be a full, valid license (i.e., current and also not a provisional license)
- You must not have been disqualified
- Must comply with any restrictions (such as wearing prescription eyewear)
- You must carry your license with you at all times when driving;
- You must have reached the minimum age in Germany for the category of vehicle you wish to drive e.g., car drivers must be at least 18 years old.
Non-EU/EEA citizens driving in Germany
Up to six months in Germany
If you come from a country outside the EU/EEA, you can drive in Germany using your existing license for up to six months after establishing your legal residency in Germany. The same conditions for EU nationals (above) apply to your license, plus your place of residency must not have been in Germany when you obtained your foreign license (to stop driver’s license tourism).
You may need to get your foreign driving license translated if it is from outside the EU/EEA or not in the German language, or if it does not conform to the international (Vienna) convention specification for domestic driving permit, unless it’s from:
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- San Marino
Check with the issuing authority in your home country.
You can opt to get an International Driving Permit (IDP), which provides a German translation of your license, but you will still need to carry your foreign driver’s license as well.
Otherwise, you need to get your foreign driving license translated by the ADAC (the German national breakdown and recovery service) or an internationally recognized motoring organization.
After six months in Germany
To continue driving in Germany after the six-month period you must obtain a German driver’s license (Führerschein) from your local driving licensing office (Führerscheinstelle) at the Bürgeramt (district city hall) or Rathaus (city hall) – you can find contact details doing an online search for the Führerscheinstelle in your area.
In exceptional cases, the six-month period may be extended, mainly if you can prove to the authority that you will not have your legal residency in Germany for longer than 12 months.
Exchanging a foreign driver’s license in Germany
The process for exchanging your foreign driver’s license for a German equivalent is determined by whether a reciprocal arrangement exists with the country that issued your existing license. Check with your local driver licensing office, or through your home country’s transport authority.
Depending on the agreement, for some countries, you may have to sit a written exam and/or a driving test, while for others the process is a fairly simple one of forwarding documents without the need to take any additional tests.
The documents that you will be required to submit are:
- identity card or passport
- certificate of registration from the Residents’ Registration Office
- recent photograph
- original driver’s license
- certificate of good conduct (in some cases)
A German driver’s license (Führerschein) will be provided for the same category of vehicle upon request. Once a German driver’s license has been issued the other license will be retained and returned to the authority that issued it.
Students are not considered to have transferred their legal residence; this means that they can continue to drive using their existing foreign license. However if a student wishes to obtain a German license they can do so, provided they have been a resident for at least six months.
German driving test
You may be asked to take a driving test. If so, you’ll usually need to go through an official, certified Fahrschule (driving school) (ie. a family member does not qualify). The driving test consists of a computer-based, multiple-choice theory test, which you need to pass before taking the practical road test. You also have to take a first aid course and an eye test. Remember to take your passport along to the test. For more information and to find a driving school in Germany, see Fahrschule.de.
Road rules and tips for driving in Germany
- In Germany, you drive on the right-hand side of the road.
- Priority roads (marked with a yellow diamond) have right of way, and drivers coming from the right have right of way (unless posted otherwise).
- U-turns are illegal.
- Drinking and driving is banned: legal blood alcohol limit is 0.5g alcohol/liter of blood.
- It’s illegal to leave the scene of an accident without getting help.
- Keep your driving license and vehicle registration with you when driving in Germany.
- Speed limits in cities are usually 50km/h and 30km/h in some areas. In rural areas it’s 100km/h. There is no legal limit on autobahns (motorways) but 130km/h is recommended. There may be speed limits along certain sections of motorway, so watch out for speed limit signs. Exceeding limits by more than 30km/h can mean a driving ban of up to three months plus a fine.
- You can only drive into low-emissions zones if you have a sticker showing that your car’s emissions are low enough.
- It’s illegal to drive wearing headphones – you must use hands-free systems with phones.
- Winter/all weather tires must be fitted in winter.
- You must carry a warning triangle and a first aid kit.
Driving your own car in Germany
If you’re driving your own car in Germany, the car must be registered at your nearest car registration office after 12 months in Germany. Contact the office to ask what documents they require but they will include proof that the vehicle belongs to you (your car registration document from your home country) and your car insurance policy.
Your car must also pass an inspection at an authorized garage to confirm it passes safety and emissions standards. You’ll get an inspection sticker for your number plate. You can only drive into low-emissions zones if you have a sticker showing that your car’s emissions are low enough. For more information on the inspections, see TÜV NORD and DEKRA.
For more information
- Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI): information on validity of foreign driving licenses in Germany, road regulations, fines.
- TÜV NORD and DEKRA: organizations overseeing vehicle inspections.
- Fahrtipps: the German Highway Code (in German).
- Fahrschule.de: driving schools and tests.
- ADAC: German national breakdown and recovery service