An Expat Guide to Driving Licenses in Germany


Updated on Oct 08 • 5 minute read

Do you want to commute by car? Maybe take the autobahn for spin? Then you need to make sure your driver's license is valid in Germany.

But how do driving licenses in Germany work? Can you drive using the license from your home country? I’m sure you have questions like these. So, fasten your seatbelt and let’s see how you can leave Germany’s public transport behind by getting behind the wheel yourself!

If you already have a license

There’s quite a chance that you’ve already acquired a license in your home country, so: Which driving licenses are valid in Germany? And for how long? Let’s find out.

Driving in Germany with a foreign license

If you have a foreign driving license, you’re allowed to drive in Germany for as long as 10 years. Your case? Well, it depends. It depends on where your license is issued and on what type of license it is. In general, a full (as in non-provisionary) drivers license for a regular car (as in not a bus or truck, etc) is valid for quite some time. If you have a more advanced license, there might be additional requirements (more on that later). If your license has been issued in any EU or EEA country, you generally get to use it until it would naturally expire. If it’s from any country outside the EU/EEA, you can continue to use your license for up to 6 months after you register. Additionally, it’s also likely that you would have to get your license translated by the ADAC automobile club. Please note that this can take up to three weeks, so if possible, do it before you arrive.

Driving with your foreign car in Germany

Much like your license, if you’re staying for an extended period of time, more than 12 months, you will need to register your car to German license plates. Your vehicle will then also need to pass the German vehicle safety inspection. When driving in Germany during this period, make sure you also pay your vehicle tax and that you’re covered by suitable car insurance valid in Germany.

German driving habits

If you’re driving in Germany, or, actually, any place where you’re not familiar with the lay of the land and the country’s driving habits, make sure you’re extra careful! In general, Germans behave on the road as they do everywhere else: sticking to the rules. This makes it so that Germans aren’t exactly considered courteous drivers, but luckily it does make them very predictable! A practical example: a German driver won’t give you right of way unless the rules say you are entitled to it. So, stick to the rules and you’ll be just fine!

Exchanging your foreign drivers’ license

So, you’re almost in Germany for 6 months, or you’ve decided you’re in for the long haul, and it’s now time to exchange your foreign license for a German one. There are a number of general requirements you need to meet:

  • You need to be a registered resident of Germany, so you need a valid residence permit.
  • Your foreign driver’s license needs to be valid at the time of exchange
  • You were not a resident of Germany when you obtained your foreign language (so, you got your license before you got your residence permit).

Exchanging an EU license

To change your EU driving licence to a german license while meeting the general requirements mentioned right above, you need to make an appointment at the local German driving licensing office, where you can directly exchange your license. Lucky you, because European driving licenses are of mostly equivalent quality, there are no additional tests required.

Exchanging a US license

If driving in Germany with a US license, the ease of exchanging your license after 6 months depends on the state you’re from. Some states have an exchange agreement with Germany, but others do not. If you’re from Connecticut, you’re out of luck! So, make sure to check the requirements per American state here. The ‘worst’ case scenario is that you’ll have to take some theoretical classes and pass a test, as well as a number of classes with an instructor. If your driving is by the books, they’ll let you pass and exchange your license without any additional hassle, wonderful!

Other countries with drivers’ license exchange agreements

Other countries also have exchange agreements with Germany, such as Japan, Switzerland, Canada and South Korea. Once again, you can check if your country is eligible with the German Government. So, if you’re on the list, you’ll be able to exchange your license with minimal effort.

Types of German driving licenses

If you have a non-standard driving license, for example, to drive a heavier vehicle like a truck or bus, there are additional restrictions on top of those mentioned above. For example, a license in the German categories C or D, for large commercial vehicles and buses, you need to be able to provide proof that your health and eyesight are in order, as well as the requirement to complete a first-aid course. Additionally, the validity of these licenses is different than a regular license. For example, a license to operate a bus is only valid for 5 years until it has to be renewed.

Required documents

If you’re ready to exchange your license, bring the following information to your appointment:

  • Valid identification, such as your passport or European ID card
  • A recent, biometric passport photo
  • Your certificate of registration in Germany
  • Your valid, original foreign driver's licence
  • A translation of your foreign driver's licence (if necessary)
  • If not printed on your license, you need to bring proof of how long you’ve been a holder of said license.
  • If everything is in order, your shiny new German license will be in production, ready to be picked up in 2-4 weeks.

Getting your license in Germany as a foreigner

If you’ve only just turned 18, or simply never got to getting your license, you can get your driving license as a foreigner in Germany. Time for lessons! But first, you’ll need to save up some cash! A full driving course in Germany could cost you up to €2000, down to around 500 if you’ve had a license before.

Here’s a quick overview of the process to get you driving license in germany as a new driver

  • Pass an eye test: you need to be sure your eyes need to be in good shape before driving! Requirements for this are more strict for the aforementioned special licenses.
  • Take a first aid class: This day-long Erste Hilfe Kurse is required for all applicants. And, to be honest, it’s good to know these things in any case!
  • Take lessons at a driving school: As a new driver, you need to take lessons at the Fahrschule. Lessons provided by your parents or acquaintances are useful to learn the ropes but do not count towards the legal requirement of 14 theoretical and at least 12 practical Sonderfahrten, where you earn to drive with a certified instructor.
  • Pass your exams! Once you’re ready, your driving school will sign you up for your theory test. Prepare well, because you need to pass this before you can take your practical test and the margin for error in this theoretical test is quite strict. Thankfully, the German theoretical driving test is available in English. If you pass, you have 12 months to take the practical test, which lasts up to 75 minutes. You’ll drive around with your instructor by your side and an examiner in the back seat, to evaluate your driving skills.
  • Did you pass? Great! see you on the Autobahn and remember that, as a new driver, you’re on probation for at least 2 years. Make sure you don’t break the rules or drink ANY alcohol before driving, as this could result in your license being promptly revoked.

So, now that you know how to get the wheels turning to exhange or get your license in Germany, we hope to see you on the famous Autobahn soon!

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