How to Switch Your Foreign Driving License to a European one


Updated on Sep 07 • 4 minute read

If you’ve decided to embrace the expat life, then congratulations! Whether you’ll be relocating for an employment opportunity, taking on an internship or attending a world-class university, you are in for nothing short of an adventure. There’s no better way to get some independence, immerse yourself in new cultures and broaden your knowledge than moving abroad.

Of course, actually relocating requires a lot of preparation. You’ll need to find housing, maybe learn the local language and register for the appropriate permit, and that’s just for starters. Thinking about the transportation options in your new home, and how you’ll get from Point A to B may seem premature – especially when moving to a European city where both cycling and public transportation are popular and easy to adjust to – but what if you need a car for work, or simply want to rent one for a weekend road trip? You’re going to need to understand the regulations regarding a driving license.

The good news is that if you’re coming from a country in the European Union, then your EU driving license will work perfectly fine, as the law permits EU citizens to drive using their existing licenses. The only rule is that it must still be valid, and that it has not been revoked or suspended for any reason. Any EU driving license is valid for 15 years if obtained prior to 2013, and for 10 years after that. Super easy, right?

The 28 countries of the EU include:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Republic of Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • UK

Now, if you happen to hail from another part of the world, you’ll be required to switch your license in order to legally drive around Europe. It does require a bit of paperwork, but as long as you follow the steps in this guide, you’ll be ready to hit the road in no time!

International Driving Permit

If you’ll be living abroad for less than six months, your easiest option may be to obtain an International Driving Permit, otherwise known as an IDP. This is not an actual “driving license,” but it will prove that your current driving license from your home country is valid. It may not be a requirement in all EU countries, but it is quickly becoming the case in many popular destinations for expats.

Even if it isn’t required, it’s not a bad idea. Look at it as a way to “certify” your driving license for all manner of things requiring identification, whether you are trying to rent a car or needing to produce documents due to a traffic violation. Along with your current license, it is readily accepted in many scenarios as proof of identification. But what is it exactly, and how will it work – and not work?

  • The International Driving Permit is accepted by 150 countries as a form of identification.
  • It presents your current driving license’s information in 10 different languages.
  • Remember, it does not replace your driving license but is a companion form of documentation.

To get an IDP for an EU country, you must apply for it with an agency authorized by the government. You can find several listings HERE.

You’ll need to submit:

  • A completed application
  • A copy of your home driving license
  • Two passport-sized photos
  • A minimal fee

Just keep in mind that this is only a permit. If anyone online attempts to sell you an International Driving License, it is absolutely a scam. This permit is only a temporary form of validation, and cannot be used as a permanent license.

Let’s move on to a more extended option!

EU Driving License

If you plan to be staying abroad for more than six months in the EU, then you will need an actual driving license to operate a vehicle legally. The regulations may vary slightly from country to country, so it is always best to double-check with the driving license authority in your new home-away-from-home.

However, after six months in the country, you’ll need to exchange your current license at the proper department. The documents required by most countries include:

  • Government-recognized identification
  • Valid residence permit
  • Registration confirmation
  • Copy of original driving license with the proper language translation
  • Passport-sized photo

Some regions may require:

  • Registration for a driving test
  • Enrollment in a first-aid class
  • Eyesight testing documentation

Once you have your very own EU driving license, that’s one more item you can tick off of your “moving to-do list”. Next, check out some of the safest cities for internationals when finalizing your destination, and don’t forget to take a look at a few of the best job openings. Also, consider a few things that may be very important to you, based on your specific needs.

  • The language - Depending on the length of your stay, you may or may not want to live in a region that will require you to begin learning another language. Of course, English is typically spoken in university areas, city centers and other tourist areas, and neighborhoods that are popular with other internationals.
  • The climate - Maybe you want to experience snow-capped mountains, or perhaps you want to spend most of your spare time relaxing alongside the Mediterranean. Be sure to look at average weather temperatures and make sure that you will enjoy the climate.
  • The culture - Many expats decide to be expats in the first place because they want to immerse themselves in a different culture and experience a completely unique lifestyle. Some internationals may experience a bit of a culture shock, depending on the locale, so look into the people and the quality of life before you make any final decisions. However, you’ll find that most areas will offer a culture that will leave you feeling more enriched than ever before.

Some popular options include:

Your driving license will take you to mind-blowing cities, exciting opportunities and the fun of exploring it all for the very first time, along with your new friends. Enjoy your time abroad and drive safe!

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