Getting a German Driver’s License
You just moved to Germany and might be wondering how to get a German driver’s license. While Germany has a great public transportation system, a German driver’s license can be very helpful and convenient. Even if you don’t own a car, many German cities have car-sharing services you can only use if you have German driver’s license (or it’s equivalent). In this guide you can find out if you need a German driver’s license and, if yes, what steps you need to follow.
Sections in this article:
If you are an EU/EEA citizen and have a license from an EU/EEA country, you do not have to get a German driver’s license. You can legally drive in Germany with your license from your home country under these conditions:
- Your license has not expired.
- You have not been disqualified (your license has not been confiscated by Germany or your home country).
- Your license is not provisional.
- You meet the minimum age requirement for the category of vehicle you want to drive (e.g. you need to be 18 or older to drive a car).
If any restrictions have been placed on your driver’s license in your home country, you are required to adhere to the same restrictions when you drive in Germany.
If you are from a non-EU/EEA country, you are allowed to drive in Germany using your current license for no longer than six months after you establish German residency. In other words, after being a legal resident of German for six months, you are legally required to get a German driver’s license. You must follow the same conditions as listed above for EU/EEA citizens, in addition to one more: You cannot be a resident in Germany during time you obtained your foreign driver’s license.
There is one exception to the six-month-rule for non-EU/EEA citizens living in Germany. If you plan to live in Germany for less than twelve months, you might be able to extend the six-month time limit. If you can prove to the local driver’s registration office (Führerscheinstelle) that you will have residency in Germany for less than twelve months, you can extend the deadline up to six more months. You must go to the office before the expiration of the six-month period after you establish residency. Then you can notify the office that you want to continue driving on your current license until your departure.
For example, if you move to Germany in January, you have until the end of June to get your German driver’s license. After this period, your old non-EU/EEA driver’s license is invalid. If you are planning to permanently leave Germany in December, however, you can ask for an extension of 6 months. That way you would not need to get a German driver’s license. You would have to provide the German driver’s registration office with proof that you are moving out of Germany, such as return plane tickets or a work contract with an end date.
Full Reciprocal Agreements
Luckily for some American citizens moving to Germany, some US states have established reciprocal agreements with Germany for driver’s licenses. This means that Americans with driver’s licenses from specific states do not have to take the practical (road) and theoretical (written) exams to get their German driver’s license.
U.S. States with FULL Reciprocal Agreements
If you have a license from one of these states, you can apply for a German driver’s license at the local driver’s registration office (Führerscheinstelle). Even though you do not have to take the practical and theoretical exams, you might need to provide the office with the following documents:
- An official ID document (e.g. your passport)
- A certificate proving your residency from the registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt)
- Your U.S. license and a German translation
- A picture of yourself (35mm x 45 mm)
- A report from a recent eye exam is usually necessary as well.
Partial Reciprocal Agreements
Some U.S. states have partial reciprocal agreements with Germany. As a result, license holders from states with partial agreements are exempt from the practical (road) exam but must take the theoretical (written) exam. The exam can be taken English and costs about 40€. A section of the theoretical exam is German driving-related vocabulary.
U.S. States with PARTIAL Reciprocal Agreements
All Canadian provinces have full reciprocal agreements with Germany. Therefore, if you hold a Canadian driver’s license, you can apply directly for a German driver’s license at the local driver’s registration office (Führerscheinstelle). You do not need to take the practical (road) and theoretical (written) exam. However, you may need to provide the same documents as listed above under “Full Reciprocal Agreements” to get your German license.
Additional Rules & Regulations
Normal Residency in Germany
As mentioned before, if you are not from an EU/EEA country, you cannot drive in Germany using your current license for more than six months after establishing German residency. If you are applying for a German driver’s license, you must have your normal residence in Germany. Put more simply, you must live in Germany for at least 185 days of the year.
Conditions or Restrictions
If your current driver’s license has any conditions or restrictions, you are legally required to comply with them while driving in Germany. For example, if your American driver’s license was suspended in the United States, it’s also not valid in Germany.
Legal Driving Age
Non-EU/EEA citizens must also be of the legal driving age in Germany to use their current driver’s license. For example, in Germany you cannot drive a car without a legal guardian present until you are 18 years old. Therefore, even if you can drive a car at 16 years old in the United States with your American driver’s license, you cannot drive legally in Germany. In other words, if you are younger than age 18, your license would not be valid in Germany.
Keep Your License with You
You must always have your driver’s license with you while you are driving. For example, you would need to show it to local authorities if you were pulled over.
When You Need a Translation
A translation of your driver’s license is required in the following cases:
- Your domestic driver’s license is not in German
- Your domestic driver’s license does not conform to the provisions of Annex 6 of the Convention on Road Traffic of 8 November 1968 (see table below).
All foreign driver’s licenses must have the following:
*Otherwise you need a German translation
You can find more information about driving in Germany through Germany’s BMVI website. Their article, “Validity of foreign driver licenses in the Federal Republic of Germany”, offers further guidance for expats.
In addition, this helpful PDF includes facts for people with foreign driver’s licenses from countries outside the EU/EEA.
Lastly, one of your top priorities when moving to Germany should be getting German health insurance. German law mandates you have German health insurance. Therefore, you need to make sure you have it when you move to Germany! For example, Germany will not give non-EU/EEA citizens a visa without proof of German health insurance. In Germany, you can choose between public health insurance and private health insurance. Both have their pros and cons.
You can read more about German public health insurance in our article, “German Public Health Insurance: A Guide For Expats In Germany.”
If you would like to learn more about German private health insurance, click here.
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