German Driving License Explained [How-to English Guide]

So you have moved to Germany and have already tasted the seemingly endless freedom on the Autobahn? Well, unless you look into getting a German driving license, you won’t be able to continue driving on the Autobahn or anywhere for that matter sooner than you might expect.

In this guide, I will detail whether or not your foreign license remains valid in Germany. And if it does not remain valid, we explain in detailed steps how you can change it into a German license and how much that will cost you. 

When do you need to get a German driving license?

If you already have a valid driving license from another country, whether it is valid in Germany or not depends on where it was issued.

EU / EAA driving licenses

If you live in Germany and hold a valid full driving license issued by an EU / EEA country, you can stop reading, as your license is valid in Germany until it expires. You can, however, only renew it in the country where it was issued. Foreign EU licences cannot be renewed in Germany.

Non-EU / EAA driving licenses

Once you have moved to Germany and have registered your addressyour foreign license stays valid for six months. If you would like to keep on renting cars after that period, or even get or drive your own car, you need to get a German license within the first six months of your move to Germany.

Countries with a reciprocal agreement with Germany

If your license was issued in any of the following countries, you could simply exchange your foreign license for a German Class B license, which allows you to drive a regular car. You will not need to take a practical driving or theoretical test.

  • Andorra
  • Australia*
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Canada
  • French Polynesia
  • Guernsey
  • Isle of Man
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Jersey
  • Monaco
  • Namibia
  • New Caledonia
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Korea 
  • San Marino
  • Switzerland
  • Serbia
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Taiwan (if the driving license was issued in the territory under the effective jurisdiction of the authorities in Tawai)
  • USA**

*Australia: If you have a driving license issued from South Australia, Tasmania, or Victoria, you have full reciprocity. For licenses from all other Australian states, an up-to-date eye test is required

** USA: Depending on which US state issued your license, you may have full, partial, or no reciprocity.

US states with full reciprocity

If your US driving license was issued by any of the following states, you can simply swap your license for a German one, without needing to take and pass any tests.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas*
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Washington State
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

*Texas is the only state with full reciprocity that requires an eye test

US states with partial reciprocity

Partial reciprocity means that you need to take the German written theoretical test. No worries, you can take it in English; however, you need to study for it, as it is more difficult than the US version.

  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Indiana (eye-test required)
  • Minnesota (eye-test required)
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee

US states with no reciprocity

If your driving license was issued by any of the below-listed states, you need to go through the entire process and all exams to attain a German driving license. If you think it is easier to just get a new license from a US state with full reciprocity, think again. To avoid such ‘license tourism’ most cities in Germany require you to have lived in the state, which issued your license for 185 days or more.

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Countries without a reciprocal agreement with Germany

If you have not found your country or US state listed above, you need to prepare to invest more time and money to obtain your German driving license. You will not be able to exchange your current license, instead, you will need to either complete an entirely new driving training or just the written and practical test. You can take a look at this list of all countries, to find out which requirements apply to your country. 

If you think it is easier to simply acquire a license in a country where it is ‘easier’ during a vacation, it won’t work. To avoid such ‘license tourism’ most cities in Germany require you to have lived in the country, which issued your license for 185 days or more.

Image of a BMW steering wheel at 203 kmh
Driving the Autobahn without speed limit

Related Guide: The German Autobahn [A Guide For First-timers]

How to get a German driving license?

4 Steps for exchanging your foreign driving license with reciprocity

1. Make an appointment at the driving license office

To get a German driving license, you need to personally apply for it at the road traffic licensing department (Straßenverkehrsamt) or the driving license office (Führerscheinstelle) in the city that you are registered in. You can make an appointment online or via phone. To exchange your non-EU / EAA license for a German one, you need to make an appointment for ‘Umschreiben eines ausländischen Führerscheins (Non-EU/Drittstaaten)’.

Here are the links to the Straßenverkehrsamt or FĂźhrerscheinstelle for the major German cities for expats: 

2. Gather your documents for exchanging your foreign driving license with reciprocity

  • A biometric photograph, 35 x 45mm
  • Your valid foreign driving license 
  • A German translation of that license
  • Your passport or German ID card if you are already a German citizen (Personalausweis)
  • Proof of how long you have had your current license (if this isn’t displayed on the license)
  • Eye-test certificate, not older than two years (as per your reciprocity agreement)

Depending on the individual driving license office, you might not need a translation of your license if it is in English. Ideally, you can check with them beforehand via e-mail or telephone. 

If your license is not in English or you need a translation regardless, you can use the services of Lingoking, a translation service provider for fast and certified translations.

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❗️Word of caution: The Driving Licence Office (Führerscheinstelle) in Dusseldorf is the only office to not accept the translation of a driving license from Lingoking. This has to do with the fact that this particular office requires the translator to physically hold the driving license they are translating in their hand. The ADAC is the only accepted provider to do a translation that is accepted in Dusseldorf.

If you require an eye-test, you can visit any optician in your city. 

3. Attend the appointment 

4. Pick up your German license and hand in your foreign license

In most cases, you have to hand in your foreign license, which will be sent to the issuing authorities.

9 Steps for exchanging your foreign driving license without reciprocity

1. Sign up with a driving school

If you have to do any tests (theoretical or practical), you have to sign up with a driving school (Fahrschule). There is no way to get a license without getting the proper education of a certified German Fahrschule. In Germany, you can not learn to drive from your parents. Luckily, you can find quite a few driving schools that offer their services in English in the bigger cities. Also, the driving school will be able to tell you the actual exact steps you need to take in the city that you live in, as they may vary slightly.

2. Take the first aid course and eye-test

The first aid course requires 9 x 45 mins of training, and most cities have several providers who offer such courses on Saturdays. A lot of providers also offer to take the eye-test and the photograph on the same day. If they don’t, you can get an eye-test from any optician in your city. Usually, your driving school can recommend a local first aid course. If not, here are the direct links to some first aid course providers in the biggest cities:

3. Make an appointment at the driving license office

You need to personally apply for a German driving license at the road traffic licensing department (Straßenverkehrsamt) or the driving license office (Führerscheinstelle) in the city that you are registered in. You can make an appointment online or via phone. To exchange your non-EU / EAA license for a German one, you need to make an appointment for ‘Umschreiben eines ausländischen Führerscheins (Non-EU/Drittstaaten)’.

Here are the links to the Straßenverkehrsamt or FĂźhrerscheinstelle for the major German cities for expats. 

4. Gather your documents for exchanging your foreign driving license without reciprocity

  • A biometric photograph, 35 x 45mm
  • Your valid foreign driving license 
  • A German translation of that license
  • Your passport or German ID card if you are already a German citizen (Personalausweis)
  • Proof of how long you have had your current license (if this isn’t displayed on the license)
  • Proof of completion of a first aid course
  • Eye-test certificate (not older than two years)

5. Attend the appointment 

This will be the first of two appointments you will need to attend at the Straßenverkehrsamt or Führerscheinstelle.

In this first appointment, the German Road Traffic Licensing Department will evaluate your documents and will approve or deny your request.

If they approve your request, they will inform the TÜV that you are eligible to continue with the process.

💡 Good to know: The TÜV (Technischer Überwachungsverein) is one of the approved technical supervisor associations in Germany. They provide services like official car inspections and other certifications. They are also responsible for supervising all theoretical and practical driving exams in Germany.

The second appointment is to pick up your driving license (step #9).

6. Study for and take the German license theory test

Before you can continue the process, you need to pass the theory exam. 

Even though you can take this test in English, don’t underestimate it, as German traffic rules are very detailed and comprehensive. 36% of all applicants in Germany fail their license theory test, so you should study all questions beforehand. You can practice for the German driving license theory test in English via a web-app or an app on your phone

7. Take driving lessons (optional)

Most driving schools will ask you to take a certain minimum amount of driving classes, even if you know how to drive. They do this for two reasons:

  1. To check your driving skills first and help you adapt to the German rules
  2. To prevent you from failing the practical test and them from losing their status as a driving school with high passing rates

A driving lesson usually lasts 45 minutes, and it is common that they book double lessons for maximum output. Once your driving teacher is confident that you will pass the practical exam, your driving school will make the appointment with the local TÜV.

8. Take the practical driving test

Before you jump in the car and start your practical driving test, the examiner will ask you between 3 and 5 questions. Some questions might include things like:

  • How do you know when a tire is worn out?
  • Check if the brake lights are working properly
  • What button do you press in the car to indicate an emergency?

Once you pass your oral questions, you can then start your practical exam.

During the practical driving test, your driving teacher will still sit in the passenger seat, and the examiner will sit behind you. The examiner will give you instructions on how to drive and what to do. The exam usually lasts about 45 minutes, and the examiner will tell you directly afterward whether you have passed or not.

If you have passed, you will get a slip certifying that you are allowed to drive in Germany until you can pick up your actual driving license a few weeks later.

It is not uncommon that the examiner will end the driving test early in case you have disrespected a traffic rule and hence failed the test. If you fail the test, your driving teacher will usually insist on several driving lessons before you can take (and pay) the exam again. The failure rate for the practical driving test in Germany is around 31%.

9. Pick up your German license and hand in your foreign license

Congratulations on making it this far! Once you have received the authorization from the TÜV, they will notify your local driving license office. You will be able to pick up your license a few weeks after you have passed your exam.

Before you receive your German driving license, you will need to give away your foreign license. There is no negation allowed regarding that one. The one downside of this process is that your years of experience drop to 0 in case your country does not have reciprocity.

In that case, you will be considered a new driver and have to abide by the first time license holders. One drawback of this is that you will not be able to rent a car for the first year.

If you have a good driving record from your home country, be sure to get an official summary of your good driving history from your previous car insurance. This will help keep your car insurance cost lower, in case you own or want to buy a car in Germany. 

Related Guide: Car Insurance in Germany

How long does it take to get a driving license in Germany?

Suppose you do not need to take any theoretical or practical test thanks to a reciprocity agreement. In that case, the application to exchange your driving license for a German license usually takes four to six weeks.

If you do not benefit from a reciprocity agreement, getting your German license can take anywhere from two to six months. The availability of your driving school also plays a role here.

How much does a driving license cost in Germany? 

Getting a German driving license is expensive, especially if you don’t have reciprocity and need to go through a Fahrschule. For a brand new German driving license with full driving training, Germans easily pay between 1,500 and 2,000 euros. 

Cost example for German driving license without reciprocity

Here is a real-life example from Jen, my wife from Guatemala, who got her German driving license in 2018 in Dusseldorf. 

Type of costsCosts
Registration at driving school €140
Software to study for theory exam€65
First aid course incl. Eye-test & photo€25
Translation of driving license€55
Sign up at Straßenverkehrsamt €43,40
Theory exam €22,49
4 double driving lessons (80 euros each)€320
Practical exam TÜV fee€91,75
Practical exam driving school fee€115
Total€877,64

Conclusion

As you can see, exchanging your foreign driving license for a German one is another bureaucratic and quite expensive act. However, if you follow the steps above, it is totally doable and ensures our roads’ safety.

Happy driving! đŸš˜