Driving with a foreign licence in Germany

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Whether you are allowed to use your foreign driver’s licence in Germany or not depends primarily on where your licence was issued. The German authorities differentiate mainly between permits issued in EU countries and permits issued in non-EU countries. Another factor is the duration of your stay. If your visit is temporary, you may not be required to convert your foreign licence to a German one. If you are planning to stay longer or are planning to settle in Germany, you will likely have to convert your permit to a German licence.

General information about driver’s licences in Germany

Drivers in Germany are always required to carry their driver’s licence when operating a vehicle. A failure to produce the licence during a traffic stop can result in a fine and a warning. Always have your licence on you when driving. If you do not possess a driver’s licence, you are not allowed to drive a car in Germany.

Understanding the different categories of driver’s licences in Germany

It is worthwhile to familiarise yourself with the different driver’s licence categories in Germany. The Federal Ministry of Transport publishes a complete list of all categories. This is a useful resource if you are trying to figure out which types of vehicles you are allowed to operate in Germany with your foreign licence.

Can I drive in Germany with my EU / EEA licence?

If you hold a driver’s licence issued in another EU country, you are usually allowed to drive in Germany until your foreign licence expires. This is also the case for permits issued in EEA (European Economic Area) countries. Note that your licence must be a full domestic driving licence. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is not valid.

Are there exceptions to the validity of EU / EEA issued licences?

Yes, there are several exceptions to the validity of EU / EEA issued licences. Typically they are either related to your age or the size of the vehicle you are operating.

Age related exceptions

Under 18 years old: If you are the holder of a category A1 (motorcycle) licence and under the age of 18, you can only ride light motorcycles with an engine size up to 125cc. In addition, you are not allowed to exceed a maximum speed of 80kmph in this category.

Over 50 years old: Category C1 and C1E (large goods vehicles) licences are only valid until the holder’s 50th birthday. After this day the foreign licence in this category has to be converted to a German licence. In order to receive this licence, you will be required to submit paperwork which attests to your good health and eyesight. 

Exceptions related to the size of the vehicle 

Large goods vehicle and buses: If you hold a category C, CE, D, DE, D1 or D1E licence, your licence will expire five years after the date of issue (even if it is valid for a longer period in the country which issued it). You will have to exchange your foreign licence for a German permit, which requires paperwork attesting to your good health and eyesight.

Can I drive in Germany with my non-EU licence?

If you hold a non-EU (or non-EEA) licence, you can drive in Germany for a limited amount of time. Once you register as a German resident you are allowed to drive for up to six months using your foreign licence. After that you are required to convert your foreign licence to a German permit. If you fail to do so and drive with a licence that is no longer recognized, the German authorities will treat this as driving without a licence and penalize it accordingly.

Possible exception to the licence exchange requirement after six months

If you are staying in Germany for longer than six months but less than 12 months, you might not be required to exchange your licence. It is worthwhile checking with your local driving licence office if an exchange will be necessary in your case. This can save you a lot of time and paperwork.

Longer processing times in larger cities

Especially in larger German cities such as Berlin it can take a long time to process your request to convert your foreign licence (e.g. in Berlin it currently takes around five months to receive your German licence). It is therefore advisable to apply for a licence exchange shortly after registering as a resident. This is particularly important if you rely on your car to get to work or school.

Do I need to carry a translation of my non-EU licence?

Generally you are required to carry a translation of your driver’s licence if it was not issued in the EU, Andorra, Hong Kong, Monaco, San Marino, Switzerland or Senegal. Translation service can be obtained in several places, but a good choice is the German automobile club ADAC. The ADAC offers classification as well as translation services.

How do I obtain a translation of my driver’s licence from the ADAC?

The ADAC runs offices all over Germany. To find your closest office, go to the ADAC website and put in your zip code. There are usually several ADAC offices in bigger cities, especially in the main hubs Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich.

You will have to bring in your original licence for processing. You should receive your translation within one week of handing in your licence (three weeks for non-Latin letters). If you do not have time to go to an ADAC office in person or cannot find one close to you, you have the option to mail in your original licence (always use recorded mail).
If you are mailing your licence it can take a little longer to receive your translation (especially for non-Latin letters). Make sure you inquire about processing times ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.

How much does it cost to get my licence translated by the ADAC?

Translation fees at the ADAC differ depending on the region and the service you require. Many holders of non-EU driver’s licences will require a classification. With a classification, the ADAC determines which vehicle category you are permitted to drive or ride according to your foreign licence and which category this equates to in the German system. The ADAC typically charges 19 Euros for a classification.
The translation fee ranges from 45 to 60 Euros depending on the region you are in and if your licence is issued in Latin or non-Latin letters. If your foreign licence is issued in non-Latin letters you will typically be charged for a classification and pay a higher translation fee. In this case you will likely be charged around 85 to 90 Euros total.

 
Additional information

If you hold a non-EU licence but your licence is issued in English (for example because your licence was issued in the USA), the German authorities may not require a classification. This is mainly because they routinely deal with US permits and are therefore familiar with the different vehicle categories. A good rule of thumb: The more exotic the country of issuance, the more likely it is that you will need a classification.

How do I convert my non-EU driving licence to a German licence?

You can convert your non-EU driving licence by submitting an application to your local driving licence office (Führerscheinstelle). Although some cities offer ad hoc appointments, it is always advisable to book an appointment ahead of time. Wait times for appointments can be long in some cities (up to 3 months in larger cities like Berlin) so make sure you plan ahead. Make sure to bring all required documents to the appointment in order to avoid delays or second appointments.

Which documents are required to exchange my foreign licence?

Which documents you require to exchange your foreign licence depends on the federal state you reside in. Generally speaking you can expect to be required to bring the following documents to your appointment:

  • A valid ID, such as your passport or national ID card.
  • A recent, biometric passport picture. (Important: The picture has to be compliant with biometric requirements just like the ones issued for Schengen visas).
  • Your original foreign driver’s licence. (Note: Any licence issued outside of the EU or EEA will still have to be valid at the time of the exchange).
  • A translation of your foreign driver’s licence. (You can get one from the ADAC, see “Do I need to carry a translation of my non-EU licence?” above to find out how to do this and if it applies to your case.)
  • Your German certification of registration (Anmeldebescheinigung).
Additional documentation
In addition, you may be required to bring proof of how long you have held your foreign licence (if your licence does not already document this). Also, depending on the driver’s licence category listed on your permit, you will have to provide documentation to prove you recently completed a first aid course. This is mainly the case for driver’s licences in categories A, A2, A1, AM, B, BE, L and T. An eye test certificate will also be required. If your eyesight is not perfect, do not worry. The German authorities will simply make a note in your licence that you are either required to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses while driving.

Driver’s licences in the categories C and D require the completion of a first aid course, an eye exam as well as documentation attesting to your general good health and fitness levels.

Non-EU countries with special arrangements for licence exchanges

Converting your non-EU licence to a German one can be a lengthy process. But it does not have to be: Depending on where your licence was issued, you may be able to simply exchange your foreign licence for a German one without having to provide additional documentation. Some countries have special arrangements with Germany which makes an exchange very easy. These countries include:
  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Channel Islands
  • Croatia
  • French Polynesia
  • Isle of Man
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Monaco
  • Namibia
  • New Caledonia
  • New Zealand
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Switzerland
  • USA*
*Note: The USA is a special case. Depending on which US state your licence was issued in, you may be required to undergo additional testing or provide further documentation.

Additional testing requirements for certain US states

Depending on which US state your licence was issued in, the requirements for a licence exchange might differ. Some US states enjoy full reciprocity with Germany, meaning driver’s licences issued in these states can be exchanged for a German one without additional testing requirements.

Which US states have full reciprocity with Germany?

US states enjoying full reciprocity with Germany include:

  • 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

If your licence was issued in one of the US states listed above, you will not need to undergo additional testing requirements to get a German licence. Equally, if you hold a driver’s licence issued in Puerto Rico, you can exchange it for a German licence without having to undergo additional tests.

Which US states have partial reciprocity with Germany?

US states enjoying only partial reciprocity with Germany include:

  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Indiana
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • District of Columbia

If you hold a driver’s licence issued in one of the states listed above, you will be required to take a written test in order to exchange your US licence for a German one. A road test will not be required.

Note: Written driver’s licence tests in Germany tend to be a lot more complex than American ones, so make sure you prepare yourself accordingly. Fees for the written test are roughly 23 Euros. If you fail the test you’ll have to repeat it and pay the fee again.

Which US states have no reciprocity with Germany?

Currently, there are still US states which have no reciprocity with Germany in place. These states include:

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

If you hold a driver’s licence issued in one of the states listed above, you will have to undergo the entire process of acquiring a German driver’s licence. This is done at a local Fahrschule (driving school) and includes practical driving as well as theory lessons, a written test and a practical (behind-the-wheel) driving test.

Note: Getting a driver’s licence can be very costly in Germany. Depending on the region you are in, a German licence can cost up to 2.000 Euros (including classes and testing fees).

Simplified procedures in four German states

There are four states in Germany which simplify the exchange procedures for holders of US driver’s licence issued in US states without reciprocity. These German states include:

  • Hamburg
  • Hesse
  • Saxony-Anhalt
  • Schleswig-Holstein

If you reside and work in one of the German states above and meet a few other requirements, you may be able to apply for an automatic conversion of your driver’s licence even if it was issued in US state without full or partial reciprocity. This is decided on a case by case basis, but it is worth checking with the local Führerscheinstelle before you sign up for classes.

What happens once my application for the licence exchange was successful?

Once your application has been successful your new driver’s licence will be manufactured in the Federal Printing Office (located in Berlin) within two to four weeks. You will be notified once it is ready for pick up. Typically you will not need to make a new appointment. The pick up for documents at local driving licence offices (Führerscheinstelle) is usually managed separately and happens on an ad hoc basis. Note that you will have to turn in your foreign licence when picking up your new German one. The German authorities will return your foreign licence to the country of issuance.

Additional information for expats driving in Germany

Depending on where your foreign licence was issued you will be required to provide a translation, additional documentation or pass a driving test. In general it is worth noting that while a bureaucratic act, the process of driving in Germany with a foreign licence or even exchanging your foreign licence for a local one is manageable.
Always make sure you book an appointment well ahead of time and know which paperwork to bring. Always give yourself plenty of time to go through the process. That way you can make sure you hold the German licence in your hand well before you actually need it.

Can I renew my foreign licence in Germany?

No, unfortunately you cannot renew your foreign licence in Germany. If your foreign licence is about to expire, you will need to apply for a German one. Again make sure you give yourself ample time to complete the application process before your foreign licence expires.

Can I use my driver’s licence as a form of ID?

In some countries (for example the US) a driver’s licence can be used as a form of ID. This is not the case in Germany. Always make sure you carry your passport or national ID card with you to be able to identify yourself to the authorities.

What type of car insurance do I need in Germany?

When driving a car in Germany you will require third-party liability insurance (this is compulsory). Additionally, it might make sense to take out either partial comprehensive or fully comprehensive insurance. Whether you need it or not depends mainly on your personal needs. Joonko can help you navigate the different types of car insurance coverages available in Germany. We can also help you find a car insurance provider that can cater to your individual needs.