Getting a driving license in Germany can be a bit tricky, but extremely worthwhile in the long run. For those that live in larger cities, public transport in Germany is quite comprehensive, but it does have some limitations for rural areas. Furthermore, taking public transport in bad weather is a real bummer so having a car can help make things more comfortable, as well as with carrying heavy loads.
Let’s dive into how you can get a driver’s license in Germany.
- Why should you get a German driving license?
- Are foreign driving licenses valid in Germany?
- Where do you go to get a German driving license?
- What documents do you need to apply for a German driving license?
- Do you need to take a practical or theory test to get a German driving license?
Why should you get a German driving license?
As an American ex-pat in Hamburg, I know well how much I missed driving in the US. I decided to transfer my driver’s license two years ago and it was a great decision. Having a German one also makes it easier to rent cars in the EU, so if you plan on staying in Germany or the EU long-term, I absolutely recommend getting your license transferred.
It’s also important to note that learning German to help with this process is highly recommended. You’ll need it for your appointments with the Licensing Office and potentially also at your driving school if you need to go there.
Are foreign driving licenses valid in Germany?
This depends on what country you come from and how long you’ve been living in Germany. For EU members, your license is valid in Germany up to the point it expires. For non-EU members, if your license is considered valid in Germany (meaning your country has a reciprocity agreement), you also need to transfer it after six months to continue driving.
The following countries have reciprocity agreements with Germany:
- Channel Islands
- French Polynesia
- Isle of Man
- New Caledonia
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- South Africa
- South Korea
*Note: for the USA, the reciprocity agreement depends on the state in which the license holder is registered. Please view this list for more information about particular states. Furthermore, if the license holder is under the age of 18 (the driver’s license age in the USA is 16), then the license is not considered valid in Germany until the license holder becomes of age.
Where do you go to get a German driving license?
In order to transfer your license or Umschreibung, you need to go to the Vehicle Licensing Office (known as Fahrerlaubnisbehhörde or Führerscheinstelle). To find the applicable office for your city, you can view meldebox.de for help. In most Licensing Offices, you can book appointments directly through their website (keep in mind it may take a few months) or you can go there directly and wait to see an officer.
I recommend getting an appointment because you’ll probably be waiting the whole day if you don’t have one. During this appointment, it’s highly likely that the officer will only speak German with you so it’s a good idea to improve your German language skills to prepare for it.
What documents do you need to apply for a German driving license?
What documents you need to apply depends again on which country you come from. For EU citizens, you may not require any special documentation (like translations or a driving record) to transfer your license and can go directly to the Licensing Office. For non-EU citizens, the documents required to apply for a German driving license can include:
- Certificate of registration (Anmeldung)
- Official ID or passport
- A photograph in the same manner as a passport
- The original license and its German translation were completed by a sworn translator
- Documentation confirmation that the foreign license is still valid
- A medical examination confirming that you are psychologically well enough to drive
- A visual acuity test
To understand what documents you as an individual require, I recommend making a first appointment with the Licensing Office to discuss this and then a secondary appointment to hand in all the corresponding documents.
This is extremely useful because the requirements differ per person. Sometimes a medical examination and eye test are not required, while other times they are. You might also need proof of your driving record (as an American this was required for me), but I didn’t need to have my license translated, because English was accepted.
The cost of transferring a license is between €30 and €40 depending on the location. For the preparation of further documents (medical test, eye test, notarised translation), you might need to calculate additional costs.
Do you need to take a practical or theory test to get a German driving license?
In addition to the application and documentation fees, you might need to take part in either a theory test, practical test or both. This also depends on your country of origin and should be discussed during an appointment with the Licensing Office. The costs for preparing for and taking these tests vary depending on your location and how much preparation you require. Generally speaking, the costs are between €1500 and €2000.
The theory test (Theorieprüfung) is the written portion of the driving license application process and needs to be done through a driving school (Fahrschule). You need to pass the theory test before you can take the practical test (where your driving capability is assessed). The theory test involves thirty multiple-choice questions. If you get over ten minus points, you have not passed the test and can’t retake it for 12 months.
The theory test can be taken at a driving school and can be taken in the following languages:
You’ll also need to show your ID or passport, confirmation of appointment, and proof of training issued by a driving school if you never had a driving license. A few helpful resources for studying for a theory test are lehrboegen.de and fuehrerschein-bestehen.de.
The total costs for the theory test include:
- Eye test (about €6)
- First aid course (about €20 – €30)
- Driving school registration (about €100 – €200)
- Learning material for the theory (about €60 – €80)
- Taking the theory test (€22,49)
The practical test (praktische Fahrprüfung) is where the driving school assesses your driving performance. The test is typically taken in German, so in this case, you may need to learn some German to communicate with the instructor. The test takes between 30 and 75 minutes and you’ll need to present the confirmation of your theory test and your passport to begin. The cost of the practical test is €116,93. You can retake the test multiple times if you fail, but the more times you fail, the more time is required before you can take a new test.
Before taking the test, you need to practice driving for a minimum set of hours under certain conditions. These required hours or Pflichtstudent depend on your location and your progress to move onto the next level of learning driving. For your individual case, speak with the driving school you are registered at to get an overview of the cost and time it’ll take you to complete.
Hit the road with your new German driving license
Getting a driving license in Germany does not have to be that messy and there are plenty of resources available to ensure a smooth process. Whether you need a translation, a renewal or doing it from scratch now you have enough gas in the tank to take over German roads.