A comprehensive guide for expats who need to convert their foreign driver’s license in Germany. Find out how you can easily transfer and get a German driver’s license with this step-by-step guide.
Germany is a country known for its extensive public transportation system and for being one of the most bike-friendly countries in the world. You don’t really need a car to get around. Especially if you’re living in one of the major cities like Hamburg, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt or Munich.
But there will come a time when you’ll need to drive in Germany. Whether it’s for renting a car to road trip around Germany and Europe. Collecting heavy items from a garden center or hardware store. Or renting a van via car sharing for moving into a new apartment.
We recently found ourselves in this situation. So we finally plucked up the courage to convert our foreign driver’s license to a German driving license.
We’re not gonna lie and say that the German term for converting a foreign driving license – ‘Umschreibung einer ausländischen Führerschein’ – did not make our hearts skip a few beats. It sounds pretty intimidating for expats who are still learning the German language.
But don’t worry – you’ve come to the right place! After going through this entire process ourselves. We’re sharing this comprehensive step-by-step guide to show you how you can exchange, transfer or convert your foreign, non-EU driver’s license to a German one.
So continue reading if you want to know what the exact requirements are for the driver’s license conversion process, what documents you need, how to make an appointment, how much it costs to get a driver’s license in Germany, and many other tips.
Driving in Germany with US Driver’s License or other Foreign Driving License
Let’s start off by answering the most common question expats (and travelers) ask when it comes to driving in Germany: Can you drive in Germany with a US driver’s license or any other foreign driving license?
For Travellers and Tourists Driving in Germany
YES – you can! For travelers and tourists, it’s pretty simple. You’re allowed to drive in Germany as long as you have a valid US or foreign driver’s license to drive that class of vehicle.
The only time you’ll need to supplement it with an international driving license, is if your foreign driver’s license is not written in the Latin or Roman alphabet.
In this case, you’ll need to show the original driver’s license (i.e. it can’t be expired or a provisional document) alongside your international driving license to legally drive in Germany.
There’s one more thing. You may need to get an official translation if both your foreign and international driver’s license is not in German or English.
Related Post: Planning to road trip in Europe or the UK? Find out how you can rent a car in Europe for €1 in our Cheapest Budget Car Rental in Europe Guide. We kid you not! We’ve personally tried it ourselves and it’s legit!
For Expats Living in Germany
Now if you’re an expat living in Germany with a US driver’s license or another foreign driving license, it’s a little more complicated.
Once you register your residence in Germany (i.e. do your ‘Anmeldung’). You’ll only be able to drive in Germany for another 6 months before your foreign driver’s license will no longer be recognized and valid for driving in Germany.
If you want to continue to drive in Germany after this 6 month period. You’ll need to convert your foreign, non-EU driving license to a German driver’s license instead.
Bonus Tip: There is no deadline for converting your foreign driver’s license to a German one if you don’t plan to drive a car. You can always apply for it later when you need it.
This 6 month period can’t be extended. So make sure you apply at least 2 months before the time is up so you can continue driving in Germany (legally) when your foreign driver’s license is no longer valid.
The only exception to this 6-month rule is if you’re 100% sure that you won’t be living in Germany for longer than 12 months. Then, in this case, you can apply for an extension to continue driving with your foreign driver’s license in Germany.
This extension is subject to a fee. Plus, the driving license authorities in Germany may ask you to submit proof that you’ll be living here for less than 12 months to grant you the extension. So make sure you have the right documents prepared and are able to prove this.
How will the Authorities know if your Foreign Driver’s License is Valid or not?
Now we know what you may be thinking… How would the German driving authorities or random traffic officer know whether you’re driving in Germany as a tourist or as an expat living in the country?
Can’t you just save yourself all the bureaucratic paperwork and continue driving in Germany with your foreign driver’s license ‘as a tourist’? How will they know how long your foreign driver’s license is valid for?
Well, technically you could probably get away with it once or twice. But in the event you get into a car accident, someone damages your vehicle or you violate driving rules and get a traffic fine. The driving authorities in Germany WILL figure out that you do in fact live in Germany and all hell will break loose.
Not only will your insurance company not cover the accident or damages to your vehicle. But you may face legal consequences for not driving with a valid driver’s license.
We don’t need to personally experience this to tell you that THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA. Don’t do it! It’s really easy to convert your foreign driver’s license to a German driving license. So it’s really not worth the risk of getting caught for driving illegally in Germany.
Just follow the tips and guidelines in this post and you’ll get your German driver’s license in no time.
Car Sharing in Germany and Europe
The other added benefit of going through the foreign driving license conversion process is that you’ll need it if you want to make use of the many car-sharing options in Germany and Europe.
Most car-sharing platforms will only allow you to car share with an EU driver’s license. So even though you’re allowed to drive with a foreign license in Germany for 6 months after moving to Germany. You won’t be able to rent a car via car-sharing if you don’t have a German or EU driver’s license.
Even more reason to get the paperwork done so you can get your driver’s license in Germany.
Save Me For Later
How To Convert Foreign Driver’s License in Germany
Now that you know why you need to convert your foreign driver’s license to a German driving license. Or better known as ‘Umschreibung einer ausländischen Führerschein’ in German. Let’s get straight into how you do this.
Don’t worry – the German translation sounds way more intimidating than the process actually is.
Step 1: Check List of Countries That Allow Conversion of Foreign Driver’s License in Germany
Before you make an appointment to convert or switch your foreign driving license to a German one. You first need to check whether the country that issued your foreign driver’s license is on the below list.
If it is, then you will be able to easily convert your driving license to a driver’s license in Germany without having to re-do the theoretical or practical driving exam.
Plus, you won’t need to provide proof of first aid training or do an eye test if you’re converting a foreign driver’s license from one of the listed countries below.
List of Countries To Convert Non-EU Driver’s License in Germany
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- French Polynesia
- Isle of Man
- New Zealand
- Republic of Korea
- South Africa
- US (check the full list for exceptions)
The list of all eligible states is very long. So we’ve just included the most popular ones. If your country isn’t listed here, you can check the full list of states for holders of a foreign driving license here.
Bonus Tip: Each federal state in Germany may have a slightly different set of requirements and rules for converting a foreign driving license to a German driver’s license. These were the steps we took to transfer our driving license in Berlin. We would recommend double-checking that these requirements apply to you if you live elsewhere in Germany. Just google ‘Umschreibung Führerschein’ plus the city or town you live in and check the official government website.
My Country Isn’t On The List – What Now?
If the country that issued your driving license is not on the list – don’t worry. You can still convert your foreign driver’s license to a German one. It just requires a bit more paperwork and some extra steps. But it’s possible!
In this case, you’ll need to take the theoretical and practical driving test in Germany to convert your foreign driver’s license to a German one.
We didn’t personally go through this part of the admin process because our country was on the list. But from what we can understand on the official government website. You need to first make an application to convert your foreign driver’s license in Germany and submit all the necessary documents that go along with it.
Once your application has been processed, you’ll then be asked to take the theoretical driving exam in writing. Then you’ll need to find a driving school in Germany to complete the practical test.
And finally, when these are done and you’ve passed both tests. You’ll be able to convert your foreign (non-EU) driver’s license in Germany.
How do I Transfer my US Driver’s License in Germany?
We get asked this question a lot! So we thought we’d write a dedicated section on how you can convert or transfer a US driver’s license in Germany.
The US is listed as one of the countries where you can easily convert your US driver’s license to a German driving license without having to re-do any tests. But there are exceptions for some US States. These are:
- District of Columbia
- North Carolina
If your driver’s license is issued from one of these US states, you’ll need to re-take the theoretical driving test to transfer your US driving license to a German one. You won’t need to do the practical driving test though.
How do I Change my UK Driving Licence to a German one?
If you’re from the United Kingdom (UK), you’re probably wondering what now post Brexit?
From what we’ve gathered, you can exchange your UK driving licence to a German one without re-taking any tests. But you need to do this within 6 months of becoming a resident in Germany or before the ‘Brexit deadline’, 30 June 2021, whichever is later.
We’ve heard that this deadline has been extended due to COVID. But we’re not 100% sure when it’s been extended to so you may need to do some digging around.
The only exception to the UK driver’s licence rule is if you have a driving licence from Gibraltar. Then you may need to do a test depending on which federal state you’re living in Germany.
Step 2: Meet Requirements to Apply For Driver’s License in Germany
There are only 2 requirements to convert a foreign driver’s license in Germany:
- Your main place of residence is in Germany (i.e. you’ve done your ‘Anmeldung’)
- You need to attend a personal interview
The second requirement sounds way more intimidating than it is. Basically, you just need to personally attend the appointment to convert your driver’s license to a German one. You can’t send a friend, family member or a representative to do it on your behalf. And that’s all to it really!
We’ll explain what to expect at this ‘personal interview’ in a bit. But first, let’s get into the paperwork and documents you need to transfer your non-EU driver’s license in Germany.
Related Post: Well, maybe not completely related… But if you’re moving to Germany, you’ll probably need to know how you can pay for your mandatory TV license fee. Otherwise known as TV Tax. Read our Germany TV Tax guide to find out how you can do this or whether you’re exempt from paying.
Step 3: Assemble Documents Required For Converting a Foreign Driver’s License in Germany
- Identity card or passport
- 1 Biometric photo (make sure you check the photo requirements)
- Non-EU driving license (make sure it is valid and not expired)
- A photocopy of your non-EU driver’s License
- Anmeldung Document
Bonus Tip: It costs €36.30 for the application to convert a foreign driver’s license in Germany (without any tests or examinations). It’s best to bring cash. But some Burgeramts accept payment by EC cards too.
Step 4: Make An Appointment To Convert Driving License in Germany
This will probably be the trickiest step in the entire driver’s license conversion process – getting an appointment with the Burgeramt.
You need to basically follow the exact steps you’d take if you need to make an Anmeldung appointment. The only difference is that you’re doing a ‘Fuhrerschein Umschreibung’ instead.
Related Post: Need tips for successfully booking an appointment with the Burgeramt? Read our How To Get Anmeldung in Germany post for tips!
How long does it take to get driver’s license in Germany?
It can take anywhere between 4 to 6 weeks to get your driver’s license in Germany if you’re converting a foreign driving license. So make sure you start the process early.
Step 5: Submit Foreign Driver’s License in Exchange for German Driving License
The last step in the process is to submit and hand in your foreign driver’s license to Landesamt für Bürger- und Ordnungsangelegenheiten (LABO). You’ll need to do this last step to officially get your driver’s license in Germany.
LABO will then exchange your foreign driver’s license for a brand new German driver’s license. Read on to find out how we exchanged our foreign driver’s license for a German driver’s license.
How Long is a German Driver’s License Valid For?
A German driver’s license is valid for 15 years. That’s right! We were also pleasantly surprised to discover that the German’s have figured out that by increasing the validity of a German driver’s license to 15 years, it saves people time and money! I guess that’s another reason to convert your foreign driver’s license to a German one.
Lost Foreign Driver’s License after Applying for a German Driver’s License
If you’ve lost your foreign driver’s license or ausländische Fahrerlaubnis, then you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle. According to the German Law (§31 (4) Abs.2 FeV), the German driving license may only be given to you if you hand in your foreign driving license.
So if you’ve lost your foreign driver’s license after you applied for a German driver’s license, your application will be withdrawn and you will also be liable for a fee. The only other option is to get a replacement driver’s license from where it was issued. Both options will cost you money!
Moral of the story? Make sure you keep your foreign drive’rs license in a safe place until you are requested to send it to LABO to have it exchanged for a German one.
Our Personal Experience Converting A Foreign Driver’s License in Berlin, Germany
We know how stressful and intimidating it can be to navigate the ocean of German bureaucracy as an expat. That’s why we thought it would be useful to share our personal experience here for those who want to be as prepared as possible.
Booking the appointment and getting the required documents together is pretty straightforward. So we’ll just elaborate on the personal interview part and what you can expect thereafter.
Like we mentioned earlier, you need to personally attend the interview yourself. You may bring a friend or translator with you if you’re not comfortable speaking German. But you need to be physically present at the interview yourself.
Now, we can’t guarantee that these will be the questions they will ask you. But these were the questions we were asked:
- Do you need to re-take the theoretical or practical tests to convert your driver’s license?
- Are you in any way physically impaired for driving a vehicle?
These questions were obviously asked in German. We could make it out with our A2 German language skills. But this was literally all they asked at our driver’s license interview.
Related Post: Need to learn German? We’ve compiled a list of FREE ways to learn German online! It includes a list of Youtube channels, Netflix shows, Podcasts and free language learning apps that will help you learn the language.
Exchanging The Old For New
Then from there, it’s just a waiting game. Due to COVID, the rest of the driver’s license conversion process was done by registered mail.
We had to wait to receive a letter from the ‘Landesamt fur Burger- und Ordnungsangelegenheiten’ (State Office for Citizens and Regulatory Affairs Department) to say whether they approved the application or not.
If it is approved, you’ll receive an A5 document that serves as a provisional or temporary driver’s license. This will allow you to start driving in Germany immediately. It’s valid for 3 months so you can use this while you wait for your German driver’s license to arrive.
But in order for you to successfully convert your foreign driver’s license to a German one, you’ll need to send your original driver’s license to the German driving authorities. We had to do this by registered post due to corona restrictions.
So, all you need to do is type a short letter addressed to the ‘Landesamt fur Burger- und Ordnungsangelegenheiten’ representative in charge of your case. Then enclose your foreign driver’s license and send it by registered post so that it’s trackable.
Bonus Tip: Make sure you include your ‘geschaftszeichen’ (reference number) in your short letter. If you need help writing the letter, here’s a FREE sample of a letter you’ll need to send along with your foreign driver’s license to LABO.
If all goes well, you should receive your German driver’s license by post within 1 to 2 weeks! VOILA!
Found this expat guide useful? Make sure to check our other comprehensive Moving to Germany guides. If you need to file your German tax returns, check out our guide on how to get started with taxes in Germany.
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