HOW TO GET A GERMAN DRIVER’S LICENSE (DER FÜHRERSCHEIN)
A step-by-step guide
Okay, in Part One you learned whether you have reciprocity or not, and you’re ready to get the ball rolling to apply for your new German driver’s license (Führerschein). Where do you go? What documents do you need to have with you? Read on…
WHERE TO APPLY AND WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU
If you’re lucky, this license will only cost you 40 euros plus the cost of a photo, possibly a translation, and a few hours of your time. PHOTO: KBA (www.kba.de)
How Long is a German Führerschein Valid?
You may have heard that a German driver’s license has no expiration date, but that is no longer true. That changed in 2013 when, conforming to EU guidelines, German driving licenses became valid for only 15 years. Licenses issued before January 19, 2013 will expire no later than January 19, 2033. If you obtain a German Führerschein now, it will expire in 15 years.
The following information applies to almost anyone applying for a German driver’s license, no matter from which non-EU country. (EU citizens with a license from their home country don’t need to get a German one.) Whether you come from Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the USA, or any other Drittstaat, the procedure is the same, with only minor variations, depending on your country’s license agreements with Germany. But you do have a few options.
Option 1. Fahrschule
If your German is minimal, even if you have a full waiver of testing (but especially if you need to take either the practical road test or the theoretical written test), going through a local Fahrschule (driving school) that has experience working with foreigners may be the best approach for you. For a fee they can take you through the bureaucracy involved in getting your license. They can also help you find a first-aid course (required). If you have tests to pass, a driving school is the only way to go. Even Germans have to do that! (In Germany, your parents don’t teach you to drive; an official, certified Fahrschule does.) If you use a driving school, you have to choose one before you submit your application for a driver’s license.
Option 2. Do It Yourself
If you don’t have any tests required, you don’t need a Fahrschule. Using the information below, you can to go to the Bürgeramt and submit your own application. If your German is weak, you may want to bring along a German friend. Sometimes the clerks speak English, but not always. We’re in Germany, remember? Continues below…
Manual Transmission – Stick Shift
If you need to take driving lessons at a Fahrschule in Germany, keep in mind that you’ll usually be in a car with a manual, “stick shift” transmission. If you don’t know how to use a clutch and a five-speed transmission, you may require more hours of instruction than you think.
The guidelines below have been gathered from several sources. The license requirements in Cologne may be different from those in Munich or Berlin. Small towns may do things a bit differently than in big cities, etc. Always ask about the requirements at your local Führerscheinstelle! Most also have online information.
NOTE: Although you can take the theoretical test in English, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re thus home free. As we point out below, there is a high rate of failure for the written test. Learn more below.
GERMAN DRIVER’S LICENSE APPLICATION GUIDELINES
Where to apply, what to bring with you
Umschreibung einer ausländischen Fahrerlaubnis (Conversion of a Foreign Driver’s License)
Where? In most cases you will go to the driver’s license office (Führerscheinstelle) at the nearest Bürgeramt (district city hall) or Rathaus (city hall). You can find the nearest one by doing a web search for your city and “Führerscheinstelle.”
What? Bring the following documents/items with you:
Passport or Personalausweis (German ID card)
1 photo (Lichtbild, 35 x 45 mm, borderless)
Your valid driver’s license from your home country
German translation of license (English may be OK; inquire)*
Proof of how long you’ve had the license (if not already on the original license)
Recent vision test (Sehtest) certification (for class A, A1, B, BE, M, L or T license)*
Proof of completion of a first-aid course (only sometimes offered in English)
Confirmation of your first registration (Anmeldung) as a resident in Germany (if this was not done in the city where you are applying)
Fee of 40 euros in cash (if no tests are required)
Time: Allow three to six weeks before you actually receive your license! The Munich office sends your original license to the BKA (German FBI) to test that it is authentic! That can add 2-3 weeks. Most offices ask you to surrender your original license, but often you can talk them out of it.
If you need a certified German translation of your home country license (required by some offices), consider using our Lingoking partner for a certified translation that will be accepted by any German authority.
*Not required by some offices; inquire locally.
NOTE: These requirements may vary from office to office and city to city. In most cases, you will be applying for a ‘B’ class license (normal car, trailer under 750kg).
More on The German Way
Driver’s License Reciprocity
Which US states have driver’s license reciprocity agreements with Germany?
Other EU Countries and Conditions
As we mentioned before, Austria and Belgium make it much easier to convert your US driver’s license. It will be nice if Germany ever follows suit, but for now, see the above guidelines.