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DRIVING

Brexit: How to swap your British driving licence for a German one

Exchanging your British driving licence for a German one has become a pressing issue as Brexit looms. Here’s what you need to know about the process.

Brexit: How to swap your British driving licence for a German one
A German driving licence. Photo: DPA

If you’re a British person living in Germany, you are no doubt trying to prepare for the UK’s exit from the EU. 

Now Brexit is set to finally happen on January 31st, there are some practical steps you can take, such as exchanging your driving licence for a German one.

Campaign groups, including British in Germany, have been urging Brits who are interested in exchanging their licence to do it as soon as possible.

The process for exchanging your licence is different for driving licences that have been issued by non-EU countries. You can read our detailed article on getting a German driving licence.

We’ve gathered together some information on what you should know if you’re thinking of exchanging your licence, but you should also check out this federal government website.

READ ALSO: Can Brits still move to Germany after Brexit day?

The current situation

Before Brexit, your driving licence is valid in the EU. If you're 18 years of age or older and you have a valid licence which was issued from a member state in the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA), you may drive vehicles in Germany of the category that's indicated on your licence without restrictions.

Officials say that with a UK licence you can drive for both work and leisure purposes throughout the EU without other documents. In EU countries, such as Germany, you can exchange licences issued by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) or the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland, for a driving licence from your new home country.

You do not need to re-sit your driving test. The cost of exchanging your driving licence is around €35 but it varies across the country. You do not need to have the licence translated.

SEE ALSO: What you need to know about getting a German driving licence

Event of a Withdrawal Agreement

According to authorities, if you are a resident in Germany, you must exchange your UK licence for a German one within six months of moving to Germany. So Brits already legally resident in Germany on February 1st, the day after Brexit, can use their British passport for six months from that date but it will then no longer become valid.

So to drive in Germany after that, you'll need a German licence.

You do not have to sit another test to get a German licence. Follow the procedures below and talk to your local authority if you have any questions.

If you change it, you can still use your German licence in the UK for short visits or exchange it for a UK licence without taking a test if you return to live in the UK.

According to the government, if your UK driving licence is lost, stolen or expires, you will not be able to renew it with the UK Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) while you are resident in Germany.

The Brexit mural by Banksy in Dover, UK. Photo: DPA

It is not clear yet what will happen after the transition period. However the UK government issued guidance this week saying Brits should change their licence before the end of the transition period (currently December 31st, 2020).

What you can do

You can apply to swap your British driving licence for your German one. There are other reasons for doing this besides Brexit. If you're planning to stay in Germany long-term it might be a good idea to have a Germany-issued licence (Führerschein). 

READ ALSO: Brexit: What do Brits in Germany need to think about before January 31st?

The good news is that it's not a difficult task. Kathleen Parker, of consultancy service Red Tape Translation, told The Local: “It’s quite a straightforward process.”

Start by looking up the information on what documents you need on the local government website of the city you live in. In Berlin you need to book an appointment online at your Bürgeramt and attend a meeting.

According to the official government website, if your foreign driving licence is “about to expire or is no longer valid, you will receive a German licence of the same category upon request”.

A typical requirement is that you have to be a resident in the city where you’re applying.

The documents needed to exchange your licence include:

  • your passport/ID

  • a certificate of registration of residency (Anmeldung) 

  • a current photo that must fit the size and style required

  • your UK driving licence 

If your driving licence is in English it will not need to be translated. After you’ve paid, you’ll receive a Quittung (receipt). Parker recommends storing that document in a safe place.

“Hold onto the receipt when you make the payment, in case you have to follow up the query,” she told The Local.

On your local government website you should also find information on what to do if you’ve lost your UK driving licence or if it has been stolen and you want a German one. In this case, local government officials will want as much information as possible about the British licence (categories of licence, place of issue, date of issue, etc).

Photo: DPA

If you have a copy of the licence or a confirmation of receiving it, you can submit that in your application too.

When transferring truck or bus driving licences (C and D categories on the licence) the process is not as simple.

The kind of documents you need to provide in this case include certificates of physical and mental fitness, as well as medical examinations of vision.

When the German driving licence is issued, the foreign driving licence will be retained and sent back to the authority that issued it.

Possible long waiting times

Authorities warn that the process can take several weeks so if it’s something you’re thinking of doing, it’s best to apply sooner rather than later.

Parker said she had noticed that, in Berlin, there were currently longer waiting times.

“I’ve been hearing a lot from clients lately that it is taking a long time to get a response,” she said. “Some people have been contacting me after a couple of months and saying: 'I applied for my licence to be swapped over and I still haven’t heard anything.'”

Parker said she had received several inquiries from British people preparing for Brexit, many of them looking to apply for dual citizenship. She has also noticed an increase in Brits looking for information on swapping their driving licences for German ones.

“That’s a bit of a theme at the moment,” she said.

However, a spokesman from the Berlin local government told The Local there are currently no waiting lists. He said a total of 453 people with British driving licences had applied to change their licence into a German one in the last 12 months.

For more information check out this European Union website. Another handy resource is this government fact sheet.

This article was first published in February 2019 and updated in January 2020.

Member comments

  1. My brother swapped his UK licence for a German one. Took about 2 weeks. They told him the UK driving licence is a Valid European Card and will be treated as such even after Brexit. Here in France i may have to wait a year to get my licence changed and or retake my licence. Go figure.

  2. For anyone that has had corrective laser eye surgery, go get an opticians report and take it with you when you apply for your German licence. Of course I forgot that it was on my British licence and was never updated. The official also told me that it had not been indicated to them that British licenses would become invalid after brexit. Best to get it done as a precaution.

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EUROPEAN UNION

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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