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DRIVING

Reader question: Do I need to swap my UK licence for a German one?

Now the Brexit transition period is over, many Brits in Germany are wondering if they can still use their UK licence or if they should change it - and what other rules apply. Here's the latest on the situation.

Reader question: Do I need to swap my UK licence for a German one?
A German driving licence and car key. Photo: DPA

Reader question: I live in Germany but I still have my UK driving licence. Do I have to change it if I’m going to drive in Germany. If so, do I need to take a new test?

What’s the latest?

To the relief of many Brits, Germany recently confirmed that it will enter into a reciprocal agreement to allow UK driving-licence holders to swap their licence for a German one – without taking a new test.

While it may sound obvious, since the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st 2020, UK licences have no been longer treated as EU licences, which means they’re only valid for driving in the EU for a limited period of time.

In the past, drivers were entitled to use their UK licence in their EU country of residence until it expired, but now Brits will have a maximum of six months to swap their licence after taking up residence in Germany. 

There had been fears that Brits would be asked to redo their practical or theory test in Germany in order to get their hands on a new German licence. Thanks to a forthcoming agreement between the UK and Germany, however, the process should be much simpler than that. 

The pending deal with Germany is one of several reciprocal agreements on driving licences that have been signed between the UK and EU nations in recent weeks – although some nations, such as France, have run into teething problems when ratifying them. 

Though things appear to be running more smoothly in Germany, many Brits remain confused about the new rules, and in particular how long they are allowed to use their existing licence before exchanging it.

READ ALSO: End of the Brexit transition period: What do Brits in Germany need to do now?

So, what exactly are the post-Brexit rules for Brits who want to drive in Germany, and how long do they have to get a German licence?

How long is a UK licence valid in Germany?

Brits who live in Germany – or those who spend more than 185 days of the year here – can use their UK licence for up to six months.

How you define this ‘six months’, however, has been a consistent cause of confusion, since it’s unclear whether the clock starts at the start-date of residency, or at the end-date of the transition period (when UK licences ceased to count as EU licences).

According to the Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), it’s best to contact your local licensing authority if you’re unclear about which one of these applies to you.

“Under driver licensing law, a person is deemed to have taken up residence in Germany if they live here for at least 185 days a year,” the BMVI website explains. “The question as to when this period commences in any given case, especially in the case of Brexit, should be settled with the local driver licensing authority.”

According to the UK Government’s Living in Germany advice, those who haven’t swapped their licence before the end of the transition period have until June 30th 2021.

“If you were living in Germany before January 1st 2021, you can use your UK photocard licence to drive in Germany until June 30th 2021, provided that it remains valid in the UK,” the site says.

But unfortunately it appears you won’t be able to swap it if your licence isn’t valid.

“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,” says the UK government.

Citizens’ rights group British in Germany has been recommending that people switch their licence “as soon as possible” to ensure you don’t run into problems later on.

For non-residents, the situation is much simpler: if you’re only staying in Germany for a short period of time, you can continue to use your UK licence as normal.

READ ALSO: Brexit – What changes in Germany from January 2021

How to switch to a German driving licence

To swap your UK licence for a German one, you’ll need to contact your local driver licensing authority (Fahrerlaubnisbehörde) and arrange an appointment for the exchange of a non-EU licence.

Though you won’t have to take another driving test, for some categories of driving licence you may be asked to take a sight test and/or complete a first aid training session.

In most cases, you will also be asked to prove your identity and residence in Germany by bringing along your certificate of registration and some valid ID, in addition to a set of passport photos.

Keep in mind some of the deadlines and advice has now changed but our story on the process of changing your UK driving licence for a German one may be helpful.

Your UK driving licence has to be valid for this process. As we said above, the UK government says it cannot be renewed while you’re resident in Germany. Check with authorities in the UK to see if a solution can be found.

Returning to the UK with a German licence

Giving up your UK licence may seem a little scary, but rest assured, you’ll be able to swap it back if you do decide to return to the UK after living in Germany. 

For holidays and other short visits, you’ll still be able to use your German licence, much like visitors to EU countries from the UK will be entitled to use their UK licence on a short-term basis. 

Meanwhile, if you move to another EU country, you can continue to use your German licence until it expires.

Member comments

  1. To be fair, this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. The fact that your UK driving licence would have to be replaced by a German one has been on The UK’s to do list for UK citizens living in the EU for a long time. I replaced mine in January. The odd thing is that you have to give up your UK licence which they send back to the DVLA.

  2. I agree, this should not come as an unexpected surprise to the British. They may wish to look at the regulations that the UK Govt. puts on the driving licence’s of other foreign nationals who have longer-time residence status within their own country- and many of those have been in pace way before Brexit was even an issue or a fledgling idea in someone’s head.

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DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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