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DRIVING

How do I convert my foreign driver’s licence into a German one?

Getting your German driver’s licence depends largely on where your current foreign one is from.

How do I convert my foreign driver’s licence into a German one?
Photo: DPA/Ole Spata

Even driving on a fast stretch of the German Autobahn can seem far less intimidating than waiting for your number at the Bürgeramt—hoping you haven’t forgotten any of the important documents for getting your German driver’s licence.

The question of whether or not you can convert your foreign licence – and what documents you need to do so – depends on what federal state you’re in and where your original licence came from, if you have one. Even by German bureaucratic standards, it can be a recipe for confusion.

So what steps can you take to try and make the process even a little simpler? Costs and requirements can vary between federal states. Overall though, there’s three main scenarios for trading your old card in and getting into the driver’s seat:

  1. You have a driver’s licence from another European Union or European Economic Area state.
  2. You have a driver’s licence from a non-EU state that Germany considers to have an equivalent level of qualification.
  3. You don’t have a driver’s licence, or you have a non-EU licence Germany doesn’t recognize as being equivalent in qualification to a German licence

You have a driver’s licence from another European Union or European Economic Area state

This is probably the easiest scenario. If you have a licence from another Member State of the European Union, like Ireland or France – or a European Economic Area country like Norway – you can book an appointment with your Bürgeramt to convert your licence from that of an EU state.

In Berlin, for example, this appointment appears on the online booking menu as “Fahrerlaubnis – Umschreibung einer ausländischen Fahrerlaubnis aus einem EU/EWR-Staat.” It’s important to check with your federal state’s Bürgeramt to see what unique requirements they might have, but in most cases, it should be relatively straightforward.

In Berlin, you need to show up at an in-person appointment with:

  • a passport or identity card
  • a biometric passport photo
  • your current licence along with a copy of that licence
  • the fee. In Berlin, this is approximately €36. It may vary according to your federal state.

For most regular licence holders, this is all they will need. But someone looking to convert a licence to drive large trucks may need an eye test and a certificate of mental and physical fitness from their doctor. Bus drivers may need to bring the results of a further road test from an accredited driving school.

Your Bürgeramt will then tell you when you might be able to expect a letter in your mailbox telling you your licence is ready and where you can pick it up. Several weeks, or even months, may pass until you receive this letter. When you finally get to pick up your licence, you will have to surrender your current licence in exchange for your new German one.

You have a driver’s licence from a non-EU state that Germany considers to have an equivalent level of qualification

If you fall under this category – as I did – converting your existing licence to a German one is almost as straightforward as changing a licence that’s from another EU country. The complicated part is figuring out whether your non-EU licence is, in fact, from a jurisdiction Germany considers to be equivalent.

Depending on the federal state where you live, your Bürgeramt may have a different option in its online booking system. In Berlin, for example, you book this appointment through a “Fahrerlaubnis – Umschreibung einer ausländischen Fahrerlaubnis aus einem nicht-EU/EWR-Land (Drittstaat/Anlage 11).”

Your next step is to determine whether Germany has the place where you got your current licence on its “Anlage 11” list. This is the list of non-EU jurisdictions Germany recognizes as issuing licences that are equivalent in qualification to a German one.

Click on the link and see if your jurisdiction is on the list. Germany considers all licences issued in some countries, such as Japan and South Africa, as being equivalent. Other cases are more complicated.

For example, full licences from almost all Canadian provinces and territories are considered equivalent – but learner licences cannot be converted.

In addition, while most US states are considered equivalent, not all are. Finally, no one holding a licence from a jurisdiction on the list will have to do another road test. Some however, such as those with licences from Minnesota, Connecticut, or a handful of other US states, will have to pass a theoretical test.

If the jurisdiction where you got your current licence is on the “Anlage 11” list, you can book your appointment with the Bürgeramt and bring:

  • your passport or identity card
  • a biometric passport photo
  • your current valid licence. You must have obtained it before registering in Germany or during a stay abroad of at least six months
  • you may be asked to bring your registration certificate (Anmeldung) proving your German address
  • a certified translation of your licence if that licence is not in either German or English
  • the fee. In Berlin, this is approximately €36—or €43 for those who need to pass a theoretical test to convert their licence. The fee may vary according to your federal state.

An international driver’s licence won’t be accepted. Drivers wishing to convert a licence to operate trucks or buses will also need to submit practical, medical, and eyesight tests. Drivers looking to convert standard licences don’t have to submit these.

Once again, your Bürgeramt will then let you know you when to expect a letter in your mailbox telling you your licence is ready and where you can pick it up. You will have to surrender your current licence in exchange for your new German one.

The United Kingdom – a special case

Brexit made things more complicated for people holding a UK driver’s licence. The Germany Transport Ministry says that it is in the process of setting up mutual recognition with the UK, a move that would put it into the list of country’s that meet EU standards.

Until that happens it is possible to make an appointment and exchange your British licence for a German one without having to take any tests.

You should note though that since the end of June 2021 it has been illegal to use your British licence on German roads if you have been here for longer than six months.

SEE ALSO: Can I drive in Germany with my UK licence?

You don’t have a driver’s licence, or you have a non-EU licence Germany doesn’t recognize as being equivalent in qualification to a German one

If the place where you got your current non-EU licence is from a jurisdiction that’s not on the “Anlage 11” list, you have to follow the rules for a “Drittstaat” or “third state.” Again, depending on your federal state, your Bürgeramt may have a different option in its online booking system. In Berlin, you also book this appointment through a “Fahrerlaubnis – Umschreibung einer ausländischen Fahrerlaubnis aus einem nicht-EU/EWR-Land (Drittstaat/Anlage 11).”

Important to know if you have a licence from a country whose standards Germany doesn’t recognise: you have to pass both practical and theory tests before applying for your German licence!

The good news is that you don’t need to go through a set amount of lessons as you would if you had no licence. You take the tests when you think you are ready.

In Berlin, licence holders from a “Drittstaat” jurisdiction need to bring:

  • your passport or identity card
  • a biometric passport photo
  • your current valid licence. You must have obtained it before registering in Germany or during a stay abroad of at least six months
  • you may be asked to bring your registration certificate (Anmeldung) proving your German address
  • a certified translation of your licence if that licence is not in either German or English
  • the fee. In Berlin, this is approximately €36—or €43 for those who need to pass a theoretical test to convert their licence. The fee may vary according to your federal state.
  • Proof of having completed training in first aid
  • Proof of having passed a road test from an accredited German driving school
  • Motorcyclists will have to provide the results of an eye test

An international driver’s licence won’t be accepted. Drivers wishing to convert a licence to operate trucks or buses may also need to submit practical, medical, and eyesight tests. Once you receive a letter telling you that your licence is ready to pick up, you’ll have to surrender your current licence to pick up your new German one.

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DRIVING

How much does it cost to get a driving licence in Germany?

When it comes to getting behind the wheel, Germany has a reputation for being outrageously expensive. Here's a breakdown of the costs you can expect to get hold of a driver's licence in the Bundesrepublik.

How much does it cost to get a driving licence in Germany?

We’ve heard it said that when young Germans want to learn to drive, they usually book a flight to New Zealand first. Apparently, the cost of a round-trip to one of the furthest corners of the earth and a course of lessons down under still ends up being pretty much on-par with what they might pay for lessons at home – and they get the added bonus of an exotic trip. 

Now, while we can’t currently verify how many people are heading to Auckland to get behind the wheel, we can tot up some of the costs of getting a driving licence here in the Bundesrepublik.

Obviously, if you’re simply exchanging a licence from another country for a German one or renewing an old one, the costs will be minimal. But learning to drive from scratch and taking both a theory and practical test can add up pretty quickly.

Here’s a rough overview of the costs you’ll need to budget for when getting your first driving licence in Germany. Bear in mind that there are a lot of variables here though, depending on your natural skill as a driver, the size of city you live in and the federal state. 

What type of licence do I need?

There are a huge range of possible driving licences to apply for in Germany, ranging from a scooter to an HGV and everything in between. The vast majority of people will want to apply for a Class B licence, however, as this entitles them to drive an ordinary car. 

The cost of getting a Class B licence

  • Basic tuition fee

This fee generally covers both admin costs and theory lessons. According to financescout24, the average basic fee in Germany is €200

  • Mandatory ‘special trips’

Before you take your test, you’ll need to rack up at least twelve driving hours of so-called ‘special trips’ designed to help you develop all the required skills you’ll need as a driver. These include five hours ‘over land’, which basically means trips through various rural areas, four hours on the motorway and three hours of nighttime driving. 

Special trips tend to cost a little more than ordinary lessons, so you’ll need to budget around €45-60 for each of these, depending on where you live. 

  • Ordinary driving lessons

Of course, learning to drive is about more than just a few trips on the motorway or driving in the dark. You’ll also need to learn everyday driving skills and practice these with a qualified instructor. Unlike in other countries, like the UK, in Germany, you are not allowed to practice with an experienced driver and therefore have to pay an instructor every time you want to drive before you get your licence.

How many lessons you need will of course depend on how quickly you pick up the skills needed. According to Verkehrswacht e.V., an association of driving instructors, people tend to need a minimum of 30 hours of general lessons split into fifteen two-hour lessons.

(Confusingly, a driving ‘hour’ is only 45 minutes, so this would equate to 15 lessons lasting 1.5 hours each.) 

The prices for these ordinary lessons once again vary greatly from state to state and in the major cities, but expect to budget anywhere from €20-€45 per 45-minute session. 

  • Practice materials 

To help you pass your theory test, you’ll need access to learning materials such as apps, books and online practice tests. Handelsblatt estimates that these will set you back between €60 and €80

  • Theory and practice exams 

According to a recent study by price comparison site Compare the Market, Germany is one of the most expensive places in the world to take your driving tests, coming sixth in a survey of 25 different countries around the world. (New Zealand is #21 – just sayin’.) 

For the German theory test, you can expect to pay €22.49 and for the actual driving test, you’ll have to shell out €116.93. That brings the total for both tests to around €140. 

  • Eye tests

For obvious reasons, German law specifies that applicants for most types of driving licence need to get their vision checked by a professional. Luckily, this is one of the more reasonable outlays when learning to drive: the price for this kind of eye test is currently set at a rather random €6.43 and you can find the test at any optician’s. 

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

  • First-aid course 

Another mandatory part of getting a driving licence in Germany is taking a specific type of first-aid course. This course is called “life-saving measures at the scene of an accident” and can be booked as a package alongside the eye test.

Since these courses are generally offered privately, the prices do vary, but you should budget anywhere from €14.50 to €50 for this. 

  • Getting the licence

Once you’ve passed your tests and ticked all the other boxes, the only thing left is to get your licence. First, you’ll need a passport photo, which will cost around €5 from an official photo booth, and then you’ll need to apply for the licence at your local Road Traffic Authority, which can cost anywhere between €40 and €70

READ ALSO: Starting (nearly) from scratch: learning how to drive stick shift in Germany

So, how much should I budget overall?

According to business daily Handelsblatt, most people learning to drive in 2022 should budget anywhere between €1,500 and €2,400 for a Class B licence. But there is some disagreement on this. 

Rainer Zeltwanger, chairman of the Driving School Association, says the costs could be even higher due to the additional hygiene measures necessitated by Covid-19. 

“We advise our customers to reckon with €2800 and €3500 for Class B – including external costs,” he told Handelsblatt. Another reason for this is that driving schools have been hiking their costs in recent years. 

What are the cheapest and most expensive places to learn to drive?  

According to insurance company ERGO, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg are the most expensive states to get a driving licence, while Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt are the cheapest. You can expect to budget about €700 extra to learn to drive in a pricier state than you would in the cheaper regions.

The Moving International Road Safety Association conducted a survey of the prices of various different driving schools back in 2020 and concluded that the average cost of obtaining a licence was €2,182. 

Woman learning to drive

A driving instructor tutors a student in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

However, they found distinct differences between medium-sized cities and major metropoles. In a medium-sized town or city, learner drivers could expect to pay an average of €2,237 for their licence, while in bigger cities the average was €2,121. This is undoubtedly due to the increased competition in bigger urban areas.

Combining these factors, a place like Berlin that is both a large city and a cheap state would probably be one of the cheaper places to learn to drive. 

READ ALSO: ‘A year-long ordeal’: What I learned from getting my driving licence in Berlin

What happens if I fail my test? 

If you fail either test, you can easily retake it – but you’ll have to pay another €22.49 for each additional theory test or €116.93 for each additional practical test. You’ll probably also want to refresh one or two skills with a driving instructor, so you should also budget some money for additional lessons.

Until 2008, people who failed their test three times were subject to a three-month ban on retakes, after which they had three additional chances to take the test. People who failed the three tests a second time were forced to take a medical and psychological check-up to see whether they were fit to drive.

This legislation has now been scrapped, meaning you can retake as many times as you need to. However, if your driving instructor thinks there may be physical or psychological issues that make you unfit to drive, you may still have to take the medical and psychological check-up. This could set you back anywhere between €350 and €750. 

Can I do my driving test in English? 

Your theory test can be taken in English, but your actual driving lesson can’t – and it also isn’t possible to hire an interpreter as they may offer you assistance without the driving instructor knowing. 

Is it actually cheaper to go to New Zealand? 

According to Jetcost.de, the cheapest return flights available from Frankfurt to Auckland are currently around €1,200. Apparently, getting a driving licence there could cost anywhere between €1,400 and €2,600.

So, at the cheaper end, flights and a driver’s licence in New Zealand could set you back about the same as lessons and a licence in Germany – especially if you live in one of the more expensive states. 

A word to the wise, however: if you do take the ‘down under’ route, you will need to exchange the licence when you get back, so be sure to budget around €35 to €42,60 for that! 

READ ALSO: How do I convert my foreign driver’s licence into a German one?

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