I think most people moving abroad have fantasies of seemless acculturation, speaking solely the national language and hanging out purely with locals. However, it takes about a day to figure out that expat friends are invaluable. While local friends can provide invaluable insider knowledge, they will never quite understand your visa struggles or unquenchable Tex-Mex cravings. Expat friends also have knowledge that a native could not have, like how to convert your USA driver’s license into a German driver’s license.
It was one evening in a Munich beer garden with Hailey and some fellow expats that I learned Americans only have three years from their first day of residence in Germany to convert their USA driver’s license to a German one. On this day, I stood a mere three weeks away from my three-year anniversary as a German resident when I heard this little tidbit and it was time to take action.
I use the word convert for a reason. You do not simply acquire a German driver’s license, rather you must hand over your USA license. Why would you want to do that?
– As an American, you are only allowed to drive in Germany on your American driver’s license for the first six months of your stay. If you only plan to stay a year, you can apply for a six month extension.
– The German Driver’s licence Office (Führerscheinstelle) will keep your American license. However, this will not prevent you from obtaining another while in the States as these offices do not communicate, rather it is just a bit of a pain in the butt. You may drive in the USA as a “visitor” on your German driver’s license, but it’s best to pick up an international driver’s license just in case as I cannot seem to find anything definitive on this matter.
If you have lived in Germany for less than three years, it’s time to start thinking about acquiring a German driver’s license (Fürherschein). First, figure out if your state has full or partial reciprocity (see list). Fortunately, I hold a Texas Driver’s License and was therefore exempt from both practical (driving) and written exams. You must also have held residence for at least 185 days in this state. You must also have been issued the driver’s license before your first day of residence in Germany*.
*This caused problems for me as Texas Driver’s License merely have expiration dates, not dates of issue. Fortunately, I have scans of all my previous licenses, which turned out to be enough for Germany to issue my license. Otherwise, they suggested calling the Texas DPS for an official document stating they issued my first driver’s license.
To avoid feeling that terrible DPS feeling, make an appointment with your local Führerscheinstelle. Simply call 115, the public service number and tell them you’d like to “umschreiben” your American license to a German one.
Next, you will need to gather all of your documents**:
– Residency registration (Meldebestätigung/Aufenhaltsgenehmigung)
– Original foreign driver’s license
– Certified translation of foreign driver’s license – this can be acquired from the ADAC (German version of AAA) for €55 (non-member fee) and takes one week to process.
– Passport photo
– Eye exam** (Sehtest) – this can be done easily at almost any glasses store. I went into Fielmann and asked for a driver’s license exam (be sure to specify). It took about 15 minutes, including waiting time, and cost about €6.
**Depending on your state, other documents may be required, particularly if there is only partial reciprocity. For instance, the eye exam is not required for every state, but for most which is why I included it. Other states may require a first aid course.
For the eye exam, you specify where the gap in the ring occurs. For example, “rechts oben” or “links unten”. (source)
Once all of your documents are successfully submitted, you will receive written confirmation (Exhibit A – Bescheinigung) of your application stating that you submitted the required documents but you are not yet eligible to drive in Germany. Keep this document as you should bring it when you pick up your driver’s license.
Within 2-3 weeks, you should receive your driver’s license fee (Exhibit B – Abgabensbescheid) of €35. This amount should be transfered (Überweisung) to the account info listed at the bottom, including your ticket number (Buchungszeichen BZ). Once this payment is made, you will receive another letter informing you that your license is ready to pick up. Be sure to bring the Bescheinigung and your passport, along with any other marked documents. No appointment is required; simply show up at the listed room during business hours.
For more information, see this PDF from the Chamber of Commerce.
The ADAC office in Karlsruhe is especially convenient as a Burgeramt and Führerscheinstelle are located directly within. I scheduled my application appointment exactly one week after I applied for my translation so that I could pick up the certified translation and go directly to my appointment.
Autobahn here I come! (If only I can master driving a manual transmission now).
Although I loathe any bureaucratic process, converting my Texas licenes to a Germany onen was overall pretty easy (well, easy for me to say being from one of the 28 state with full reciprocity) and cost me in total €96. This is a huge savings in comparison to waiting; if I wanted to get a license after my first three years, it would cost upwards of €1000 due to driving school requirements! This driver’s license lasts a whopping 15 years and for me with at least two more years committed to Germany and an urge to get behind the wheel of a car, this conversion was a no-brainer.