What do I need to know?
Having a driving licence can be very useful. For those who live in a village or a small remote city without proper access to public transport, in particular, obtaining a driving licence and often purchasing a car is necessary. In this chapter, you can learn how to get a German driving licence or transfer (“Umschreiben”) the driving licence you have obtained from your home country. There will also be some tips on how to avoid losing your driving licence.
What do I need to know?
To drive in Germany, in principle, you need a driving licence issued in Germany or another EU country. Driving licences from non-EU countries are only valid for six months in Germany. This means that you are only allowed to drive in Germany with a driving licence from your home country for the first six months. The period begins with your first police registration ("polizeilichen Anmeldung") in Germany. You must always carry your driving licence with you when driving.
You must also have a translation of your driving licence into German with you. The translation must have been done by a German or internationally recognized automobile club or an authority in your home country or by a sworn translator. You can find sworn translators at bdue.de. No translation is required for driving licences issued from the following countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Andorra, Hong Kong, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, Switzerland and Senegal. You don't need a translation for international driving licences either.
At the end of these six months, you need to transfer your driving licence ("Umschreibung") if you wish to continue driving. You can read more about the transfer process in the section "Where and how can I have my driving licence transferred?"
If you are only visiting Germany, you are allowed to drive with the driving licence you have obtained in your home country or an international driving licence. Keep in mind that you must always have your driving licence with you when driving. You can read more (in English and German) on the website of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI).
Please note: During your asylum procedure, BAMF keeps all your documents and often returns them only at the end of the procedure. You are not allowed to drive as long as your driving licence is held by the BAMF.
If your driving licence is not issued in Germany or another EU country, you must have it transferred ("Umschreibung") at the latest six months after your first police registration in Germany.
In order to start the transfer process, you need to apply to the local Driving Licence Office (“Fahrerlaubnisbehörde” or “Führerscheinstelle”). Depending on where you live and the number of applicants, it may take a while before they process your application. Start the transfer process before your initial six months are over to make sure you do not lose time. You can find a Driving Licence Office by using the search engine www.meldebox.de. You have to go personally to a Driving Licence Office and submit various documents. Read the section "Which documents do I need for the transfer?" to find out about the required documents.
The Driving Licence Office then decides whether your driving licence can be transferred without a test, or you first have to take part in the theory and practical exams. Their decision depends on the country from which your driving licence has been issued. You can find a list of national driving licences, which are transferred without further tests, on www.gesetze-im-internet.de. If your driving licence has been issued in a country named in this list, in principle, you can have your driving licence transferred without a test. Otherwise, you often have to pass a test.
Before the exam, it makes sense to visit a driving school. Germany has numerous traffic rules and street signs. But unlike the first-timers, if you already have a driving licence issued abroad, you do not need driving lessons.
The following documents have to be submitted along with your transfer application:
- ID or passport
- Registration certificate (“polizeiliche Anmeldung)”)
- Biometric passport photo
- Your eye test results (“Sehtest”) issued by an optician or ophthalmologist
- Confirmation of participation in a first aid course. You can find a first aid course nearby, for instance, on ASB or Johannitern.
- Original driving licence issued in your country of origin (handing in an international licence is not adequate). In principle, the driving licence must be translated into German by a sworn translator.
- A statement that confirms the driving licence issued in your homeland is still valid.
Sometimes the driving licence authorities ask applicants for a certificate of good conduct (“polizeiliches Führungszeugnis”) as well. You can receive such a document from your local administration authorities or apply for it online at www.fuehrungszeugnis.bund.de.
Please note: If you are applying for driving licence classes other than A (motorcycles and alike) and B (Cars), you need to present some additional documents. You can learn more in this regard on the website of BMVI.
If you want to apply for a driving licence for the first time, this is what you have to do:
- Register at a driving school (“Fahrschule”). In big cities, you can find instructors who speak other languages, including Arabic or Persian/Dari.
- Take part in a first aid course (“Erste Hilfe”)
- Have your eyes checked by an optician or ophthalmologist (“Sehtest”)
- Take a biometric passport photo
If you want to apply for a licence in the categories C (lorries) or D (Buses), you need to present some additional documents. On the website of BMVI, you can find a summary of all available driving licence categories.
Please note: As someone with a “Duldung” or Temporary Stay Permit (“Aufenthaltsgestattung”), you can also apply for and obtain a driving licence.
The driving licence can cost over €1000 if you add up all the costs. The price depends on the number of driving lessons you have to take. The costs of theory lessons and the driving lessons comprise the most significant slice of the sum. Whether you have to take theory lessons depends on various things. Some driving lessons are mandatory for beginners (e.g. highway, night or overland trips).
It will be up to your instructor to decide how many lessons you need. You can’t register for the driving test until your instructor is convinced that you can drive safely. Each driving school has different prices for driving lessons. Compared to the cost of driving lessons, the fees for the actual theory and driving tests are not significant. As an example, you can see the prices of obtaining a driving exam in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg on www.tuev-sued.de.
Please note: If you are unemployed and think you can increase your chances in the job market by obtaining a driving licence, ask the Jobcentre to take over the occurring costs. Talk to the staff member responsible for you and explain your plans.
To obtain a German driving licence, you need to pass both your theory and your practical driving tests. In fact, you must pass the theory test before you can go through a driving test.
You can take the theory test in 12 different languages: German, English, French, Greek, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Croatian, Spanish, Turkish and Arabic (Standard Arabic).
The theory test includes 30 multiple-choice questions. There may be several correct answers to one question. If you receive more than ten minus points, you will fail the test.
Your driving school will register you for the theory test. You will need to present the following documents to be allowed to take the theory test:
- ID or passport
- An appointment letter
- Training certificate issued by your driving school (if you never had a driving licence before)
The results of the theory test are valid for one year. If you fail the driving test and want to try again after 12 months, you have to go through the theory test once more.
There are various websites, In order to prepare for the theory test, you can use websites like www.lehrboegen.de or www.fuehrerschein-bestehen.de which offer exercises in various languages. In addition, you can use apps and other online tools. Few of these apps come for free, so it is best to ask your driving instructor for learning materials.
If you have passed the theory exam, you can take the driving test. It often takes between 30 and 45 minutes, during which you have to demonstrate your ability to drive. The examiner usually sits in the back seat. They will assess your driving for safety, competence and calmness. Your instructor will sit next to you, so they take control in case of an emergency.
If you don’t pass the exam on the first go, you can repeat it three times after two-week intervals. There is no limit to the number of times you can repeat the exam, but the intervals will become longer after your third unsuccessful attempt.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous. Even when you drink a small amount and still feel sober, the risk of causing an accident increases massively with alcohol. That is why there are rules about how much alcohol drivers can have in their system when in cars, or on scooters and motorbikes. The police can measure how much alcohol someone has drunk with the help of a small measuring device that the driver has to blow on. The device shows the driver's blood-alcohol level per mille.
Drivers who have had their driving licence for less than two years (probationary period) and drivers who are under the age of 21 are not allowed to drink alcohol at all when behind the wheel. If they drive under the influence of alcohol, their probationary period will be extended. You also have to pay a fine of at least €250, get a penalty point and have to attend follow-up training.
Drivers who are older than 21 and have passed their probationary period may continue to drive with a little alcohol in their system. However, if their alcohol level is 0.5 per mille or higher, they must not drive. If you get caught, you have to pay a fine of up to €1,500. If you have a high blood alcohol level, your driving licence will also be taken away for a certain period of time. In case you cause an accident while intoxicated or behave dangerously (e.g. by not staying on your side of the road), you can be fined or even imprisoned for as little as 0.3 per mille of alcohol. In addition, your driving licence will be taken away from you, and you will receive several penalty points.
Please note: If you ride a bike while under the influence of alcohol and cause an accident or behave in a dangerous manner, you can be fined and may also lose your car, motorcycle or scooter licence (if you have one).
If you ignore vital traffic rules, you may lose your driving licence. Keep in mind that a driving ban ("Fahrverbot") is not the same as a withdrawal of a driving licence ("Entzug des Führerscheins"). In the event of a driving ban, you must hand in your driving licence to the Traffic Violations Office ("Bußgeldstelle") for a specified period (usually a few months). You cannot drive during this time; but after the deadline, you can pick up your driving licence again. In case of a withdrawal of a driving licence, your driving licence loses its validity. That means you are no longer allowed to drive, and you are not permitted to apply for a new driving licence for a specified period ("Sperrfrist" or lock-up period). If you endanger traffic, drive while drunk or collected eight penalty points, you may lose your driving licence. You may get penalty points for various traffic law violations, e.g. driving too fast. The penalty points are colloquially called "Punkte in Flensburg". Officially, the system which records the penalty points is called Fahreignungsregister – FAER.
You can find a list of traffic fines on the “Bußgeldkatalog – BkatV”, but the wording of the catalogue is quite challenging to comprehend. Find an extract of the most common violations and fines on www.bussgeld-info.de.
If you have lost your driving licence due to driving under the influence of alcohol, drug or medications, you have to do a medical and psychological examination (“Medizinisch-Psychologische Untersuchung” or “MPU”) which is colloquially known as “Idiotentest” or idiot’s test. Read more about the MPU on the website of TÜV Süd or Dekra.
Please note: When you obtain a driving licence for the first time, as a beginner, you are going to be on a probationary period ("Probezeit ") for two years. If you are caught for a traffic violation during your probationary period, you have to attend an advanced training course and perhaps go through psychological counselling. In addition, your probationary period will be extended for two more years. If you do not participate in the advanced training course and the counselling session, your driving licence will be seized. Passing a red light, driving with the lights off during the night and drink-driving are some examples of traffic violations. Parking in a No-Parking zone is not considered a traffic violation. If you park in the wrong place, you only have to pay a fine.
If you receive benefits from the Jobcentre, the Jobcentre steadily inquires about your assets when you apply for the continuation of your benefits. Cars are a type of asset. If your vehicle is worth less than €7,500, however, there is no problem. But if it costs more, the Jobcentre may require you to sell it and live off the proceeds before you can receive benefits.
Please note: If you absolutely need a car to find or keep a job, the Jobcentre can help you buy a car by providing you with a loan. Talk to the staff member responsible for you at the Jobcentre.
You can lose the driving licence you have obtained if you endanger traffic while on a bike -e.g. due to drunk biking. Read more in our chapter "Cycling".