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14 Simple Steps To Get a German Driver’s License

My wife and I moved to Munich over 18 months ago, because I had a great opportunity for an expat work assignment for 2 years. Munich is a lot different from where we moved in many ways, but specifically the public transportation system is probably one of the best in the world. Moving from the US and Minneapolis, you NEED a car to live your life. My original contract had a term of 2 years, but I recently decided to extend for a 3rd year. We really enjoy living in this city. It has not been a problem not having a local drivers license because of the public transportation options and the ease of bicycling everywhere, but my wife and I decided that it would be nice to have one for weekend road trips outside of the city for skiing and hiking in the Alps.

If you move to Germany from another country, your home country/state driver’s license is valid for 6 months, then you need to convert it. Here are the steps that I have taken to get my German license.

Step 1: Determine if you come from a State with reciprocity.

Visit the US Embassy web site to determine if you have a driver’s license with reciprocity. I have a license from Minnesota, which has partial reciprocity. This means I am exempt from the practical test, but I have to take the theoretical test. If you have a license from a State with full reciprocity, you don’t have to take any tests. Lucky you. There are nearly 40 States with either full or partial reciprocity. The others will require full testing. From my understanding, the practical test can take months to prepare for, will require driving lessons and can cost close to 2000€. Sorry.

I’m actually from Canada, which has full reciprocity with Germany, but I haven’t had a Canadian drivers license for 16 years.

Step 2: Gather Your Documentation

  • Very important! A valid driver’s license minimally valid for 2 years with a clear issue date that proves it has been valid for over 2 years. I had to bring both my current license and my “voided” previous license because the issue date on my current license was less than 2 years before the time I moved to Munich. The registration office spent 10 minutes discussing whether this was good enough – in the end it was. If you don’t have a clear issue date that was longer than 2 years prior to moving to Munich, you may need to request some sort of proof from your issuing authority.
  • Passport picture. In Munich, every U-Bahn and S-Bahn station has a photo booth. (6€)
  • German translation of your driver’s licence. I used  lingoking which is an online translation service. It took about 7 days total for the translation and to receive the certified version via mail (45€). Super convenient, but not super fast. Friends went to an ADAC office and had it done on the spot.
  • First-aid-course. I spent a beautiful Saturday afternoon learning first aid. To be honest, it was a very good course and I think it has a lot of value, but it takes time and costs money. In Munich, there is no registration, you just show up at the scheduled time and register on the spot (40€).
  • Eye-test. You need a certified eye test. You can get this at the first aid course or go to an optometrist in your neighbourhood – that’s what I did (6€).
  • Find and register with a driving school. This is required for all testing. I have to take a theory test, so I needed this registration (200€). Driving schools (Fahrschule) are everywhere, so I recommend picking one closest to you. A certified school registration document is needed for government registration.

Document Collection

Step 3: Register with the German government.

Make sure you have all the certified documents from above. In Munich, there are 2 approaches to registering. This should actually be Step 0. Click here to register online for the appointment. When I registered, the next appointment available was 6 weeks away.

Don’t fret if your appointment is a long way out. You can also expedite the registration by going in person, early in the morning. I arrived 1 hour before (7:30am) the office opened and was the 20th person in line. By the time the doors opened there was at least 100 people behind me. This is a large government office, with services other than drivers license registration. When the doors opened, there was a dash and I moved quickly to the 3rd floor, Section F, where you could get an on the spot appointment. The doors opened at 8:30am, I was 5th or 6th in line and got an appointment at 10:30am. I ended up getting in by 11am. [Note. the office in Munich is planning to move in either Aug2018 or Sept2018, so the above details will be inaccurate after they move. I don’t know what floor they will be on and I don’t know if they will use a lettering system to designate areas.]

The person giving appointments didn’t speak English, which was only a small struggle. The person who I registered with spoke very good English and was very easy to work with. On top of the above documentation, you also need to bring the following:

  • Passport or National ID
  • Verification of your German residency registration. In my case, this is my local registration stamp in my passport.
  • 45€ registration fee. You can use cash or bank card in an automated payment machine.
  • (optional) 20€ for expedited registration. This takes a registration process from 4-6 weeks down to 3-5 days.

Timing

  • 1 – 2 weeks to gather all my documentation and take the first aid class.
  • 1 day to register on the spot or possibly up to 6 weeks with an online registration.
  • 1-2 weeks for current drivers license validation. They will collect your current license at the registration appointment and have a local expert validate it’s authenticity. I was told that my license will not be returned, but I have friends from Minnesota who did receive their’s back. [June 26, 2018. I’ve only been waiting 1 week so far. It’s possible I will also get mine back.]
  • 5 days to 6 weeks for registration, depending on whether you pay to expedite it.

This gets you registered officially. If you are lucky enough to not need testing, this is the end for you and when your registration in completed, you will receive your license.

Testing

Like I said earlier, because I moved from Minnesota, I am required to take the theoretical test. Use the link at the start to determine what is required for your origin license.

The theory test can seem intimidating, but don’t let it scare you. The test consists of 30 questions, from a possible list of 1077. Each question is worth between 2 and 5 points. You can’t get more than 10 points wrong and you can’t get two 5 point questions wrong. That sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? First, you can take the test in English, so that’s a huge help. Second, there are lots of study aids. I bought access to an online test service. I did this before registering with a school, because I wanted to get a head start on studying. If you do the same, make sure it’s certified and uses the exact same questions that the testing authority uses.

In 2 weeks, at about 2 to 3 hours per day, I was able to get through all 1077 questions at least once. Without studying anything, I got about 70% of them correct. So think about that. Suddenly studying 1077 questions became studying around 300 questions. Many of the questions I got right were from experience and common sense. The studying software also builds practice tests for you to take, that both try to simulate a real test and simulate a test with the questions that you struggle the most with. Within 3 weeks I was passing the simulation tests, so this is not insurmountable.

[As of June 26, 2018] I have not taken the test yet, as you can’t register for the test until you are registered with the government. I am still waiting for my registration to process. I emailed my school yesterday and was told the next available date for me to take the test is July 23rd. Assuming my registration completes within the next 2 weeks (thank you expedited processing), I think best case scenario is that my first test attempt will be in August. I will update this post about the next set of timing.

There are lots of pieces of information on the web. This post is intended to consolidate, simplify and and inform on my experience.

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