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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How to Exchange Your License for a German Driver's License

Although all cities/states are different, here are the steps I took to get my foreign driver's license exchanged for a German driver's license:
  1. Contact the local Führerscheinstelle by phone or email, and ask what documents are needed to exchange your driver's license
  2. Collect the required documents, which usually include:
    • Foreign driver's license
    • Passport/Visa
    • Biometric Photo
    • Translation of Foreign Driver's License (40€ at ADAC)
  3. Bring documents to the local Führerscheinstelle and pay the fee (35€)
  4. Pick up your German driver's license a couple weeks later
How to Get a German Driver's License

Getting my German driver's license had been on my to-do list since the German boyfriend tried (unsuccessfully) to teach me to drive stick shift over a year ago. Since foreigners in Germany are only allowed to drive with their foreign driver's license for their first 6 months in the country, I have not been allowed to drive in Germany since December 2013. Luckily, residents of some countries (U.S. included) have up to three years to trade in their foreign license for a German one.

**The rules are different for each state of the U.S. Check the U.S. Embassy website to see if your state has a reciprocal agreement with Germany**

Before getting started, I read blog posts by both Sarah Stäbler and Alex Butts about their experience with exchanging their American driver's licenses. Unfortunately, all I learned from those posts is that everyone's experiences is different. Like many bureaucratic process in Germany, each city/state has different requirements, so I knew I had to start off my contacting my local driver's license office... ugh.

Luckily, I found the email address for my local Führerscheinstelle online, so instead of wasting my time at the German equivalent of the DMV, I send them an email.
Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

ich bin eine Amerikanerin und wohne in Lüneburg. Ich habe einen Führerschein
aus dem Bundesstaat Illinois und ich möchte diesen in einen deutschen
Führerschein umschreiben. Welche Dokumente brauche ich dafür und wie
verläuft der Prozess?

Herzliche Grüße,
Courtney Martin
The next day, I received a reply:
Guten Morgen Frau Martin, 
bitte kommen Sie mit folgenden Unterlagen zu denÖffnungszeiten in die Führerscheinstelle:
- Personalausweis oder Pass mit Meldebescheinigung- Führerschein aus  Illinois- biometrisches Passbild- 35 €
Bei Ihrer persönlichen Vorsprache kann dann der weitere Ablauf besprochen werden. 
A few days later, I went to the Führerscheinstelle, and only had to wait about 5 minutes to meet with the woman responsible for all residents with last names beginning with L-Q.  She made copies of my American passport, German visa, and American driver's license. I also gave her a biometic picture and 35 €. She then said that she would send the request my German driver's license, and I all I had left to do was get my American driver's license translated. This is done at the ADAC (like the German equivalent of AAA) and costs 40 € for non-members.

It is important to also note that I went to the Führerscheinstelle all by myself. Generally, I believe in always bringing a German with for any bureaucratic processes (civil servants don't really like wasting their time with people that speak baby German). So, I was incredibly proud that the trip ended up being so successful!

A few days later, I dropped off my American license at the ADAC, paying 40€ for the translation. I had to wait one week for the translation to be finished, and during this time, I got a call from the Führerscheinstelle to tell me that my German license was ready to be picked up! So, once my translation was ready, I went back to the ADAC, picked up the documents, went back to the Führerscheinstelle, and I got my German license that very day!

My German driver's license

Note that you do have to trade in your foreign license for the German license when you do it this way. However, you can return to the Führerscheinstelle at any time to trade in your German license for your foreign license at any time (and vice versa) for free. So, for example, I can go back to get my American license before flying to the U.S. in September.

Overall, the process is pretty simple and much more inexpensive than doing German driving school (that process costs around 2,000€). So, if your home country's driver's license is recognized by Germany, get to the Führerscheinstelle before your three years are up!


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience! I'm definitely planning on doing this in August when I'm back in Berlin.

  2. You're welcome. I was totally shocked by how smoothly the process went (visa stuff is always way more difficult).

  3. American FaultierJuly 15, 2015 at 12:55 AM

    I'm jealous. I had to take the godawful theory test. Thankfully it was available in English.

  4. Hahah, that sucks! Although, it does makes sense. I don't drive in Germany yet (because I don't know how to drive stick), but if I did, I am sure I would come across some signs I don't understand. Also, rechts vor links still confuses me...

  5. American FaultierJuly 15, 2015 at 9:56 AM

    I don't drive either for the same reason, but I ride my bike a lot, so I think I've gotten a hang of the right of way stuff.

  6. Mandi | No Apathy AllowedJuly 16, 2015 at 12:14 PM

    I wrote a post on the same topic a couple of years ago, and I would totally agree that every case seems to be a bit different! I had been in Germany for 4 years at that point and had even renewed my expired US license during that time (which is apparently a no-no), and the process still went pretty smoothly. My biggest recommendation would be to be over prepared -- I brought my old expired US licenses with me and had a certificate showing how long I'd had my license. Both seemed to earn me plus points to make up for all the rules I was technically breaking, ;)

  7. Every case is definitely different, but at least this process is fairly smooth and easy (considering how most bureaucratic processes in Germany go)!

    So, you have your German license. But can you drive stick shift? ;)

  8. Ami SchwabenlandJuly 18, 2015 at 4:35 AM

    Wisconsin has the reciprocal deal as well, so it was easy for me - even easier, actually, because I didn't need to have my WI license translated. And something else worked out quite nicely - two months before I moved to Germany I lost my WI license. I had to get a duplicate, and a few days before moving I found the original. So I was able to hand over my duplicate and keep the original for driving when I'm in WI! I didn't know you could just switch licenses at the Führerscheinstelle if need be at no charge. Good tip!

  9. Yeah, the switching licenses deal isn't bad. Although, I have considered just saying I lost my license when I go back to the U.S. to get a new copy (it only costs $5, then I will have both!). I am sure that is technically illegal, but...

  10. It is actually a fairly new rule that driver's licenses in Germany expire at all! Marco's father still has his old license from the 70's, which is falling apart (it's made of paper), but there is no rule that he has to renew it! Marco will never have to renew his license either.

  11. I actually have a quick follow-up question to this... my US driver's license will expire in January. Do you have any idea on whether or not that would be problematic for them, to be presented with a license so close to expiring?

  12. As long as it isn't currently expired, I don't think they care. Mine expires July 2016, so I kind of thought they may only give me a German driver's license that is good until then, but my German license doesn't expire for 15 years! So, I really don't think they care.

  13. Interesting about trading it in when you go back to the States, did not know that was a possibility. I can't even lie, I just went to the DMV and got a new one so now I just have both, but only carry one around depending on where I am.

  14. I am considering doing the same, although my U.S. license had an old address on it (where I haven't lived for 4 years), so it may be a pain in the ass...

  15. It would be nice not to have to renew.


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