How Long Can You Drive With Your Licence and When to Change It
Last updated: 18 April 2020 / by Jack Harper
A note about COVID-19: This guide is based on the general rules, but there may be some temporary restrictions in place due to the presence of the COVID-19 virus. We are keeping the situation under close review and will update our guidance as necessary.
With its superb cars and beautifully maintained roads, there is a lot to love about driving in Germany. The good news is that Deutschland driving is, overall, accessible for foreigners.
Germany has a bit of a rep for bureaucracy, and processes can vary quite heavily from state to state, but overall, it is an easy ride.
In this article, we will outline everything you need to know about licensing and driver restrictions in Germany.
If your license were issued by an EU/EEA country, it would be valid in Germany until its expiry date. To qualify, it must be a full license (i.e not a provisional license or international driving permit).
The long-term validity of a license in Germany does not apply to the following categories:
- A1 (Motorcycles) – Those below the age of 18 may only ride light motorcycles (engine size up to 125cc), and must not exceed 80 km/h.
- C1 and C1E (Large goods vehicles) – These licenses are only valid until the holder’s 50th birthday. You will need to provide certificates attesting to the state of your eyesight and health to exchange this license for a German one.
- Category C, CE, D, DE, D1, and D1E (Large goods vehicles & buses) – These licenses will only be valid in Germany for five years after the date of issue, regardless of how long they are valid in your home country. Again, you will need to submit health certificates to make an exchange.
If you are a registered resident of Germany and staying for the long run, then it is possible to have your license renewed as a German driving license (Führerschein), but this won’t be necessary until your license is about to expire.
If your license were issued by a country outside of the EU/EEA, you could use it for up to six months after taking up residency in Germany. If you are staying in Germany for between six and 12 months, it may be possible to have this extended, depending on the state in which you are living. You can contact your local driving license office for further assistance.
Otherwise, you will need to exchange your license for a German driving permit after six months. For the countries with which Germany has an exchange agreement, you will be required to schedule an appointment with your local driving license office and submit the following documents:
- Identity card or passport
- Certificate of registration from the Residents’ Registration Office
- Recent passport photograph
- Original driver’s license
- Proof of how long the driver’s license has been held
Requirements may vary from state to state, and there may be additional documents needed for different license categories, so it’s a good idea to check what you need to bring when scheduling an appointment. Once these documents have been processed, you will receive your German license. The countries included in this agreement are:
Andorra, Australia, Canada, Channel Islands, French Polynesia, Isle of Man, Israel, Japan, Monaco, Namibia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, San Marino, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, U.S.A*
*Requirements vary from state to state in the U.S.A.
For citizens of countries not included in this agreement, you will have to take either a practical or theoretical exam (or both) to obtain a German license. You may also have to complete a first aid course and undergo a vision exam. This table outlines the exact requirements of each country.
Renewing a German driving license
After 15 years from the date of issuing, it will be time to renew your German driving license. This can be done by making an appointment at your local driving license office before your current license expires. You need to bring your current license and a recent passport photo (chances are you looked quite different 15 years ago!). A new license costs €24, and will be ready within four weeks.
You cannot renew a foreign license in Germany – it must be exchanged for a German one.
Driving with non-German plates
You’re allowed to drive a non-German registered car in Germany for up to 12 months. Any longer, you’ll have registered your car at the nearest car registration office. They will require proof that the vehicle belongs to you, as well as your car insurance policy. Additional documents may also be required, so check with the office when making an appointment.
Your car will be tested to confirm its safety and emission standards. If it doesn’t pass, you might have to pay for amendments to your vehicle in order for it to be deemed roadworthy.
You will receive an inspection sticker for your number plate. If your car’s emissions are low enough, you will be given a sticker that grants you permission to drive through low-emission zones.
Low emission zones
In an effort to reduce levels of air pollution in the big cities, German authorities have introduced a law whereby drivers must have a special environmental badge on their car in order to enter ‘green zones’.
Green zones were first introduced in Berlin, Cologne, and Hanover back in 2008. Since then, cities and towns across all of Germany have implemented them. A vehicle that meets the highest environmental standards is awarded a green badge, giving that car access to the green zones.
Anyone that drives their car through a green zone without an appropriate sticker will be fined €40. Even if the vehicle meets the environmental standards, a sticker must be displayed to avoid the fine.
Your foreign license can get you quite far in Germany. An EU license is valid until its expiry date, and a non-EU license is valid for 6 months. Replacing both with a German license shouldn’t be too difficult.
For more information about German traffic law, check out our article on German traffic violations, speed tickets, and fines.