Depending on your country of origin, as an expat wanting to drive, you may have to take the theoretical and / or practical driving test in order to obtain a German driving licence. Alternatively, you may decide to learn to drive for the first time.
What follows is an outline of the entire process of applying for a licence and learning to drive in Germany. Depending on your personal situation, you may have to complete every stage, or only some of the steps.
1. Take an eye test
To apply for almost all categories of driving licence, you will first have to pass an eye test at an optician or eye specialist (the cost of this is often covered by your health insurance). If there are any irregularities with your health, or if you are applying for a category C or D licence, you will have to submit to a medical exam as well. Anyone older than 50 has to repeat these tests every five years.
2. Complete a first aid course
All driving licence applicants are also required to attend an “instruction in life support” first aid course (Erste Hilfe Kurs). This course is usually delivered by the German Red Cross (Deutsches Rotes Kreuz), costs 40 euros and lasts around eight hours.
3. Enrol at a driving school (Fahrschule)
In Germany, the theoretical and practical driving tests are conducted through driving schools (Fahrschulen). Therefore, in order to take these tests, you will need to be enrolled at a driving school. Often you are also required to have proof that you have enrolled before you can be issued with a licence by the driving licensing authority.
If you are learning to drive for the first time, you must go to a driving school; lay instruction is not permitted (i.e. you cannot be taught by a friend or family member). German law dictates that you must attend at least 14 lessons of theory classes and 12 practical lessons of “special training rides” (Sonderfahrten). You must complete these classes before you can apply for your theory or practical tests.
If you already have a driving licence, you won’t need to start from scratch. Many driving schools offer instruction for individuals who already know how to drive, preparing them for the test in Germany. It is worth seeking this out, as it can save you a lot of money in the long run (this modified kind of instruction usually costs around 500 euros rather than the 1.500-2.000 euros required for a full-length driving course).
4. Request a licence
Once you have the required documentation, you can make an appointment to apply for your licence. This step is only necessary for those that don’t already have a driving licence (German or foreign). It will cover you while you are learning to drive.
5. Take the theory test
When you are ready to take it, your driving school will arrange for you to sit your theory test (Theorieprüfung). It is usually possible to sit this exam in English, although you might have to pay extra. The test consists of 30 multiple-choice questions, worth a total of 110 points. You are only allowed to make 10 points’ worth of mistakes. Preparing sufficiently for this test is very important, as around a third of people fail the theory exam in Germany.
6. Take the practical test
Your practical test (praktische Prüfung) will also be arranged by your driving school. You must take the practical test within 12 months of passing your theory test. Depending on the licence category you are applying for, the test usually lasts between 30 and 75 minutes. You will be accompanied by your examiner and instructor; the examiner usually sits in the back seat to assess your driving skills. The exam is generally conducted in German, so it might be worth taking a German language class to brush up on some common driving terms.
On the day of the exam, don’t forget to bring your passport (either your German passport or foreign one) or your identity card, and your glasses, if you need them.
If you pass the practical driving test, you will be issued with a temporary paper driving licence. You will need to collect your permanent one from the licensing authority office; it is usually ready within four weeks. You are not normally able to book an appointment, so be aware that you may have to wait in line when collecting it.
Note that within the first two years of passing the German driving tests, you are “on probation”, meaning that if you commit any violations during this period you run the risk of losing your licence. During the trial period, there is a total ban on alcohol consumption.
Onward steps as a newly-qualified driver
Now that you’re a fully qualified driver, you can hit the road! If you are buying a car, or importing one from abroad, remember that you need to register it with the authorities as well as taking out car insurance, paying vehicle tax and submitting to bi-annual safety inspections.