Driving a car in Germany

Driving conditions and driving licences

Driving a car in Germany

To drive a car in Germany, you have to be at least 18 years old. If your driving licence has been issued in an EU or an EEA country it you don’t have to exchange it for a German one. Residents from other states will have to either change it or apply for a new licence.

Driving conditions

In Germany there are approximately 650,000 km (404,000 mi) of roads. The motorway network amounts to ca. 13,000 kilometres (8,000 mi), ranking among the densest and longest systems in Europe. With a per 100 capita rate of 66 cars, it is also extensively used. According to a statistic from 2012/2013 (German ) the German road system ranked 11th in the world with respect to the quality and efficiency of road systems.

Speed limits are 50 km/h (30 mph) in built-up areas and 100 km/h (62 mph) on country roads. On motorways (Autobahn) the recommended speed limit is 130 km/h (81 mph), but it can be exceeded unless otherwise indicated.

If you want to drive on German roads, you should note that the following items always have to be in your car:

  • warning triangle
  • first aid kit
  • spare tyre
  • jack
  • high-visibility vest/s (one for each passenger)

Road signs in Germany are very abundant (sometimes people complain they are a little confusing), but almost all of them are self-explanatory pictographs. If you pay attention, it is almost impossible to get lost in Germany, especially on the Autobahn.

The famous Autobahnen are designated by an “A”, followed by a one-digit or two-digit number (e.g. A7, A34, etc.). The one-digit-numbered Autobahnen run through the whole country and even connect German cities to cities in neighbouring countries. The two-digit-numbered Autobahnen run through certain regions only.

Driving licences

If you hold a valid driving licence from an EU or EEA country, you can use it in Germany as long as it is valid in the country where it was issued. You may however exchange it for a German licence if you wish.

If you are not a national of the countries mentioned above, your licence is valid for six months after registering for residence. If you are staying in Germany for a year or less,, you can apply for a renewal after the six months have passed and use your licence six more months or until you leave. Should you plan to stay longer than one year, you will have to either exchange your driving licence or apply for a new one (depending on your country of origin) after six months have passed.

If you are from an EU/EEA country and want to apply for the exchange of your licence, you will have to go to the local authorities (the respective Straßenverkehrsamt) and submit your application. You will be issued a German licence and your old one will be sent to the authorities of your country of origin or kept by the German authorities (in case you want to leave Germany and change your licence back). The new licence will include a note saying that your German licence has been exchanged for one from another country.

For the application you will not only need your valid driving licence, but also the following documentation:

  • Passport or personal ID
  • Biometric passport-sized photo
  • German translation of the licence
  • Document stating your registration for residence
  • Document stating the validity of your licence (if not indicated on the licence)

If you are not a national of one of the EU/EEA countries, you may have to take the theoretical and the practical driving test in Germany. You have to decide yourself whether you want to take classes in a German driving school (which is recommended) or take the exam straight away.

Here is a (German) list  of states and the respective requirements for obtaining a German driving licence.

Further reading

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