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I am looking for information on getting a driver's license in Germany as a foreigner. In particular, I am looking for estimates on:

  • how much it costs
  • how long it takes
  • in what way driving knowledge/experience could simplify the process (reduce cost and time, see below)

I am asking this on behalf of someone who is an EU citizen, has only held an American driver's license before (issued by Indiana, expired 3 years ago), knows how to drive a stick-shift but hasn't driven in 3 years, does not speak any German but is planning to move to Germany soon. They would appreciate some amount of driving practice even if the requirement can be waived.

From this answer I learned that it is in principle possible to take the theoretical examination in English, which should reduce the costs (no need to hire a translator). It is still unclear whether this service is available in all cities, and whether it is possible to get by in the practical exam without knowing much German.

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European licences work in Germany. Most others [sources needed] are only valid for half a year. Some of them can be transferred or converted. But as a rule of thumb for non-EU driving license holders: If you live in Germany permanently, you need to do a new licence in Germany.

how much it costs

There are several factors involved. You need to sign up with a driving school (Fahrschule), and you need to take a certain amount of minimum required lessons. These incur costs. Then there is the sign-up fee with the TÜV, who will provide the exam. There are fees for the theoretical and practical exams.

In 2017, you're looking at a minimum of between 1000 and 1500 Euros, depending on your location. In larger cities it might be a bit more expensive. If you need more lessons, or fail an exam, it will cost more.

how long it takes

Usually the process takes a couple of weeks at least. There are driving schools that offer crash courses. One required part is attending all 14 two-hour theory topic classes offered by your driving school. Driving schools are private businesses. Depending on the size of the town and the driving school company, they might run twice a week, with one topic every time, so 7 weeks at least, or they might have a rotation that allows you to do it in two weeks if you have enough time. There are places that do crash courses (hopefully not literally). You also need to then get an appointment for the practical exam. I'd plan a month in total minimum.

in what way driving knowledge/experience could simplify the process (reduce cost and time, see below)

If you are already comfortable driving, you can probably get by with the minimum required practical lessons. Those involve driving over land between towns, a couple of hours Autobahn and night drives. You cannot waive these. Sometimes a driving school will allow you to waive some or all of the theory classes if you have enough previous knowledge. But then again, the rules in Germany are very different from the US, so the theory part is actually relevant.

If you know someone with a car, you can practice at a Verkehrsübungsplatz for less money than the actual lessons. That does not replace the lessons though, but it can save some time. ADAC and various Verkehrswacht organizations offer those.

In any case never practice on an empty parking lot! Driving in public without a licence is a criminal offence.

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    For the theory test, no matter how much experience you think you have, you won't pass unless you practice, practice, practice until you know all the answers by heart. – gnasher729 Dec 4 '17 at 22:52
  • @gnasher729 good advice. Some of those questions are really tricky, and the translated versions for non-German speakers are really weird. I'm German and I've seen the English ones and had someone translate Russian ones for me. I would not have been able to answer those accurately, simply because all of that really mean specificity gets lost in translation. – simbabque Dec 4 '17 at 22:55
  • Actually, citizenship does not matter, the only things that matter are residency and where you originally obtained your driving licence. – Relaxed Dec 5 '17 at 7:35
  • @Relaxed you're right. That was not the best choice of words. I have amended. – simbabque Dec 5 '17 at 9:22
  • Thank you, there is a lot of useful information here. One thing that is missing is how not speaking German affects the situation. Could you elaborate on this? Another question: it wasn't clear if attending the theoretical classes is required or can be waived (and substituted with self study). – Qiche Dec 5 '17 at 22:02
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I'd try to get the Indiana license renewed, if possible. And get some driving practice in Indiana. It should be possible to transfer the US license. This website gives a lot of details. If you can transfer the license, all you need is your old driving license, a German translation, certificate of an eye examination, and certificate of a recent first aid course. Total cost would be about 100 Euros or so.

https://www.german-way.com/for-expats/living-in-germany/german-drivers-license-reciprocity/getting-a-german-drivers-license/

If you can't get a US license, you'll need to pass a theory test and a practical test, and it would be very, very recommended to use a proper driving instructor. That's significantly more expensive.

  • I don't live there anymore. The driver's license expired with my visa. – Qiche Nov 25 '17 at 22:25

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