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Some years ago I was staying in Germany for a period of about a year, and had to take out a German drivers license in order to be allowed to drive there. Since then I haven't lived in Germany but the drivers license is still valid, is it legal to use it while driving, to rent cars etc, next time I'm in Germany ?

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  • That will depend on the laws of the jurisdiction that you presently live in. Please add that to the question. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 19:48
  • The question is whether I'm allowed to do that in Germany
    – user984952
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 19:50
  • Again, that will depend on the laws of the juridiction that you presently live in. If you were required to convert the licence there then that license is what you should use. Many, but not all, juridictions require that you only have one license. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 20:00
  • I was required to do that at the time if I wanted to drive in Germany six months after arrival iirc, but that was long time ago and the question is what happens when I visit it now as a tourist and am well within the period where foreign licenses are accepted, so why does my current jurisdiction matter rather than the one I'll be driving in, which is Germany ?
    – user984952
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 20:17
  • For the reasons given in the second comment. The drivers license that you use must be valid for driving in the country of your residence. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 20:33

2 Answers 2

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Since then I haven't lived in Germany but the drivers license is still valid, is it legal to use it while driving, to rent cars etc, next time I'm in Germany?

Yes. If you live outside the EU/EEA, the jurisdiction where you reside probably requires you to have a license issued by that jurisdiction, and they may require you to surrender your German license, but if you haven't done that then your German license remains valid for use in Germany (and anywhere else in the world that doesn't explicitly require drivers to be licensed by their jurisdiction of residence, which includes all of the jurisdictions I've investigated).

The Vienna Convention quotation in Mark Johnson's answer requires Germany to recognize foreign licenses (subject to the other conditions provided in the convention) unless the licensee moves to Germany. It doesn't apply to Germany's recognition of a German license (and it furthermore doesn't apply to Germany's recognition of e.g. a New Zealand license held by a resident of e.g. Singapore).

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This will depend on the laws of the juridiction that you presently live in.

If you were required to convert the licence there then that license is what you should use.

Many, but not all, juridictions require that you only have one license.

As a general rule: the drivers license that you use must be valid for driving in the country of your residence.

If you are a resident in another EU/EEA country (where you can, but are not required to convert the licence), your German license will remain valid until it expires (any renewal must be done in the country of residence).

Germany will assume that when you are a resident (at least 185 days, with some exceptions such as students) in a non-EU/EEA country, that you will have a driver's license issued from that jurisdiction.


Questions from comments:

Is there a German law that says that nonresidents of Germany can use a German license only if they're allowed to use the German license in their place of residence?

Yes, §30a Fev states that a driver's licenses issued in Germany (thus is a EU driving license) remain valid after they have been exchanged and can be reissued (or returned) after giving up the issued foreign driver's license.

Since a holder of a valid EU/EEA driving license is not required exchanged it when moving to another EU/EEA country (place of residence), §29 Fev applies.

Neither §29 or §31 Fev mention the possibility that any bilateral agreement may exist for other jurisdictions.

Is there a law that says that they can use a foreign license in Germany only if it's valid in their place of residence?

Yes, §4(2) Fev based on Article 41 (2) of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic 1968.

Switzerland lets me use my New York license in Switzerland, where I live.

Switzerland allow this if you have stayed abroad continuously for more than three months during the first twelve months of your stay in Switzerland. Otherwise a Swiss driver's license is required. (Art. 42 Anerkennung der Ausweise (VZV)).

If I'm checked in Germany, how will they know that my NY license is valid in Switzerland?

If you are suspected in being in violation of §4 Fev (Permission requirement and obligation to provide identification for driving motor vehicles), they can contact the responsible Swiss authority to obtain information about the validity of the driver's license.


Vienna Convention on Road Traffic 1968 (as of 2022)
Article 41 (Driving permits) (2):
(a) Contracting Parties shall recognize: (i) Any domestic permit conforming to the provisions of Annex 6 to this Convention; (ii) Any international permit conforming to the provisions of Annex 7 to this Convention, on condition that it is presented with the corresponding domestic driving permit, as valid for driving in their territories a vehicle coming within the categories covered by the permits, provided that the permits are still valid and that they were issued by another Contracting Party or subdivision thereof or by an association duly empowered thereto by such other Contracting Party or one of its subdivisions;
(b) Driving permits issued by a Contracting Party shall be recognized in the territory of another Contracting Party until this territory becomes the place of normal residence of their holder;

Switzerland
SR 741.51 - Verordnung vom 27. Oktober 1976 über die Zulassung von Personen und Fahrzeugen zum Strassenverkehr (Verkehrszulassungsverordnung, VZV)
Article 42(3bis)(a)
Fahrzeugführer aus dem Ausland, die seit zwölf Monaten in der Schweiz wohnen und sich in dieser Zeit nicht länger als drei Monate ununterbrochen im Ausland aufgehalten haben;

Drivers from abroad who have been living in Switzerland for twelve months and have not stayed abroad continuously for more than three months during this period;

Germany
§7 - Ordentlicher Wohnsitz im Inland
(1) Eine Fahrerlaubnis darf nur erteilt werden, wenn der Bewerber seinen ordentlichen Wohnsitz in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland hat. Dies wird angenommen, wenn der Bewerber wegen persönlicher und beruflicher Bindungen oder – bei fehlenden beruflichen Bindungen – wegen persönlicher Bindungen, die enge Beziehungen zwischen ihm und dem Wohnort erkennen lassen, gewöhnlich, das heißt während mindestens 185 Tagen im Jahr, im Inland wohnt. Ein Bewerber, dessen persönliche Bindungen im Inland liegen, der sich aber aus beruflichen Gründen in einem oder mehreren anderen Staaten aufhält, hat seinen ordentlichen Wohnsitz im Sinne dieser Vorschrift im Inland, sofern er regelmäßig hierhin zurückkehrt. Die Voraussetzung entfällt, wenn sich der Bewerber zur Ausführung eines Auftrags von bestimmter Dauer in einem solchen Staat aufhält.

Ordinary residence in Germany
(1) A driving license may only be issued if the applicant has his or her normal place of residence in the Federal Republic of Germany. This is assumed if the applicant usually lives in Germany, i.e. for at least 185 days a year, because of personal and professional ties or – in the absence of professional ties – because of personal ties that reveal close ties between him and the place of residence. An applicant whose personal ties are in Germany but who is in one or more other countries for professional reasons has his or her normal place of residence within the meaning of this provision in Germany if he returns here regularly. The requirement does not apply if the applicant is staying in such a state to carry out a contract of a certain duration.


Sources:

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    Do you have a source for this? Is there a German law that says that nonresidents of Germany can use a German license only if they're allowed to use the German license in their place of residence? Is there a law that says that they can use a foreign license in Germany only if it's valid in their place of residence? Switzerland lets me use my New York license in Switzerland, where I live. If I'm checked in Germany, how will they know that my NY license is valid in Switzerland?
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 0:58
  • @phoog These 4 questions should have been asked a as a new question at Recently Active Questions - Law Stack Exchange. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 8:58
  • Well I was asking those questions mainly to show why I'm interested in this. But nothing in FeV provides for a German driver's license to lose its validity because the licensee has established residence elsewhere. 30a only applies when the German license was exchanged for a foreign license, so it is not relevant to the question. The Vienna convention, similarly, only says that foreign licenses must be accepted unless the licensee establishes residence in the country where she is driving. But this question isn't about a foreign license.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 9:48
  • @phoog But in case of the OP, where apon leaving they should have returned the german license to get the original drivers license back (or the same on returning to their home country to get the original reissued). So returning back as a visitor, they shouldn't have the German license at all. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 10:06
  • @phoog When moving within the EU/EEA nothing needs to be done (the OP didn't state explicidly state where they now are). Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 10:11

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