March 11, 2021

How One California Girl Got a Driver's License in Germany

How One California Girl Got a Driver's License in Germany

California is basically the world capital of road trips. It's famous for being a car-focused culture, from long road trips up the coast to sitting in notorious LA traffic.

When Stacey moved to Freiburg, Germany from LA, California, she was initially happy to stick to the great public transit Germany is famous for. She found plenty of options for commuting to work or visiting different cities, but living on the edge of the Black Forest and not being able to spontaneously explore all the different corners of it, she started to want to be able to drive.

Stacey came on the podcast to share her experience transferring her California license to a German one. I say California license and not US license because actually, there are different systems for transferring licenses for different states.

For me, my Pennsylvania license was easy to transfer. I paid 35€ and a couple weeks later could pick up my German license. That's because Pennsylvania and Germany have reciprocity.

For a full list of states that offer reciprocity with Germany, click here.

Note: regardless of the state, you have 3 years from arriving in Germany to transfer your license! If you miss that deadline, it isn't a transfer anymore but rather filing for a brand new license, so it is a longer and more expensive process.

California doesn't offer reciprocity, so Stacey had to do a lot more work. First, she had to register with the Rathaus, or city hall, that she wanted to apply for a license. In that appointment, she had to prove she'd attended a first aid course, provide a passport photo, and give up her US license. From this date, she had one year to complete her license or she'd have to register again and pay more fees.

Tip: Sometimes, you can hold onto your US license if you explain that it functions as a form of ID in the US! Ask before giving yours up.

Then she signed up with a driving school, or Fahrschule, to do her written and practical exams. They gave her access to the Fahren Lernen app, a paid app that quizzes you on the hundreds of questions that could be on the written exam. The written exam and app are available in English and other languages, but the practical exam is in German.

The written exam can be really difficult. Of the hundreds of questions, you'll be asked 30. Each question has a certain amount of points to it, and you can't lose more than 10 points or you fail. The questions are multiple choice, but 1, 2, or 3 answers could be correct. It's super tricky! Stacey studied for this for six months, because she didn't want to fail and have to take the exam again. Other people take much less time; it varies.

Once she passed the test, she went straight onto the practical hours. Because it was within the 3-year window, Stacey was only required to do one hour of driving lessons. If you're beyond the 3 year mark, you may have to take more.

Stacey opted to take additional lessons, because she wanted to take the test for a manual car license. In Germany, automatic and manual cars are different licenses. With a manual license, you can also drive automatic, but with an automatic, you can only drive automatic. To gain flexibility, she learned to drive manual and took that test. The fees are the same, other than the additional hours she decided to take.

The practical test takes place via TÜV, basically the German DMV. Stacey's assigned driving instructor from the driving school was also in the car with her and the TÜV person proctoring the test. It took about 45 minutes of driving around country roads, highways, and city roads. She had to do an emergency brake and show her parking skills. But, she did it! She succeeded on her first try!

Best of all? Stacey was able to pick up her German license that very same day! She's now set and can drive in Germany.

For more information, like how much money she spent and how long it took, listen to the full episode here.