Exchanging your American driver’s license

If you are staying in Germany for a period of time longer than 6 months, you have to make sure you trade in your American license for a German one before those 6 months are up.

Some US states have reciprocity agreements with Germany that allow applicants to be exempted from having to take both the written and practical tests. When I first got here 2 years ago, Maryland was unfortunately not one of those lucky states, which is the reason why I put this off so long. I wasn’t thrilled, and thinking about this made me feel sick to my stomach every time. It just really isn’t fair – I had already done all this stuff 10 years ago, and the prospect of having to go to driving school again and take a test made me feel like a 16-year-old again. Besides that, getting your driver’s license is expensive here in Germany (with costs upwards of 2,000€).

We don’t have a car here in Germany anyway, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. Up until last year, I was still under the age limit of for renting a car, too. (We actually checked on that once, and the fees for adding a “young driver” under 25 were more than the cost of the entire rental contract!) But even now that I’m over 25, I still can’t legally drive in Germany because I’ve been here too long.

However, as of last year, Maryland is now on the list of lucky states for which there is no testing necessary in order to get the German license. So basically you can just trade it in, thanks to this lovely exemption.

But that still doesn’t change the fact that I’ve been here in Germany for 2 years now, which is longer than the 6-month driving allowance. Oops. But I figured I would try anyway just to make sure, and if worse came to worst, I would just go without a license for now and just keep my American one for driving in the US. I figured that we might live in the States for a few years in the future anyway, and if we did, then I’d be sure to un-register from the Einwohnermeldeamt (registry office) and apply for a license when I came back and re-registered, thus starting over with a clean slate. (And I would make sure to live in a state with full reciprocity!)

But it was worth a try. So before I went over there, I emailed them and asked what I needed to do. I wrote:

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

ich bin Amerikanerin und habe einen Führerschein aus der Bundesstadt Maryland. Ich möchte aber hier in Deutschland fahren können und muss deswegen einen deutschen Führerschein bekommen. Welche Dokumente brauche ich dafür und wie mache ich weiter?

Vielen Dank im Voraus für ihre Hilfe.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen,
Sarah Stäbler

Not awesome German, but it got the job done. About a week later, they replied:

Hallo Frau Stäbler,

der PKW-Führerschein Klasse -C- aus Maryland kann ohne Prüfung umgeschrieben werden.
Es muss aber eine Full  Licence oder Provisional Licence sein.
Die Umschreibung kostet ca 45 Euro, hierzu kommt evtl. eine Einzelausnahme die ca 26 Euro dazu kostet.

Für die Umschreibung bringen Sie bitte
– 1 Passbild
-den Führerschein
– Ausweis oder Pass
mit.

Really? That’s all? I had read things about first aid tests, eye examinations, and German translations of English documents. But if my license, a picture and an ID were all she was telling me to bring, I figured I could try it. If anyone made a fuss, I could at least show the email as proof, and maybe they’d work with me here.

The only problem is that my current passport has been canceled because, obviously, I’m waiting on the new one with my new name. I still have the old passport, but it has holes punched in the magnetic strip and a big stamp on my signature that says CANCELED and the date that a new one was applied for. But whatever – I figured I would bring it with me, along with my German marriage license, stating my new name.

The second problem was that I had (stupidly) renewed my license which was due to expire on my birthday in October because I was afraid of that running out. Apparently you have up to a year after your license expires to renew it, but I didn’t know that – and so I got it renewed, as I was nervous that I wouldn’t have enough time after the wedding to get that done. The problem with that is that you have to prove you have had your American license for a certain length of time before you entered Germany. As The German Way says on their website:

“By the way, Germany has already out-foxed any clever plan you may have to get a license from a US state with full reciprocity and use that to get your German license. You must have held your US license for a period that varies from 185 days to five years in order to convert it to a German one (die Umschreibung einer Fahrerlaubnis). For more licensing details, see our step-by-step guide to applying for a German driver’s license.”

The lady at the office was a typical German civil servant – quite unfriendly and a bit stubborn. At first she looked in a book and said, “Nö. Maryland doesn’t have reciprocity.” (Apparently it’s new enough of a law to not be in the books yet.) Luckily, the woman who had emailed me was there and she pulled out a big binder stuffed with papers and she located the new law regarding Maryland licenses.

I’d expected the passport issue and the driver’s license thing to be more of a problem. Long story short, it wasn’t. However, I was told that I had to bring the old license and the renewed license with me next time, to prove that I’d been in possession of an American license for long enough. Good thing I kept the old one! I’ll need my bring my new passport when I come to pick it up.

They will contact me when the license is ready to pick up – in 4-6 weeks. As with the passport, I won’t believe it for sure until I have it – but I think it might just have worked!

  • For more information, refer to the US embassy in Germany website.
  • Additionally, the American Chamber of Commerce has an informational .pdf about getting a German license, although it’s from 2009 and therefore not the most up-to-date information.
  • Expatica.com also has a good article on this, as well as some useful links.
  • When in doubt, do what I did – find your local Landesbetrieb Verkehr (Hamburg LBV: here) and email* them, asking what is necessary in your case. Then just keep your fingers crossed that you get somebody who knows what they’re talking about! (*You could also call…but I get nervous and the phone. And for me it was useful to have that email as written proof of what I had been told.)
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5 thoughts on “Exchanging your American driver’s license

  1. Thanks so much for this post! I have been putting this off for the past year because I read that I would need to get my license translated, get a vision test, and a bunch of other stuff. But I just emailed my local Führerscheinstelle, and they just need my Ausweis, American license, and 35 EUR! I am going to the office tomorrow to hand it in. Wish me luck!

  2. Thanks for the post. I might just try this. I have held driver’s licenses in several US states over the years, as I have moved around a bit. I actually just went back to the states to renew my license in MD, which has been my permanent US address for several years now. Unfortunately, I did not know all these rules for different states and had a NV license (sadly not on the list) prior to moving here 2 years ago (with the MD address on it since it was renewed via mail and my husband was active duty military at the time and this was allowed.) It was going to expire soon so, since I was stateside over the holidays, I decided to renew it a couple of weeks ago. Now I am hearing conflicting things about the reciprocity thing. Some people say, you must have the license for at least 6 months BEFORE moving here. I haven’t been driving in the 2 years I’ve lived here so I had just given up on the idea. However, now I am kinda sick of relying only on public transit in our small village and had resigned myself to grudgingly taking the driving school. It seemed unfair that the state I learned to drive in over 20 years ago (TX) was a state that required extensive private driving school, and therefore had reciprocity too. I have wondered that if I were to show documentation of all of this (I have copies of all my past licenses) I could still exchange my MD license. After reading your post, I’m thinking it is worth a shot. The worse that could happen is they say No and I have to do the driving school. But hey…I’ll send an email and a prayer and see what happens!

    • Oh yes, definitely worth a try!

      I know, I was so frustrated at the idea of having to do driving school again after already being able to drive for 10 years…so annoying. Plus, you’re right – it’s expensive!

      I hope you have some success – let me know if I can help with anything!

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