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Gorem ipsum etting a German Driver's License

Your own driver's license is valid in Germany, at least at the outset. If it was issued by a European Union country, you will never need to exchange it for a German one. If it was issued by a country outside the EU, you can only use it for six months from your date of arrival. If you will be residing in Germany for longer than six months but less than one year, you can obtain a six-month extension to use your existing license.

A national of a non-EU country who will be living in Germany longer than a year will need a German driver's license (Führerschein). In many cases this is a simple matter of exchanging the license for a German one. In other cases it will be necessary to take a written exam, a driving test, or both.

You can simply exchange your license if you come from Canada or the U.S. states of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington State, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

If you come from Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee or Washington D.C. you will need to take the written test, but not the driving test.

In order to get a German driver's license based on a license from any state in the USA, you must have had your stateside license for at least six months before coming to Germany. The German authorities may ask for some sort of proof of that.

If your license is from South Africa or any of the U.S. states not listed, you will most likely be required to take both the written and driving examination. If your license is from New Zealand you may be required to take the written examination depending on which classification of license you now hold or wish to get. If you come from Australia you will most likely be able to directly exchange your license for a German one. There may be an extra requirement for a vision test, depending on which territory issued your current license.

To find out the specific requirements for exchanging a license it is best to contact the local authorities.

The written test, which covers such things as rules of the road and traffic signs, can be taken in a number of languages, including English. It's taken at a drivers' school (Fahrschule), so let them know in advance what language you prefer. Be warned, the test is tough, and 30% of the people who take it fail to pass it on the first try. So you should study for it. There is a book in English, Lehrbuch Englisch (Fahren Lernen B), that many find a big help. You can buy it from a driving school for about €50, or you may find used copies being offered on line.

The test is multiple choice, but there isn't necessarily only one correct answer to each question. Some or all of the answers may be correct. You can get an idea of what it is like, in English with the correct answers checked, at www.osterberger.org/test.html.

Fahrschule cars for the driving examination are equipped with dual controls so that the instructor can take over any time the student gets into serious trouble. The law sets minimum durations and mileage for each aspect of the driving instruction: at least 225 minutes and 50 kilometers per session on highways or country roads: at least 135 minutes on the Autobahn with each journey lasting at least 45 minutes, and 90 minutes for driving in twilight or darkness, half of this on highways or country roads.

Those attending a driving school won't necessarily be treated as beginning drivers. Many schools have set up simplified courses for experienced drivers, which will cost you about €500 as opposed to the over €1,400 - €1,500 that a beginner would have to pay. If a school tells you it doesn't offer such a course, find one that does.

The driver's license is issued by an agency of the local police. To exchange your license you should take it to your local driver's registration office (Führerscheinstelle). You should have a certified translation. You can get a translation from the ADAC automobile club. (Their office in Hesse charges €36 for members and €46 for non-members.) A person must present an application, a passport, a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis), two passport-sized photos, proof of attendance at a Fahrschule if required, proof of completion of a first aid course and certification of a vision test which either an optometrist or the Technische Überwachungsverein (TüV) may administer.

Some Americans who work and live in the German states of Hamburg, Hesse, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland may now have it easier. In some cases it may be possible to convert licenses without any written or driving exam no matter what US state they come from. The rules differ somewhat in each of those four German states. In some cases your work must be with an American firm, and in some cases spouses are not allowed to make the simple conversion.

Go to www.amcham.de/services/drivers-license/us-citizens-in-germany.html or check with the local authorities for more information on this and a complete list of the States that have reciprocal agreements with Germany.

This may seem quite a hassle, but once you've weathered the storm you'll have a license that's good for a long time. All German driver licenses issued before 2013 are valid until December 31, 2032. As of 2013 licenses will be valid for 15 years.