Reader question: Can I drive in Germany with my UK licence?

If you're a British resident in Germany and want to drive, you'll need to consider changing your licence. Here's what you should know.

An old-style VW camper van at the beach in St. Peter-Ording, Schleswig-Holstein in June.
An old-style VW camper van at the beach in St. Peter-Ording, Schleswig-Holstein in June. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

Perhaps you’re dreaming of a road trip up to the Ostsee or down to the Schwarzwald. Or you simply want to know you’ll be able to hop into a car and drive legally in Germany.

If so you’ll need to think about changing your UK licence for a German one. 

When do I need to change my foreign licence?

If you have driving licence from a state that is not a member of the EU or the EEA, then the general rule is that the licence will be valid for six months after you’ve taken up residence in Germany (likely your registration date). 

That means you can drive in Germany with your original licence without having to change it during this time. 

After this time period, your driving licence is no longer recognised by German authorities. The conditions on how to get a German driving licence vary depending on which country you got your licence in. The best thing to do is to talk to your local driving licence authority. 

If you’re caught driving without a valid licence, you could face steep fines and punishments.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting a German driving licence

There is no obligation to change your licence of course. This only applies if you’re planning on getting behind the wheel in Germany, or would like to have it.

If you’re 18 or older and have a licence which was issued from a member state in the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA), you can drive motor vehicles in Germany of the category that’s indicated on your licence without restrictions.

If it’s on the verge of expiring or for whatever reason you’d prefer to exchange it, you can get your hands on a German one of the same category upon request.

So what does this mean for Brits?

If you were living legally in Germany before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st 2020 then you should have exchanged your UK licence for a German one by June 30th 2021.

If you didn’t then your UK licence is not valid for driving in Germany, and you’ll have to exchange it for a German one if you want to drive. 

Due to the pandemic, some states, including Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia extended the amount of time for foreign drivers in Germany to change their licence. However, it depended on each federal state, and the latest deadline for changing the licence was likely October 21st 2021. 

If you moved to Germany recently to become resident, then you’ll have six months from this date to change your licence.

Do I need to take a new driving test?

The good news is: no. UK licence holders do not have to take another driving theory or practical test to swap their licence for a German one. 

The German government Transport Ministry says: “Holders of a UK driving licence wishing to convert it into a German driving licence may currently do so without having to take a theory or practical driving test.”

That’s because Germany is entering into a corresponding reciprocal agreement with the UK on this matter. 

READ ALSO: Do I need to swap my UK licence for a German one?

It’s a major relief for Britons in Germany who feared they would be asked to redo their practical or theory test to get a new German licence.

Does it cost any money to change my licence?

Yes. The cost of exchanging your driving licence varies around Germany but is roughly around €35 to €40.

You may also need to get your licence translated, but check with your local authority. The city of Munich, for instance, says “translation of the foreign driving licence” is a requirement.

“If you have an EU/EEA driving licence, a translation is only required if it is issued in Greek or Cyrillic,” adds the city. 

Translations have to be prepared by certified interpreters or translators.

In Berlin, you don’t have to get it translated from English. 

“A translation is always required if the driving licence is not issued in German or English,” says the Berlin authorities. “In case of doubt, the driving licence authority decides whether a translation of the foreign driving licence is required.”

If I change it, have I lost my British licence forever?

Keep in mind that you can use your German licence in the UK for visits. If you want to change it back to a UK licence, you can do that without taking a test. That could be the case if you go back to live in the UK.

What else should I know?

You should also keep in mind that an International Driving Permit can’t be used as an alternative to exchanging your licence.

The UK government also points out that you’re not allowed to renew or replace your UK licence if you live somewhere else. So that could pose difficulties if it is not valid at the time of application for the German licence. 

Meanwhile, if you have a UK Blue Badge (for people with disabilities), when you move to Germany it will remain valid. When it expires, you can apply for a German Blue Badge. Contact your local authority for more information. 

What kind of documents will I need to exchange my licence?

A typical requirement is that you have to be a resident in the city/town where you’re applying. You’ll also have to fill in an application form. 

Other documents needed to exchange your licence will include:

  • your passport/ID

  • a certificate of registration of residency (Anmeldung) 

  • a current photo that must fit the size and style required

  • your valid UK driving licence (original may be required too) 

There may be other requirements such as certificates of physical and mental fitness, as well as medical examinations of vision, depending on the category of licence you are getting. 

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How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.