Although all cities/states are different, here are the steps I took to get my foreign driver’s license exchanged for a German driver’s license:

  1. Contact the local Führerscheinstelle by phone or email, and ask what documents are needed to exchange your driver’s license
  2. Collect the required documents, which usually include:
    • Foreign driver’s license
    • Passport/Visa
    • Biometric Photo
    • Translation of Foreign Driver’s License (40€ at ADAC)
  3. Bring documents to the local Führerscheinstelle and pay the fee (35€)
  4. Pick up your German driver’s license a couple weeks later
How to Get a German Driver's License

Getting my German driver’s license had been on my to-do list since the German boyfriend tried (unsuccessfully) to teach me to drive stick shift over a year ago. Since foreigners in Germany are only allowed to drive with their foreign driver’s license for their first 6 months in the country, I have not been allowed to drive in Germany since December 2013. Luckily, residents of some countries (U.S. included) have up to three years to trade in their foreign license for a German one.

**The rules are different for each state of the U.S. Check the U.S. Embassy website to see if your state has a reciprocal agreement with Germany**

Before getting started, I read blog posts by both Sarah Stäbler and Alex Butts about their experience with exchanging their American driver’s licenses. Unfortunately, all I learned from those posts is that everyone’s experiences is different. Like many bureaucratic process in Germany, each city/state has different requirements, so I knew I had to start off my contacting my local driver’s license office… ugh.

Luckily, I found the email address for my local Führerscheinstelle online, so instead of wasting my time at the German equivalent of the DMV, I send them an email.

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

ich bin eine Amerikanerin und wohne in Lüneburg. Ich habe einen Führerschein
aus dem Bundesstaat Illinois und ich möchte diesen in einen deutschen
Führerschein umschreiben. Welche Dokumente brauche ich dafür und wie
verläuft der Prozess?

Herzliche Grüße,
Courtney Martin

The next day, I received a reply:

Guten Morgen Frau Martin, 

bitte kommen Sie mit folgenden Unterlagen zu denÖffnungszeiten in die Führerscheinstelle:
– Personalausweis oder Pass mit Meldebescheinigung– Führerschein aus  Illinois– biometrisches Passbild– 35 €
Bei Ihrer persönlichen Vorsprache kann dann der weitere Ablauf besprochen werden. 

A few days later, I went to the Führerscheinstelle, and only had to wait about 5 minutes to meet with the woman responsible for all residents with last names beginning with L-Q.  She made copies of my American passport, German visa, and American driver’s license. I also gave her a biometic picture and 35 €. She then said that she would send the request my German driver’s license, and I all I had left to do was get my American driver’s license translated. This is done at the ADAC (like the German equivalent of AAA) and costs 40 € for non-members.

It is important to also note that I went to the Führerscheinstelle all by myself. Generally, I believe in always bringing a German with for any bureaucratic processes (civil servants don’t really like wasting their time with people that speak baby German). So, I was incredibly proud that the trip ended up being so successful!

A few days later, I dropped off my American license at the ADAC, paying 40€ for the translation. I had to wait one week for the translation to be finished, and during this time, I got a call from the Führerscheinstelle to tell me that my German license was ready to be picked up! So, once my translation was ready, I went back to the ADAC, picked up the documents, went back to the Führerscheinstelle, and I got my German license that very day!

My German driver's license

Note that you do have to trade in your foreign license for the German license when you do it this way. However, you can return to the Führerscheinstelle at any time to trade in your German license for your foreign license at any time (and vice versa) for free. So, for example, I can go back to get my American license before flying to the U.S. in September.

Overall, the process is pretty simple and much more inexpensive than doing German driving school (that process costs around 2,000€). So, if your home country’s driver’s license is recognized by Germany, get to the Führerscheinstelle before your three years are up!