Expat Essentials

Audrey Shankles in Wiesbaden: The Audrey is (a)Broad guide to driving in Germany, Pt. 1

(Editor’s note: This post on driving in Germany appeared originally on Audrey is (a)Broad. It’s reposted here with the permission of the author.)

I learned to drive around the Beltway; parallel parking was the norm at school. There were 104 different police departments who could pull you over, HOV was lyfe and learning how not to get sucked into the vast Pentagon parking lot while heading for Memorial was my #personalstruggle. Because of these experiences, I felt like a competent driver, ready for the challenge of driving in a foreign country whenever that opportunity should present itself.

And I had a bit of a speed habit, so Germany seemed obvious. I was so unprepared for being completely rocked in my little VW Golf on the A3 by some Mercedes wagon flying by at 120 mph-plus, the lack of stop/yield signs and the road lanes being narrower than some goat tracks.

But it’s fun, and if you get to drive while you’re in Germany, which I hope you do, here’s what you need to know.

For more driving and road information, I recommend the Guide to Getting Around Germany, where I found many of the images for this article, as well as reminders for myself!

Audrey Shankles


If you know you will be in Germany for less than six months, then you do not need to get a German driver’s license. If you know your visit will be at least nine months, you can apply for an extension to your home license to make it through the extra three months you need. You can do this for up to a year of residency.


Most countries will offer their citizens International Driving Permits (permit, not license) which is an acceptable way to travel the world and drive in various countries. While some countries don’t require this permit, some car rental companies might and vice versa. These permits are generally issued via automobile clubs and not government centers (ie, AAA vs the DMV).

It should be noted this permit is only valid along with your country’s government’s officially issued license, and in most cases, is only valid for either one year OR the duration of your traveler’s visa in specific countries which place these restrictions. The permit is not a valid license on its own and therefore can only be obtained if you already have a valid driver’s license.

For Americans, these are available at AAA offices and cost approximately $15. You can also apply online.

Here is a small list of countries with direct links to IDP portals:

New Zealand
South Africa
United Kingdom

For others, here is an excellent website explaining the rules (and for policy nerds, all the different UN Council Resolutions enacting and enforcing the international policy):


… and I’m an American NOT under the Status of Forces Agreement.

You get to go to driving school! Or maybe not!

Some Americans are fortunate in that Germany recognizes certain state’s driving regulations as comparable enough to meet German standards, meaning for those Americans they need some paperwork and a little money, a little time, and they switch* their American license for a German one.

For others, there are three possible combinations:

  1. Recognition of the writing exam
  2. Recognition of the practical exam
  3. Neither of the above
    Luckily, a list exists online where one may find how their state is classified. In addition, I am from a state which has German driving standards and I wrote about this process here.

You must actually switch to using your German license. You cannot produce your American license and claim to be foreign and incompetent. They will find out.

… and I’m an American under SOFA

This is subject to change. Check your on-base resource.

All persons under SOFA need to take a driving test on base. Luckily, the test will be in English and it is much cheaper than the German test. There is also a required course one must take as well, however this is all available online.

As I am not under SOFA, I have not been through the process, and it’s been a few years since Z did it. That being said, here are the basics (taken from the SOP for Driver’s Testing and Training Station (DTTS)):

  1. Valid States license or any other civilian driver’s license.
  2. U.S. military ID card.
  3. The cost is $20 to be paid either by check, money order or credit card. DTTS cannot accept cash payments.
  4. If glasses or contact lenses are required for driving, have them available for the mandatory eye test as well.
  5. For family members, the sponsor’s ID card and SSN is required.
  6. The complete military mailing address to include CMR#, Unit#, Box# and the civilian and DSN/VOIP telephone numbers.

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