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Driving in Germany

Unless you bring your own car with you, you should consider whether it is worth incurring the rather high costs involved in buying a car in Germany, particularly if you come alone. For stays of up to six months, bringing your own car causes practically no problems as regards to the validity of your driver’s license or, if you drive a car registered abroad, car documents and German registration regulations, motor vehicle tax, and third-party insurance. If you stay longer, you must deal with time-consuming and expensive bureaucratic hurdles to comply with the regulations concerning driver’s license, car registration, motor vehicle tax, and insurance. So you should consider whether you really need a car in Germany very carefully.

Lift Share

This is quite a cheap way to travel in Germany and it is therefore relatively popular among young people. If you own a car and know when you are going to take a certain trip, you can offer a lift to other people going to the same destination and they pay you some money for the gas. On the other hand, you can look for someone going to the same destination and catch a lift with that person. Usually, you pay about € 5 per 100 kilometres.

You either advertise your offer or you search for one on the following websites:

Driver’s License (Führerschein)

For all information contact the Driver's Licensing Department (Führerscheinbüro)

License holders from an EU or EEA country can use their home license in Germany permanently. Only drivers with less than two years’ experience must register with the driver’s licensing department.

For other foreigners their driver’s license is valid for six months once they have registered with the local authorities but may need a translation. The automobile club (ADAC) or a certified translator will do this; cost is around € 50. You may prolong this period up to a year at the licensing department  prior to expiration of the six months, if you can prove that you will leave the country permanently within twelve months.

If you intend to stay longer than twelve months, a German license is required. The process should be started early, since the paperwork itself can take two months. It might be that you have to pass the German driving test with a practical and a theoretical part (traffic rules), which can be done in other languages as well.

Important documents

Please bring the documents with you:

  • Passport or identity card
  • Your original foreign national driver’s license including a German translation
  • Registration with local authorities
  • Passport photo
  • Declaration that your foreign driver’s license is still valid

Bringing Your Own Car

You can bring your own car to Germany free of customs duties if you have lived abroad for at least one year and used the car abroad for at least six months and if it is used for personal needs only and re-exported later. For stays of less than one year, an international or foreign car registration certificate (with a German translation) is sufficient.

Buying a Car

If you buy a car, either new or second-hand, from a dealer in Germany it will be registered for you by the dealer. New cars only have to be tested by the Technical Control Board (Technischer Überwachungsverein, TÜV) three years after the date of registration. Used cars bought from dealers bear a TÜV sticker valid for two years. If you buy a second-hand car privately, you must register it yourself immediately. Check when the next main TÜV test is due because it can be expensive to repair defects discovered by the test. We strongly recommend you to obtain expert advice before making a purchase.

Registration of Your Car

If your stay in Germany is not only temporary (a stay of more than one year will be considered as “not temporary”) your car must be registered at the Motor Vehicle Registration Office (Kraftfahrzeug-Zulassungsstelle) at your place of residence in Germany. Prior to registration, the Technical Control Board must check whether your type of car is basically eligible for licensing in Germany. Furthermore, your car will be tested for safety defects. The annual special exhaust emission test (Abgasuntersuchung, ASU) is also carried out by the Technical Control Board. When approved, you are issued the TÜV certificate which is valid for two years and required for registration.

You must present the following documents at the registration office:

  • Your passport or identity card
  • Proof of registration with the local authorities
  • A cover-note from a German insurance company
  • Two customs clearance certificates depending on the country of origin
  • A statement from the Federal Motor Vehicle Office (Kraftfahrzeug-Bundesamt) that no German car ownership certificate has been issued for the car
  • The TÜV  certificate
  • The car registration documents from your own country and the car’s number plates

At the registration office you complete an application for allocation of German number plates and issue of a car ownership certificate. If no difficulties arise, you will be given a registration number and a certificate to be taken to a nearby shop issuing authorized number plates. With the number plates you return to the registration office to collect your German car documents.

Fees are payable at both the Technical Control Board and the registration office. In addition, you must buy the number plates.

Car Insurance

Before you can register a car in Germany, you must have proof of coverage for all damages or injuries to another person, car, or object by an insurance company. Contact an insurance company before you first pick up the car, you need insurance coverage for the trip to the registration office (Versicherungsdoppelkarte).

For a stay of up to one year you are not required to take out a German car insurance policy if you possess an international “green insurance certificate” or if your car has a registration number from one of the following countries: EU member-countries, Greenland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland, the Vatican.

For stays exceeding one year, i.e. when your car must be registered in Germany or if you buy a car here, you must take out a third-party insurance policy with an insurance company in Germany. If appropriate, you should submit a no-claims certificate from your own insurance company at home. Depending on the no-claims duration, premiums can be reduced considerably (by up to 65% of the normal rate).

You would usually get a basic insurance that covers damages caused by the driver of your car but not self-caused damages on your own car (Teilkaskoversicherung). There is also the possibility to have comprehensive coverage including collision, covering all damages or injuries done to your own car, another car, or a person or object (Vollkaskoversicherung). As this insurance is much more expensive than the basic coverage, it is generally only advisable for new cars or very expensive cars.

Motor Vehicle Tax

A foreign-registered car is not subject to taxation provided the driver is a foreign national residing in Germany for less than one year, and the car has been imported and is used for personal needs.

Otherwise you must pay motor vehicle tax. The amount of tax is charged according to the cubic capacity and the emission of the respective car. The tax has to be paid for one year ahead and fiscal authorities will get in contact with you in due time. If you return to your home country before the end of a tax year, the tax paid in advance will be refunded proportionally.

Speed Limit

There is no general speed limit on German motorways, however in many sections the maximum speed is limited by traffic signs and the following basic rules apply:

  • Top speed within towns (in between yellow town signs): 50 km/h
  • Top speed on country roads: 100 km/h
  • Recommended speed on highways: 130 km/h

Near pedestrian precincts in the city center and residential zones, there is often a maximum speed limit of 30 km/h.

Here you can find information about German Traffic Signs and Signals.

Environmental Badge

Vehicles without an environmental badge may not pass through the environmental zone. In Berlin the whole area within the S-Bahn circle i.e. the whole city center is classified as the green environmental zone. That means that every vehicle - no matter whether registered in Germany or in another country – needs to display an environmental badge (Umweltplakette) which dan be ordered online.

For the procedure copies of all registration documents of the vehicle are required. For vehicles registered within the EU, this service is offered for € 29.99, for vehicles registered in other countries the price is € 39.90.

You can also purchase the environmental badge in Germany at the vehicle registration office (Kraftfahrzeug-Zulassungsbehörde), the engineers’ associations, such as the Technical Inspection Authority or DEKRA, and at all agencies in Germany licensed to do an emission’s inspection (Emissions-Inspektion).

Drunk-Driving in Germany

Drunk-driving in Germany is heavily punished, possibly with revoking the driver’s license. With the blood alcohol level of 0.5 per mill or 0.25 mg/l “breath alcohol level” (Atemalkoholwert), you will incur a penalty. Above 0.8 per mill, you will lose your driver’s license for several months. Even below the limit of 0.5 per mill you can be punished if you have been caught in combination with other offences.

What to Do in Case of Accident

In case of an accident, it is absolutely necessary to stay at the scene of accident until the police arrive. A hit and run offence will be heavily punished. Insist on the police coming to the scene. In order to have your personal liability insurance pay for the damage, the accident has to be recorded by the police. Do not sign a promissory note. Inform your insurance company immediately. If the accidental damage exceeds € 3,000, the police must be called.