Germany is a nation of car enthusiasts, however, strict rules apply when driving in Germany and expats may be required to get a German driver's licence.
Germany comprises one of the highest numbers of registered car owners in the European Union, and is home to several of the world's leading automobile enterprises. When driving in Germany, however, strict rules apply and it is important to be mindful of the road regulations and driving licence rules before you drive in Germany
This guide answers some FAQs about driving and owning a car in Germany:
- Driving licences
- Importing a car
- Car registration and taxes
- Vehicle inspection
- Driving rules and speed limits
- Traffic offences
- Car insurance and breakdowns
- Renting, sharing or buying a car in Germany.
Who can drive in Germany?
Everyone older than 18 years with a full driving licence can drive a car in Germany. Therefore, if you are 17 or younger you will be unable to drive in Germany, even if you have previously been issued with a licence in your home country.
Nationals from the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EU plus Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein) can continue to drive in Germany using their foreign driver's licence.
Everyone else can use their foreign driving licence to drive in Germany for the first six months of residence but after this non-EU/EEA citizens will have to extend or exchange their licence for a German licence – and may need to take a written exam or driving test.
You can drive your own car in Germany for up to 12 months after which you will need to get it registered with the authorities in Germany.
Getting a German driving licence
If you are a citizen of an EEA member country (EU plus Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein), you do not need to obtain a separate German licence if you already hold a licence for your home country.
Other foreigners permanently residing in Germany may use their own licence accompanied by an international driving licence initially, but should apply for a German driving licence within six months of arriving in the country. The process for exchanging your current driver’s licence for a German equivalent is determined by whether a reciprocal arrangement exists with the country that issued your existing license. For some countries you may have to sit a written exam and/or a driving test, while for others the process is a fairly simple one of forwarding documents without the need to take any additional tests. The full process and conditions are outlined in Expatica's guide to using a foreign driver's licence in Germany.
Importing a car to Germany from abroad
You can import a car from outside the EU as part of your personal effects without paying any import duty or VAT (import turnover tax) if you can prove that you will be taking up full-time residence in Germany. For example, if you have a residence permit or a letter from an employer stating that you have been transferred to Germany. You must be the sole owner of the car and used by you at your address outside of Germany for at least six months previously. You must keep the car for a minimum of 12 months after importing it.
You can import a used car from within the EU without paying duty unless the car is less than six months old or has less than 6, 000 miles on the clock in which case you will be asked to pay 19 percent import turnover tax. If you have already paid the VAT in your home country you can claim it back once you’ve registered the car in Germany.
You can use your own number plates and registration documents for up to 12 months so long as you have your registration document with a German translation and proof of insurance. The car may also be required to take a vehicle inspection. If you will be staying longer than 12 months, you will have to register the car with the local vehicle registry (Zulassungsstelle).
Car registration, taxes and maintenance
Registration and motor inspection tests
To register your car in Germany, you must go through the local vehicle registry (Zulassungsstelle). You may be asked to provide:
- proof of official address registration in Germany
- customs clearance/export documents
- proof of ownership
- original registration papers
- proof of insurance
The car must also pass the German vehicle inspection test – like the UK MOT – called the The car may need to be modified to meet German standards.
You will have to continue to take the car for regular periodic technical inspections (PTI) and emissions tests. The date for the next PTI will be in your registration document and also on the inspection sticker. If you miss an inspection you’ll be fined. For more information on the inspections, see TÜV NORD and DEKRA
Road and car taxes in Germany
Motor vehicle tax (Kraftfahrzeugsteuer) in Germany is payable by the registered keeper of the motor vehicle and the tax liability begins from the time the vehicle is registered with the vehicle licensing authorities, and ending when the vehicle is de-registered. You pay the tax a year ahead via your local tax office (Finanzamt); you may be able to pay in installments for an additional fee. The amount of motor vehicle tax payable is worked out on the age of the car, engine size and its CO2 emissions. You can work out how much you will have to pay using the German Federal Ministry of Finance’s motor vehicle tax calculator.
There is currently no road tax in Germany and no tolls on Autobahns (motorways) but in 2016 the German government are planning to introduce a new road tax for drivers of foreign vehicles using the Autobahns. Drivers will have to pay by registering their licence plates on the internet or at fuel stations; the tax will take into account engine size and environmental issues and will be up to EUR 130 per year.