Anyone driving a motor vehicle in Germany must hold a valid driver's license, known as a Führerschein. U.S. citizens may use their existing license for a period of up to 12 months if they register their intent to do so. Those staying longer can exchange their license for a German one, in some cases without having to take a German driving test.
U.S. citizens staying in Germany for less than six months do not need to register to drive legally in Germany, provided that they already hold a valid U.S. driver's license. Visitors who intend to stay between six and 12 months should go to a driver‘s registration office, known as a Führerscheinstelle, and notify the office that they wish to continue to drive using a U.S. license. The staff will ask to see proof of exit from the country before 12 months have passed and also ask for an official translation of the U.S. license.
States With Reciprocity Agreement
Anyone who lives in Germany as a registered resident has six months to obtain a German driver‘s license. Thanks to a reciprocity agreement with the German government, citizens from 26 U.S. states (plus Puerto Rico) are exempted from taking either the practical or theoretical parts of the driving test. Applications for a license are made directly to the driver’s license office and can take weeks to process.
States Without Reciprocity Agreement
Citizens from U.S. states without a reciprocity agreement will need to take a driving test in order to continue driving while they live in Germany or if they plan to visit for more than a year. The written test takes place at a driving school and is more difficult than U.S. tests. About 30 percent of people fail the test on their first attempt.
The German states of Hamburg, Saarland, Hesse, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig- Holstein have opted out of the reciprocity agreement scheme. They do not require U.S. citizens from any state to take either the practical or theoretical tests to obtain a license. To apply for an automatic conversion of their license, applicants must meet certain conditions, which vary by state. These include working for an American company or running a business and not being registered with the Central Register of Traffic Offenders.