Getting a German driver’s license

(Blah, blah, Becky is boring. I want to try some driver’s test questions!)

The blog has been quiet these past couple months because our lives have been crazy-busy. Craig and I were both engrossed in our respective projects, each incredibly difficult. While I was working towards finishing my PhD work, he was struggling just as hard to make sense of the German driving rules in preparation for his written driver’s test (and the corresponding German bureaucracy surrounding it). It’s humorous to suggest that one would have to work as hard preparing for a driver’s test as writing a dissertation, but I assure you I am not being sarcastic.

First off, let’s discuss what it takes to get a driver’s license in Germany. As you may know, Craig has been driving throughout Germany for a few months already, and he was doing so legally. German law states that holders of US driver’s licenses may drive in Germany for up to 6 months, but must obtain a German license after that. As Craig’s 6 month grace period was set to expire, it was essential that he pass his driver’s test to acquire a valid license or build a teleportation device to get him to and from work.

What an American driver has to do to acquire a German license depends on which state he/she currently holds a license in. As a Minnesotan, Craig was exempt from taking the road test (thank goodness), but still needed to pass a written examination. Some states get exemptions from BOTH the road and written exams, and an unlucky 13 states have to pass both exams (for the full list, click here).

Here’s what Craig had to do to get his driver’s license:

  1. Set up a meeting to visit the Ordnungsamt (German DVM?) to let them know that he was seeking a German license.
  2. Get a new, official German translation of his documents because the Ordnungsamt did not accept his “international driver’s license” (a reasonably priced translation of his credentials into several languages, including German) that he got from the States. Cost: €40.
  3. Return to the Ordnungsamt to ensure his documents were in order before continuing.
  4. Locate a nearby Fahrschule (Driving School) to get his training materials. Here Craig received a large instruction book (in German so it was essentially useless), a yellow safety vest (obligatory for all German drivers to keep in their cars in case of roadside emergency), and a CD of practice questions (in German and English). Cost: €80.
  5. Learn the answers to 1300 possible exam questions! (More on that in a bit.)
  6. Take a 30 question pretest at the Fahrschule. Cost: €10.
  7. After passing the pretest (at least 28/30), pay another €30 to SCHEDULE the real exam and then €20.86 to take the actual test (in cash, exact change only, because, you know, it’s Germany).
  8. Make a final appointment with the Ordnungsamt to submit his paperwork, forfeit his American licence!…and then pay an additional €5 to get the German license mailed.

After 8 steps of paperwork, bureaucracy, and shelling out a bunch of cash, Craig finally got his license!

So what is the Written Driving test actually like? 

Great question. Many of the questions are similar to what you would find on on a typical American diving exam, but some of them are highly confusing to downright contradictory to American rules. Go ahead, test yourself as we go along. Oh, and multiple answer choices are possible, so… viel Glück! (Good luck!)

1. We start with the more or less straightforward…Towing a load

Here it’s simply a matter of knowing the definition. If you didn’t know it initially, it can easily be memorized. Answer: C. The actual load being towed.

2. Hint: the answer is not to pull over and whiz in the bushesShoulder

Just like in America you should never pass on the right, except in Germany it is more strictly enforced. Answer: A & B The shoulder is used for slow vehicles or stopping and parking. Might I add, it seems in Germany any ol’ sidewalk may also be used for haphazardly parking your car.

3. And then there’s the issue of poor English translations…Dazzled

Here’s a hint – “dazzle” mean glare. Hopefully now it makes more sense…or not. I still don’t know what “dipped” refers to. Answer: A, B, and C. Anything can dazzle your headlights… they are apparently easy to amuse 😉

4. Once you actually understand what dazzle means, this next question becomes more clear…Dazzled 2

Accelerate right into the other car! Nah, just kidding. Answer: A and C.

5. Now, what about this one…Complex

I call this the impossible math question. I’m good at math, I promise, but I don’t think I will ever make sense of this question. Answer: A. 1000 kg. …1900+1000<2400?? Also, 1500 kg permissible towed load (question) ≠ 1500 kg permissible total mass towed (answer)??… I give up.

6. OK geniuses, what do you do here?Priority

Contrary to American driving, there aren’t always stop signs when you approach an intersection, so you can’t just go ahead of the other cars if you don’t see one. Germans follow the right of way rules where drivers to the right of you are given priority. Answer: A. Give way to the green car. (The red car must give way to you.)

7. Things do not get any more fun than this question: Stupid

Really, what do you think? There is a stop sign AND a stop light, and the light is green. What would you do??

Answer: Just go. Seriously, you’re supposed to go! The answer is B, pass through the crossing without stopping. Come on, Germans! What happened to the straight-forward, logical way of doing things??? Why on earth is there a stop sign there in the first place, especially if you are not supposed to stop??

This question is just the worst. When Craig showed me this, I finally took pity on him and acknowledged how real his struggle was. He had to learn 1300 of these bogus questions with more than 90% proficiency, and to everyone’s surprise, he did it! (Just kidding, I knew he would…eventually.)

Bravo, Craig! Bravo to all German license holders!

Also, I’m really happy I won’t be driving in this country. Would you be able to pass the test?

How did you do on the mock German driver’s test? Have you ever gotten a license in another country? Tell us about your experience! 

(Graphics and test questions for this post are from Click & Learn 360º and are copyrighted by Degener GmbH. Materials are used here only for educational and commentary purposes.)


12 thoughts on “Getting a German driver’s license

  1. swanpride says:

    It’s Germans planning ahead. The stop sign is there in case the ample is not functioning for some reason. I remember one instance a few years ago when a giant storm for some reason messed up the ample system in my town, making all the lights blink madly. But there was next to no chaos because there was the sign system to follow instead.


  2. swanpride says:

    Oh, and I passed the test on the first try, but had to repeat the extra part with the ecological questions. In my defence, the question I got wrong was referring to an automatic, and I have never driven one.


  3. beckymarkovitz says:

    Ah, I see. In the US we have a rule where if you encounter a stop light but the lights are out, you must stop at it as if it were a stop sign. This is also a point of confusion living in Germany because often stop lights will not be illuminated and you are supposed to continue through.

    Thanks for sharing!


  4. kalmba13 says:

    Here’s what I got for math on number 5…made some assumptions: tow load is based on empty car, and trailer allowed is based on cars permissible total mass. Therefore 2400-1900 must be subtracted from the original tow load. Does that work? I have no idea, I just looked at what addition subtraction math those numbers would give me and guessed. Glad to see Michigan is on the “don’t have to take any tests” list. Looks very confusing. I’m also on the “you’re not allowed to drive in China because the liability is too high, so here have a driver” plan through work. So far so good… 🙂


    • beckymarkovitz says:

      Haha, I’m still going with that math problem is just impossible. Part of the time we were just convinced that the software had errors in it, but nope.

      Interestingly my husband and I have both previously held licenses from states where we wouldn’t need to take either exam, but unfortunately no longer hold those.

      Having a driver in another country sounds really nice, but can you travel other places with them other than to and from work?? Do you have to book it in advance??

      Liked by 1 person

      • kalmba13 says:

        Our driver will go anywhere we want (within reason), he gets paid from the time he picks up to the last time he drops is off every day, so they like long house sometimes. It’s weird getting used to it though. You lose some freedom along the way.


  5. placetopontificate says:

    his is interesting. I need to change my UK driving licence (I’m Irish but I took my test in UK) to a German one at some point, although I have no urgency as I don’t actually have a car yet😀 I don’t think I’ll have to go through everything Craig did though, I heard it was a simple case of transferring my old licence to a German one, with a fee of course. But I’m surprised the test was in English? considering there is no such thing as a ‘Stop’ sign here. From your example above I also think the English in the exam is generally British-English, as the use of the word ‘dazzle’ I am familiar with in relation to headlights and other things. Nice blog! (ps I also live in Leipzig:) )


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