You’ve heard the rumors about driving in Germany. These tales of no speed limits either scare the bajeezus out of you or you can’t wait to get on the road and open up full throttle. But before you hop behind the steering wheel and drive super granny style out of sheer fear or tear down the road feeling like you’re the next Dale Earnheardt, there are a few things to know and do before you are even allowed to drive in Germany.
1) Not all streets are no speed limits
This is a common misconception about driving in Germany. People hear “Germany has no speed limit” and think that it’s a free for all all over the country, but that simply isn’t true. The only time there are no speed limits are on certain parts of the Autobahn (interstate). I mean, this IS Germany after all; the country where everything has order and reason! So yes, expect speed limits in towns, on country roads and even on some stretched of the Autobahn.
2) Germans Take Driving Seriously
You’ll often hear that “Driving is a privilege, not a right.”
I’ve talked a bit about driving in Germany before in our “What to know about living in Germany” post. Here’s the deal:
If you were a German or living in Germany without being in the US Military, getting a driver’s licence is serious stuff. We are talking THOUSANDS of dollars, HUNDREDS of hours of classwork and countless driving tests in all road conditions. The cost alone would make anyone take driving pretty serious, because a few thousand Euros isn’t something your willing to drop “just because.”
If you’ve ever driven on the Autobahn, you will forever be sullied on driving in the US. On the Autobahn, despite speeds of 150 miles per hour (or more), there is order and rules to everything about it. People aren’t swerving around other cars wrecklessly, passing on the right or even talking on their phones. While Americans are used to driving hours on end, most Germans believe in driving no more than two hours before stopping for a break. In fact, the German Audi we had only had one cup holder in the whole car! When we grumbled about this, a German friend chastised us that “Driving is for driving, not eating and drinking!”
DUIs? Well, they aren’t non existent in Germany, but they are taken MUCH more seriously than in the US. Get caught drinking and driving and say goodbye to your driving privileges and expect thousands of dollars to be paid and months upon months before even a consideration of getting it back.
So, all in all, if you had to pay that much money and time just to drive, you’d probably take it pretty seriously, too
3) You Need a USAREUR Driver’s Licence
Fortunately, for US Personnell, you don’t have go through that whole process as the Germans do. Instead, you can get issued a USAREUR (US Army Europe) drivers licence. This, along with the Esso Fuel Card, is one of the best perks that US military get while in Germany. Germany and the US Military are in agreement that those on orders in Europe and with a valid, current US license can obtain a USAREUR license instead of going through the expensive and long process that a local would have to.
Instead of upwards of 2-3,000 EUROS, you can just pay $20. UM, YES PLEASE! (Note: $20 must be paid in check or credit card: NO cash)
And instead of hundreds of hours of coursework and then driving tests, all you have to do is study for a written test (see below).
Just as an FYI: If you are going to be driving a USAREUR plated care (aka: what you get on post) and want to get American gas prices then you are REQUIRED to have a USAREUR licence…NO EXCEPTIONS.
Common Misunderstanding: Many people think they are on top of things and get an international permit through AAA before arriving. However, if you are on orders, you will not be able to drive (even a rental!) until you get a USAEUR license.
How To Get Your USAREUR Licence
First and foremost, know that driving in Europe isn’t hard or confusing, but it is different from the US. This is not a test that you just sit down and pass without prep. I actually have known many, many people who have not been able to pass it on the first or even second try. With that being said, with a decent amount of studying, you’ll be flying down the Autobahn in no time at all. You can find a ton of information as well as practice tests here http://www.usareurpracticetest.com/. I HIGHLY recommend this.
1) Get it done before arriving
- This is a newer feature and is great if you want one less thing on your “to do” list after arriving.
- Follow the steps detailed over at StationedinGermany to complete the test
- Print off the verification that you passed and then when you arrive in Germany, stop into the vehicle registration office (with your check for $20 or credit card; remember, no cash) and get your shiny new license.
2) Get It In Germany
After you arrive, you can head on over to the Vehicle Registration office, or at some installations they have an actual Drivers License Office and see when they have the next testing time open. After studying on your own, you can take a proctored exam on location, pay your fee and be on way.
How long is my USAREUR License good for?
Your license will be good for up to 5 years, or until the date of your DEROS. If you are in Germany longer than that, you do not need to retest, but will need to show your valid US license, pay the fee and go into the appropriate office to obtain a new one.
Can my teen drive in Germany?
You must be 17 in order to get the USAREUR License and must have a valid, current driver’s license. If your teen meets those requirements, then yes.
Who can drive my car?
ONLY those with a USAREUR License is permitted to drive a USAREUR plated vehicle. This can be especially annoying when friends or family come to visit and you don’t want to bear the brunt of all the driving. But wait, there’s hope!
1) Have your visitor have a current, valid international driver’s permit (should be obtained prior to arriving at any AAA for about $20 and is good for 1 year)
2) Take your visitor to your customs office and ask for an “Exception to Policy” paper. With that, their passport and international permit, they are then good to go. When driving, they will also be required to have all of those documents on hand as well.
Good to Know:
If you are having friends or family coming to visit who rent a car, since they are not on orders and not driving a USAREUR plated vehicle, they can just drive on the international permit. While TECHNICALLY a valid, US licence is good for up to 30 days for tourists, most establishments will ask for your international proof and for only $20, it is just the safer, easier way to do it.
Ready to get your German International Driver’s licence that stays good for as long as your USAREUR Liscence? Check back next week to find out how easy it is. PS~ It is illegal to drive outside of Germany without an international permit, so stop back in next week to find out how to easily get yours!
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