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Brexit update: How to exchange your British driving licence for a German one

With the Brexit transition period coming to an end in three months, it's a good time to change your driving licence from British to German.

Brexit update: How to exchange your British driving licence for a German one
A German driving licence. Photo: DPA

The UK government confirmed earlier this year that Brits can drive with their UK driving licence in Germany and other EU countries only until the end of the transition period. After December 31st, the rules for third country nationals will likely apply.

The British Embassy said at the moment negotiations are ongoing on what will happen regarding British driving licence rules in the EU after this date.

But they said: “If you are resident in Germany you should exchange your UK driving licence for a German one within six months of moving to Germany, and before the end of the transition period.”

An International Driving Permit is not a suitable alternative to exchanging your licence, authorities say.

Campaign groups, including British in Germany, have also been urging Brits who are interested in exchanging their licence to do it as soon as possible.

The process for exchanging your licence is different for driving licences that have been issued by non-EU countries. You can read our detailed article on getting a German driving licence.

We’ve gathered together some information on what you should know if you’re thinking of exchanging your licence, but you should also check out this federal government website.

READ ALSO: How long will Brits be able to stay in Germany after Brexit without becoming a resident?

The current situation

Before the end of the transition period, your driving licence is valid in the EU. If you're 18 years of age or older and you have a valid licence which was issued from a member state in the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA), you may drive vehicles in Germany of the category that's indicated on your licence without restrictions.

Officials say that with a UK licence you can drive for both work and leisure purposes throughout the EU without other documents.

In EU countries, such as Germany, you can exchange licences issued by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) or the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland, for a driving licence from your new home country.

You do not need to re-sit your driving test. The cost of exchanging your driving licence is around €35 but it varies across Germany. You do not need to have the licence translated.

SEE ALSO: What you need to know about getting a German driving licence

What else should I know?

According to authorities, if you live full time in Germany, you must exchange your UK licence for a German one within six months of moving to Germany. So to drive in Germany after that, you'll need a German licence.

You do not have to sit another test to get a German licence. Follow the procedures below and talk to your local authority if you have any questions.

If you change it, you can still use your German licence in the UK for short visits or exchange it for a UK licence without taking a test if you return to live in the UK.

According to the government, if your UK driving licence is lost, stolen or expires, you will not be able to renew it with the UK Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) while you are resident in Germany.

The Brexit mural by Banksy in Dover, UK. Photo: DPA

What will happen after December 31st?

It is not clear yet what will happen after the transition period – it's still being negotiated. However the UK government issued guidance saying Brits should change their licence before the end of the transition period (December 31st, 2020).

After the transition period, The UK will become a 'third country' to Germany, not an EU one.

Keep in mind that nationals of some third countries are required to take a test (theory and/or practical) before they can exchange their driving licences for a German one. So there's a strong possibility that Brits would have to take a test before being able to get a German licence after the transition period.

We don't know for sure yet, though.

What you can do before December 31st

You can apply to swap your British driving licence for your German one. There are other reasons for doing this besides Brexit. If you're planning to stay in Germany long-term it might be a good idea to have a Germany-issued licence (Führerschein).

The good news is that it's not a difficult task. Kathleen Parker, of consultancy service Red Tape Translation, told The Local in a previous interview. “It’s quite a straightforward process.”

Start by looking up the information on what documents you need on the local government website of the city you live in. In Berlin you need to book an appointment online at your Bürgeramt (administrative office) and attend a meeting.

READ ALSO: Q&A – What does Brexit mean for my rights as a Brit living in Germany?

According to the official government website, if your foreign driving licence is “about to expire or is no longer valid, you will receive a German licence of the same category upon request”.

A typical requirement is that you have to be a resident in the city where you’re applying.

The documents needed to exchange your licence include:

  • your passport/ID

  • a certificate of registration of residency (Anmeldung) 

  • a current photo that must fit the size and style required

  • your UK driving licence 

If your driving licence is in English it will not need to be translated. After you’ve paid, you’ll receive a Quittung (receipt). Parker recommends storing that document in a safe place.

“Hold onto the receipt when you make the payment, in case you have to follow up the query,” she told The Local.

On your local government website you should also find information on what to do if you’ve lost your UK driving licence or if it has been stolen and you want a German one. In this case, local government officials will want as much information as possible about the British licence (categories of licence, place of issue, date of issue, etc).

Photo: DPA

If you have a copy of the licence or a confirmation of receiving it, you can submit that in your application too.

When transferring truck or bus driving licences (C and D categories on the licence) the process is not as simple.

The kind of documents you need to provide in this case include certificates of physical and mental fitness, as well as medical examinations of vision.

When the German driving licence is issued, the foreign driving licence will be retained and sent back to the authority that issued it.

Possible disruption due to the pandemic

Due to the pandemic, there may be longer times than usual for processing applications or it is more difficult to book appointments at government offices. So if it’s something you’re thinking of doing, it’s best to apply sooner rather than later.

In 2019, Parker, of Red Tape Translation, told The Local that in Berlin she had come across longer waiting times.

Readers of The Local also reported long waits in some cities.

“Some people have been contacting me after a couple of months and saying: 'I applied for my licence to be swapped over and I still haven’t heard anything,'” said Parker at the time.

Parker said she had received several inquiries from British people preparing for Brexit, many of them looking to apply for dual citizenship. She has also noticed an increase in Brits looking for information on swapping their driving licences for German ones.

“That’s a bit of a theme at the moment,” she said.

For more information check out this European Union website. Another handy resource is this government fact sheet.

A version of this article was first published in February 2019 but we've updated it.

Member comments

  1. As an Australian I have experienced first hand the German bureaucracy and there inability to correctlyinterpret data even when translated. In Australia our licenses are renewed typically every 5 years and they put the issue date and expiry date 5 years later. Unfortunately the German Authorities decide to interpret the issue date as the date when you first got your license. So if you have a relative new renewal issue date they want to issue you a German probationary license. This recently happened when we went to change my wife’s license who has been driving for 20 plus years. Despite showing the translation that she was an open driver they would not budge on there interpretation. So in the end we refused to surrender her open Australian licensed and told them where to jam there German probationary one. I would love to see a Germans face if the boot was on the other foot and we issued them a set of Probationary Plates, in Australia after they we used to driving on the Autobahns here.

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DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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