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DRIVING

Can I use my foreign driving licence in Austria?

The quick answer is usually yes, but for a limited time, depending on where your driving licence was issued. Here’s what you need to know about using a foreign driving licence in Austria.

Can I use my foreign driving licence in Austria?
Long term international residents in Austria might need to exchange their driving licence. Photo by Dimitry Anikin/Unsplash.

Most foreign driving licences can be used to drive on Austrian roads for at least six months – just like in most other European countries.

This is great for visitors or for people working in Austria for just a short period of time, but it means many long term international residents eventually have to get an Austrian driving licence.

Here’s an overview of how the system works and how long a foreign driving licence is valid in Austria.

Driving with a foreign licence in Austria

Visitors from most countries can drive on Austrian roads for up to six months as long as they have a valid licence from their country of residence. For some countries, an international driving permit (IDP) is required in addition to their valid licence.

For example, drivers from the UK do not need an IDP in Austria if they have a photocard driving licence issued in the UK, but drivers from the USA do need an IDP, as well as their original licence.

The IDP is an internationally recognised translation of a foreign driving licence and a United Nations regulated travel document. Drivers should apply for an IDP in their country of residence before arriving in Austria.

READ MORE: How half of Austria drove on the left and half on the right – for 20 years

However, driving licences from the following countries are not recognised in Austria: Afghanistan, Bolivia, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Indonesia, Kosovo, Libya, Nepal, Nicaragua, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Tonga and Yemen. 

It’s not all bad news though as drivers from these countries might still be able to exchange their licence for an Austrian one.

What are the rules for exchanging an EU or EEA driving licence in Austria?

Driving licences from EU and EEA countries are recognised in Austria and remain valid for up to five years, as long as they don’t expire.

This means they do not have to be exchanged for an Austrian licence after six months, although drivers can choose to do this voluntarily.

If an EU or EEA driving licence has to be exchanged in Austria, the process involves the Austrian driving licence authority submitting a request to the issuing country to verify if an Austrian licence can be issued. 

As long as there are no issues, applicants will be issued with an Austrian driving licence within several weeks.

If a driving licence from an EU or EEA country expires while the holder is a resident in Austria, it will have to be renewed in Austria.

What are the rules for exchanging a non-EU/EEA driving licence in Austria?

People with a non-EU/EEA driving licence have to exchange their licence for an Austrian one after six months of living in Austria, because it loses validity after this, and they need to exchange it earlier if the licence will expire before then.

Most holders of a non-EU/EEA driving licence will have to take a practical driving test in Austria to exchange their licence. This usually takes place in German.

Non-EU/EEA countries that are exempt from the driving test rule (for all categories of licence) are Andorra, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Japan, Jersey, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino, Switzerland, Serbia, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Additionally, people with a driving licence from Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hong Kong, Israel, Canada, North Macedonia, New Zealand, Republic of South Africa, Republic of South Korea (if issued after 1 January 1997), USA and United Arab Emirates are exempt from having to take a driving test for a category B licence.

A category B licence allows holders to drive a vehicle with up to eight passengers and a maximum weight of 3,500kg.

READ MORE: What are the post-Brexit rules about UK driving licences in Austria?

For British people, the rules around driving licences in Austria have changed in the past year as a result of Brexit. This means British people that were resident in Austria before December 31st 2020 had to exchange their UK driving licence for an Austrian licence before June 30th 2021. 

British people now moving to Austria (post-Brexit) will have to follow the rules for non-EU/EEA residents when exchanging a driving licence in Austria, although a practical driving test is not required.

How to exchange a driving licence in Austria

Applications for exchanging a licence in Austria take place at a state police department, at LPD Wien (Vienna Police Headquarters) or at the district administration office (Bezirkshauptmannschaft) where you live.

An appointment is usually needed to submit an application, although your local driving licence authority will advise on the correct process.

The documents required for the application are passport, foreign driving licence, one passport photo, medical certificate including an eye test (most doctors will charge for this) and a Meldezettel (compulsory address registration in Austria).

The fee for converting a driving licence in Austria is €60.50.

Applicants are issued with a temporary licence if the original licence is handed in to the authorities. This is valid for four weeks from the date of issue, but only within Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: What happens if you haven’t exchanged your UK driving licence in Austria?

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For members

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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