Living in Germany: Converting a Driver's License

I don’t ever plan to drive in Germany. The public transit here is amazing, and in 7 months of living here, I haven’t once wished I had a car. But there are some things one can’t do by public transit (like moving furniture or appliances). I will eventually have to do those and would like to have the flexibility to drive if needed. So I want to keep my ability to drive, which means converting my US license to a German one.

As it turns out, Massachusetts (where I lived before moving) is one of 11 US states that have full reciprocity with Germany. That means that converting my MA license to a German one should be a matter of just some paperwork. This page is the list of countries and states which can be converted into German driver’s licenses, and whether or not the theoretical or practical tests must be done.

So… How does one actually do this?

There are many articles out there promising to tell you step-by-step how to convert a driver’s license. Many of them have the major caveat of only promising step-by-step for Munich. A quick search through various expat forums reveals that varies by municipality and sometimes even within a municipality.

So the quick answer is: contact the local Führerscheinstelle (driver’s license office) and ask. I’ll be writing about what it was for me, in a city outside Stuttgart.

However, there are some ground rules true throughout Germany:

  • You need your prior driver’s license
  • Your prior driver’s license allows you to drive in Germany for the first 6 months of your residence, and can be traded in any time in the first two (or three?) years of residence. In any case, it’s probably best to do ASAP.

And one more caveat: My experience was different and unusual because of the pandemic. I never set foot in the driver’s license office. I did a lot of correspondence by email and postal mail.

What did I need? What did I do?

It’s actually a pretty reasonable list:

  • My MA driver’s license (duh)
  • A translation of my MA driver’s license
  • A photocopy of my passport (to identify me)
  • A biometric photo (for the new license)
  • An “bestätigung über die erste Einreise” (“statement of first arrival”). The local foreigner’s agency provides this, and it is simply a document that states when I first took up residence in Germany. It’s used to show that I haven’t waited too long to convert my driver’s license.
  • Roughly €100 for the translation and for fees

My first step was to email my local Führerscheinstelle and tell them what I wanted to do. They asked for a photocopy of my passport, photocopy of my driver’s license, translation of my driver’s license, and bestätigung über die erste Einreise. Basically enough to identify me, verify I had a valid driver’s license and verify that it could be converted.

Gathering these was honestly the hardest part of this process. The photocopies were easy enough. But the bestätigung über die erste Einreise meant a bike ride down to the local Ausländerbehörde (foreigner’s office) and speaking German (poorly, on my part) with a very kind woman behind the desk there. But I’m proud to say I managed and was able to do the entire transaction in German. Getting this document cost me €18.

The driver’s license translation was more complicated. Germany has a group called ADAC which is roughly equivalent to AAA in the US. They offer translation services for driver’s licenses. But these are costly (~€65) and take a long time (at least four weeks). Instead, I ended up going with a company called LingoKing. They turned the translation around in less than 24 hours (at a cost around €55, including extra copies of the translation) and I had a certified paper copy in my hands in about 3 days. And I submitted the order on a Saturday. It was amazingly fast.

So off goes all that data, and back comes a partly pre-filled form. This asked me for my name, address, vital information, and a biometric photo.

Back goes that form, and I next get a letter telling me that my driver’s license has been examined, found equivalent to a German one and converted. And that they will mail it to me as soon as I send them €32.50 and my MA driver’s license.

So I sent payment and my MA license, and a couple days later had a German driver’s license!

Overall this process turned out to be almost painless. It took a while, but the delay was largely on my side. Nor was it overly expensive or complicated. Overall, it was a pretty pleasant experience interacting with German bureaucracy.