Monday, July 30, 2012

Another day in Germany, another permission to acquire.

Word of the week: Fahrerlaubnis

Get ready because you’re about to enter another one of my adventures with German bureaucracy! I’ve at last reached the final stages of getting my German driver’s license, which necessitated a trip to my favorite place, the Bürgeramt (I don’t know, city hall?). In my two plus years in Germany I’ve become quite familiar with the stifling bureaucracy that permeates almost every aspect of life as a foreigner. In the beginning, there was the ongoing battle for my Aufenthaltserlaubnis (permission to reside), then the continuing struggle for Arbeitserlaubnis (permission to work), today I discovered the need for another type of permission (erlaubnis), namely that to drive a car.

I’ve talked about the steps to get a license, but I’ll give a quick and dirty run down of the circumstances and what hoops I had to jump through. As a foreigner with a driver’s license, I can have my California license transcribed (umschreiben lassen). Since there is no reciprocity for a Californian license in Germany, probably all of Europe-although I think I read somewhere that it would translate in Belgium…anyway, since that license isn’t accepted, I am obliged to take the theoretical exam and the practical (behind-the-wheel) exam. If I do this before three years after my entry to the country, then I don’t have to go through the whole program of driving school and required behind-the-wheel lessons, which saves time, money and above all stress. Fortunately, the theoretical exam is offered in English, so I found a website ( with sample tests that I found really helpful in preparing. I’ve been pretty diligent over the last several months and decided I’ve reached a point where I am ready to get the ball rolling.

So, first document to get squared away was a vision test. Went to my local optician and took care of that, €7 and a few minutes later I am cleared to drive (with glasses). Next was a certification of first aid training, which was also relatively painless. It cost €50 and was over in one Saturday. I actually found it quite useful and think it’s good that everyone is required to go through that, it was only basic stuff (recovery position, CPR, bandaging a wound, making an emergency call)-on the sign-up sheet I was last and saw the birth dates of some of the other participants a couple of whom were born in 1995, I felt a bit old. Next step was to have my Californian license translated. To do this I had to go to ADAC, for the American readers, it’s like the AAA of Germany, an automotive club. That took two weeks and cost €38. Next I had to get a Meldebestätigung (basically a formal registration where my adress in Germany is)-actually I already did that way back when I first arrived, but just for that extra bit of fun, when you want to apply for Fahrerlaubnis the Meldebestätigung can’t be more than three months old. So that was taken care of in about 5 minutes and €6. So, now I’ve got all my documents together, I’m chomping at the bit to just get through this circus of paperwork and drive a freakin car already, but not quite yet. 

The next step was to find a Fahrschule (driving school). After a little research from my German I found one that has trainers who speak English, which means I can take behind the wheel lessons in English-which is comforting. My German is manageable, but I would prefer to go through all that stuff in English. So, went to the driving school to register with them. This cost €60, but then I got the final piece to the puzzle of transcribing a foreign license- the Antrag auf Fahrerlaubnis (application for permission to drive). This is when I discovered I’d need yet another step before taking the tests. The woman at the driving school told me to submit all my documents, plus this application, along with a biometric passport photo to the Strassenverkehrsamt (DMV). I went there today and had a bit of a wait before I got to the window to hand over my Unterlagen (paperwork) to the Beamter (clerk). After carefully checking everything, stamping my application with several stamps, signing and dating it, she then collected €42 from me and told me I’d receive Post (mail) in 4 weeks, presumably after another Beamter has read signed and stamped the very same application, at which point I can take this letter to my driving school and make an appointment to take the theoretical exam. 

So this Fahrerlaubnis is not a driver’s license-it basically allows me to drive on public streets once I pass the 30 question theoretical exam (€40). After I pass that, then I can take a few behind the wheel lessons (€30 per lesson) before the practical test (€90+€120 fee for TÜV, don’t even get me started on that). I figured it would be useful to get a feel for the road and have the instructor run through what kinds of things I should do in the actual exam. 

So now all I can do is sit and wait to get the letter and continue studying. I am cautiously optimistic about the exams. All in all, I’d say the process will take another couple months until I am licensed (assuming I pass both tests on the first go)-at which point I will have to surrender my California license, which I am sad about. In theory a German license is valid in the states, but I can imagine a situation where a Cailfornian cop would pull me over, take a look at my German license and ask, “What’s this?”

Life as a foreigner in Germany is filled with experiences like this. Lots of collecting documents, certifying documents, then submitting the documents to be further verified by someone else. This costs time and money, but it’s just how the system operates here. But eventually I’ll be on the road, until then I’ll keep reviewing!

The slew of documents I had to submit

 Always a bit of a wait at the Bürgeramt
First aid dummy I learned CPR on. 


To close, some questions from the theoretical exam.