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Getting a German drivers license in Berlin

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TLDR: Yes and no. One thing’s for sure though, it’s expensive.

I have been driving for over 10 years and only needed to convert my Philippines drivers license to a German one. Honestly, going through this process was out of a whim, an impulse decision, at the height of the pandemic. I love driving and going on roadtrips and my brain thought “sure, I’m a great driver and I can spare around €1.000 to convert”. Well, let’s just say, this is a humbling experience.

There are some countries that have a reciprocity agreement with Germany where license conversion is easy, no exams needed, but unfortunately Philippines isn’t part of that. When converting the license to a German one (Umschreibung), it is not required to attend theory classes. However, it is still required to pass the theory and practical exams.

The whole process took me a year and a half. So, I’ll say that how long the process takes is totally up to each individual. It is all about how fast you can understand the road rules and etiquette in this country. With that, you can either save a few euros or spend way more than you thought.

Here’s the step by step process on how I finally got my license!

Find a driving school

To start the process, you have to find a Fahrschule (driving school). I only have one condition when looking for a driving school, they have to offer classes in English. Yes, surprisingly, they exist along with other language offerings (ie. Turkish). I started in June 2021 and at that time, due to the pandemic, most of the driving schools are full and have a long waiting list especially the ones with English classes. But I found one and signed up with Asphalt-Profis Driving school in Prenzlauer Berg and they told me the next steps — take a first aid course and register at the Bürgeramt.

A little side note: if you live in Berlin, driving fees vary depending on the neighbourhood. Generally, I found that schools in Wedding are cheaper than Prenzlauer Berg.

First aid course and register at the Bürgeramt

You don’t really need support from the driving school at this stage but it’s good to be registered with one because it will get asked during the appointment at the Bürgeramt.

It was easy to find a schedule for the first aid course, and yes I found one in English here! They also offer a package where they take photos for the driving license and can issue an eye test certificate. These are requirements for registering at the Bürgeramt.

The first aid course was a full day affair. It was useful because they tell you what to do in case of driving emergency and accidents and has hands-on exercises like how to do CPR.

Finding an appointment with the Bürgeramt was obviously harder but I found one in Pankow. You can go to any Bürgeramt that has an open appointment. It was an easy process, I brought all the required documents to the appointment. They asked me if I want to take the exam with DEKRA or TÜV, and chose DEKRA.

It took a few weeks to receive the confirmation letter from DEKRA and they asked me to submit other documents. This is because my Philippine license was issued in 2019 and I have already been living in Germany at that time. I submitted copies of my older license as proof that I have been driving for years before coming to Germany. This is one of the limitations stipulated for converting a drivers license.

Once I got the documents, I was ready to take my lessons! This permit from the Bürgeramt is good for 1 year. Within this period, you must pass the theory exam.

Passing the theory exam

After all this, I had to change driving schools because Asphalt has a really long waiting list and they weren’t able to give me access to the driving app. Fortunately, Fahrschule Aktiv in Wedding accepted me, they were super helpful and guided me with every step of the way.

The driving school will give you access to their driving app to learn and study the questions that will come out at the theory exam. You have to study and memorise everything, a total of 1000 situational questions, at your own pace. The theory exam has 30 questions but you can only make 10 points worth of mistakes. There are also loads of tutorials on Youtube!

This was the longest process for me. I didn’t really do anything for 10 months. It was boring. The approaching deadline of the permit was what lit my ADHD brain on fire. All in all, I focused and studied for a week straight and passed the theory exam in one take! Anyone can take the exam multiple times, if you don’t pass, as long as you pay the fee.

Once I passed the test in July 2022, I informed my driving school and they gave me a schedule for 15 practical lessons. Due to the long waiting list, my practical lessons only started in December 2022.

Take practical driving lessons

Practical driving lessons took all my money. It costs €90 for 45 minutes of lessons and this is one of the cheaper ones. I already know how to drive and it still took me around 15 lessons before I was deemed ready to take the exam. So, when I said it is expensive, taking loads of practical lessons has certainly put a dent on my bank account. Overall, I think I spent around €3000 for practical lessons and exam fees.

How does a driving session look like? On the first day of lessons, the instructor will make you drive around the neighbourhood to assess your skills. They will give you directions, no GPS or navi, just you listening and following them. Then, make corrections and tell you the rules as you go along. After a few lessons, they will take you to the autobahn and around the route that the examiners usually take. My lessons were in the middle of winter and was a good to experience driving in all sorts of weather.

Some tips:

  • Follow the speed limit. Yes, going 30 kph feels slow and it’s meant to be that way. You can also see many drivers behind you will feel agitated, let them be!
  • Right before left. It is what it is and you just have to keep your eyes peeled for incoming traffic on your right.
  • Listen to your instructor and ask questions. Some rules are straightforward and some are not, your instructor is there to help you.
  • Keep calm. You will make mistakes and that’s alright! At first, I was shook whenever the instructor steps on the brakes really hard or grabs the steering wheel abruptly whenever there are mistakes. But, I guess, that’s their method here.

The driving school will schedule the exam for you with DEKRA or TÜV. Closer to the scheduled exam date, the instructor will prepare you for the practical questions that will be asked by the examiner: fog lights, hazard lights, parts under the hood, etc.

The practical driving exam

Although all my lessons were in English, the exam is and always will be in German. Your instructor will also simulate this in your lessons. You will pick up the examiner at DEKRA or TÜV and from there the exam begins. Your teacher will still be in the car with you in the passenger seat with the examiner sits at the back. You will be asked some practical questions before you go out into the road. Then, the it starts.

Full disclosure, I failed my exam 2x. Third time’s a charm, I guess? There were a few factors but at the core of it, I was nervous and stressed out.

If you fail, you will stop in the middle of the exam and will be asked to park somewhere. From there, the examiner will tell you why you failed. Then, your driving instructor will be driving you all back to DEKRA or TÜV. After a couple of weeks or so, you can take the exam again.

If you pass, you will go back to DEKRA and they will hand you your temporary permit. Maybe they will give you comments on your driving.

Getting the license by post

So you’ve finally passed the exam. Great! The temporary license is valid for 3 months. You have to wait for your German drivers license card to be printed for a few weeks. In my case, they did not tell me when it was ready, contrary to what the driving school said. I waited for 3 months for a letter or appointment from DEKRA but nothing came in the mail.

After multiple emails to LABO (Fahrerlaubnisbehörde) were left unanswered, I tried to queue at 6am for 2 days but wasn’t lucky enough to get in. Similar to the Ausländerbehörde, you can queue without an appointment but have to be there at the break of dawn before the office opens.

In the end, I called the 115 hotline. They said that for license conversion, they don’t offer appointments. The old foreign license must be sent through registered post (this is important for tracking) and then they will the new German license by post too. An actual exchange. Yes, it worked, and I received my German license within a week.

Finally, hello rookie driver!

You will be considered a rookie for 1 year. You can rent cars but it might be tough or would have higher insurance costs. You can also rent Miles or Sixt but there will be an added cost as a rookie.

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