If you can help it, you shouldn’t drive in the heart of the city, because it’s nearly impossible to find legal parking. Even open spots are often legally reserved for residents of the area, and you’ll need to have a permit to park there. There are parking garages that typically cost 8 euros for the day and are within walking distance of destinations or at least near public transportation.
It’s true: there are no speed limits on parts of the German autobahns. But there are plenty of other regulations of which you should be aware. Police are very strict on tailgating, passing on the right, and other aggressive driving. Also, DUI laws are tougher, so if you’ve had more than one drink, it’s a good idea to let someone else drive.
Don’t let the high speeds on German roads fool you into believing that there are no reduced speed zones. Usually, speeders will not be stopped at the time of the offense but will get a speeding ticket through the mail. This may be as long as two or three months after the incident. The German police use special cameras to catch speeders. Persons exceeding the limits by more than 40 kilometers an hour can count on losing licenses for a period of up to three months, plus a stiff fine.
Your own driver’s license is valid in Germany for a short time. If it was issued by a European Union country, you will never need to exchange it for a German one. If it was issued by a country outside the EU, you can only use it for six months from your date of arrival. If you will be residing in Germany for longer than six months but less than one year, you can obtain a six-month extension to use your existing license.
A national of a non-EU country who will be living in Germany longer than a year will need a German driver’s license (Führerschein). Depending on which state you resided you may simply exchange your license or you may need to take the written test, but not the driving test.
The written test covers such things as rules of the road and traffic signs. The driving test is administered by a driving school (Fahrschule), but those taking it won’t necessarily be treated as beginning drivers. Many schools have set up simplified courses for experienced drivers, which will cost you about €200 as opposed to the over €1,000 that a beginner would have to pay. If a school tells you it doesn’t offer such a course, find one that does.
The driver’s license is issued by an agency of the local police. A person must present an application, a passport, a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis), two passport-sized photos, an old driver’s license, if any, proof of attendance at a Fahrschule if required, proof of completion of a first aid course and certification of a vision test which either an optometrist or the Technische Überwachungsverein (TüV) may administer. This may seem quite a hassle, but once you’ve weathered the storm you’ll have a license that’s good for life.
When visiting the local motor vehicle registry (Autozulassungsstelle) a person needs proof of ownership, proof of insurance and, if the car was purchased in Germany, the Kraftfahrzeugbrief, a document that is supposed to accompany the car through all owners from assembly line to scrap yard. The new or used car dealer from whom the car was purchased will usually handle the registration.
The vehicle must also pass a safety inspection. Tests are conducted by the Technischer Überwachungsverein nationwide. Cars that were purchased new must be inspected after three years, and thereafter all cars must be inspected at two-year intervals.