Getting a driving license in the EU

How to drive a car legally in Europe

Rules will vary for each country, but if you want a driving license in the EU and you are a non-EU citizen here are your general options.

This is a US and EU driver’s permit on the road, beep, beep.
  • If you have a driver’s license from any EEA/EU country you can drive anywhere in Europe.
  • If you have a US license you need an International drivers license which would accompany your US driver’s permit. No exam required, only a form/permit you can get at AAA and the National Automobile Club. This will be generally valid if you are on vacation or on a tourist visa. However, generally if you live in Europe for a year or more than you need to get a local permit.
  • If you are concerned about driving on the European road I recommend you get a learners permit. You need to pass the written test or the theoretical part to get a learner’s permit. This permit is good for two years and you can drive as long as there is another licensed driver in the passenger seat.
  • You can exchange your US driving license for an EU drivers license. You can surrender your US drivers license to the driving office in that country and just pass the written exam without the road test. The written exams for EU drivers licenses are low stress and you can study with a computer program, you just need to memorizes the rules. This is great as you do not need a road test to get a driver’s license in the EU (usually). But you will have to speak the language of the country enough to take the drivers test in the language of the country you reside in.

If you are clever you can get a Ukrainian drivers license or another country with a working partnership with the EU and exchange the permit for an EU one. Many Polish guys do this as they have these schools in say Lviv where you are ‘guaranteed’ to pass and they are only we weekend. If you want more information about this method leave a comment.

You can get more information about getting a permit to drive in Europe here and here for information on UK driving license.

The EU motor vehicle exam – is it hard?

The written exams can be passed by anyone, you just have to do the practice test. Further almost all countries offer them in English. Even if not you can figure it out if you do the exam books enough. I have taken so many standardized tests I can tell you they are all the same. I took insurance exams, stockbroker, financial advisor, real estate etc. A European driving exam is no different despite the horror stories you here. Two choices you can eliminate easily and two they try to trick you, you just have to determine what they are asking. They are testing a specific point, and usually guessing is not as good as knowing what they are looking for. My recommendation is do the practice tests over and over until you get over 90%. Then take the written EU exam. You can find these exams online or in a book form. In Poland I bought a book. However, recently when I passed my Real Estate exam I did an online course.

The road exam in Europe is brutal compared to the US exam. Plus in Eastern Europe they use a manual transmission. The road exam for a EU drivers license is notoriously hard. Natives will often fail five times. You can not do one little thing wrong; and it is illegal to bribe the examiner, which was the rule maybe ten years ago in many countries.So I recommend getting a learners permit.

After a driving school go here for the exam.

Getting deported for not having a Driver’s license in Europe

Most of my friends drove on their US license and played dumb when they got caught and most traffic police do not want to deal with an international incident (not really, it is more about paperwork) of giving a US citizen a ticket.  However, now the police are cracking down on foreigners driving in sincere there are a flood of people coming to Europe for a better economic life, many illegally and they will check your visa if caught.

Do not think you will not be stopped. You will eventually. I am an excellent driver and I was going a little over the limit and the police stopped me. They gave me a warning, thank God, but got me on something else, my insurance was expired. I had to go to DMV to prove it was not. This happened less than a Kilometer from my home. They will eventually stop you. So my warning is get a driver’s license, even if you do not have a perfect visa, figure out a way to get a driver’s permit, in some ways it is more important.

They will not deport you for not having a license but if your documents are not in order for a visa, they will, and this is one way Police and immigration will discover this. One American girl I know was deported when on a routine check they discovered she was there with no visa.

Our situation, is in Europe I studied for my Polish drivers test. In the US my wife who is from Poland does not have a US driver’s licenses yet although she has her EU one. We were thinking of getting her a learners permit which means she can drive anywhere as long as I am in the car.  After two years she will have no problem with the road exam. She can drive now but it is always stressful in a new country.  It is cheaper than taking a drivers school course.

EU driver’s license get a new look

There were over 100 variations in Europe for the actual drivers card. The European drivers licensees are now replacing the old style in Europe, because of uniformity. They have the EU flag in the upper left hand corner and the initial of the country. These now have microchips and 3D text, which are designed to counteract people who buy a fake EU drivers license. The European Economic Area has 300 million drivers and a lot of diversity even now there is a good risk of fraud with people who are looking to get a fake EU drivers license.

European nations have harmonized the laws regarding drivers regulations and testing. There are variances but they are going to make everything look the same.

A driving course to get a driver’s license in the EU is about 700 dollars and well worth the investment if you are going to hang around the EU. You can even get it in English, for a 20% premium.

Author: Mark Biernat

I live in with family between two worlds, US and Europe where I create tools for language learning. If you found my site you probability share my passion to be a life long learner. Please explore my site and comment.

117 thoughts on “Getting a driving license in the EU”

  1. I am from Spain and I hold the theory part of the driving test and I am currently living in Denmark (will live here permanently) and I would like to know if it is possible for me to hold the practice test in Denmark in order to get the license. Is it possible?

    1. I think it getting a driver’s license is like being pregnant. You can not be a little bit pregnant. So you need to get the licenses from a government. In the USA I can not even do that between states.

  2. I am hold US valid driving license, however, I am living in Lithuania permanantly, can I change my US license in Lithuanian driving license?

    1. If you have a valid US drivers license (ussually that does not expire in six months) and you have a valid Lithuanian visa, you can exchange your drivers license after you pass a written test but they take your US license away and send it back to the issuing authority.

  3. We’ve been resident in France for almost 20 years. Since my US wife was not able to exchange her Californian drivers license for a French one, she let the matter drop. She did try the French test about 5 years ago but was so put off by the attitude of the driving schools who a) never bothered to tell her that a version of the written test for non- francophones existed. b) insisted that she had to take 20 lessons irregardless of her 30 years driving experience. It felt to us that they were only interested in milking as much money out of her as possible without actually helping her to obtain a french license.
    Since Nov 2010 we understand that there is no longer an obligation to apply for a driving test through a driving school. This implies that there is no longer an obligation to pay for 20 hours driver’s training with a school. However, what we can’t find out is if you can take the test in a normal car, or must you still use the type of car that people learn to drive on (i.e. with brake and clutch pedals on the passenger side too).
    Does anybody have any knowledge or experience about experienced drivers taking the drivers test in France since the change in the law? It sure would be nice to legalize her situation without incurring thousands of euros of un-necessary expense.

    1. Take exam in England! Or get a permit over there and drive on it. Then go back to England and exchange it for a full driver`s license. Moreover, every single EU member country has to have government books, leaflets, brochures etc in all 27 languages. Also, you can choose a language that you want to take your test. It is not true that living in France you have to take your tests and fill other documents only in french!

  4. Hi Mark,

    I recently moved to Ukraine and have my permanent residence there. I carry a EU drivers license and would like to have a Ukrainian one / might even need to own a Ukrainian one.

    Do you know where I need to go for this? Is there a website with more information?

    As I am going to get a new drivers license, I’d also like to add a bus and truck driving permit on the license. Do you have any information on this too?

    1. You have to look on the Internet that is all I can tell you. Use a translate, tool to search on the Polish and Ukrainian Internet.

  5. Have a US permit,and live in Italy as well. Can’t take the test because I’m very weak on the reading part. Can I get a EU permit somehow or what do you think? They just changed the law for the test in English.

    1. Take it in Italy it would be the easiest. Study day and night with translated books or webpages. Get seem cordial Italian girl to tutor you, the written test is the easy part, just keep studying, unless you have a visa for another country.

      1. I guess that’s the only way,but the test has 2500 questions. I’ll be gone by then. I just missed it by 2 yrs. Thinking of going to Ireland as well to try there?

    2. Not a problem for the Church of England. I Just do not know how you would go about it. I think I would contact an Minster in a major city like Krakow or Warsaw.

  6. I am a USA, Mexican and Polish citizen living in Germany. I have a valid California drivers license for many years now.
    Germany would allow me to drive for one year and then I would have to jump through many hoops to get a German license. I don’t want to go through all of the trouble in Germany.
    What would you recommend as the easiest process to follow for a EU license? I’ve hear- Poland? Czech Republic?
    I have a 3-year old son and I would greatly appreciate any leads for how I can easily and legally get my EU license.


    1. You can go to Lviv in Ukraine and get a Ukrainian drivers licenses and then exchange it for a Polish. The one way if you give Poland your US driver’s license and you take the written test in English. It is a special treaty with Poland and Ukraine because of their historic relationship. In Ukraine it takes like a weekend if you go to the right school. You might want to research it. Lviv is very safe by the way as I have friends that live there and I go there a lot. It is like Krakow, Poland. When your back in the US I think you can get a replacement. Although I have to research this route as they might send your US license to your state.

  7. I have a US license (15+ years of driving experience) but just started driving in Spain. really not sure how much longer I will live in Spain and getting a Spanish driver’s license can cost up to or even more than 1,000 €. Is it possible to do something similar like you mentioned with Ukraine and Poland and exchange or just use a license from there in Spain? Thanks in advance for any tips.

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