Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Odyssey in Pursuit of A German Driver's License Miles of Red Tape Block On-Ramp to the Autobahn for Foreigners

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Odyssey in Pursuit of A German Driver's License Miles of Red Tape Block On-Ramp to the Autobahn for Foreigners

Article excerpt

Now the story can be told: I finally have my German driver's license.

This may sound mundane. But a change in German law a few years ago has made it much harder for Americans - or citizens of any country outside the European Union (EU) - to get a license to drive on the autobahn.

Obtaining the license wasn't cheap. The fees added up to more than 300 marks (around $175), plus the hassle and expense of visiting several government and other offices. My odyssey included: * Two visits to the license bureau at City Hall. * A visit to the Auslanderamt, or Office for Foreigners, where I had to have an official certify that I am legally "registered" to live in Bonn. Never mind that I have a residence permit stamped in my passport, along with a copy of my municipal registration certificate. * Several outings in search of a driving school where I could buy study materials for the written test (which, mercifully, I could take in English). * Two trips to the Cologne office of the German auto club, for an official translation of my US license. Once there I tried to beat the system, asking, "Is there any way I could just wait here while your translator does my license? It's just a two-minute job." The woman behind the counter was briefly struck speechless. "That would be impossible!" she sputtered. "We have to do translations for all over {the state of} North Rhine-Westphalia!" "But each one is still just a two-minute job!" I couldn't resist countering. I bit my tongue before I could say "how about customer satisfaction?" The whole process took about two months. This was partly because all driver's license applications are shipped to the northern city of Flensburg for processing, which takes about four weeks. (Imagine if all driver's license applications in the United States were processed in, say, Lewiston, Maine.) By contrast, when I needed to obtain a North Carolina license, I walked into a license bureau with my Massachusetts license, a certificate of insurance, and $20. …

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