So you’re an American expat living in Austria. Whether or not you decide to buy a car here, you’ll need to rent one occasionally, or make use of a car-sharing service like ZipCar or DriveNow, or borrow a friend’s car to bring stuff home from IKEA.
After 30 days, you need an International Driver’s License.
Americans on vacation don’t have to worry about this, because Americans don’t get enough vacation time to stay in Europe for the 30 days before you are *supposed* to have obtained an International Driver’s License. (By the way an IDL is not a driver’s license at all – it’s just a multi-language translation of your existing driver’s license that you are supposed to carry with your regular license.) But those of us who have moved here start to run into the time limits.
Maybe you didn’t bother with the International Driver’s License, and it didn’t matter because rental car companies don’t ask, and let’s say you haven’t been pulled over, so the police have never asked. The next time limit you hit is
After 6 months, you need to convert your American license to an Austrian license
Now, expats can, and do, get away with not doing this. Again, rental car companies don’t check. They’re used to dealing with American tourists who are never going to be here more than a couple of weeks, or at most three months (that’s the maximum stay for an American without a visa). I have heard that at least one car-sharing service, Drive Now, does check your license every six months and they will suspend your membership if you’re still driving on the American license you signed up with. And, I’ve never been pulled over in Europe so I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing the police might not bother or even be able to check when you entered Europe when you hand them your American license.
You will need to make sure you keep your license from expiring, which means renewing it online and having the new one sent to an in-state address back in the US that you can receive mail at. Or you can renew it in person when you’re on home leave. Procedures vary state to state.
Regardless, according to the Austrian DMV, you’re not legal to drive on your American license past 6 months. Fortunately, getting your American license converted to an Austrian one is not that hard, and doesn’t require a driving test.
What I did to get my Austrian driver’s license
First, you’ll need to be prepared for the fact that you will need to turn your American license in to the Austrian DMV in order to get your Austrian license. And you won’t get it back. In fact, I’m told they send it back to the US.