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.
I know a lot of Americans who really don’t want to give up their American license, and I’ve heard that some will claim they lost their license and request a replacement, and then they hand their old license in when they apply to convert it to an Austrian one. This way you end up with both. This seems to work for some people, but I don’t know if it’s really legal, and I don’t know how well it really works. It seems to me that, if Austria really does send the license back with some sort of notification that it’s been converted, then your stateside DMV might cancel your license with them. Or maybe they don’t. Or maybe some states do and some don’t. I have no idea.
Regardless, I procrastinated, so I started this process less than two weeks before my Virginia license was due to expire. Also, I no longer have a Virginia mailing address. I use my parents’ address to receive mail, and they live in Florida. So I don’t think I could have requested a renewed license online anyway. I’d have had to plan ahead and do it on a visit home.
Anyway, so if you read the two official English instructions for this, the Austrian government page, and the American Embassy page, you’ll learn what I just said above, and you’ll get instructions. What I’m writing here is intended to clarify those instructions just a bit, which will save you some time.
0. Check with your employer.
I work at the IAEA, and I’m found out later that our internal Visa and Customs office can help with this whole process. Might have helped me if I’d gone to them first, so check with your employer if they have anyone who helps employees with this process. In any case, you’ll still need to:
1. Get a physical
This is easy. First, choose a doctor that’s on the list of doctors who perform this. If you live in Vienna, the Vienna State Police (Landespolizeidirektion) Motor Vehicle Department have a list, on their German language page about driver’s licenses (Führerschein). Their German language page about converting a foreign driver’s license is also a helpful resource – just use Google Chrome’s automatic translation feature if dein Deutsch ist nicht so gut.
If you don’t live in or near Vienna, you’ll have to look up the site for your local DMV, and get the list from them.
Then call and make an appointment for a Führerscheinuntersuchung (exam for a driver’s license. You may be able to just walk in. That’s what I did. It costs 30€ and takes 15 minutes. It’s a height, weight, blood pressure, vision thing. I don’t use corrective lenses, so I didn’t have to a Brillenpass from an ophthalmologist, but the American Embassy page has info on that.
2. Get your license translated
I went to the main ÖAMTC office in Vienna for this. They were very helpful about, and it costs 18€ for a notarized translation of your license. For those who don’t know ÖAMTC, it’s kind of like AAA, but they also operate a fleet of rescue helicopters. Kind of cool.
3. Get two passport photos
I only needed one, but the instructions say two.
4. “Possibly extract from the driving licence file of the issuing country and possibly a translation (simplifies the process at the responsible authority)”
The instructions say you only need this if you are converting a European license, but I was asked for this (the German word is Auszug). I had no idea what it meant. After some discussion, I obtained a copy of my driving record from the Virginia DMV, and gave them that. I did not attempt to get it translated, but it worked. I was told that if I hadn’t provided it that it would have taken months to get me my new license and I wouldn’t be able to drive in the meantime.
I went ahead and just printed mine out from the Virginia DMV online interface, but, if you have time, might be better to pay a few bucks and have an official copy sent to you. Just in case.
5. A completed application (Führerscheinantrag)
The instructions say you need this, but I was never asked for it! Maybe print it out and have it with you, but don’t bother filling it out (it’s in German) unless they ask you.
6. A Meldezettel, which is a registration of residency in Austria, which requires your landlord’s signature when you first move in.
I was not asked for this either. I found the blank form that my landlord had signed, but I’d never filled out or submitted. I brought that in, but it wasn’t needed.
7. Make 2 photocopies of:
- Your passport, including your visa. For me as a UN employee, this meant the Legitimationskarte. I went ahead and photocopied them together. If you want to be clever, make a copy of the back of the Legit card, then stack that with the card and the passport to get one sheet of paper that has your passport and both front and back of the Legitimationskarte on it.
- Your driver’s license, front and back. I put this on the same sheet of paper too.
- Your driving record
8. Bring everything with you
You’re going to the motor vehicle department office, either Dietrichgasse 27, 1030 Wien for Vienna, or the place you looked up here.
Be prepared to have something be wrong and need to make a second trip, but, if you followed my instructions, as well as carefully reading the official resources, and with a little luck, you might just be able to do it all in one go!