Category Archives: Vienna

Converting your American Driver’s License to an Austrian License

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.

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Breaking your collarbone in a country with socialized healthcare

As an American professional, I’m accustomed to HMOs, PPOs, group policies, co-pays, etc. I’ve now lived in Austria for over five years, and I’m learning my way around its brand of socialized medicine.

I personally opted for private insurance, rather than the public, but the way it works, I often get the same care, particularly when I go to a hospital.

So, two weeks ago, my son and I head home from his swim lesson, he on his scooter, I on my longboard. And I hit a wet patch of concrete I didn’t see and wipe out. Hard. I’m near blind with pain, but I manage to get up, reassure my son, and get him home. In retrospect, it would have made more sense to get to the hospital immediately, but, well, I didn’t.

Anyway, I get to the hospital and here’s how it goes (It’s a Saturday, by the way.):

12:30: Check in. They ask for my eCard, I explain I have private insurance and will be paying myself. Fine, they’ll send the bill to my house.

12:40: Wait.

13:15: See doctor, who examines me, asks where it hurts, and sends me to the Röntgen Ambulanz (in-house X-ray).

13:25: Wait.

13:30: get X-rayed

13:35: Wait.

13:40: Doctor confirms broken clavicle, prescribes Seractil (dexibuprofen), tells me to come back in a week. Nurse fits me for sling and swathe.

13:45: check out

The Seractil costs 7€ ($8) and is very effective on the pain.

The hospital bill comes to 106.80€ ($117). Total. My insurance company will reimburse me 80% of that, so I’ll only pay 21€.

I go back to the hospital a week later (Friday morning). I’m in and out in an hour. Treatment included another X-ray and feedback from the doctor.

Went back today and it was the same – in and out in an hour. It’s healing well, by the way.

So I’ve been to the hospital three times, seen doctors each time, gotten three x-rays, and checked in as a new patient once. Total time is less than I’ve typically spent in a single hospital visit in the US. The cost, even before I get reimbursed, is a fraction of American medical costs.

I’m telling an outpatient hospital story because the experience is the same whether I have private insurance or not. Private insurance makes more of a difference with in-patient or doctor care, but even then the difference is more about comfort – private rooms and whatnot.