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Owning a Car in Germany

If you plan on driving or owning a car in Germany, there are several aspects to consider: What’s easier – importing your vehicle or buying a car in Germany? Do you need a German driving license? What about insurance? This expat guide to Germany hopefully answers all your car-related questions.
From car imports to vehicle insurance, our guide to owning a car in Germany covers all related topics.

Is driving a car in Germany really the ultimate fun or Fahrvergnügen, as a German car manufacturer’s advertising slogan proudly proclaimed? German nationals and long-term residents enjoy grousing about traffic jams, gas prices, and environmental protection zones. On the other hand, quite a few expats dream of the Autobahn (highway) to test the speed limits of their car.

No matter what you think about traffic conditions, the red tape for obtaining and registering a car or for getting a German driving license can be a bit of a hassle. We hope the following advice on car imports, purchases, and driving permits will make life easier for you. Once the paperwork is over and done with, you can enjoy driving in Germany. Gute Fahrt!

Import Regulations

If you enter Germany as an expat from another EU member state, bringing your own car will not be much of a problem. There may be shipping costs to consider if you arrive by plane and let your moving company take the vehicle to Germany. However, the German customs authorities won’t object to EU nationals importing a car for personal use.

If you bring along a vehicle from a country outside the EU, though, there are several conditions to meet in order to avoid import duties and taxes. Cars can only be imported to Germany free of charge if…

  • You have lived outside the EU for at least the past twelve months.
  • You are planning to take up residence in Germany.
  • You have registered the car in your name.
  • You have owned and used the vehicle for a minimum period of six months.
  • You intend to re-export it or to sell the car in Germany only after twelve months or more.

In case you cannot fulfill or prove these requirements, you have to pay 10% of the car’s total worth as import duty and another 19% as import tax. The German customs authorities make use of standard listings of international manufacturers, models, and prices to calculate the worth of your car.

It’s rather time-consuming to collect all the necessary documents and then wait for your car. Shipping (including risk insurance) is also fairly expensive. Even if you don’t have to pay any customs fees, every car has to meet German safety standards. For non-European models, this may mean cost-intensive repairs and alterations, while spare parts are difficult to acquire. Therefore, expats from non-EU countries often prefer to rent, lease, or buy a car in Germany, or they use the good public transport system in major cities.

Registering an Imported Car

Let’s assume that you are very fond of your car and have imported it successfully. Cars imported from an EU member state can be registered directly, provided you have a so-called Certificate of Conformity.

However, before you can register any car from a non-EU state, you have to take it to the local TÜV (technischer Überwachungsverein), a technical inspection association. It has to make sure that your vehicle meets all national safety standards. You are not allowed to drive any car that doesn’t. The vehicle should fulfill the requirements of a thorough general check (Hauptuntersuchung / HU) and the exhaust emission test (Abgasuntersuchung /ASU). If it doesn’t pass those tests, you have to make all necessary alterations and repairs at your own cost. Only when your car has passed the TÜV inspections can you go to the nearest Motor Vehicle Registration Office (Kfz-Zulassungsstelle). There, you have to pay a registration fee and show the documents listed below:

  • passport or ID
  • proof of your official registration in Germany (Meldebestätigung)  
  • car insurance certification
  • customs clearance certificate (for imports from non-EU states)
  • Certificate of Conformity or certificate from a TÜV inspection
  • sales contract or original invoice
  • original car registration documents
  • original license plates
  • direct debit authorization for vehicle tax

Now you have permission to apply for German license plates. Once you have paid yet another fee and the price of your new license plates, you can take the plates to the Kfz-Stelle. The registration process is now finished, and you can collect your German car documents (including the car registration/ownership certificate). If you should consider purchasing a car in Germany, we can assure that registering a German vehicle is really easier.


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