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Driving and Public Transport for Expats in Germany

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: September 2013


Roads in Germany are usually very well maintained, and all are toll-free. The network of German motorways, the Autobahnen is, at 7,500 miles, the third longest in the world. The autobahns are famous for having no speed limit, but note that there is a recommended speed limit of 130 kph (81 mph). Moreover, some Autobahns do have speed limits, usually in busier sections.

The speed limit on most other roads is 100kpm (62 mph), which reduces to 50 kph (31 mph) in urban areas. Speed cameras in Germany are hidden, and if you exceed the limit by more than 30 kph (19 mph), your licence may be suspended.

If you are from a country in the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein), you can drive in Germany for as long as your licence is valid. Otherwise, you can drive on German roads with your existing licence for six months. This can be extended up to a year, but after this period you will need to apply for a German driving licence. Depending on which country you are from, you may be asked to take a written and/or  practical driving test. Once you have a German driving licence, it is valid for 15 years.

Before you are permitted to drive on German roads, you need proof of at least third party insurance. This will enable you to register your vehicle. Part of the registration process is a rigorous safety check.

Once on the road, your vehicle must have seat belts for all occupants. In addition to your driving licence, you must always have your driving insurance and vehicle documents with you. You also need to carry in your car at all times a portable red warning triangle and a first-aid kit. If you are forced to stop, you must put the triangle 100m behind your car (200m on autobahns) and keep your hazard lights on.

The German blood-alcohol limit is low at 0.5mg per millilitre of blood. Exceed this and you can expect a fine and licence suspension of up to three months. If you exceed the limit by a large margin, you may also be given blood tests and even be subjected to a psychological examination.

Public Transport

Public transport in Germany has a very good reputation; even smaller cities and towns are well connected. Larger German cities have fully integrated transport systems equipped with buses, trams, trains and metro systems.

Trains and Trams

In addition to excellent roads, Germany has a comprehensive railway network. At over 25,000 miles, it is the sixth longest in the world. Trains are comfortable, punctual and efficient. The largest rail company, Deutsche Bahn, run almost all of the trains. Their English-language website is below:


Fares are a little expensive, though there are always bargains available if you book in advance. Note that you will usually be charged for taking a bicycle and large dogs on a train. If you are planning on doing a lot of travelling in Germany you might want to invest in a Bahn Card 100. This costs €5,000, but allows you access to the entire German rail network (and VIP waiting rooms) for a year.

In addition to the suburban train network, large German cities have metro networks which comprise lines that are either purely underground and chiefly in the inner city (Untergrundbahn or U-Bahn) or partly overground and extending to the suburbs (Stadtbahn, or S-Bahn). Note that services are considerably less frequent on Sundays.

To supplement trains and buses, there are trams in some cities, particularly in Eastern Germany. Some trams actually go underground.

Buses and Coaches

Buses are the most common public transport type in German cities. They are also common and frequent in smaller towns. It is only when you get to village level that buses start to become less frequent. However, in such places, buses will be your only mode of public transport. Large cities have deregulated bus services, meaning there are several kinds of bus competing.


There are plenty of airports and domestic flights in Germany. However, flying is unlikely to be much quicker than taking a train in most cases, considering times taken for check-in. Also be aware that many low-budget airlines fly to minor airports which may be a considerable distance from the city you want to go to. For example, Frankfurt-Hahn Airport is 60 miles from Frankfurt city centre.



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