How to Get an Austrian Driver’s License

Feeling the urge to get out of town and hit the open road? It may be time to take the plunge and get legal.

It had been snowing all night. Ski conditions will be perfect, I said cheerily, as we loaded the car for Waldbach. Sharing the driving, it’s an easy two hours. … My friends rolled their eyes. I was not one of the ones doing the sharing. I didn’t have an Austrian license.

I knew their patience was wearing thin. It was time to take the plunge: I would switch my U.S. driver’s licence to an Austrian one. After all, I’d been here for six years. What had taken me so long?

Many things, actually, the main one being that the trams intimidated me. I mean, how do you deal with something that can’t get out of your way? And how do you know when to stop? (Answer: whenever the doors open). Also, there’s that little plastic card in my wallet – the one with the Indiana state seal – that was one of my few concrete souvenirs of home. Then, of course, there is the amazing public transportation system here that had made a car unnecessary.

But I had to think of my friends. Now that I had been registered at my new Hauptwohnsitz (primary residence) for six months, and tired of feeling useless, I had run out of excuses.

So I downloaded the requirements and got out my “Dokumentenmappe” (where every good Austrian keeps important papers). Some things I already had: a copy of my passport, a Meldezettel proving six months residency and an EU-approved passport photo (left over from my residency application). With a U.S. driver’s licence, I didn’t need to retake the test. But I did need an approved translation, as well as a clean bill of health from a doctor recognized by the Vienna Police (details for these requirements in the sidebar). After that, it was just filling out the application.

So on to the doctor. This is far more than having your eyes checked at the DMV (department of motor vehicles) back home, and proving you can touch your nose with your index finger. They take your blood pressure, test your pulse, your balance, your reactions. And of course your eyes. You’ll need this along with the other paperwork, before you go to the LPD (Landespolizeidirektion).

If you take any regular medications, talk to the doctor before filling out the Gutachten form. Antidepressants or others related to mental health raise a flag, and may require you to see the police staff doctor. To save some time, discuss all conditions with the first doctor, who can advise you.

ÖAMTC to the Rescue

Now to your old license: You might think that translating your name, date of birth and car types listed on the back of a plastic card would be easy. But the LPD isn’t going take your word for it. The easiest way to take care of this is to join the Austrian roadside emergency service, ÖAMTC . The basic membership (€18.50) cost about the same as the translation (€18), and instantly made all future services free or discounted – such as getting an international license for when you go outside the EU.

Once you’ve collected all your paperwork, it’s time to head the LPD office in the 3rd district. Be prepared for classic bureaucracy. Arrive early to avoid waiting, smile and nod. Remember, everyone is annoyed to be there, so don’t pile it on. Missing a document? Think on your feet and it may save you some time.

For example, discovering that my current licence didn’t reveal the issue date (only the renewal), I logged in on my phone to the Indiana DMV website. Voila! There was everything I needed. The lady behind the counter was clearly surprised – and (like bureaucrats the world over) perhaps disappointed that she couldn’t send me away for yet another piece of paper – responding with “Sochn gibts?!” (Things like this exist?). I smiled. This was 2017. Advanced data management was a bit of a novelty at Vienna’s LPD.

And it’s Either Or.

After a wait of about six weeks (this may vary), the notice arrived that I could pick up my shiny new pink licence – and drop off my old one. Now, there are plenty of Facebook groups and forums that will tell you to fudge it – just tell the DMV back home you lost your licence and they’ll send you a new one. A word of caution: Not only is this illegal, but the LPD notifies your DMV that you have made the switch. After a month with the new license, I received a polite letter in the mail officially confirming that I was no longer registered in Indiana.

Still, now I had the license. What about a car? DriveNow and Car2go have taken over the city, and you can almost always find one on a nearby street corner. You still have to park it somewhere. But that’s later. Right now, you’re on the road!

Oh and by the way: Vienna trams always have right of way.

Making it Official

To save you several trips, here are the things you should prepare before going to the LPD.

What paperwork do you need if you already have a non-EU licence

1. Filled out application form
2. Clean bill of health from a doctor approved by the Vienna Police Department (LDP Wien)
3. A translation of your driver’s license
4. Two copies of your passport and the original
5. A copy of your Meldezettel, which shows you’ve been living at a Hauptwohnsitz (main residence) in Vienna for at least six months
6. An EU-approved passport picture
7. Two copies of your old driver’s license and the original
8. And the confirmation of passing the driving test
9. Certain countries are exempt from taking the driving test, including the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, South Africa, South Korea, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Arab Emirates, Macedonia and Australia. The full list is on the police’s website.
Sicherheits- und Verwaltungspolizeiliche Abteilung (SVA) – Verkehrsamt
3., Dietrichgasse 27
Monday-Wednesday 08.00 – 12.30 Thursday 08.00 – 12.30, 13.30 – 17.00 Friday 08.00 – 12.00

If you want to test your Austrian knowledge, here is a test from the ÖAMTC you can try out.

Catherine M. Hooker
Catherine M. Hooker was Head of Communications at Metropole from 2015 to 2018. She holds a MA in international relations and also contributes photography to Metropole.Photo: Visual Hub

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