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I'm an American citizen living in Germany since January, 2019. I have/had a valid Illinois (U.S.) driver's license. In Germany, residents with U.S. driver's licenses from certain states can apply for a German driver's license by surrendering their U.S. license.

I've done just that, and in exchange for surrendering my license I received a document from the German Führerscheinstelle which has a photo of my Illinois license, and it basically states that I surrendered the license to them. This document allows me to continue to drive in Germany on the authority of the Illinois license (up to the German 6 month limit anyway) until I receive my German license in the mail, which has not happened yet.

I want to take a little road trip next week through Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The question is, can I legally drive in those countries as a visitor, on the authority of my Illinois license, even though I don't actually have the license in my possession - just the document from the Führerscheinstelle? (I'm aware Switerland [and Liechtenstein, thanks @phoog] are not EU members and wouldn't be surprised if the answer is different than for Austria.)

(If it matters at all, I'd be driving a German-registered vehicle which I own, I have a valid International Motor Insurance Certificate, and I'm aware of the need to purchase Austrian and Swiss motorway vignettes.)

  • 1
    Liechtenstein is also not an EU member. – phoog Jun 14 at 13:08
  • @phoog Edited, thanks (I didn't realize that - as an American I guess my European geopolitical education is a bit lacking, something maybe I can correct in a small way on this trip!) – TypeIA Jun 14 at 13:59
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    I'm sure you will. Liechtenstein is more closely aligned with Switzerland than the EU: they are in a customs union, separate from the EU customs union, and until they joined the Schengen area a few years ago they also had unified immigration control separate from Schengen. Liechtenstein did however join the EEA, while Switzerland did not. – phoog Jun 14 at 17:31
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Although your license is not revoked/suspended, you won't be able to show an actual hard-copy drivers license document and can't prove on the spot that you're (still) permitted to drive (a copy of your original drivers license is not enough for authorities anywhere in Europe, as far as I know, and only the actual document is valid) and the temporary substitute document is , as you state, only valid for Germany.

A quick check shows that, in the unlikely scenario that you get checked and can't show a valid license document

  • in Austria you run the risk of € 36,- fine. (Source here )

  • in Switzerland you run the risk of a CHF 20,- fine. (Source here)

and probably a bit of a hassle to provide proof that are permitted to drive and do a have a license, but simply that you have not yet received your new replacement license.

Bit since your itinerary takes you through countries where German is spoken a courteous explanation and the German documents "might" even be sufficient to avoid those fines entirely.

  • Am I not authorized to drive, or am I simply unable to prove that I am authorized to drive and therefore subject to fines? The distinction would become very important if, for example, I were involved in an accident, and the insurance company declined coverage because I was driving illegally. – TypeIA Jun 14 at 14:03
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    Apologies if my English was insufficient. The latter. Not being able to show the hard-copy of your license is subject to a fine, but you are still licensed to drive. That is similar to simply having left the document at home and you are still insured. - That is completely different from not have a license at all (because you never took your drivers test or never passed, or you did have a license at one time but let it expire, or are under a suspension), which all come with much greater fines and penalties and which all leave you without insurance. – HBruijn Jun 14 at 14:21
  • This seems right to me. You do have a valid driving licence, after all -- it's just not in your possession. This is a misdemeanour at worst, subject to a small fine. It won't invalidate your insurance. – TonyK Jun 14 at 20:49
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    I might add that, while driving in Switzerland, I would always carry a copy of the driver license (in addition to the driver license) because if you commit an offense and get stopped by the police they do sometimes keep the license until the fine is payed. (I had friends who had to drive to Switzerland to pay of the fine for someone else so they could continue driving). – GittingGud Jun 25 at 6:42
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Since we don't know much about your temporary document, it might be easiest to check with the relevant authorities for each of the countries you want to go to.

Indeed, the EU page on Driving licence recognition and validity advises to do just that:

Provisional or temporary licences, international driving permits (or any other certificates issued in your home country) are not regulated at EU level and may not be recognised in other EU countries.

Do you have a provisional driving licence and are moving to another EU country? Check the rules with the national driving licence authority in the country you're moving to.


For Austria:

Driving licence recognition and validity

Registration

Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Innovation und Technologie (BMVIT) Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT)

Radetzkystraße 2 AT-1030 Wien Tel.: +43 17 11 62 65 0


For Switzerland (merely an info page with some contact options related to the Swiss consulate in Italy):

Article 42 of the Ordinance on the Licensing of Persons and Vehicles for Road Traffic Purposes (SR 741.51) stipulates that drivers from other countries may drive motorised vehicles in Switzerland provided that they are holders of:

  • a valid national driving licence, or

  • a valid international driving licence (in accordance with the International Convention on Motor Traffic [SR 0.741.11] and the Convention on Road Traffic [SR 0.741.10]), together with the relevant national driving licence.

I don't think your case falls into either of those categories, but it won't hurt to double check with the relevant authority. Alternatively, you could contact a Swiss representative in Germany. For example, the Swiss Embassy in Berlin.


For Liechtenstein:

Driving licence recognition and validity

Driving licence

Motorfahrzeugkontrolle (MFK) Motor Vehicle Agency Gewerbeweg 2 LI-9490 Vaduz

Website De Tel.: +423 23 67 50 1 E-mail: info.mfk@llv.li

  • I accepted the other answer, but deciding between it and yours was a coin flip - both had valuable but different information and equal upvotes. Thank you for the information! If I learn anything from the sources you linked I will post the info here. – TypeIA Jun 15 at 23:09

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