If you’re moving to Germany, one of the first things you’ll have to consider is how you’ll get around. While local trips are often taken by bicycle or on foot, exploring the country requires four wheels - or two, if you’re partial to motorcycles.
Whether you’re looking for a car, van, scooter, or motorbike, it’s important to understand how the buying process will look like. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about where to find a car, how to buy it, how to register it, and some other information about local taxes and driving laws.
Shipping a car to Germany is possible, and should cost up to €1,100 if you’re shipping from outside of Europe. That being said, the import tax on cars is 10% of the vehicle’s value plus an additional 19% VAT. Classic cars get a slight break, however, with only a 7% tax rate.
If you have a classic car, you can save even more by having your car shipped to another car in the Eurozone with smaller taxes first, and then bring your car into Germany tax-free.
Depending on the value of your car, all these taxes may be worth it - but you may just be better off selling your car and finding a new one when you get to Germany. Especially as many US cars need to be modified to fit the European standards.
The car buying process in Germany is pretty standard, and will likely look similar to the process where you live.
- Do some research. Buying new cars is best done at the car brand’s dealership, so knowing what dealer to head to is half the battle. Narrowing your selection down to two or three vehicle types will help you seriously cut down on time.
- Head to the dealer. At the dealership you’ll be able to test drive different models and learn more about costs, extras, etc.
- Make a purchase. Once you’ve selected a car you’ll make a purchase, typically by paying 50% upfront. From there you’ll make monthly payments to pay off the remainder of the vehicle’s cost.
- Get it registered. If you’re buying your car from a reputable dealer, this will likely be taken care of for you at the time of purchase.
- Pay taxes. Cars are subject to 19% VAT in Germany, and those taxes will be levied by the dealer at the time of purchase.
- Buy insurance. Driver’s are required to carry insurance in Germany.
- Hit the road!
The cost of your car will vary a lot depending on the make and model you choose. A mid-range car, like a Toyota Corolla, runs about €19,523. You’ll also need to consider fuel at €1.32 per liter, and insurance.
Insurance can be broken down into three major types: motor liability insurance, partial coverage, and comprehensive coverage. On average, German drivers spend around €1400 per year on car insurance.
Finding a new car in Germany typically boils down to visiting the dealerships of any cars you’re interested in. If you’re not at all sure which brand to choose, you can compare cars on sites like Alphabet.
If you’re looking at the used car market, the best place to search is online. Some of the best car search engines in Germany include:
Paying for your car is typically done by credit or debit card, though if you’re paying for a used car from a private seller you may be able to do so in cash. If you’re funding your car purchase from your bank account at home, using Transferwise can ensure that you’re getting the real exchange rate - the one you’d find on Google - and seriously cut down on foreign transaction fees.
You may also want to keep Transferwise in mind for future transactions, as moving money across borders often can be costly. You could open a TransferWise borderless multi-currency account, which allows you to hold money in euro with local bank details and manage your money in 28 different currencies.
For the most part, car registration will take place at the dealership, at the time of purchase. If you’re planning to register your car yourself, as in the case of buying from a private seller, you’ll need to visit the local Kraftfahrzeug Zulassungsstelle (car registration office) with the correct documents in hand. Those documents include:
- Proof of address
- Proof of ownership
- Valid passport
- Driver’s license
- Card or cash
While road rules are pretty similar across the EU and North America, it’s always good to keep the local rules in mind before you hit the road.
If you get pulled over in Germany, you may be issued a ticket if you don’t have the following in your car:
- Fire extinguisher
- First aid kit with rubber gloves
- Warning triangle
- Reflective jacket
Surrounding countries may also require you to have:
If you’re planning to take your car across border lines, it’s a good idea to have all of these items in your car.
Germany is a country where drunk driving laws are extremely strict. It’s not uncommon for locals to get ticketed with a blood alcohol content of just 0.03%, which is lower than the technical legal limit of 0.05%. New driver’s with less than 2 years experience, young driver’s of under 21 years and foreigners, however, are not allowed to drink at all when driving. Their alcohol level can’t be above 0%. So the best policy is to never get behind the wheel after you’ve had an alcoholic beverage. Luckily this is quite easy in Germany’s highly walkable towns and cities with excellent public transportation.
Driving licences issued in the EU or EEA are accepted in Germany. A foreign driver’s license issued in a country outside of the EU/EEA is only valid for short stays in Germany. You’re allowed to drive with a US issued driver’s licence for up to 6 months. If you’re able to prove that you won’t stay in the country for longer than a year, then you can extend that period to 364 days. Make sure to do this before your 6 months are up.
Yes - many Germans have the number of a local tow service on hand, and are members with larger roadside assistance companies, like Rastanlage Inntal.
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Now that you’re prepared with everything you need to know about buying and owning a car in Germany, you’re ready to explore the incredible country and all it has to offer. Good luck!