CONTRIBUTED BY AMANDA PAPENFUS
This is the second of a two part article. Click here for part one: Shipping Your Car (POV) to Germany.
Your Car is in Germany! Now what?
Congratulations, your car made it to Germany! Now what? There are several things that need to be done once your car arrives. As always, your experience may differ, but hopefully this gives you some idea what to expect.
Get Your USAREUR Driver’s License
Before you can drive your car anywhere, including out of the port, you’ll need a USAREUR (U.S. Army Europe) driver’s license. Yes, it’s still called that even if you or your spouse are in the Air Force. If you are in the Air Force or are a DoD civilian with CAC access, you’re in luck. You can take the test up to 60 days prior to your arrival. Unfortunately, if you’re in the Army or a civilian without a CAC card, you’ll have to wait until you’re in Germany. Make sure you have a valid stateside license with you before you come to Germany! If you don’t have one, before you can test for a USAREUR license you’ll have to take a German driving course, which can cost up to 2000 euros.
Before you take the test, you’ll want to study. My husband was given an orange booklet with the laws and signage to study for the test. I found an online pamphlet here. I also found an online practice test here. Right before my test, the examiner showed an instructional video, which he said they’ve been using for the last 20 years, and then went over some of the signs. He gave us some tips for remembering what a few of them mean such as No Stopping (a circle with an X) and Restricted Stopping (a circle with one diagonal line). For the first, “You are my X. No Stopping. I don’t want to see you”. For the second, “We’re separated. You can stop for 3 minutes to pick up the kids, then get on your way.”
Apparently there is now also a required driver’s orientation.
If you’re in the Kaiserslautern Military Community and associated with the Army, you can go to Daenner Kaserne Room 3104, Room 106 for orientation and testing. I have seen differing dates and times for both, so you may want to call 0631-411-7332 for the current information and/or to make an appointment. Those in the KMC associated with the Air Force would use the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron Driver Testing Office on Ramstein in Bldg. 2106, Room 201. Their number is 011-49-6371-47-5534. Click the link above for Ramstein and information.
When my husband signed up, he was told spouses couldn’t take the test together, but I have heard that there are couples who have. It seems silly not to let them, at least where we tested, since there were dividers between the desks and everyone got a different version of the test. If one of you can’t test early, I would at least attempt to go together so one of you doesn’t have to wait. If you have a job that allows administrative leave, make sure you put in for it when you have an appointment to take your test. By the time I took my test, I had a NAF job, and was able to get paid administrative leave to take it.
If you’re a family member, on the day of the test you’ll need to know your sponsor’s social, DSN, and unit. I can’t contact my husband with a DSN, so I didn’t know it, and they wouldn’t take his cell phone number, even though it’s work-issued. Fortunately, when I told the examiner my husband’s unit, he was able to rattle off their DSN by memory, but I wouldn’t count on that, so make sure you have yours. Also make sure you have your DoD-issued ID and stateside license with you.
I think we were given two hours to take the test, but it only took me about 45 minutes to finish it. I believe we were able to miss up to 15 and still pass. Once I passed the test, the examiner checked my stateside license and had me take an eye exam, reading a line with each eye covered. Then he had me sign a temporary paper license and pay $10 (which I was able to do via credit/debit). In a couple weeks, the USAREUR license came to our APO box.
Pick Up the Car at the Vehicle Processing Center
Oh happy day, your car is in Germany, and you can legally drive it! But, it might not be where you’re living. You’ll need to pick it up at the vehicle processing center (VPC), which in our case was in Mannheim, about 20 minutes from where we lived at the time in Heidelberg. When it arrived, my husband got an email saying he could pick it up. That was about a month after we had shipped it out. According to the email, only my husband could pick up the car unless I had a Power of Attorney. This was the case even though the car is in my name, and his isn’t even on it, so if you want to pick the car up without your sponsor, make sure that POA is ready. My husband had someone take him to the VPC, but it was a wasted trip because our insurance was still showing for Georgia instead of the international coverage. He couldn’t pick the car up until the right policy was applied, so I would double check with your insurance company prior to going to make sure everything is correct.
Pass the Safety Inspection
Once you pick up your car, you’ll have to pass a safety inspection before you can register it. Unfortunately, our car failed our first time out, but after you find out why, hopefully you’ll be able to avoid our mistakes. First, although we did have the required safety triangle, we didn’t have an approved first aid kit in the car. Remember, we had to take everything out of the car to ship it, so if you already have a kit, remember to put it back in, and if you don’t, make sure to buy one before you go for inspection. Also, you need to have one that has an expiration date on it and is within that date. My husband is a medic, so he actually had everything he would have needed with him in the car, but they wouldn’t accept it because it wasn’t in a kit with an expiration date. The auto shop on our post sold triangles for $16 and a first aid kid for about $20. As of July 1, it is now the law in Germany to have at least one red, yellow, or orange reflective vest per car. Our first aid kit actually came with one. If you plan to travel by car throughout Europe, you may want to purchase extras as some European countries do require one vest for every person who leaves the vehicle during an emergency.
We also had tinted windows. I was told that tint is okay if it is factory installed (i.e., a part of the car). My car came with tint as part of the package and I had proof on my receipt that it did, so I thought that would be okay. Unfortunately, since it is technically able to be removed and therefore not part of the glass itself, they did not count it as factory installed, and I had to remove it. I later learned I may have been allowed to leave the tint on the back windows depending on the tint level, but that would have looked kind of silly.
Although there might be better ways to do it, my husband took the tint off by freeing the edges with a razor blade and pulling it off in chunks. The glue smells really strong and is kind of overpowering, so I recommend taking the tint off when you can leave the windows down for a bit. Later, we used Simple Green and a rough sponge to get the residue off. That also has a pretty strong smell, so make sure you ventilate if you use it. After wiping the window clean from that, we used a Magic Eraser on the remaining residue. Between the two, most of it came off without too much effort.
Get the Car Registered
Once your car has passed inspection, you can get it registered, which includes getting your license plates, and which is necessary for obtaining a Germany Fuel Ration Card. When we registered, one year was $30. Although they’ll let you register for two and three years at the same time, there wasn’t a discount associated with it, so we only did one. If you have two drivers, make sure you’re both on there. I had assumed we were both covered by the registration my husband had set up, which was a costly mistake the day I pumped gas without my husband and got charged about $75 since I could not get the AAFES price for gas. The lady in the gas station gave me a tip to make sure I was put on the registration in the same area as my husband so I could sign up for my own ESSO card if need be, not on the bottom as an authorized driver, which would only allow me to drive and pump gas.
When I was put on the registration, my husband was able to get the paperwork started with my USAREUR license number and my social security number, and then I just had to stop in and show them my license and dependent ID and provide some other basic info to finish the process. Doing this didn’t extend our registration, which I also found out after I pumped gas a couple months later and found out after the fact the registration had expired by a day or two. Apparently the system deactivates fuel ration cards when the car is de-registrered, so again I got stuck paying full price for gas. My husband was the one who signed up for the ESSO card for both of our vehicles, so although that’s another thing you’ll need to take care of to drive here, rather than try to write about something I haven’t done, I suggest checking out this FAQ page which has a lot of information on the Germany Fuel Ration Card Program or this Germany Ja article about the Fuel Ration card.
Once you pay for your registration, you’ll get a long plate for the front of your car which just snaps into the holder. What type of plate you get on the back will depend on your car. Many cars brought from America don’t have room for the long plate, so they get one of American size. My car has a back that allows for a longer plate, so we were able to get that. That one had to be screwed on, and we didn’t have a screw driver. Fortunately someone in one of the nearby offices had one and let us use it. When we re-registered the guy in the office had one. In case there isn’t one or there is a wait to use one if there is, you might want to bring your own along.
When you get the plates, you’ll also get an emissions decal with your plate number on it. Some areas in Germany are “environmental zones” in which only certain vehicles can be driven. Green, yellow, and red stickers are given based on the emissions level, which are placed on the lower corner of the windshield on the passenger side. Signs before environmental zones display the colors of the vehicles that are allowed to be driven through that area. If you have a green sticker, which is what we have, you can drive through any environmental zone. If you have a red one, you’ll have fewer options. At the time we registered, we had learned that driving without a proper sticker can result in a 40 euro fine.
Once you have a license, pass your safety inspection, and get your car registered, you’re ready to start driving your car in Germany!