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Reverse of the German-issue licence

A driver's license, driver license, driver licence, or driving licence (see spelling differences) is an official document which states that a person may operate a motorized vehicle, such as a motorcycle, car, truck or a bus. The laws relating to driver's licensing vary between jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, a driver's license is issued after the recipient has passed a driving test, while in others, a person acquires a license before beginning to drive. Different categories of license often exist for different types of motor vehicles, particularly large trucks and passenger vehicles. The difficulty of the driving test varies considerably between jurisdictions, as do factors such as age and the required level of practice.

Name variations

Driver's licenses go by several different names, used both colloquially and formally. Driver's licence is used in Canadamarker; driver's license and driver license are used in the United Statesmarker. The form driver licence is found in New Zealandmarker and Australia (being introduced). Conversely almost all Australians refer to it as a driver's licence. Driving licence is used in the United Kingdommarker, the Republic of Irelandmarker, Maltamarker, in European Union official usage, and in former British colonies such as Hong Kongmarker, Indiamarker, Pakistanmarker and Singaporemarker.


The first driver's licence of sorts was issued to the inventor of the modern automobile, Karl Benz, in 1888. Because the noise and smell of his Motorwagen resulted in complaints by the citizens of Mannheimmarker, Benz requested and received written permission by the Grand Ducalmarker authorities to operate his car on public roads.

Up until the start of the 20th century, European authorities issued driver's licences similarly ad hoc, if at all. The first locality to require a mandatory driver's license and testing was Prussia, on 29 September 1903. The Dampfkesselüberwachungsverein ("steam boiler supervision association") was charged with conducting the tests, which were mainly concerned with the drivers' mechanical aptitude. In 1910, the Germanmarker imperial government mandated the licensing of drivers on a national scale, establishing a system of tests and driver's education requirements that would serve as a model for the licensing laws of other countries.

As automobile-related fatalities soared in North America, public outcry provoked legislators to begin studying the French and German statutes as models. On August 1, 1910, North America's first driver's licensing law went into effect in the U.S. state of New York, though it initially applied only to professional chauffeurs. In July 1913, the state of New Jersey became the first to require all drivers to pass a mandatory examination before receiving a license.


Because a large number of countries, including Australia, New Zealandmarker, Canadamarker, the United Kingdommarker and the United Statesmarker have no national identification cards and because of the widespread use of cars, driver's licenses are often used as a de facto standard form of identification.

Many European countries and Canada require drivers to produce their license on demand when driving. In such countries, the driver must always carry their license on them when driving. In the United Kingdommarker, it is not necessary for drivers to carry their driving licence while driving. However, if stopped, a driver may be required to produce their licence at a nominated police station within seven days. The police issue a form for this purpose, colloquially known as the "seven-day wonder" or a "producer".

Some European countries require adults to carry identification at all times. A driver's license is not necessarily valid as identification in every European country.

In the People's Republic of Chinamarker, Dominican Republicmarker and Venezuelamarker, the driver's license number is the same as the citizen's ID number (which is up to 18 digits long).

A driving licence in Hong Kong carries the same number as the holder's ID card, but has no photograph. Upon inspection both must be presented. Plans to make the newly phased in Smart ID contain driving licence information have been shelved.

Similarly, Saudi Arabiamarker requires all drivers to carry an ID card in addition to a license and present them whenever requested. Using a driver's license instead is only permitted if the request is made for on-site inspection/identification purposes, especially at checkpoints. Expatriates may be requested to present their visas as well.

License alternatives

In addition to the standard driver's license and commercial licenses there are other types of driving identification:

Non-driver identification cards

In the case that a person lacks a driver's license for medical reasons, a license suspension, failure to pass a Driving test, or simply personal choice not to drive, a state identification card can be issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles in its place which typically resembles a license and has the same security and identification features as a license but without extending driving privileges. Rules concerning this may vary state to state, but this can pass as identification for naturalized immigrants (usually stipulating length of stay by the expiry date, or only valid for 1 year if no date is listed for expiration) An existing driver's license can be turned in, to exchange for an identification card (giving up the privilege of driving). Without such pre-existing card, two sources of identification must be given for the first time this card is made (usually requiring a small payment to be made).

Enhanced driver's licenses

Additionally, some states and Canadian provinces (New Yorkmarker, Washingtonmarker, Vermontmarker, Michiganmarker, British Columbiamarker, Ontariomarker, Quebecmarker and Manitobamarker) are issuing Enhanced Driver's Licenses, and enhanced ID cards . Enhanced licenses essentially combine a regular driver's license with the same specifications of the new US passport card. Thus in addition to proving driving privileges, the enhanced license also is proof of U.S. citizenship (for EDLs/EIDs issued in the US) or Canadian citizenship (for EDLs/EIDs issued in Canada), and can therefore be used to cross the US-Canadian and US-Mexican borders by road, rail, or sea, but not air (this will always require a traditional passport book owing to International Civil Aviation Organizationmarker regulations). The enhanced licenses are also fully Real ID compliant. These cards have RFID so they may be used at border crossings that have RFID readers.

On March 27, 2008, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that Washington's enhanced driver's license was the first such license approved under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative; according to a Homeland Security press release, the department is also working with Arizona, New York, and Vermont authorities to develop enhanced driver's licenses.On September 16, 2008, NYS began to issue WHTI-Compliant Enhanced driver licenses (EDL). Texas was expected to also implement an enhanced driver's license program, but the program has been blocked by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, despite a state law authorizing the Texas Department of Public Safety to issue EDLs and a ruling by the state attorney general, Greg Abbott, that Texas's production of EDLs would comply with federal requirements.

Licenses for different categories of vehicles

In a number of countries (including the United States, New Zealand and some provinces of Canada) persons who drive commercially (especially truckers and taxi drivers) are required to have special licenses. For taxicab drivers, these licenses are usually called Chauffeur Permits. In most cases, commercial truckers must hold a commercial driver's license or CDL. In India, a commercial driving license is valid for 5 years while an individual license is valid for 20 years. In the United Kingdom, one must hold a Passenger Carrying Vehicle (PCV) license to drive a vehicle with more than eight passenger seats for hire or reward, or a Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) license to drive a vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight (Maximum Authorized Mass) in excess of 3 500 kg. Special licenses can also be required in order to transport hazardous materials. The cost of taking the series of tests and examinations to obtain these licenses usually means that an employer would subsidize his or her drivers.

Categories for driving licenses are standardised throughout the European Union, see European driving licence.

In India, people aged more than 50 years have to undergo strict medical tests in order to obtain a license. The license validity is 5 years and requires renewal every 5 years.

Organ donations

Licensing bureaus in many countries add an organ donation option on license forms. Sometimes a small picture of a heart or the term Organ Donor is printed on the driver's license, to indicate that he/she has agreed to donate his/her organs in case of a sudden death, such as in a car accident.

In the United States, this is governed by the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. In the United Kingdommarker, New Zealandmarker and Irelandmarker, willingness to donate organs for transplantion is also listed on driver's licences. In Australia, the system of notating organ donation requests on licenses was replaced in July 2005 with a national registration system and the issue of special cards.

Driver's license by region



Citizens of all Egyptian governorates are entitled to a Driving License once they have reached the age of 18. To obtain their licenses, applicants must pass only one test.

Until a few years ago, Egypt was known for having the easiest driving test in the world. In order to pass, all a person had to do was drive six meters forward and then reverse six meters. However, recently, the test has been updated to make it more difficult.


The legal driving age of Moroccan Citizens is 18.

South Africa

The minimum driving age in South Africa is 18, except for small motorcycles which may be driven from the age of 16. To obtain a licence, applicants must pass a written or computer-based test to obtain a learner's licence, and then pass a road test to obtain the driving licence.



The minimum age for obtaining a driver's licence in Romania is 16 for A1, 18 for A, B, BE, Tr, C, CE and 21 for D, DE, Tb, Tv, D1 and D1E.In order to obtain a driving license, a person must follow a driving school with a duration depending on the desired category and pass a theory and road exam.


North America


 The age to obtain a driver's licence in Canada varies by Province, as do the necessary procedures. The minimum age for obtaining a Drivers' license in most provinces is 16. The territories vary.

United States



The legal driving age in Jamaica is 17. A citizen may obtain a learner's permit once he or she has obtained a TRN (Taxpayer Registration Number), which may be issued as early as age 17. A learner will get their driver's license upon being proven competent, only through the results of both a written and practical test. This license expires on the holder's fifth birthday after the date of issue.

Central America

Costa Rica

Every vehicle driver must carry a driver's license (Licencia de Conducir), which is issued by a special education department (Dirección General Educación Vial) of the ministry of transportation and public infrastructure (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte).

For this license to be granted there are three needed tests, practical driving (includes driving a car in simulated streets), theoretical driving (a multiple selection written test based on booklet issued by the education department or after taking a special course), and finally a medical test performed by a medical practitioner that tests eyesight, blood pressure and attests the presence of other diseases and behavior of the driver.

Every citizen can solicit a driver's license at age 18, after being issued the first time, the license must be renewed after two years, and every successive occasion after five years.

Besides this document the driver must carry the national identity card (Cédula de Identidad), however both documents use the same identification number, the national identity card being the basis of the driver's license number.

South America





The minimum driving age varies between 16 to 18 years of age in different States and Territories. After the minimum age, a graduated licensing scheme operates, with State variations.

New Zealand

The minimum age to obtain a Learner Licence is 15 in New Zealand.

International considerations

Many groups of countries have agreed to recognise driving licences issued by authorities of any of its members. Examples include the European Union and the GCC, where holders of driving licences issued by any member state can drive in all member states. Most countries worldwide will also recognize the licenses of citizens of foreign states wishing to drive as visitors. All EU member countries now issue licenses in a standard format, regardless of the language of the license.

The International Driving Permit (IDP) (sometimes erroneously called the International Driver's License) is a booklet which is an authorized translation of a driver's home license into many languages (especially languages with different scripts such as Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.). In some cases, it is obtained from a motoring organization such as the Automobile Association or the equivalent in the driver's home country. In other cases, it is delivered by the same government services that deliver ordinary licenses. The IDP has no validity except when used in conjunction with the driver's own license. The existence of the IDP is necessitated by many countries refusing to recognize driver's licenses written in foreign languages without accompanying translations.

The People's Republic of Chinamarker at present does not recognize IDPs (although Hong Kongmarker and Macaumarker do) and requires drivers to get an additional PRC licence before being officially allowed on all roads. Holders of foreign licences are exempt from certain requirements when obtaining a PRC licence.

A minimum driving age often exists regardless of possession of a foreign license; an American cannot drive below the local minimum age in Europe, nor can a 17-year-old Briton drive in mainland Europe where the minimum age is 18.

Many countries have established a driver's license exchange arrangement after reviews of the foreign jurisdiction's licensing processes. Where standards in the other jurisdiction are comparable in areas such as medical standards, minimum driving age, and knowledge and road testing, an exchange (or honoring) of the foreign jurisdiction's license may occur. [820966]

Issues when moving permanently from one country to another

Most license-issuing authorities require holders of "foreign" licenses taking up residence in their jurisdiction to obtain a local driver's license within a limited time (typically 6 months or 1 year). In most cases, the driver must follow the full local procedure for obtaining a license, but some jurisdictions have mutual recognition agreements and will exchange the foreign license for a local one without the need to undertake an additional driving test.

An exception is the EU, where licenses do not need to be exchanged since the introduction of the common EU-driver's-licence scheme.


British Columbiamarker has a reciprocal licence exchange scheme for other Canadian provinces and territories as well as the countries below provided the licence is valid or has been expired for less than 3 years :

Ontariomarker has a reciprocal licence exchange scheme for Canadian provinces and territories, Canadian Forces Europe, and the following countries:


US driver's license can be exchanged from the 14 states below during the first year of legal residence in France: Arkansasmarker, Coloradomarker, Connecticutmarker, Delawaremarker, Floridamarker, Illinoismarker, Kansasmarker, Kentuckymarker, Michiganmarker, New Hampshiremarker, Ohiomarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, South Carolinamarker and Virginiamarker.


The US Embassy, supported by the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany, continues to actively press all US states to reach an agreement on the reciprocal recognition of driver's licenses with Germany, essentially a waiver of testing requirements.

Depending upon which state your driver's license is from, you may be exempt from either the practical test or both – the practical and written – tests when you apply for a German driver’s license. Below is a list of states which have concluded agreements with the German government. See the list to determine if you are exempt from the practical test, written test, or both tests.

US State Practical Written
Alabamamarker exempt exempt
Arizonamarker exempt exempt
Arkansasmarker exempt exempt
Coloradomarker exempt exempt
Connecticutmarker exempt
Delawaremarker exempt exempt
Floridamarker exempt
Idahomarker exempt exempt
Illinoismarker exempt exempt
Indianamarker exempt
Iowamarker exempt exempt
Kansasmarker exempt exempt
Kentuckymarker exempt exempt
Louisianamarker exempt exempt
Massachusettsmarker exempt exempt
Michiganmarker exempt exempt
Minnesotamarker exempt
Mississippimarker exempt
Missourimarker exempt
Nebraskamarker exempt
New Mexicomarker exempt exempt
North Carolinamarker exempt
Ohiomarker exempt exempt
Oklahomamarker exempt exempt
Oregonmarker exempt
Pennsylvaniamarker exempt exempt
Puerto Rico exempt exempt
South Carolinamarker exempt exempt
South Dakotamarker exempt exempt
Tennesseemarker exempt
Utahmarker exempt exempt
Virginiamarker exempt exempt
Washington, D.C.marker exempt
Washington State exempt exempt
West Virginiamarker exempt exempt
Wisconsinmarker exempt exempt
Wyomingmarker exempt exempt

Hong Kong

As stated on the application form for direct issue of full Hong Kong driving licence (Rev. 1/2008), when a person has documentary evidence to the Commissioner's satisfaction that all of the following apply, the person is eligible to direct issue of a Hong Kong licence:


A foreigner above 18 years of age and holding a Work Pass/Dependent Pass/Student Pass may drive in Singapore with a valid class 3, 3A or 2B foreign licence, for a period of not more than 12 months. A Singapore driving licence is required after 12 months. Those on short term social visit may drive with their foreign licence for up to 12 months each time they enter into Singapore . For licence not written in English language, an International Driving Permit or translation is required.

Foreign licence conversion is only granted for class 2B and class 3 qualified driving licences.

In order to convert your foreign licence to a Singapore driving licence, you are required to pass the Basic Theory Test (BTT). Overseas theory test results are not admissible for consideration.

United Kingdom

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which licenses drivers in Englandmarker, Scotlandmarker and Walesmarker, but not Northern Irelandmarker, exchanges full licences issued by:

United States

Delawaremarker has a reciprocal license exchange for country below:

District of Columbiamarker driver’s license may be obtained while maintaining out-of-country driver’s license. A DC driver's license may vary for non-US citizens, depending on visa classification. The written test is required for non-US Citizens who possess an out-of-country driver’s license.

Louisianamarker driver's license holders of valid drivers license can have there license exchange under a reciprocity agreement with the following countries:

Nevadamarker drivers who have never been licensed or those who currently hold a license from a foreign country or a U.S. territory must take vision, knowledge (written) and skills (driving) tests.

New York Statemarker driver's license may be obtained for a resident of another country. If you have a driver license from any nation except Canada, you must pass a written test, complete a 5-hour pre-licensing course and pass a road test to qualify for a NYS driver license.

Washington State has a reciprocal license exchange for countries below:

Consecutive licenses exchange

Theoretically as seen from the above exchange arrangement list, this kind of reciprocal license exchange scheme might become a backdoor for a person with a driver's license issued by a country with less stringent driving test system (or even through purchase or bribery) to exchange for a license issued by a more reputable country without the need of any driving test. Some countries impose additional requirements such as residency, or proof that a driving test has been administered when obtaining the licence issued.

For example, subject to fulfilling the other license exchange requirements, a Pakistan or PRC driver's license holder can exchange for a Hong Kong driver's licence first. Then exchange for e.g. a United Kingdom full licence.

See also


  1. Anonymous, "Better Auto Laws Are Now Needed," New York Times, 18 August 1907, S3.
  2. Frederick H. Elliott, "Working Out New Auto Law In New York," New York Times 16 October 1910, 3.
  3. Road traffic | Home Office
  5. US CBP|
  6. Enhanced Drivers Licenses: What Are They?, retrieved April 2, 2008.
  7. Enhanced Driver License/ID Card (EDL/ID)
  8. Homeland Security and State Departments Announce WHTI Land and Sea Final Rule, retrieved April 2, 2008.
  9. Publication of Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) Land and Sea Final Rule, Questions and Answers, retrieved April 2, 2008.
  10. NYS DMV - Enhanced DMV Photo Documents for U.S. Citizens Who are Residents of NYS
  11. Perry Denies Enhanced Driver's License Program, retrieved April 2, 2008.
  12. AG Gives Conditional Approval To Enhanced License, retrieved April 2, 2008.
  13. Transport - Driving license
  14. France
  15. ICBC - Driver licensing
  16. DriveTest - Exchanging a Reciprocal License
  20. Application For Direct Issue Of Full Hong Kong Driving Licence
  22. Directgov *'exchange driving licence' interactive tool
  23. [1]
  27. [2]
  28. Transport Department of the Government of the Hong Kong SAR - Driving in Hong Kong for Overseas Driving Licence Holders

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