Taking the driver’s license exams in Aalborg to exchange your license (or the hoops you have to jump through if you come from a Group 2 country)
UPDATE (16 March 2016): As of 1 April 2016, people with a driver’s license from Australia, Canada, or the United States will be able to exchange their driver’s license without taking exams. In other words, they join the ‘Group 1’ countries. Read my previous post here and find other information here. The rest of this post, however, still applies to ‘Group 2’ countries (again, see my previous post on this subject) – so this is valid for anyone not from the EU, EEA, Nordic, or Group 1 countries…
Hey everyone! Sarah, aka the Life in Aalborg blogger, was asking me some questions about my recent saga of changing my driver’s license from a United States one to a Danish one. Most people who come from outside the EU (see her previous post on the subject of Danish driving licenses here for more specifics on who) have to take both the theory and practical exams in order to get a Danish license, and, although the process looks fairly straightforward on paper, that isn’t always the case. So here’s a first person account of the process.
Like many American youths, I got my driver’s license when I turned 17. I’m 34 now, so yes, this means that I have been driving for half of my life. I grew up on a small farm and learned to drive manual transmission when I learned to drive. In the five years before moving to Denmark, I lived in Philadelphia, where I drove a manual transmission car exclusively in all sorts of weather and traffic. I have a clean driving record (other than a few parking tickets here and there.)
I moved here in September 2012, but I put off the process knowing that it was rather tedious and moreover, expensive. I don’t own a car here in Denmark (yet) but with the impending arrival of our first child in mid-February of this year, I thought it was finally time that I swallowed my pride and took the exam. I had been waiting in the hopes that the laws might soon change for those coming from outside the EU, but realistically, I don’t think that’s going to happen. [Blogger’s note: There were rumors circulating in 2013 that this was the case but they seem to be completely unsubstantiated. The Copenhagen Post actually announced a change in the law in December 2013 but when I called the US Embassy yesterday – on 27 January 2015 – I was told that the U.S., at least, has not been ‘upgraded’ yet from Group 2 to Group 1. To understand what this means, see my previous post, which breaks down the requirements for the three groups.]
Starting the process
So in mid-August 2014, I went to Aalborg Kommune’s Borgerservice on Rantzausgade to trade my American license and begin the paperwork. At this time, I also submitted a photo of myself (from Click on Boulevarden), a form from my doctor stating I was healthy enough to drive and that I passed an eye exam, and the fees. In return, they took my PA license and issued me a small piece of paper (in only Danish) that gave me three months to complete both the theory exam and the practical driving exam. You are allowed to renew this permit one time, because (as you will see) it is often difficult to complete all of the tests within the given three month time frame. Please note that they confiscate and keep your foreign license! If I had been travelling back to the USA within that time frame, it would have been impossible for me to rent a car or drive legally, since all I had was a small piece of paper in Danish.
Pro tip: KEEP A PHOTOCOPY OF YOUR ORIGINAL LICENSE. It contains all of the information that you need in case you need to contact the state/country that issued it.
Questionable driver’s license authenticity causes problems
About a week later, I got a letter from the Nordjyllands Politi (North Jutland Police) that said (in essence) that they believed my driver’s license to be fake, stating that it didn’t adhere to the necessary security measures. (How they could possibly know what the security measure are is beyond me, but this story doesn’t get more logical as it goes along.) In order to prove that my license was real, they needed to receive a letter or email directly from the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles stating that my license was real and explaining the security measures. I can hear any of the Americans out there chuckling at the idea that I would somehow be able to procure this from a DMV. In hindsight, I find it hilarious, but at the time, I gave it a few solid tries. I called, I emailed, I filled out online forms. (This is where having that photocopy of my original license was a lifesaver! I do not have my PA driver’s license number memorized, and I definitely needed it to deal with the DMV.) A few people tried to help me and told me they’d get back to me. The online forms said that they’d contact me by email or phone within 24 hours. (I’m still waiting for that call….) After a good faith effort on my part, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
For the record, you probably shouldn’t do what I did. You should try to get a hold of your DMV and do this the way the Nordjyllands Politi want you to do it. But one can only deal with the DMV from overseas for so long before pulling out your toenails starts to seem like a fun time. So I went to the website of the Pennsylvania DMV and, for $8, I downloaded my 10 year driver’s history. This is a piece of paper that basically says I’ve had no accidents, the types of vehicles I am licensed to drive, etc. I took that and the letter (the one in which the Nordjylland police said they believed my original license to be fake) to the driver’s license center in Aalborg, which is kitty corner to the police station and doesn’t have a service desk. I knocked on the door and gave my spiel (in my very bad Danish) to the very nice man who answered. He took my paperwork and said they’d be in touch.
If you have any doubts about your license (if it’s expired or quite damaged, etc.), I would recommend getting an extra copy of your driving record and just submitting it with the original paperwork to Borgerservice. For me, this paper was surprisingly easy to get, but in other states it might be different. If the fee is nominal (I only paid $8) and it’s as simple as a download, it certainly can’t hurt, and may in fact speed up the process for you. You’ll have to weigh the options. It’s certainly not required, but I personally wish I had thought of this before I started the process as it would have saved me a lot of time.
Lo and behold, about a week later I received a phone call from a nice lady at the driver’s license center in Aalborg who simply needed to ask me what a “Class C” license means. (It basically means a vehicle of fewer than 26,000 pounds, although the exact specifications of a Class C vehicle differ from state to state in the US. It is the rough equivalent of a “B” license in Denmark.) After that, I received another letter from the police saying that my license was, in fact, real, and that I was welcome to schedule my theory test (teoriprove) at Borgerservice. I think that was in mid October.
The theory (or written) exam
The teoriprove, aka written driver’s license exam, is only given in English periodically, and spaces fill up relatively fast. I went to Borgerservice on November 15 and signed up for a test on December 15. There were some other options a bit earlier, but I knew I needed some time to study.
Now, here’s something to know: if you sign up to take the teoriprove in English, you must also take the practical, or driving, exam in English, which means you must pay a translator. While my spoken Danish is definitely good enough to get through the practical exam, I knew that taking the written teoriprove in Danish was a risk. And given all the associated costs – both to take the exams and to re-take the exams – I decided that I’d rather pay a little extra for the translator. The last thing I wanted was to fail simply because I had misunderstood or forgotten the word for “acceleration.” Special note: If you fail, you have to start all over again from the beginning and they take away your temporary license. Also, you have to pay 900 DKK to take the teoriprove a second time. Ouch.
I contacted Jens at Damkier Køreskole (Driving School) on Danmarksgade at the recommendation of a few people on the Americans in Aalborg Facebook page. This was a great move — Jens is very knowledgeable about the process of switching your license, and his English is exemplary. Jens runs theory classes in English for those who are learning to drive, but he was also very upfront with me that if I studied the book and took some practice online tests, as a native English speaker I would probably do fine. I decided to not spend the money (around 2000 DKK) on the theory classes.
I bought the English version of the theory book from Jens for 400 DKK and sold it back to him for 200 DKK. Just to warn you, the translation is absolutely atrocious, but it does get the job done. You don’t HAVE to buy the book. If you sign up and pay to use prove.dk, you get an online version of the book in it’s most up to date version. For me, it is much easier to flip through an actual book than try to use the online version, but maybe I’m just old school. With prove.dk, you get a TON of different practice exams that are either general or more specific. If, for example, you keep failing on the rules about “absolute give-way duty,” you can take a few exams with 25 questions ONLY about these rules. You can take one test for free before you decide to sign up, and you can sign up for a week, 1 month, 2 months, or 4 months. I signed up for a month, which cost 100 dkk.
Pro tip: I can personally really recommend this site. I would have failed without it. Pay the money to practice!
In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, I was pretty annoyed by this whole process. I didn’t think that I should REALLY have to take all of these exams. And when it came to the teoriprove, my initial thought was “How hard can it be? I know how to drive!” But the point isn’t that you know how to drive, the point is that you can pass the test. Plus, there are some rules about driving in Danish that a non-Dane really won’t know unless they study/learn it here.
The teoriprøve was held at the same place that I handed in my driver’s history and asked them to reconsider the authenticity of my license. It is across the street from the main police station (Jyllandsgade 27), behind the 1-2-3 Gas Station. The exam entails a series of 25 pictures of driving situations and between two and four yes/no questions per picture. The questions are read out to you as you look at the picture, so you have to pay very close attention! You have less than a minute to answer each question (before they start in on the next one), which is why it is so important to practice for the exam using the online exams on prove.dk (they offer one free sample test before you have to sign up to pay, by the way). Because the questions are delivered orally, you have no opportunity to go back and check your answers. So you have to be pretty quick and confident when you write down your answer. The authorities correct the exams on site, which takes another 15 minutes or so, but at least you know immediately whether you passed. (Please note that while the exam takes 30 minutes, you have to get there early to register.)
I managed to pass the teoriprove with only two pictures ‘wrong.’ Let me explain. The grading works like this: as stated above, each picture has two to four questions that pertain to it. You have to get 100% of those ‘sub-questions’ right to get a point for that picture. In other words, if you get 1 out of 4 right or 3 out of 4 right, you get no points for that picture. (I believe you are allowed up to four out of twenty five questions wrong and still pass.)
The practical (or driving) exam
Once the theory part was out of the way, I called Jens at Damkier again for some driving lessons. Again, it’s not about knowing how to drive, it’s about passing the exam. Jens and I scheduled a lesson to assess my driving and we agreed to see what to do after that.
My first lesson was fine. As I mentioned at the beginning of this whole affair, I already knew how to drive a manual transmission. I know that this can be an issue for many Americans, so keep that in mind! If you aren’t confident driving a manual transmission car, you may need more lessons, which will cost you. There are a few things that Americans will find idiosyncratic about Danish driving — the hardest thing for me is the constant shoulder checking and the right-hand give-way duty on side streets. There are specifics that the police (who give the driving exam) are looking for, and Jens was very helpful in pointing these out in a straightforward and easy way. In total, I took four lessons with Jens for 2500 DKK. This also included the cost of the car for the exam. This is extremely reasonable pricing. Jens also arranged for the translator for my exam, although the fee for the translator was charged separately.
I took the exam and passed. The exam lasts about a half hour, and it will be you driving (obviously), the police officer in the front passenger seat, and the translator in the back seat. While the translator was helpful, as I mentioned, my spoken Danish is good enough that I probably could have gotten through without him. I paid him 300 DKK (cash).
In the exam, I drove mostly in central Aalborg. The police officer gives a lot of warnings about the direction in which you should drive, but you are not allowed to ask them any questions about the rules of the road. (Come on, it’s an exam….) For example, if you need them to repeat themselves, you are allowed to ask for clarification. If the instructor says nothing, you should assume that you continue straight ahead. There is a large variety of places they can take you – through the tunnel, across the bridge, on the motorway, etc. I didn’t have to do any of that, but it’s a possibility, and the test route seems to be at the discretion of the examiner. They can also ask you to parallel park, execute a three point turn, or back around a curb. Again, I didn’t have to do any of those things, but it’s fair game. You’ll also be asked a few questions about the car, such as what the acceptable fluid levels are, how to check the lights or brakes, etc. Most of that is fairly common sense, but you do have to know that the low beams must be visible from 30 meters, etc. These are all found in the first chapter of the theory book.
In short, I passed. Not passing would have been humiliating, but worse, it means you have to pay approximately 1800 DKK to take the test again. (That’s the fee from the police plus car rental and the translator.)
The fees involved
So, here’s the breakdown of all the fees that I paid for this:
129 DKK – Driver’s License Photos (taken at Click on Boulevarden)
400 DKK – Doctor’s Office fee for exam (varies a bit depending on your doctor)
280 DKK – Initial fee for exams and paperwork at Borgerservice
200 DKK – Physical copy of Danish Driving Theory Book
100 DKK – one month subscription to prove.dk
50 DKK – equivalent of 8 USD paid to Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles for downloaded driving history
2500 DKK – Driving lessons and rental of car for exam
300 DKK – translator
Total cost of Danish license: 3,959 DKK
After I passed the exam, I dropped some papers off at the Borgerservice and my license will arrive in the mail within a week or two.
So although it was a colossal pain, it’s also done now. It seemed like a complete farce and a comedy of errors at times. Do I wish the law was different? Yes, I certainly do. But this is how it is. Is it particularly fair? Nope, not in my opinion. Can I change it? Nope. So, like a good expat, I just had to roll with this one. I hope that all of your experiences are better, but from talking to others, I think this is about the average amount of annoyance for this process. Certainly some will have it much easier, and some definitely have it worse. All I can say is GOOD LUCK.
About the author: As you’ve already read above, Lauren Robinson comes from the state of Pennsylvania in the US. She is a professional horn player and member of the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra. Lauren likes many things about living in Denmark, and has found creative ways to deal with the aspects of life here that are NOT so easy, as you can see above. In addition to music and cooking, Lauren enjoys knitting, yoga, and traveling. She has lived in Canada and FInland, in addition to Denmark, and while she finds the winters here in Aalborg dark, she is NOT complaining. Lauren previously contributed to the blog two posts about cooking tips and where to buy ingredients that are not so easy to find in Aalborg, which you can find in the Money & Shopping section.