A Look at Driving Tests in Europe

Here at the PassMeFast Blog, we’ve written enough on the UK driving test to fill a short novella. With the summer holidays here, though, we find our minds wandering away from our island’s shores and towards the continent. What are driving tests in Europe really like?

In this article, we’ll compare what the process of learning to drive looks like across several European countries. You might find yourself wishing you could up sticks—or maybe thanking your lucky stars that you don’t have to go through the same thing!

United Kingdom

Map of the UK

Minimum age 17
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Practical test: £62
Theory test: £23
Validity of licence Until the age of 70
Three years thereafter

Before we move onto our near neighbours, let’s take a quick look at some of the defining characteristics of the driving test in the UK. Firstly, learners will need to wait until they’re 17 to take their practical test. However, there’s nothing stopping them from taking their theory test straight away on their 17th birthday!

UK candidates book both their theory and practical tests online. The theory test comprises multiple choice questions and a hazard perception section, during which candidates watch CGI video clips. Read our theory test rundown to learn more about this test.

The practical test starts with an eyesight check, followed by questions on vehicle maintenance and safety (“show me, tell me” questions). Then, there’s between 38 and 40 minutes of driving. This consists of two roughly even halves: general driving, where an examiner guides the candidate, and independent driving, where the candidate follows sat nav directions or traffic signs. You’ll also need to demonstrate that you can perform one of three manoeuvres: bay parking, parallel parking, or pulling up on the right-hand side of the road, reversing, and rejoining traffic.

You’ll find out the results of your test immediately after taking it. Candidates scoring 15 or fewer minor faults, and no serious or dangerous faults, pass their test. Should you fail, you’ll need to wait ten working days to retake your test.

Now, let’s hop on a plane, ferry or Eurostar to the continent. Don’t forget that, if you’re a British citizen living in Europe, it may be a good idea to take a test in your country of residence. Check out our January 2019 news roundup for more info.


Map of France

Minimum age 17
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Varies
Validity of licence 15 years

Though France is one of Britain’s closest neighbours, the French driving tuition system is a world apart. You can begin driving, for example, from the age of 15, if following the AAC programme. You must, however, be 17 to take your test.

When it comes to the organisation of the driving test, however, the gulf between the French and British systems becomes clear. In France, the state licenses a small number of driving schools. An individual cannot set up their own school; they must join an existing school to become an instructor.

Though this might not seem particularly problematic, it means that there is very little competition in the French driving tuition market. As a result, prices for learners are sky-high; rates range from €40 to €80 per hour.

Driving schools, rather than candidates themselves, receive test appointments. As such, it’s impossible for a learner to book a test independently. Instead, you must take your test as part of a package organised by your school.

Like in the UK, you’ll need to pass both a theory and practical test. The theory test is a touch-screen multiple choice exam; candidates must score 35/40 to pass. You have only 20 seconds to answer each question, so you’ll need to work fast!

The French practical test, meanwhile, is a little shorter than the British one, with only around 25 minutes of driving. Candidates score points for successfully completing different manoeuvres and tasks; the pass mark is 20/31. Committing a serious driving fault will, as in the UK, cause you to fail your test. Cruelly, you’ll need to wait two days to find out the results of your test online!

As a member of the EU, France is one of the countries whose licences are accepted in the UK on a permanent basis. This means that French licence-holders don’t need to retake their tests if they move to the UK. The same is true for the next country on our list…


Map of the Netherlands

Minimum age 17
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Practical test: €108
Theory test: €31.80
Validity of licence 10 years

Across the North Sea lies another of the UK’s near neighbours: the Netherlands. Learning to drive here is pricey; CBR, the Dutch equivalent of the DVSA, estimates that the average cost stands at €2,300!

As is the case in the UK, Dutch learners sit both a theory and a practical test. The theory test exam costs €31.80; tests in English are also available, but are slightly more expensive, costing €37. This is quite similar to the UK test, consisting of a hazard perception section alongside exam-style questions. The hazard perception section is slightly different in form, though: instead of simply clicking any time you see a hazard, you’ll instead have to choose whether to brake, release the accelerator or do nothing.

After passing the theory test, you have the option to do an interim test. “Why would anyone choose to do an extra test?!”, you may cry—but there are good reasons. Firstly, it’s useful preparation; pass rates are 14% higher amongst those who take it. Perform well on certain manoeuvres here, meanwhile, and you can earn an exemption from having to perform them during their real practical. As the CBR themselves say, “this is a nice bonus”!

The practical test itself is similar to the UK version, and costs €108. First, there’s an eyesight exam, followed by 35 minutes of driving. Your examiner will be looking out for the usual things: control, observation, priority, and so on. Candidates suffering from anxiety can also take a special longer test. You’ll find out your results immediately upon returning to the test centre. Even if you pass, though, you can’t drive independently until you’re 18!


Map of Germany

Minimum age 17
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Practical test: €91.75
Theory test: €22.49
Validity of licence 15 years

Famed for the Autobahn and its strong car manufacturing industry, Germany is a nation of drivers. As such, we couldn’t compile an article on driving tests in Europe without taking a trip to this motoring powerhouse.

As you may expect by now, the process of obtaining a German licence differs from the British system. Firstly, hopeful drivers must all complete an eight-hour first aid course. Then, as in the UK, learners must take a theory test. However, while British learners typically study for their test at home, German learners must attend theory lessons. Theory test candidates will see a scenario from the driver’s viewpoint, and will have to answer related questions.

Training for the practical test somewhat resembles a Pass Plus course in the UK. That’s because learners must take a minimum number of motorway lessons, as well as driving at night and in rural areas. Most candidates receive their driving licence immediately after passing the practical test.

As is the case in the Netherlands, an accompanied driving scheme is in operation in Germany. This means that learners may only drive independently from the age of 18; someone must supervise them before this date. 17-year-olds who pass their test must, therefore, wait until they’re 18 before getting their licence. Though things are currently different in the UK, the DfT is considering a similar ‘graduated licence’ scheme here, too. (Such stringent requirements didn’t stop one Dortmund driver losing their licence just 49 minutes after passing, though!)


Map of Denmark

Minimum age 17
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost 600 DKK (both tests)
Validity of licence 15 years

Danish learners face the challenge of tackling one of the hardest driving tests in Europe. Many of the interesting features of the Danish system are similar to those we discussed for the Netherlands and Germany. You cannot drive unaccompanied until the age of 18, for example. Meanwhile, all learners must go through a first-aid course, and must be capable of assisting an injured person until medical help arrives.

However, the Danes have tightened the screws even further by adding some quirks of their own. The state have set forth a strict driving course that sees candidates learning theory and practical content side by side. Learners will first take to a closed-off course where they manoeuvre around traffic cones. Here, candidates may have to perform figures-of-eight, and both forward and reverse slaloms. Then, after some theory lessons, they’ll take to the roads for real. After gaining enough experience, it’s time for one of the more bizarre aspects of the course: driving on a slippery track that mimics icy conditions.

After you’ve been through these ordeals, it’s time for the practical test itself. To begin with, you’ll answer vehicle safety and maintenance questions. Remember the “show me, tell me” questions in the UK test? In Britain, answering incorrectly simply means a minor fault. Not so in Denmark. Answer three questions incorrectly, and the tutor will give you two more chances. Get these wrong, too, and your test is over. Pass, and you’ll be free to drive… if you’re ever able to face a car again without feeling slightly sick.


Map of Poland

Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Practical test: 140 PLN
Theory test: 30 PLN
Validity of licence 15 years

As in most countries, learners in Poland must pass both a practical and a theory test in order to drive. However, Polish learners have the option to take both tests on the same day. This is a great option if you’re feeling confident; perhaps less so if you’re prone to a few test day nerves.

Another interesting feature of the Polish system is driving test centres provide the car in which candidates take their test. You can even check online which model your local test centre uses, with the Hyundai i20 being a popular choice.

Before taking your test, your doctor will need to certify that you’re fit to drive. On the day itself, your theory test will consist of 32 questions, 20 of which are common to all vehicle tests and 12 of which are car-specific.

Then comes the practical test, which begins with standard questions about your vehicle—similar to the UK “show me, tell me” questions. You’ll then start in a closed-off area where you’ll perform certain manoeuvres, including a hill start. After that, you’ll head onto the roads for some general driving. Complete all this, and you’ll earn your licence.


Map of Switzerland

Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Practical test: 120–130 CHF
Theory test: 30–40 CHF
Validity of licence Permanent

If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of failing your driving test, heed this advice. Close your eyes, breathe, and repeat the following sentence: “At least I’m not Swiss.”

This is no slight on the good people of Switzerland, of course. It’s just that the Swiss government seems to have turned the unpleasant scenario of failing a test into a living nightmare. Fail your test once, and you’ll have to wait a month to sit it again. Bad enough, you might say—but it gets worse. Fail again, and your instructor will need to provide a certificate to prove you’ve done enough training. A third fail? You’ll need to do a driving aptitude test. Fail this, and you’ll lose your provisional. If you pass your aptitude test, but fail the real test for a fourth time, then you’ll need to receive a “positive psychological assessment on your ability to drive”.

It’s worth noting that losing your provisional is a big deal in Switzerland. Unlike in the UK, where it takes a simple online application to get your provisional, the Swiss must undergo a first-aid course and theory test first. It may come as something of a disappointment, therefore, to learn that the actual practical test in Switzerland is quite… normal. Learners must complete manoeuvres and drive on a variety of roads, including motorways. Pass, and you’ll get a probationary licence. The probation period lasts for three years; provided you complete two days of courses in this time, you’ll then finally get a permanent licence.


Map of Spain

Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Practical test: €40–50
Theory test: €90.30
Validity of licence 10 years

Ah, Spain. A country with a relaxed pace of life and afternoon siestas. Surely the Spaniards have a less strict attitude towards learning to drive?

Not exactly. Learning to drive in Spain consists not only of the theory and practical tests common to all driving tests in Europe, but also a ‘psycho-technical test’. This extra step will set you back around €40, and sees you having to answer standard medical and eyesight questions. Oh, and also testing your coordination on this machine, which seems to date to the late 1980s.

After this rather odd part of the process, it’s time for your theory and practical tests. Most learners complete these through their driving school, though it is also possible to take them independently. Be aware, however, that you must fit dual controls in your car if you wish to use it for a Spanish driving test. This can typically set you back €500—so it may be wiser to simply use the driving school’s car!

That completes our whirlwind tour of the driving tests in Europe! Whether you’re breathing a sigh of relief or frantically booking your next flight, the reality is that it’s always better to learn where you actually live. Though the UK may have some tough tests, passing them certainly isn’t impossible—just check out some of our top pass photos in July 2018 for the proof! So, step away from Skyscanner, get back to a more Earth-bound form of transport, and take a look at our practical test section for some top tips.

Fancy broadening your horizons further? Learn more about driving tests in Africa, as well as driving tests in Asia!

By Andy Boardman

Andy has been part of the PassMeFast Blog team from the very beginning. He'll provide you with plenty of useful motoring advice, helping you to get the most out of every trip. When he's not writing here, you're most likely to find Andy on the way to his next destination.

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