Getting your Czech Driver's License (Non-EU Citizens)

Since January 2008, non-EU citizens with long-term Czech residency require a Czech license to drive here legally

After years of holding out, hoping I would make it back to get my US license renewed, I decided to take the plunge and get my Czech driver's license.

As of January 2008, any foreigner from outside the European Union who held a long-term visa is required by law to get a Czech driver's license if they plan on driving in the Czech Republic.

Now here are a couple important facts:

1. A US license can't be exchanged for a Czech license

2. Driving on a valid US license with an accompanying international license is technically illegal if you have long-term residency in the Czech Republic

I had heard of expats getting their license in a somewhat dubious way, paying between 16,000 and 25,000 crowns to sit out the written and technical tests and guarantee that they'd pass the driving test.

I decided against this for two reasons. Not only is it illegal, but it's probably also better to know all of the laws, customs and road signs when driving in a foreign country, especially one with a relatively high rate of road fatalities.

Instead, I decided to take the test at a local driving school.

Many schools offer you classes in English, and several also offer French, German and Russian, but I decided to take the course in Czech, primarily because it was cheaper. (And because I like to make my life more complicated, perhaps.)

The driving itself was a bit stressful, of course, but the problem is that with any situation where you are having to learn something, the person teaching is quite often kind of like a little dictator: hands must be at 10 and 2 position, don't turn with your hand inside the wheel, make sure you are looking at your rearview mirror every five seconds, and so on and so forth.

Of course, the road signs are the real trick.

The Czechs seem to have a road sign for every possible scenario and they are used quite often. Also, don't forget you have to be aware of trams, buses, pedestrians and some very poor drivers.

Needless to say the driver training is a bit stressful.

In order to take your driver's test, you need to complete 28 driving sessions although if you seem capable after a few drives you can schedule the test (it must always be at least one month from the day you sign up for the driving course).

The test has three elements to it: the written, the oral technical, and the driving test itself.

I cannot speak for all schools, but I was told to be there at 7am and that I should expect to be done around noon.

This seemed to be excessive but unfortunately turned out to be correct, primarily because of waiting around.

As a foreigner, you're entitled to a translator during all three parts of your test. This requires a separate fee of between 1,000 and 2,000 CZK.

The written test is actually done on laptops provided by the school. There are 25 multiple choice (guess) questions and you have 30 minutes to answer them.

Each question has three possible answers. I highly recommend a translator for this part as some of the questions can be quite tricky.

Incidentally I missed two questions and still passed. I think you can miss five in total.

The technical exam is a one-on-one with the driving examiner (komisař), who will later be grading your driving test.

He asks a series of questions about the technical aspects of driving, ranging from the difference between a diesel and regular fuel engine to what items you must have in your car at all times.

This takes about 10 minutes. Once again, I'd advise using a translator. (Hindsight is always 20/20.)

The final phase is the driving. Unlike in the US, you have learner drivers in the car with you as you take your test, waiting their turn, along with your instructor and your examiner, which I thought was a bit odd.

As in any driving test you must pay attention to the little things.

Approach pedestrian crossings extremely slowly, giving overly exaggerated right-of-way to cars, keeping your hands at the 10 and 2 position and, of course, wearing your seatbelt. (The kid in front of me did his whole test with no seatbelt on and failed.)

When you've parked, the instructor will tell you whether you've passed or failed. If you fail you can retake the test (just the driving part) within 14 days.

If you pass, you return to the school in an hour to pick up a stamped application form (žadost).

Once you have this document you must go to Prague's main municipal government building (Magistrát hlavního města Praha), at Jungmannova 35, Prague 1.

As you go in, there's a small ticket dispenser on your left. Push the button that reads "Dopravni --registrace novy řidiču" ("Transportation -- Registration of New Drivers") and wait.

As an indication how long you'll have to wait, it takes approximately an hour for every 100 numbers between the current number displayed and yours to be dealt with, so it might be advisable to leave and run an errand.

For more information, in Czech, see the Registr řidičů section of the Magistrát hlavního města website.

During your wait you can pick up a driver's license (řidičky průkaz) application form at the information window and fill that out. You'll need to turn in this filled-out form, your stamped test sheet, two passport-size photos (you can have these done around the corner at Tesco on Národní or at any automatic photo booth) and you must have two forms of ID (trvalý pobyt and passport).

Once your number comes up, take your documents to the window and turn them in. You'll receive a slip of paper with the date on which you can return and pick up your license (typically two weeks from the date you submitted the application).

When you come to pick up your driver's license you'll need to bring identification and 50 CZK.

Go back to the same building and the same machine, but this time hit the "vyzvednout řidičský průkaz" ("pick up driver's license") button.

The wait for picking up your license is considerably shorter -- typically 15-20 minutes.

At the window, once they confirm that they have your license, you'll be given you a bill for 50 CZK and you must then go to the cash desk (pokladna), pay the bill and take the receipt back to the window where you will receive your driver's license.

Your license is legal in all EU countries and is valid for 10 years. Drive safe!

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