Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Danish Driving License

This post is here for two purposes. Hopefully you'll be entertained by my frustrations, but more importantly, hopefully for those who come here from a non-EU country and hope to obtain a driver's license, it will serve to provide some information for you on the process.

First and foremost - getting that Danish driver's license is no easy feat! Especially if you believe, as I did, that you can simply read the Driver's Theory Book and that doing so will sufficiently prepare you to take the theory test. Let me warn you now - it won't! This is the 3rd such theory test I have taken in my driving career and by far, the most obscure and most difficult of the three.

Test 1 - In all honesty, I have no recollection of the first written test I took. All that I do know is that I was 17 at the time, and I passed on the first try.

Test 2 - When I moved from New York to Washington, I waited one day too long to convert my license. My NY license had expired the day before I visited the Washington DMV and because of that one day, I had to take both the written and driving tests in Washington state. To take the written test you must show up, take a number, and wait. Everyone had told me, "just read the book while you're waiting and you'll do fine." They were correct. I mean, really, I already knew how to drive, it was just a matter of reading whatever little weird things Washington had in their law books that perhaps NY did not. Read, passed, done. Took the road test and passed that as well.

Test 3 - Ahh, Denmark. When I arrived here in November 2006 we were told that I simply had to convert my US license over to a Danish license. We went to the proper place, filled out the paperwork, gave them some money and waited. I was given a temporary driving permit to be used while awaiting my 'real' license. Sigh; if only it had been that simple.

Approximately two weeks later, we received a letter in the mail letting us know that whoever let us fill out that form had been wrong. It was no longer possible to convert a US License and that I must undergo the full battery of driving tests if I wished to obtain a Danish license. (Subtext - You people from the US cannot drive, your tests are too easy, and we don't want you on our roads until we take half your pay and subject you to all kinds of strangely worded questions in the hopes that you'll fail and never drive here.)

At this point in my Danish life, my knowledge of the danish language amounted to less than 10 words, which meant that there was no possible way to take the test in Danish. After several phone calls, we were told it was possible to purchase the theory book in the English language. So purchase it we did. And then I read the book - twice. My initial impression of the book was that whoever was paid to translate the book into English did a very poor job of doing so. I have since learned that apparently I'm the moron. I guess in the UK a curb actually is a 'kerb' and a tire actually is a 'tyre'; I just thought the person doing the translation couldn't spell!

All that aside, in order to take the test, we had to hire a police-approved interpreter who would read the test to me in English - at our expense, of course. And, because I would be taking the test in English, I had to reserve a test period for myself rather than joining 10 other people in their test taking time slot. To do so, you have to go look the big book of test taking times, find one that no one is in, take the book to the desk and let them know that you'll be taking the test at that time. But, before you can actually do so, you have to coordinate with your interpreter to be sure that the time also works for them. And, since no sane Danish teenager is going to take the 8 AM time slot - that is pretty much the only free spot you can reserve. We were able to get the logistics all worked out and we scheduled the test.

I re-read everything in the book that I was sure they would quiz me on - legal drinking limits, obscure size and shape rules, weird safety rules like how many meters back on the road you are to set your warning triangle if your car becomes disabled, etc. With the help of my hubby, I did several random practice tests online. They were in danish, so he had to read (translate) quickly so that I could pick an answer quickly, etc. We didn't do so well on these practice tests, but part of that had to do with 'how' to translate certain words and the fact that we were racing against time when attempting this. In hindsight, I was a total fool to think I was prepared for this test. But really, how hard could it be?

Really, really, hard. The way the test works is that you'll be shown pictures, 25 of them. For each picture shown there are 2-4 questions. They are all yes/no questions, however, the tricky part is that 1 question wrong out of 4 means you fail that picture. You're allowed to have 5 of the 25 wrong; get 6 wrong and you have failed.

If you want to see a sample (it's in Danish) you can look at this link (http://www.dku.dk/Teori/B/default.asp). The hardest part of the whole thing is figuring out what they 'mean' and what their tricks are. In each picture, the photo is from the perspective of the driver, as if you're in the car. So, for example, you'll be shown a picture looking through the windshield at the road ahead. It will begin by saying something like..

"You're traveling at 60 kph, what should you be particularly aware of here?"
a. The course of the road
b. The direction of the road
c. The use of the road
d. I will reduce my speed

That's not a great example, but it's an example! It's not multiple choice; for each of those you have to say Yes or No. So, you may say 'a' is yes and 'b' is no and 'c' is yes and 'd' is yes, but if you get 3 right and 1 wrong, you failed that picture. The words they use such as "course", "use" and "direction" are seriously where you will pass or fail this thing. It's all a matter of learning what they mean by those words.

So, on my first try, I got 6 pictures wrong and failed. I figured they would show me where I went wrong so I would know what I needed to study. No such luck. They give you back a piece of paper that says you got picture #5 wrong, but not which part of picture 5 was wrong, nor do you have any memory of what exactly was in picture 5 - you don't get to keep a copy of the picture itself. They do tell you that the subject of picture 5 was, for example, intersections, but that's all the help you'll get.

When you're 'converting' they'll give you the first theory test relatively inexpensively. If you have to take it again, you pay more, and each time you take it, the price goes up, and we're not talking 20 Kr. either. And, if you're doing it in English, you have to pay your interpreter each time as well, obviously.

We scheduled another test taking time, and I went home and studied more. I did everything possible to prepare for the silly thing the 2nd time, and I just KNEW I was ready. Or, so I thought. The result of the 2nd try was that I ended up getting more of them wrong than I did on the first try. It was humiliating and frustrating and caused me to have one of my moments.. the cry my eyes out, swear at my new country, tell my husband to 'fix it' moments.

We were finally referred to a local driving instructor who had apparently spent some time in the US and would be able to help me prepare. My new instructor then managed to hook me up with practice tests that were actually in English - eureka! There were 25 practice tests, each with the full 25 pictures, and I think I took every one of those tests at least 3 times. He also helped me figure out what the heck they meant by things like "the road's equipment" and some of the little tricks they use in the test that I should be prepared for. I felt like I finally knew where I had probably gone wrong on the previous attempts and alas, try #3 was scheduled.

Luckily and most happily, I finally passed it! I whooped and hollared and wanted to give the grumpy old policeman a hug, but thought better of it and gave my husband a hug instead! Then it was on to the road test. Which must be taken in an official driver instructor car and since I had taken the theory test with an interpreter, my interpreter also had to be present for the driving test. She had to sit in the back seat while the policeman sat in the passenger seat.

I spent a few sessions in advance driving around Viborg in the instructor's car so that I could get used to everything and remember how to drive a stick shift! (If you cannot drive a stick-shift car, learn that first as it's the only way to take the test). On the day of the actual driving test, we all met at the police station. The officer who would administer the test turned out to be a nice young guy who had no issue at all speaking to me in English; so my interpreter basically went along for the ride! I must say it's a bit of an odd feeling to drive a car with 2 passengers and yet no one is speaking other than to say 'take the next left'.

Short story long, despite my 3-point turn becoming a 4-point turn, I did successfully pass the test and obtain my danish driver's license. WOOOHOOO.


  1. Ok, I am exhausted just reading this........

  2. I told you Danes cannot spell, no matter how good their oral English are

  3. this post makes me worry. Maybe I just want to take the bus and train forever.

  4. Congratz on passing! I got such a chuckle reading your account of this. It is EXACTLY how it works. The one thing we did different was hire a driving instructor from the start and he handled all of the scheduling for us. I too cried and screamed and stomped my feet over this ridiculous test but it is such a relief when it is done :) Woohoo for legal driving!

  5. Congrats on getting your driver's license. Would you consider getting an international license? Mac & I talked about it last week... I was going to look into that b/c I'm not sure of all the details of getting one.
    Tillykke!!! :-)

  6. Wow! What a headache! I am now having my own with the driving license since I'm only a stupid Canadian driving for 15 years. I would love to get a copy of that English practice test from your instructor. I just called the Dansk Kørelærer-Union but they only have a practice test in Danish. I would need some help since I'm driving illegaly for a few weeks already. Thanks in advance. Pierre

  7. Hey, it is good to know about these hiccups though I am already scared about trying for one...which driving schools did you guys use? Anyone you would recommend?

  8. I ended up getting some instructions, and my road practice with http://www.smartlicence.dk/. He was awesome.

  9. hey im new here in DK, from the US. how much did this experience end up costing you, it seems super expensive? I am 20 and without an american license.

  10. Oh my friend! You are getting yourself into trouble... The driving license is not that expensive. i.e.: +/-900USD. If you buy a car and, of course, buy insurance you will start without safe driving experiance and you'll have to pay between 1500 and 3000USD depending on which junk you buy. Remember, car are around 3 times more expensive in Denmark than the US... I hope you are rich! Otherwise, take the train.

  11. haha yeah i know the cars are super expensive here as my father from italy is constantly complaining about it.

    so i need roughly 4000USD to get my liscense and insure a car? what about if I use my fathers car? would he have to put me on his insurance and there fore raise his rates or can I drive his car legally?

  12. Hi, I have just moved here and am going for the theory test on monday, terribly worried as the passing rate is only about 30 percent. I am glad to see your post and know that I am not the only who feels frustrated about the whole system and the test itself.

  13. Hi Patti,
    I am David (NQDII) and share you frustration with gaining a Danish licence, although my ordeal is not over yet - I failed the theory test yesterday, despite having studied hard and repeatedly passing the practice online tests once I had learnt what answers they wanted to hear to their ludicrous questions! I am now seriously weighing up whether it is worth my time and effort to go through this process, as the reason I decided to get a car was to save me the 3+ hour travel time to work everyday, and now this process is consuming time and money, and if I only stay in DK another 1-2 years I figure its just not worth it (after spending 6 months to get to this point of my first test and maybe another 6 months to pass the theory and practical tests). I'm unsure how long I will stay in DK, but now this has forced me to seriously consider how long I will stay to decide whether it is worth pursuing this licence any further. Anyway, apart from still being in a quandary about whether to invest more time on trying to pass these tests, I did decide the little time it would take me to write (again) to the Danish Ministry of Justice and the Australian Embassy was very small compared to the amount of time I have already spent going over the stupid practice theory tests!, so I have written emails and NQD1 encouraged me to start a blog which I have done. I'm still not sure how much of my time I want to spend fighting for "justice" here, but I will start and see where it goes. It's been at least therapeutic to let our some anger and frustration about this ridiculous process! I would be pleased if you would join my blog spot and lend your support, and feel free to insert a link to this post of yours on the subject and any other material you think would be helpful. Maybe it will be too late for you and probably me too, but lets make a change for future expats who come to DK!
    David :)


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