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Project Expat
  • Project Expat
  • Oct 21, 2021

UK Expat Living in Germany: Wish you had been around then!

Richard, a UK expat living in Germany; specifically, shares his experience of how the country’s bureaucracy and regulations resulted in him spending a night in jail.

I moved to Bavaria from London 31 years ago to set up a sales support, marketing and technical support office for southern Europe and the German-speaking countries for an American software company. As a UK citizen taking advantage of the EU freedoms of choosing my own place of work and residence, I expected things to be easy. However, soon found that things which should have been simple, involved fighting with bureaucracy, discovering rules which it was impossible to have foreseen existed, and occasionally getting caught in a web of rules and regulations which were sometimes based on misinterpretations or defiance of EU rules.

I could not find any experts who could advise me on how to avoid pitfalls or guide me to others who could help in particular areas. I was on my own, apart from the head of European Operations in London, and just had to “muddle through”.

This led me into a couple of very “interesting” situations, ones which I would happily have done without.

German bureaucracy jungle

I did know, that I had to register myself and my offices at my local council offices. That was when the fun started.

I was told that I needed a residence permit, but after some research I found out that this wasn’t the case. The EU rules state that where you live within the EU is entirely your own choice. It only took a few weeks and some letters back and forth to sort this out. Then I was told that I needed a work permit. Despite spending weeks trying to sort this out with the local bureaucracy, they would not budge on this point, even though it was clear they were in the wrong. I would have been happy to give them a permit to get the problem out of the way, but since it was no longer necessary for citizens within the EU to obtain such permits, there was no one who could issue one anyway.

Finally, they backed down and I could open my office.

The USA’s company accountant became embroiled in a complex argument over my offices’ funds and taxes, which the local government wanted to take advantage of due to our new presence. I ended up spending more time translating letters, documents, and representing during long-distance phone chats than actually doing the work. Although experts were available, the internet was not yet in existence; thus we had to make do with what we had.

The everything went smoothly for a couple of months but then came the next surprise.

Sorry, that is the rule in Germany

While driving to Zurich for a scheduled meeting with the IT management of a well-known bank, I was stopped by German border police at the boundary. They inspected my documents and those related to the car, which were all in order until they asked me how long I had been in Germany. At that time it was about 9 months. The following conversation took place in German!

“And are you a registered resident?”


“Do you have the registration form with you?”

“Yes.” It is always best to be prepared for the worst, and a simple “yes” is a good way to do so. I gave it to him.

“Please wait here” and he disappeared into an office. Without my pass, driving licence and registration document I wasn´t going anywhere anyway.

After some five minutes he came back and said:

“You cannot drive in Germany. Your driving licence is invalid.”

The driving licence had an oval with a large GB in the center and “Driving Licence” inscribed in four European languages. It was a standard EU pink licence. And it had no expiry date. It was, as far as I could see, fully valid.

“What´s wrong with it?”

“You have been resident in Germany for more than six months, so it is invalid.”

“What? Why”

“That is the rule. You need to get a driving licence issued in German after six months.”

“But it´s a European licence, not a German one.”

“Sorry, that is the rule in Germany.”

“So what should I do now?”

“When you come back from driving through the border, someone must meet you at the border. You will not be able to drive in Germany again until you get a licence issued in Germany.”

“But if it is invalid, wont the Swiss stop me?”

“No, it is valid in Switzerland”

And if I go on to France, or home to the UK, can I use it there?”

“Yes, there it will be valid.”

“You mean, my European licence is valid everywhere else except Germany, because I live here?”


This was just the beginning

Maybe I´m a bit naïve, but I really didn´t see that one coming!

I was informed by the border policeman that I would likely be receiving a warning in the mail about needing to obtain a new license and I must get myself a new licence.

That was the start of the fun.

One night into police cell

I received a letter a few days later, notifying me of a 600 DM (300€) fine for driving without a valid licence. It specified I must present one at the local police station and that, since it was not a traffic offence, my violation would be documented in the civil register. In other words, I was to receive an official criminal record – unbelievable!

I appealed my case through a lawyer and got a date for a court hearing. I had been invited to a significant contract discussion with a client in Madrid, and the deal was valued at a considerable amount of money, right before the trial. I got in contact with my legal representative to make sure he could handle the situation without me being there; he confirmed that I had given him written authorization to take action for me, so everything would be alright.

But it wasn´t. The judge declared that he couldn´t accept my non-appearance and set a new date.

On the date of the hearing, due at 13.30, two police arrived at my home at 7:15 and arrested me. After being held in a police cell during the morning, I was transported to the courthouse 20 kilometres away and given to the clerk of court. Once this was completed, I had the liberty to move around freely until my case was heard.

My conviction was overturned and I only had to pay the fine at the end of a ridiculous hearing in which I reprimanded the judge for his racist comments. This local law, though later overturned, caused many people to be affected by it before its repeal.

Wish you had been around then!

Fortunately, I was able to find humour in the situation, nevertheless, I still had to overcome obstacles which kept me from doing my job. If Project Expat had been available back then, I would have had a much simpler time. They currently assist me with various matters and recently provided instructions on how to quickly resolve a lawsuit against me.

It´s good to know that when I need help, Project Expat and the MW Expat people are there, friendly, helpful and really well informed. I can honestly highly recommend them. The problems I encountered are all resolved, but bureaucracy is very inventive in creating new ones. At least you don’t have to face them on your own!

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I think that would be a great initiative and an added value service for expats like myself.


What a great idea to set up a website for English-speaking ex-pat's in Munich to help with everyday challenges.


I am looking forward to your services in the mentioned topics in the survey.


Sounds exciting and we would definitely use it for a myriad of reasons. Particularly as we are getting ready to move to Germering and require all of these services. Specifically, sometimes it is hard finding doctors who speak English. And both Cecilia and I work with auslanders who do not speak German, either (and would as well be interested).