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Mutual recognition

1. The principle

Article 1(2) of Directive 91/439/EEC stipulates that all driving licences have to be mutually recognised within the European Union. Where the holder of a valid driving licence acquires "normal residence" in a Member State other than that which issued the licence, the host country has to recognise the licence.

Directive 80/1263/EEC laid down a period of one year during which the exchange had to be carried out by the authorities of the state of residence. This obligation has been abolished since 1 July 1996, the date of entry into force of Directive 91/439/EEC. It is still possible to exchange licences but it has to be based on a purely voluntary action on the part of the licence holder.

At the time of the exchange, the Member State in which the holder has acquired normal residence issues a Community model licence of the corresponding category or categories, without the need for a theoretical or practical examination. Authorities must however check that the licence is valid.

2. Exceptions

Article 1(3) of Directive 91/439/EEC establishes an exception to this general principle of mutual recognition. It is noted that « Where the holder of a valid national driving licence takes up normal residence in a Member State other than that which issued the licence, the host Member State may apply to the holder of the licence its national rules on the period of validity of the licence, medical checks and tax arrangements and may enter on the licence any information indispensable for administration. »

  • With regard to the period of validity of driving licences, Directive 91/439/EEC therefore allows Member States to apply their national provisions. In practice, the validity arrangements vary from one Member State to another. This means that a different period of validity, shorter for example, can be applied to the holder of a licence, in the event of change of residence.
  • With regard to the interval between medical examinations, this has not been harmonised by Community legislation. In the majority of the Member States, it coincides with the period of validity.
  • Driving licences issued by a non-member country and recognised by a Member State, are not recognised reciprocally in a systematic manner, even in the eventual case that the licence has been exchanged for a Community model in the meantime. It is therefore advisable to contact the competent national authorities.
  • Member States are not obliged to recognise driving licences issued to persons aged under 18.

For more information, see:

  • Directive 91/439/EEC of 29 July 1991; OJ N° L 237, 24 August 1991, p 1.
  • Further information may be obtained on ScadPlus (information on driving licences may be found in the section "living"-"driving a vehicle" for each Member State).


last update: 03-02-2009