Helping Your Teenager Drive Overseas

Most teenagers are eager to obtain a driver's license, no matter how many tests and driving hours they have to endure to get one. Your teenager probably won't be any different. But teenagers in a military family living overseas face driving challenges and requirements their stateside friends don't. The following information can help you understand the requirements necessary for getting a license to drive in your host country.

Getting an overseas Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)-status driver's license

Teenagers aren't the only ones who face overseas driving challenges. You and your family members must obtain a special license to drive overseas. This license is governed by the SOFA, an agreement between the U.S. and the country in which you're stationed.

Before getting that license, you must:

  • Meet minimum age requirements. These requirements vary by country, but in several overseas duty areas, drivers must be at least eighteen.
  • Have a valid U.S. driver's license.If your teenager does not yet have a stateside license, he may be able to apply for a permit to drive on the installation only.
  • Apply for a license at your overseas duty station and pass an exam. To get a license in most overseas duty locations, your teenager will have to study the country's traffic laws and international traffic signs. Licensing tests may also include mastery of driving rules and right-of-way laws.

In some areas, drivers between the ages of sixteen and eighteen can get an on-installation driving license. If your teenager has a stateside license, he or she may be able to apply for a SOFA-status license, but the rules vary by country. For more information, check with your installation's website, your command, or your sponsor.

It might seem simplest to get your teenager an international driving license instead of the military overseas license described above, but SOFA-status service members and their families who want to drive will need a driver's license issued in accordance with the SOFA. In most cases, that means your teenager will have to study for (and pass!) tests before getting a license.

Because not all foreign countries recognize a military-issued driver's license, your teenager may need an international license (which is basically a translation of his or her state-issued license) if he or she will be driving out of the country where you are stationed. Check with your installation's driver's license issuing facility or your Family Service Center for specific information.

Driver's education

If you're headed overseas for a three-year tour, it's possible your teenager will hit the "I-want-to-drive" age while you're outside the U.S. This can be more difficult overseas. In addition to more stringent age requirements in many countries, you may also have difficulty finding a driver's education class.

In some overseas communities, you may find that a contractor provides driver's education training and, if you're fortunate, the training will include time behind the wheel. In other cases, you won't have any support at all. This can make for difficult and sometimes expensive choices. Germans, for example, spend well over $1,200 to get their licenses, which they obtain after intensive classroom and hands-on instruction.

If your teenager needs only the classroom phase of driver's education while stationed overseas, there are other options available. Many states offer online, high school correspondence and distance learning courses that help teens complete classroom instruction from home or school. Before signing up, check with your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to make sure they'll accept the course. Go to the DMV site for more information.

Learner's permits

Learner's permits don't exist in overseas locations. In many countries, you'll see young teenagers driving farm vehicles, but you won't find them driving passenger cars. In many countries, teenagers need to be seventeen or eighteen and graduates of a local driving school before they drive a car.

Finding "wheel time" for your teenager overseas

Your teenager may be able to get an on-installation license even if he or she does not meet the age requirements for a SOFA-status driving license. It will help your teenager gain valuable experience. In some areas there are other options for teenagers to practice driving off the installation. For example:

  • The German Automobile Club (ADAC). The ADAC has a limited number of driving parks available. For a small fee, these parks allow you to ride along with your teenagers to help them gain driving experience.
  • Local driving schools. These schools may offer specialized driving training. Instruction can include classroom lessons and behind-the-wheel training. When choosing this option, you should consider cost and remember that your teenager must still obtain a stateside license and meet SOFA driving requirements before obtaining a SOFA-status license.

Area-specific information

Regions can be quite different, and there are area-specific sources of information:

  • Your sponsor. Before you move to your new duty station, your sponsor can provide information on age requirements and driver's licensing rules for you and your family.
  • Your installation's Family Service Center or library. Here you'll find area-specific information, as well as maps, handbooks to help your teenager translate road signs, and information on driving in your host country.

Driving in your new country

Before your teenager begins driving, you'll want to help him or her learn the rules of the road. You can find handbooks and road sign charts at your installation library or Family Support Center. The Military Officers Association of America website provides driving-safety tips for military families that move overseas.

Some of the changes your teen will notice when driving outside the U.S. include:

  • Some countries require cars to carry an orange safety vest and first-aid kit.
  • Some countries require that you keep your headlights on even during the day.
  • Speed limits can be higher (and can be hard to get used to).
  • Driving conditions may be more congested than your teenager is accustomed to.
  • In many countries, the roads are much narrower than they are in the U.S.
  • Driving on the opposite side of the road in countries such as Japan and the United Kingdom can be a challenge.

Stay aware of the differences and talk about them -- often -- with your teenager.


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