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Do expats need a Slovak driving license?

IMAGINE YOU'VE just arrived in Slovakia and want to rent a car to see some of the country. Will your foreign driving license satisfy the rental agency and, if you are stopped, the police? At what point, if you decide to live here, will you have to get a Slovak driving license?
The Slovak Spectator spent several days collecting information on this issue from the national traffic police headquarters. Here is a digest of what we learned:
If you are a foreign national and NOT registered in Slovakia with the border and aliens police as living at a temporary address (i.e. if you are a tourist)

IMAGINE YOU'VE just arrived in Slovakia and want to rent a car to see some of the country. Will your foreign driving license satisfy the rental agency and, if you are stopped, the police? At what point, if you decide to live here, will you have to get a Slovak driving license?

The Slovak Spectator spent several days collecting information on this issue from the national traffic police headquarters. Here is a digest of what we learned:

If you are a foreign national and NOT registered in Slovakia with the border and aliens police as living at a temporary address (i.e. if you are a tourist)

- you can drive a vehicle if you hold a valid driving license from your country of origin, and if that country is listed on the international convention recognising mutual driving credentials that Slovakia is signatory to (most European countries are signatories to this convention, as are the US and Canada; ask your embassy for details)

- you are not eligible to exchange your driver's license for a Slovak one

- there are no limits on how long you can drive with your original license except visa rules on how long you can stay in the country (a maximum of 180 days for British citizens, up to 90 days for most other nationals)

- it is the responsibility of the police officer who stops you to understand the information on your license, and the foreigner is in no way liable if the officer cannot do this.

On the other hand, if you as a foreign national ARE registered with the border and aliens police in Slovakia as living at a fixed address (i.e. if you have a green card allowing you to work, whether on a temporary residence, dlhodobý pobyt, or a permanent residence basis, trvalý pobyt)

- as the holder of a driving license issued abroad and governed by the international convention on recognising mutual driving credentials, you are required to register at the Office of Driver Records (evidencia vodičov na okresnom dopravnom inšpektoráte) in the district you live in within 30 days of giving your address to the police

- after you register your address in Slovakia with the police, you are allowed to drive with your foreign driving license for six months, but after this time is up you must exchange your foreign license for a Slovak license. You CAN make this exchange right after you register with the police as having a permanent address in Slovakia

To exchange your foreign driving licence for a Slovak one, you must come to the Office of Driver Records equipped with a valid foreign driving license, your permanent or temporary stay permit (which since January 2002 has been issued as a sticker in your passport), one black-white or colour photo, dimensions 3.5 cm x 4.5 cm, a completed application for the license exchange, and Sk100 ($2.20).

The transport inspectorate in your district will prepare your Slovak driving licence while you wait. NO ROAD TEST OR WRITTEN TEST is required.

If the country you come from is not party to the international convention with Slovakia, you can acquire a Slovak driving license only by taking a course and passing a test, as Slovak citizens are required to do.

We would add here a telephone number where you might receive further information, but you would have to speak Slovak and be willing to endure several days of being told to "send a fax" before you actually got to talk to anyone.

For what it's worth, the rules set out above come from paragraph 83 of a 1996 Traffic Law (No. 315).

What to do if stopped by police

In case you get stopped by police - and if you drive here you will be stopped, given the love of Slovak police for roadside checks - here are a few hints to get you on your way again with the least expense and hassle.

Police in this country have many fewer cars per cop than Western countries, and thus keep their officers gainfully employed by stationing them at roadside checks.

If they've picked your car, which they indicate by stepping into the road and pointing at you with a baton, you should follow the gestures of the police to know where to halt your vehicle. Like police around the world, they can be very haughty with you if they feel you have misunderstood their instructions.

According to internal police rules, the officer is required, on approaching the driver's window, to say "good day" in Slovak.

The police will then ask for your driving licence (vodičský preukaz), vehicle registration certificate (osvedčenie o evidencii vozidla), vehicle roadworthiness proof (technický preukaz) and your personal identification.

Slovak citizens all carry an ID card known as an občiansky preukaz (proof of citizenship), but since the beginning of this year, the border and aliens police have stopped issuing such cards to foreigners with permanent or temporary residence in the country. So, in all cases, your passport (pas) is what should be produced.

The police officer is also required to demand you turn the car engine off. You, on the other hand, are required to carry all the prescribed documents with you when driving.

Fines for traffic violations can only be imposed by the police, who also have exclusive power to withdraw your driving license, vehicle registration and license plate as well.

In case you don't speak Slovak, the policeman may call an interpreter.

Fines for speeding can vary up to Sk2,000 ($47), depending on how fast you were going. Limits for city roads are 60km/hour, for highways 90km/hour, and for divided-lane freeways 130km/hour.

Other traffic violations are subject to fixed penalties of Sk500-Sk2,000, which can either be paid on the spot or later from a ticket that has been issued.

If a police officer asks you for more than Sk2,000, it is an abuse of authority, and the driver is allowed to refuse: Neplatím (I'm not paying).

If you cannot pay the fine in cash on the spot, the police are obliged to issue you a ticket and give you instructions as to how to pay it, the time period for payment and the legal consequences in case of non-payment

If you don't agree with the fine and feel you have committed no offence, you can refuse to pay and will be issued a date to appear in traffic court.

Did you know that the police can:
1. Fine you Sk2,000 ($47) for ignoring a yield sign
2. Fine you Sk2,000 for failing to follow the instructions of the police
3. Fine you Sk1,000 ($24) for riding a motorcycle without a helmet
4. Require you to appear before a court and face a fine of up to Sk15,000 ($350) for driving with any quantity of alcohol in your blood stream, and take your license for up to two years

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