It’s time for a fun update! Today I’m going to talk about getting a driver’s license in Sweden (or rather, what I had to go through to get my Swedish driver’s license). Listen up, Americans… this ain’t no joke. The test is way harder than you think.
Raise your hand if you moved here and found out that your driver’s license was only good for the first year that you were here? I’ve always thought that was weird – as if we would suddenly forget how to drive once the 366th day comes rolling around.
Keep your hand raised if you thought that it was no big deal for you to get a new license because you drove back in your home country, or you chose to postpone the process because you didn’t think you would need a car.
Is your hand still raised? Mine is still raised since both situations applied to me. I’ve driven a car since I was 16, and mostly drove in the congested San Francisco Bay Area. We’re talking about 7.4 million people in an area covering 18,000 square kilometers. WAY more than Stockholm has to offer. Just drive in Union Square on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll know what I am talking about. I also love the convenience of public transportation so I’ve never felt the need to buy a car.
To get a driver’s license in Sweden, you have to go through four steps.
1) First, you need what’s called a körkortstillstånd, a driver’s permit. You need to get your eyes examined, fill out a health declaration, and pay 220 kr to get the permit. The permit is good for five years, after which you can simply renew if you haven’t gotten your license yet.
2) After you have your permit, you need to decide whether you want to practice driving on your own or with a driving school. If you want to practice driving on your own, you need to complete a training course together with the person who will supervise and teach you. This is much more serious than the process in the US! Driving schools are everywhere and most people recommend going through one of those. During this time, you should be studying the theory book too. There are a variety of different books, but I borrowed my friend’s STR (the Swedish driving school association) book in English.
3) Attend Risk 1 and Risk 2 — you can’t fail them. Attendance at Risk 1 and Risk 2 is also valid for five years. Risk 1 is an educational session about the impact of alcohol and drugs on driving behavior. This class reminded me a little bit of the Red Asphalt videos that we watched in Driver’s Ed, but without so much gore.
Risk 2 is the fun part. It’s a practical way for the student driver to understand the impact of speed on car performance and safety especially on poor road conditions (ice or water, etc). You drive around with some other aspiring students and the instructor will raise the car by a few millimeters, which is just enough for the car to lose traction and simulate poor road conditions. You brake, you wipe out, take the car in a 360 degree turn, end up in a ditch somewhere… It’s tons of fun and it was actually very instructive too! I wish we did this back in the US.
4) Once you’ve completed Risk 1 and Risk 2 and feel ready to do the theory (“teoriprov”) and practical tests (“uppkörning”, literally “driving up”), you just need to book a place and time with Trafikverket and pay the fees. It’s 325 kr for the theory test and 1200 kr for the practical test. In Stockholm, the theory test is taken at a different location than the practical test. If you pass the theory test, you have two months to pass the practical test. Sometimes people fail the theory test but pass the practical test. The same applies there – you have two months to pass the theory test, or else you have to do everything all over again.
Now, back to my story. After 7 years of living here, I finally decided to get back into the process. It was the last remaining thing on my checklist before I could call myself completely Swedish. I had a personnummer, I had an apartment, and I even had citizenship which let me vote in the recent EU and Swedish elections. But I couldn’t legally drive in this country.
I had applied and received my körkortstillstånd in June 2010, so I only had until June 2015 to get my license. I had also taking 2 driving lessons and attended Risk 1 and Risk 2 in 2011. Seeing that it had been 3 years since I last drove in Sweden, I decided to practice with a driving school. I scheduled four lessons and after those four, my instructor declared I was ready for the uppkörning. I was thrilled – every lesson that I don’t need saves me 1200 kr! He encouraged me to call the driving school the next day to book a time with Trafikverket. However, as I was traveling a lot during the next few weeks, I decided it was too much hassle to try to match my schedule with his and then with an opening at Trafikverket. In the end, I called and scheduled my own time at Trafikverket: the theory test during the morning and the practical test in the afternoon.
Theory Attempt #1, Stockholm City: Passed. The theory test is 65 questions, and you need a 52 to pass. I got a 53!
Driving Attempt #1, Sollentuna: Failed. My test was at 14:45. I figured this should be early enough in the day to avoid most traffic. My driving inspector was a man in his early 40s. He produced a Windows Surface tablet and checked my ID. After verifying my identity, he asked if I had another driver’s license in an EES state. Nope, I said. Signed my name on the tablet and went to the car, a diesel VW Golf station wagon. He asked me to perform a pretty basic “säkerhetskontroll” – a safety check of the car – he wanted me to check that the handbrake worked. I put the car in neutral, released the handbrake, and let the car roll backwards a few centimeters. Passed! We drove through a lot of roundabouts, got on the freeway, got off the freeway, went through a few residential neighborhoods, backed the car around a corner, and then back to the Trafikverket office.
Failed, he said. “You were going too fast in the 30 km zones, you don’t know how to drive through a roundabout, and you stopped when you don’t need to. You need to look further ahead so you can plan better.” Fair enough. Up until this point, I hadn’t practiced driving in roundabouts. I studied up on roundabouts and watched a bunch of videos on how you’re supposed to drive through them. Okay, yep, I was doing them wrong…
Driving Attempt #2, Jakobsberg: Failed. I scheduled the test for Jakobsberg. My test was at 13:50 and my driving inspector was a lady in her late 40s. We went driving and she directed me to Jakobsberg Centrum. Oops, I was in the wrong lane so I had to turn into a parking lot, reverse, and get the car going on the right path. Not a good start. The driving route was similar: roundabouts, freeway, residential, some car reversing, and back to the office. I thought I had done okay until she said “this is only a 30 km road, slow down”. Shit, I thought – I could have sworn I saw a 40 sign!
She failed me. At this stage I was a bit shocked that I had failed twice – after all, I thought I was a master at maneuvering the vehicle! I was heading to the US, so I scheduled another test for after I returned.
I also scheduled a long lesson with my driving school to practice in Jakobsberg a few days before the test.
Driving Attempt #3, Jakobsberg: Failed. It was at 09:00 in the morning which was a fantastic idea, by the way – everyone’s already at work, and since the stores are still closed, there isn’t as much as traffic on the road. My driving inspector was the same woman. Damnit, I thought… this isn’t going to be good. This time, I stopped a little too far into the intersection and passed a red light. Not only that, but when she had me to go through a small residential area, I misshifted and I kept trying to get the car started for almost a whole minute. Talk about awkward! However, she did say that my roundabouts and freeway driving was fine.
Driving Attempt #4, Jakobsberg: Failed. My test was at 07:20 in the morning, which was a bad idea as there was a lot of traffic on the road. I got a new guy in his 40s, who also took me to a residential area and had me go up a hill. This time I shifted correctly, but tried to get it into 2nd gear too quickly. He also thought I didn’t drive well through the roundabouts.
Driving Attempt #5, Jakobsberg: Failed. I scheduled my test for 10:00 as I didn’t want to deal with the traffic. Again, a new inspector. He failed me for how I shifted onto and off the freeway, but at least he took the time after the test to give me some practical feedback.
I only had a week left before my theory test expired. I was so frustrated at this point that I was close to postponing the whole process until the spring. But as I started thinking about it, I decided to book more attempt.
Driving Attempt #6, Jakobsberg: Passed. I scheduled my test for 10:00 again (I’m telling you, the time makes a difference). Another new inspector, but with a bonus participant. She brought along a older man who was going through the accreditation process to teach at a driving school. He sat in the backseat and didn’t say much, but the inspector was very social – she kept a conversation going the entire drive.
At this point I had driven in Jakobsberg several times and since there are only so many roads they take you through, I’ve had driven through pretty much all of them. We went through almost all of the same routes, but the one thing I hadn’t done before was parallel parking. It was the first time that I had been asked to do this, but I nailed it, of course – comes with living in San Francisco. 🙂
I was asked to drive around a few residential neighborhoods, and somewhere in that process she picked up her Windows Surface tablet and punched in a few things. Shit, I thought, she’s already failed me.
When we arrived back at the office, she asked me how it felt. I responded, “I don’t know.” And I really didn’t… I had already failed so many times. She smiled and said that I drove “okay” – as in not terrible, but not awesome either, but good enough to pass. I gave her the biggest smile, gave her a hug, and told her that I had tried 5 times already. She knew, of course, and went on to give me some tips to help me be an even better driver.
WOW – what a feeling. I was on clouds when I walked back to the Jakobsberg train station. I received the driver’s license in the mail two days later (fast!) and safely tucked it into my wallet. (You have to pay an invoice of 150 kr for making the card,)
And yes, the whole process costs a ton of money. That driver’s license was worth about 15,000 kr all said and done (about USD $2100!) but half of that went to my driving tests… 🙂
So what were the lessons that I learned? Well, the driver’s license process in Sweden is difficult. Don’t think that just because you’ve driven a car before in the US that you’ll be able to pass it. Don’t rush it – just accept that they want Swedish drivers to drive a certain way. You might fail it a few times, but just accept it and keep trying!
(originally published November 2014)