Driving me crazy: The long road to a Swedish driver’s licence

Elizabeth Dacey Fondelius moved to Stockholm with a clean driving licence. There was only one problem: it was an American licence. After two decades of driving it was back to school in Sweden.

I relived the euphoria of the giddy teenager when I recently passed my Swedish driving licence test. Despite approaching the big four-oh I felt 16 again – because that’s how old I was when I got my first driving licence in Watertown, Massachusetts.

People who move to Sweden and do not have a driving licence from another EU country, Switzerland or Japan must jump through all the hoops a beginner driver faces in order to drive legally in Sweden after one year of residency. They must pass the theory test, attend the skid-pan course and finally nail the practical driving test. And it doesn’t come cheap.

For over a decade I had been searching in vain for the loophole or the short-cut to bypass the time-consuming, bureaucratic and costly trip. Defeated, I finally conceded that the only way was to buckle up and knuckle down.

I was wise enough to apply for the provisional drivers’ licence when all that was required beyond the 220 kronor ($31) fee, attached health declaration and eye-sight certificate was giving the name of the person I expected to practice driving with. Since January 2006 both the student and the private instructor must sit through – and pay for – a 3-hour course to be driver and coach. The driving school lobby wants to make driving without their help as difficult as possible.

In the event, the process wasn’t as frustrating as I had feared. It still cost a bundle, occasionally left me mumbling disparaging remarks about the ridiculousness of some of the rules and took months to complete. But all in all, it was rather straightforward.

The written test turned out easier than I feared. I honestly expected to fail since I was consistently failing the practice tests I had bought on CD. I failed the eighth and final practice test 30 minutes before I left for the Swedish National Road Administration (Vägverket) testing centre in Solna.

There was nothing to lose – it was too late to cancel and receive a refund – so I went expecting to gain some experience and yet another practice test for my 180 kronor. Gloating, I walked out with 62 of 65 questions correctly answered. One down, two to go.

The skid-pan course (halkbana) is nearly a no-fail venture. They went through some theory about driving and car safety including turning you upside down in a car, demonstrating the effects of a run-in with a moose and scaring you about all the ways you can die while driving.

Driving with a course buddy you take the car round the circuit and feel the effects of braking on dry/slippery surfaces at a few different speeds. I was lucky enough to volunteer for something that turned out to be the closest I was going to get to doing handbrake turns with impunity. Pulling the handbrake at 50kph on the slippery surface did make the car turn 180 degrees. It was the best I could get for the 1300 kronor the Gillingebanan charged for this mandatory step in the driving licence adventure.

The final hurdle, the practical driving test. I signed up for the testing center in the part of town that I knew best to reduce the likelihood of any weird road conditions. I threw all sense of pride to the wind and decided to bark like a dog if I were asked to. Once in the car after very obviously adjusting mirrors, seats, locating rear-defrost and windshield wipers I double checked that my instructor was buckled in and indicated I was ready to go.

I have the opinion that either you’ll get a reasonable tester who knows you already can drive but needs to confirm that you can handle the Swedish driving requirements or you’ll get stuck with the one who wants you to know that despite your double decades of driving experience, you still don’t know it all. Gratefully my instructor belonged to the reasonable category.

She gave me instructions of what signs to follow and we did our merry tour. Unceremoniously I was approved upon our return even though I had managed to take the wrong turn at one point. Slip of paper in hand, I kept fearfully wondering if she could somehow change her mind and take it back if I stumbled climbing out of the car.

Driving today is a mix of the thrill of possessing the elusive Swedish driving licence and an anti-climax of doing something that I’ve been doing for over 20 years. But it still thrills me to show off my plastic driving licence. That long road to the licence is now but drive down memory lane.

What it costs

Application for driving permit: 220 kronor

Theory test: 180/220 kronor (daytime/evening).

Driving test: 645/845 kronor (daytime/evening).

Car rental for driving test: 400 kronor.

Photo: 80 kronor.

Licence issuing fee: 120 kronor.

Application for private driving coach (optional): 120kronor.

Additional fees.

Eye test –available at driving schools or optician offices: 50-100 kronor.

Study material for written test: 359 kronor (CD from AB Trafikpedagogik) price varies with driving schools.

Driving lesson with driving school –450-600 kronor per 50-minute lesson.

Skidpan course (Halkbana/riskutbilding) 1300 kronor.

3-hour course for private driving; student 400-600 kronor.

3-hour course for private driving; coach 400-600 kronor.

See also: Swedes in US also face driving licence hassle

Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius