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Living in the UK

Getting a UK Driving License

Exchanging your license for a British driver’s license — or driving license as it is referred to in the UK — can be quite confusing. There are various regulations which depend largely on your country of origin. In this article, we give a brief introduction to getting a British driver’s license.

  • The validity of your foreign driver’s license depends on the reason for your stay, as well as the country where it was issued.
  • Tourists can typically use their foreign driver’s license for up to a year while in the UK, however, getting an international driving permit (IDP) might be a good idea for licenses issued in a foreign language.
  • Driver’s licenses issued in a member state of the EU or EFTA are valid in the UK up until the age of 70.
  • Permits from the EU/EFTA, the Channel Islands, and a number of designated countries can also simply be exchanged for a British license.

The validity of your driver’s license depends on the country where it was issued as well as the planned duration of your stay. In quite a few cases, your existing license from your home country will remain valid for a limited time, and you’ll be able to legally drive in the UK.

Please note that the following information only applies to Great Britain, i.e. England, Scotland, and Wales. There are separate regulations for driving in Northern Ireland, which you can find later in this article, and on the website of the Northern Ireland government services.

The minimum age for driving cars and motorbikes is 17 years old (16 years old for mopeds). If you want to get a vocational license required for driving buses or trucks, you will need to contact the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) for more information. The same also applies if you have any health issues or medical conditions that might interfere with your driving ability.

Original Driver’s License from an EU or EFTA Country

If the driver’s license you are currently using was issued in a member state of the EU or EFTA, the following regulations apply to you:

  • If you are visiting Great Britain and intend to stay less than 12 months, continue to use your current license.
  • As a resident of the UK, you can keep using your license for three years after you become a resident or until your 70th birthday (whichever is the longer period).
  • If you received your current EU/EFTA license in exchange for a license from a non-EU state, this is a special case and you may only use it for up to 12 months.
  • As a European and a resident of Great Britain, you can also exchange your current license for a British driver’s license.

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A Special Case: Northern Ireland

As mentioned above, the regulations for driver’s licenses in Northern Ireland are different from the rest of the UK. Still, drivers from Northern Ireland do not have much to worry about. These are your options:

  • You can exchange it for a full British driver’s license immediately.
  • Or you can continue using it until it runs out, then apply to renew it as a British driver’s license.

Original Driver’s License from the Channel Islands and Designated Countries

Driver’s license or permits from Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man are not considered fully equivalent to a British license. If your driver’s license was issued there, you have the following options:

  • If you are visiting Northern Ireland and intend to stay less than 12 months, you can continue using your current license.
  • If you are a resident of the Channel Islands and Designated Countries, you can continue to use your license for 12 more months after receiving residency. You can also exchange it for a British license within the first five years of your stay, provided the original license is still valid.

The same rules apply if your driver’s license was issued in a so-called “designated country”. In November 2016, the list of designated countries included Andorra, Australia, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, Canada, the Falkland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, and Zimbabwe.

Original Driver’s License from Any Other Country

If your original driver’s license was issued outside of the EU/EFTA and not in a designated country, the following conditions will apply to you:

Regardless of whether you are a tourist or a resident in your first year, if your original driver’s license is not in English it might also be a good idea to get an international driving permit (IDP).

Note that you will need to get this in the same country that issued your original driver’s license. This permit includes translations into multiple languages and ensures, in combination with your foreign license, that officials around the world are able to easily identify what types of vehicles you are permitted to drive.

How to Exchange Your Driver’s License for a British Driving License

To exchange your license, you must meet the following conditions:

  • You must be a resident of Great Britain, i.e. have lived for at least 183 days at a permanent address in the country between April 6 and April 5 the following year (the tax year). You also qualify if your only home was in the UK and you spent at least 30 days there in the tax year.
  • Your foreign license must still be valid.
  • You must be willing to surrender your old license to the DVLA.
  • If you are from Japan or South Korea, you need to provide a certified translation of your old license. Please contact the Japanese or Korean Embassy in the UK for further information.

If you are eligible and want to exchange your previous driver’s license for a British one, you need to submit the documents listed below to the DVLA by mail (you will find the address on the application form):

  • A completed application form D1 from the DVLA
  • Your foreign driver’s license
  • Any other documents you might need (such as ID, proof of a legal change of name, etc.)
  • 43 GBP in licensing fees

You should receive your new British driver’s license within three weeks. Please remember that you are not allowed to exchange an international driving permit.

Also keep in mind that if your foreign license is only for automatic vehicles and you would like a British license that is valid for manual transmissions as well, you will need to pass an additional driving test.

If you’re still unsure if you can use your non-GB driver’s license in Great Britain, you can take this quick and simple test.

Updated on: March 26, 2019

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