Driving in the UK?
Road Rules and Regulations in the UK
Getting Your Hands on a Valid License
Please note that the following information on driver’s licenses applies to Great Britain, i.e. England, Scotland, and Wales only. For information on regulations in Northern Ireland, check the website of the official NI Information Service.
Foreign nationals that possess an EU or European Economic Area (EEA) driver’s license for cars may drive legally in Great Britain. As long as it is still valid, you can continue to use your foreign license for at least three years of residing in the UK or up until your 70th birthday, whichever period is the longer one. After that, you need to exchange it for a British one.
If the license you are using at the moment was issued in a so-called “designated country” or on the Channel Islands, you may keep using it for up to twelve months, after which you have to exchange it. The designated countries are: Andorra, Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, and Zimbabwe.
Has the country where you got your license not been mentioned, and are you spending more than a year in the UK? Then you have to get a provisional license and subsequently pass a UK driver’s test to obtain a valid license. Please note that since 2014 it is no longer possible to take your driving test with the help of foreign language voiceovers or interpreters — you will need to have sufficient English or Welsh language skills.
Evidently, for those planning on staying long term, exchanging their license for a British permit is the best option. This can be done at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). It should ideally be taken care of within twelve months of becoming a resident, and needs to be done within five years for expatriates from a designated country or the Channel Islands. European citizens and residents from Northern Ireland may exchange their license at any time, provided it is still valid.
Once you have obtained a British driver’s license — or “driving license” as it is called in the UK — you will have to renew it every ten years. Once you turn 70, this period is shortened to every three years.
For a step-by-step guide on how to exchange your foreign driver’s license for a British one, please read our article on Getting a British Driver’s License.
Keep to the Left, and Stick to the Rules
The minimum age for driving a car in the UK is 17, and you must adhere to this law regardless of what the minimum driving age in your home country is. Driving in Britain, whether on a British license or a foreign one, automatically makes you subject to the British Highway Code. This includes, but is not limited to, the following rules:
- Seatbelts must be worn by the driver and all passengers at all times.
- Until a child reaches the age of 14, it is the driver’s responsibility they wear a seatbelt. If a child is less than 1.35 m (4 feet and 5 inches) tall or under the age of 12, the driver must provide a booster seat or a child seat. If you are pulled over and these regulations aren’t met, you, as the driver, will incur a fine.
- For England and Wales, the legal limit of alcohol that may be found in a driver’s blood is 0.8‰. In Scotland the limit is at 0.5‰.
- The use of hand-held mobile phones while driving is illegal and will also result in hefty fines and penalty points on your license. Although hands-free mobiles are tolerated, you may face a penalty as well if the police suspect this to be the reason for your involvement in an accident.
- Beware of illegal parking, especially in cities, as it may result in wheel clamping and/or towing at the owner’s expense.
- Speeding is illegal, and can lead to penalty points and monetary fines. Be wary of speeding traps: speed cameras and automatic license plate recognition are the norm on British roads. Speed limits for cars are 48 km/h (30 mph) in towns and cities, 96 km/h (60 mph) on single-lane carriageways, and 112 km/h (70 mph) on dual-lane carriageways, as well as motorways.
For every traffic violation, you receive penalty points on your driving license. If you receive more than twelve penalty points within three years, your permit will be automatically revoked. Depending on the individual offense and/or your total number of penalty points, you may also face a fine, an appearance in court, a longer disqualification from driving, or even jail time (in very serious cases).
To get the specifics on which procedure you need to follow to reapply for your license, check your driving record. New drivers should note that their license will be suspended if they get more than five penalty points within the first two years of driving.
However, these regulations only apply to Great Britain, i.e. England, Scotland, and Wales. If you move to Northern Ireland, there are separate regulations.
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