To drive in the UK you must be at least 17 years old, and hold a valid driving licence of a category suitable to the vehicle you want to drive. Driving licences from other countries can be used in the UK only for a certain period of time, which varies depending on where your licence is from.
Do you own a driving licence belonging to the European Union (EU)?
If your licence is from a EU you can use your driver licence the same way in the UK as you would in your home country for three years after becoming a resident of the UK, or until you are 70 years old (whichever is longer period).
After then you will need to renew your licence by applying to DVLA and paying the appropriate fee. If you want to apply by post you will need to do so 90 days before your 70th birthday.
European Union Countries
The following countries issue driving licences that are able to be used in the UK, as described above:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Republic of Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France,Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden.
Do you own a driving licence belonging to a designated country?
You can apply to exchange your driving licence for a UK driver licence for up to 5 years after becoming a resident of UK If your driver licence is from a designated country outside the UK and is still valid, as listed below:
Designated Countries (countries with exchange agreements with UK)
Andorra, Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Zimbabwe.
What if your driving licence is not from a designated country, or you do not have a driver licence yet?
If your driving licence does not belong to a European Union or a designated country you can drive for up to 12 months on your foreign licence. If you do not have a driving licence yet, you should take a driving theory test (practice the Highway Code for free on this website), then take a practical test after which (if you pass) you will be issued a provisional Great Britain Driving licence. You will then be allowed to apply for a full driving licence after residing in the UK for at least 6 months (185 days).
Converting a foreign driving licence into a UK driving licence
To apply for the exchange of your foreign driving licence into a British driving licence you must meet the conditions below:
- You must hold a current driver licence and surrender it for exchange at DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency)
- You must be a UK resident with a permanent address. If you hold a community driver licence you must have been residing in Great Britain for 185 days within 12 months prior your full driver licence application
- Test pass certificates are not exchangeable except for those issued in Northern Ireland or Gibraltar (the test must be passed within 2 years after the date of the licence application)
- Your foreign licence must be in English, otherwise, you must carry a translation from approved translator
Steps to follow to apply for the exchange of your overseas driving licence to a UK driving licence
- Complete a D1 form (available in most post offices or online)
- Bring a national identification card, an original passport or a travel document
- Your current driver licence
- Pay for the fees either by cheque or postal order, or via MasterCard, VIsa, Electron, Maestro or Delta debit or credit card
Note: Depending upon the issuing country of the applicant’s driver licence, additional documents may be required.
Highway Code: do you need to know it?
While many of the road signs you’ll see are similar globally, or a clear enough to understand their meaning, there are some road markings and signs that are not common worldwide, or will definitely differ from your native country. Intersection and lane rules may also be different.
For example, Australia and New Zealand do not use a double yellow line next to the kerb. Most of continental Europe drives on the right whereas in the UK you drive on the left, and that means lane changing and roundabouts become more challenging and confusing.
American drivers who are allowed to turn on a red light will find that’s not the case in the UK.
There are a large number of these minor differences, so it pays for you to visit the Highway Code quiz for cars and check you are familiar with the rules.
If you are caught breaking the rules you may be fined, disqualified or even imprisoned in some circumstances – ignorance doesn’t absolve you from responsibility.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.