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Driving in the UK

Driving in the UK

Driving in the UK isn’t for everyone and for the most part transport can be had much cheaper or more conveniently via bus or train. In my case however I was living in the UK for 2 years on a Youth Mobility Visa and due to the job I obtained while living there, I needed to be able to drive around. I did some research on what I’d need and come up with multiple answers, so figured I’d share my knowledge and hopefully help someone else in the process.

Visiting the UK

If you arrive fresh off the plane and only plan to visit then you’re all set. Providing you are carrying a full and valid licence (no probationary licences) then you are allowed go driving in the UK for up to 12 months from when you entered the country. Nice and simple without needing to carry international drivers permits and so forth. This is valid for anyone outside of Europe who enters and wants to drive.

Resident in the UK

If you’ve become a resident or living in the UK on a visa like I was that permits you to work then the rules are slightly different. You are still able to drive in the UK for the first 12 months providing you meet the licence requirement mentioned above, but after that its a bit more work.

Here the start date begins from when you were given resident status which for most of us (like me), it will be the start date of your visa and not from when you entered the country last. Before that 12 months is up you’ll need to exchange your foreign licence if you want to keep driving. You actually have up to 5 years to swap your licence over before you have to face having to endure the process of applying for a driving licence. But really if you’ve driven for the first 12 months why would you not swap it over right away?

Exchanging Your Licence

You’ve driven in the UK and now that first 12 months is up and its time to exchange your foreign licence for a UK one to keep driving. Great, providing your from Europe or one of the following designated countries:

Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Faroe Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Zimbabwe

If you’re outside of that criteria then I’m afraid it’s not good news. You will be required to sit a theory and practical test to continue driving. All I can say is I’m glad Australia is still part of the Commonwealth (Sorry America).

Driving In The UK - Exchanging Licence UK

To apply to exchange your licence you’ll need to get your hands on a few things:

  • A D1 Application For Driving Licence Form which you can request online or pickup from the local post office
  • Passport photos showing no smile or teeth
  • Valid foreign drivers licence
  • A valid Passport with Visa inside
  • 50 Pounds to cover the fee

With all that you can ship your application and all the supporting documents above off to the DVLA office and in about 3 weeks you’ll get your passport back and a shiny new UK Driving Licence. Or if your paranoid about your passport you can march yourself into the Wimbledon Office like I did and complete the process in person saving you from being without your beloved passport.

If you’re unsure about the above then the UK Government has some simple to use questionnaires to help pick the right option for you. They are:

Armed with your newly printed UK licence the sky is the limit allowing you to go driving in the UK and all across Europe without worrying about driving permits. I found it also served as an extra security blanket should I find myself without my passport on me in a time of need. Something about having a local ID card vs a foreign one just builds confidence I think.

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39 Responses to Driving in the UK

  1. CARLY November 5, 2012 at 5:06 PM #

    Great post, I live in the UK anyway so automatically had to do both theory and practical….failed my theory twice by one point! Frustrating when you’re ready to take your practical..

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD November 5, 2012 at 5:12 PM #

      Thanks Carly. Glad I never had to sit the tests as am sure I’d have failed. Doing all of that in Australia many years ago was more than enough for me.

  2. TIER 5 November 26, 2012 at 3:20 PM #

    Thanks for this post. Do you know what date I would be considered to have become a resident for the purpose of the 12 month grace period? I was previously in the UK as a Tier 4 student for ten months, then I went home to Aus for a month during which that visa expired, and now I’ve come back on an entirely different Tier 5 work visa. Would it be the date I previously came here as a student or the date of my current visa?

  3. ADI June 12, 2013 at 5:13 AM #

    Hello,

    Thanks for the blogs. They are very interesting and informative. Since we are talking about UK licence. I wanted to know if you have any information on insurance. I’m heading to UK on a Tier 5 visa soon and plan to buy a motorbike (yes… a motorbike! :))) and ride around UK and Europe for 4 – 5 months till winter steps in and I’m confined to a normal work life.

    Any info on insurance would be highly appreciated.

    Thanks a ton,
    Keep up the good work… :)

    Adi

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD June 16, 2013 at 5:57 PM #

      Hi Adi, are you after insurance for yourself or the bike? If for yourself then look up some providers in OZ such as world nomads, travel insurance direct and so on. If its insurance for the bike I believe you’ll need to do that when in the UK but I’ve no experience with that I’m afraid as i always drove a work vehicle.

  4. PRISCILLA June 30, 2013 at 2:21 AM #

    Just found your blog via Google and it’s been a tremendous help, thanks! I’m about to move to London for a year on a Tier 5 visa. Do you know if I would be eligible to apply for a GB driving licence while I am there? I’ve never driven before. Or could you direct me to some external reference where I could find the answer?

    Thanks!

  5. F July 28, 2013 at 9:30 AM #

    Just came across this and it was very helpful! Thanks!

    I am also heading over to the UK on a youth mobility visa soon for two years but will be back to visit Aus during that time. When they exchange your drivers licence, do they keep your Australian licence? How does that work if I still need it for back home and ID docs?

    Thanks!

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD July 28, 2013 at 11:56 AM #

      They do keep your Australian licence yes. The line I was told was that it would be sent home to my home state licence authority but no notice or anything similar ever appeared at home for me.

      When I returned home you can drive on your UK licence for up to a year I was told. You can also just go back to your local licence authority (vicroads for me) and get your old licence back. You just show your UK licence and some other forms of ID, fill out a form, hand over the fee for your licence and presto you’ve got it back all while getting to keep the UK licence as well.

  6. F July 29, 2013 at 12:46 AM #

    Awesome! Because i wanted to keep the two licences as Im probably going to travel frequently between the two countries. Thanks for the info!

  7. CINTA November 8, 2013 at 4:51 AM #

    Hi there!

    Thanks for this post! I just got my visa back and looking at heading over in the next month or so, so this was great to find! just wondering do you have to wait the 12 months before you exchange licence? Or can you do it straight off the bat? I was in America earlier this year and need the international licence and a had trouble with not having an American ID so if possible I would like to get UK licence for a piece of mind. is that possible?

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD November 8, 2013 at 9:59 AM #

      Hi Cinta, you don’t need to wait 12 months no. But you can legally drive on your Australian licence for the first 12 months without problems in the UK. It’s only after that, that you need to have it.

  8. GJS November 16, 2013 at 5:43 PM #

    Do you think that one could obtain a UK drivers license if he is a P1 in Australia? If so, whats the chances of me going back to Australia on my full license if there is no Learner/P1/P2 system abroad?
    I curious as if there is a loophole i could pass here when i travel in 2014.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD November 16, 2013 at 6:59 PM #

      Hi GJS, I’d have to look it up but to exchange your licence you need a full licence and not a probation like like the P1 in Australia so I don’t believe you can shortcut the system.

      • NATALIE DEDES July 6, 2014 at 1:11 PM #

        if I have my Australian drivers licence suspended, how can I obtain a UK drivers licence?

        • THE AUSSIE NOMAD July 6, 2014 at 4:26 PM #

          Hi Natalie, if your licence is suspended then you’d need to apply for a learners permit and go through the process from the very beginning in the UK.

  9. DAMO January 19, 2014 at 11:16 AM #

    Howdy,

    Im an Aussie from the quiet parts of Queensland, stumbled on this site while doing so research on google, certainly has given me a lot of hope on making my decision to move to the UK ( won’t need a visa because I have dual italian citizenship ). so much easier knowing there are others out there who have been through what I am about to endure.

    Regards.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD January 20, 2014 at 12:24 AM #

      Damo I’m somewhat jealous of your dual citizenship status. If you were to get an Italian driving licence then you’d be free to drive in the UK for as much as you like and avoid everything I’ve written about above.

      • DAMO January 20, 2014 at 4:35 AM #

        That would certainly be an advantage. I’m getting very excited though.

  10. HELEN January 21, 2014 at 10:39 AM #

    Hey, great blog, thanks! I am off to the UK permanently in March, I have duel citizenship of UK and Aus. Would I still need to hand over my Aussie licence or can I keep it and also have a British one?

    Thanks! H

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD January 22, 2014 at 1:30 AM #

      Hi Helen, you can get your Australian licence back when you return to Australia so you don’t really lose it. Your only other option is to apply for a licence normally and go via the learner method otherwise.

  11. CAZAR February 1, 2014 at 6:15 PM #

    Fantastic information-really useful. I also have dual citizenship (aussie/spanish) and have been living in the UK for 6 years on European citizenship. We are just going to buy a car now. Do you know how strict they are in terms of the 5 year limit? Thanks for any help you can give!

  12. BENJII April 4, 2014 at 11:23 AM #

    Hi there,

    Firstly I just want to congratulate you on this website, it’s amazing & it has even incredibly helpful as I am leaving for London in just under a week & appreciate all the assistance that I can get.

    Anyway my question relates to getting a motorcycle. I REALLY want to get my licence over there & I was wondering if I can take a motorcycle course on a Tier 5 youth working visa?

    Thanks so much!!

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 5, 2014 at 7:57 AM #

      Hi Benjii, you can take a lesson and apply for your licence abroad as I looked into it myself. What I found however is that its really expensive to get your bike licence in the UK. There are also limitations on what roads you can ride on while on your probationary licence as well.

      It ended up being just not cost effective to do. If you have your licence in Australia already you should be able to transfer that over and avoid some of the costs I believe but i never looked into that as didn’t have my licence yet.

  13. CM April 6, 2014 at 9:49 AM #

    Hi, I’m a 19 year on my green provisionals in Australia, I’ve got dual citizenship (Aussie & British) and I’m travelling back to England for a couple of months this year.
    Any idea if I’ll be able to drive over there? I’ve been finding lots of different answers on this. Any idea who to contact to find out for sure?
    Thanks.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 6, 2014 at 2:35 PM #

      Hi CM, as far as I’m aware you cannot drive in the UK on a probationary licence of any sort. It needs to be a full and valid licence. Best people to contact are the DVLA in the UK to tell you what is and isn’t covered. You can find a link to them in my post above.

  14. SAM April 6, 2014 at 3:38 PM #

    Hi Aussie nomad,

    Do you know of any good info on the cheapest and best way to purchase a car to travel around the UK in? I have just arrived from Australia and me and my mate want to buy a car. Any good websites to check etc??
    Also I’ve heard insurance is really expensive maybe you can elaborate on this for me? Your help is much appreciated

    Cheers

    Sam

  15. JULIE May 25, 2014 at 5:05 PM #

    Hi Aus Nomad,

    I’m a dual Aus and British citizen. Came over to UK June 2012 and entered on the UK passport. I’m working and now resident in the UK. I’ve just bought a car and obviously want to drive it. Can I front up at Wimbledon and exchange my 5 year Australian licence over for a UK licence. Expiry on the Aus liicence is 2016 ? What passport do I take??

    thanks,

    Julie

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 26, 2014 at 8:58 AM #

      Hi Julie, the way I understand the drivers licence swap over is that you need to do it within 12 months of moving to the UK in order to have a direct swap. If you leave it longer you have to take the theory test but it could be different for you given you have dual citizenship. I’d just front up to the Wimbledon office with your Australian licence and see what they tell you as I just can’t be sure of the right answer.

  16. ADAM July 28, 2014 at 6:10 PM #

    Hi there,

    Thank you for all the information on your page. A couple of questions, if I may?
    I’m a dual British/Australian citizen who will be moving to the Netherlands in the next six months, and will be living there indefinitely, courtesy of my EU passport. What I’m concerned about is, Holland has some crazy bureaucratic rules regarding the exchange of non-EU drivers’ licenses for Dutch ones. I really, really don’t want to have to take my tests all over again after having driven a manual car, incident free (touch wood) for more than ten years. So what I was thinking of doing, is exchanging my Aussie license for a British one, ahead of my move to the Netherlands. I’ll be visiting the UK at least twice before my “big” move to Europe, but it seems that I have to have been “resident” in Britain continuously for at least 185 days before I’m allowed to do this. Is there any way around this? Can I not just go to the Wimbledon DVLA centre, documents and paperwork in hand, and make the exchange whilst I’m in the UK? Or will they ask me to provide proof of residency? I know it’s a bit subversive, I’m just wondering how set in concrete these guidelines are! Many thanks!

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD August 3, 2014 at 5:23 AM #

      Hi Adam, when I swapped my licence over I don’t remember ever being checked for how long I’d been in the UK. They do however need to see your passport as part of the process so may see if your visa hasn’t been valid long enough to grant it. You’ll also need an address for them to post out the UK drivers licence as its not issued on the spot. They take your OZ licence off you on the spot and then you wait a couple of weeks to get your UK version.

      So while your theory of getting the licence should work you may want to be sure to stop off in the UK longer than a couple of days to make it all happen.

  17. THYME July 29, 2014 at 11:23 PM #

    I’m a British national, although born in Australia. I want to swap my Aus license for a british one so I can drive in other parts of Europe but have not yet been a ‘resident’ of the UK for 185 days. does my UK citizenship override the residency requirement?

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD August 3, 2014 at 5:20 AM #

      Hi Thyme, I’d imagine your British citizenship should override that as I imagine you entered the UK using your british passport? I’d just show up at the DVLA office and ask the question about swapping your licence.

  18. SOPHIE August 2, 2014 at 1:41 PM #

    I’m on a probationary licence (P2) does all of this till apply or is it going to be more complicated. I’m moving to London for 2 years on a Youth Mobility Visa

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD August 3, 2014 at 5:04 AM #

      Hi Sophie, I believe you need a full licence to be able to transfer it over to a UK equivalent. You should still be able to drive there for the first 12 months but after that I’m not sure. Best to speak to the DVLA when you get there would be my suggestion.

  19. DIEGO August 4, 2014 at 5:05 PM #

    Hi there, thanks for all the information on the page. I will like to make a question:
    I’m from Colombia (Latin America) and I’m planning to travel to study in London, so I will stay there with a Tier 4 (General) student visa. I want to buy a motorcycle while I study. Are there any requirements to do this?
    Many thanks!

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD August 8, 2014 at 1:51 PM #

      Hi Diego, I’m afraid I’m not familiar with what is and isn’t possible on a student visa.

  20. SAM August 15, 2014 at 11:37 PM #

    Hi Chris.

    Just a quick question for ya, i am from OZ currently living in Italy, I have an OZ and Italian EU passport. Duel citizenship.
    I can drive in Italy for one year then because i have an OZ license i will need to do my theory test and driving test from scratch after driving on this earth for 28years.

    what i was thinking was to enter the UK with my Italian EU passport stay at my mates address. get my license swapped then move back to Italy then swap that for an italian licence. lot cheaper and avoid the bureaucratic nightmare in Italy and the ridiculous 7000+ questions you need to learn “in Italian” only to become a p plater again…how feasible is my idea ? thanks

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD August 17, 2014 at 7:52 PM #

      Hi Sam, to swap your licence in the UK it takes around 2-3 weeks so you’d be without your licence for that period of time and have to either stay in the UK or fly back to pick it up later on. They also ask to see your passport in the process and as it would need to be your Australian one I’m not sure they’d let you swap it given you don’t have a visa in your Australian passport to live/work in the UK. If you produce your EU passport they may just send you off to Italy to do it there instead.

      I’d say you can give it a try and see what happens but I’ve no idea on your chances. If you do go ahead with it I’d love to know how you get on.

      • SAM August 17, 2014 at 9:12 PM #

        Thanks heaps yep I may give it a go and see how it goes.

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