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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28 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 #


    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… :)


    • 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?


  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?


    • 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 #


    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.


    • 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?

    • 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



  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??



    • 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.

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