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Driving LicensesBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
United Kingdom (UK) - Driving Licenses
Expats and UK residents fall under the same driving regulations. In some countries, the driving age is lower than it is in the UK; for example, in the US, a person can get a learner’s permit at 15 and start driving at 16. If a teenager moves into the UK they will not be allowed to drive until they reach the appropriate age under UK law.
For any adult expat, the typical rule is:
1. If you currently hold a valid driver’s licence that is at least 12 months old and is not going to expire during your stay in the UK, then you may drive on UK roads. You can drive using the licence from your home country for up to 12 months before you are required to change to a UK driver’s licence.
2. You may also want to apply for an international driver’s licence rather than keeping the driver’s licence from your specific country. US expats can use the US licence for up to 12 months before needing to take a local driving test.
Exchanging your Driver’s Licence for a UK Version
Depending on where you move from, you may or may not be subject to a driving test. This is usually dependent on whether your driver’s licence is an international or national one. If you have taken the international driver’s test and obtained a licence, you can generally exchange this licence for the UK version without taking a test.
US expats will need to take the driver’s test before they can exchange their licence. Most often when it comes to the exchange of a driver’s licence it is based on your country’s driving situation. US expats drive on the right side of the road rather than the left, which is usually why a driving test is required. If your licence was obtained in a country that also drives on the left, you will generally not be required to take a driving test, though there may be some exceptions. The best way to find out whether you need to take a test is to contact the Driving Standards Agency (DSA).
Obtaining or Renewing a Licence
The DSA offers information for changes to driving standards. You can also book your driving test, both practical and written, through this agency. The DVLA issues the license once your test is completed.
Rules have changed slightly with regard to expats and taking the driving test in order to obtain a UK licence. The test is no longer provided in a voiceover and interpretation in the person’s language of origin, but instead now requires you to speak enough English to be able to pass.
You do not have to visit the DVLA to renew your personal licence as long as it has not expired. There is an online form that can be filled in instead. This form requires you to complete all questions and ensure that all relevant documentation has been included. You will receive notice through the postal system when you are in need of renewing your license.
Depending on your age and the type of licence you have, there may be further steps to take before you can drive in the UK. Anyone who is over 45 years of age, or driving a lorry or bus, may be subject to different regulations. When a person turns 70 a doctor’s permission is required before a renewal is provided.
Penalty Point System
There is a penalty point system for driving in the UK. The system will deduct points from your licence if you violate a regulation. Violations include a number of situations including speeding, running lights/stop signs, vehicle safety issues, and accidents.
The DVLA covers Wales, England, and Scotland.
Northern Ireland uses the DVA for licensing drivers.
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