Foreign Drivers and Licence Issues – Pitfalls and Common Errors

31st January 2017 by in category Foreign Drivers with 0 and 0
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Foreign Drivers and Licence Issues

If you are new to the United Kingdom your entitlement to drive in the United Kingdom will depend on a couple of factors. These factors include your residency status and the country that you and you’re your existing driver’s licence come from. Providing that you have a full driver’s licence from the European Economic Area (EEA), or one of the many designated countries that Britain has reciprocal agreements with somewhere in the world, you will be able to drive in the United Kingdom for at least up to twelve months as long as you have no intention of staying for longer than 12 months.


For all foreign drivers not taking up residency in the United Kingdom, you are able to use your existing driving licence for up to 12 months while in the United Kingdom. This stipulation is extended to all countries that are a part of the EU, EEA, Britain’s Designated Countries, and any other country.

Britain’s Designated Countries include: 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.

Do note: in the case of some countries such as Canada, you will be permitted to drive an automatic vehicle barring proof that you have passed a test in your home country ensuring you can operate a manual vehicle on the road.


To be classified as a resident of the United Kingdom you must fall under these criteria:

  1. You spent 183 or more days in the UK in the tax year; and
  2. Your only home was in the UK- you must have owned, rented, or lived in it for at least 91 days in total- and you spent at least 30 days there in the tax year.

If you classify as a resident of the United Kingdom, then after a certain designation of time, depending on where your original licence is from, you must apply to exchange it for a British licence. The cost and process of exchanging your licence is as follows for each union or country:

European Union

  • You may drive in Great Britain until you are 70. If you’re 68 or over when you become resident, you can drive for 3 more years
  • After this you must exchange your licence
  • Exchanging your licence from the EU requires Order Form D1, £43 and any documents you need (including drivers licence).
  • Your licence should arrive within 3 weeks

Northern Ireland

  • You can exchange your licence if it was issued on or after 1 January 1976. There is no fee.
  • Exchanging your licence from Northern Ireland requires Order form D1, and any other documents (including drivers licence)
  • Your licence should arrive within 3 weeks

Jersey, Guernsey or Isle of Man

  • You can exchange your licence if it was issued on or after 1 April 1991. The fee is £43.
  • Send the form, £43 fee, and any documents you need (including your driving licence) to the address on the form.
  • You should get your licence within 3 weeks

Designated Countries

  • After 12 months, you must exchange your licence to keep driving. You can exchange it up to 5 years after becoming a resident, if it hasn’t expired
  • Order Form D1 from the DVLA
  • Send the form, £43 fee, and any documents you need (including your driving licence) to the address on the form
  • Your licence should arrive within 3 weeks

Note: For some countries, such as Canada, you can only drive manual vehicles if you can prove you passed a manual vehicle test- otherwise, you must drive an automatic. If you are part of a designated country and want to check whether you are allowed to drive a manual, this can be checked on the United Kingdom’s Government Website.

Other Countries

  • After 12 months in the UK, you will need to take a theory test and a practical test to get a Great Britain issued driving licence.
  • If you fall into the category of “Other Countries” and must apply for a provisional licence, your driving licence will still be valid for the first 12 months regardless of whether you apply for a provisional licence within the first year in the United Kingdom or not.
  • This precedent was set in Heidak v Winnett [1982] RTR 445 and will ensure you can drive in the United Kingdom with your foreign licence for at least the first 12 months of your stay.

Insurance and Licencing Pitfalls

If you are found to be driving without a proper licence this can lead to a maximum fine of £1000, 3-6 penalty points, and the court has a discretion to also ban the convicted driver from obtaining a full licence.

Arguably speaking, as most insurers require you to be driving with a valid licence to be insured, the lack of a valid licence could open you up a charge of driving without insurance, which can lead to an unlimited fine as well as 6-8 penalty points.

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