How to exchange foreign driving licence
How to exchange foreign driving licence
Moving countries can be a big step to take, and there are all sorts of logistical hoops to jump through. One of these hoops is the driving licence, and every country seems to have different rules on what you need to do to get a licence.
You might want to exchange your licence for a UK one for peace of mind, or you might have to get a UK licence to allow you to continue driving here. But how do you know what to do? Luckily for you, we’ve put together this handy blog to help you out.
The rules for exchanging a foreign driving licence for a UK one vary depending on which country originally issued your driving licence. However, there are a few standard rules to bear in mind that apply to everyone:
- You need to be a resident of the UK to get a UK driving licence, so you need to have been living in the UK for at least 185 days before you can do any exchanging
- You need to be 17 to drive a standard car or motorbike
- You need to be 18 if you’re planning to drive a medium-sized vehicle (anything that’s 3500 - 7500 kg, or towing a trailer up to 750 kg)
- You need to be 21 if you’re planning to drive a lorry or a bus
- Your licence should be valid in your country of issue for the entire time you’ll be using it in the UK before you exchange it
- Your licence will be exchanged for the equivalent UK licence. For example, if you have an automatic licence from your country of issue, you will not be able to get a full manual UK licence.
- You always need to have valid car insurance and road tax, no matter what licence you’re using
If you’d like more information on road tax and car insurance, you can check out our blog ‘Can I tax a car without insurance?’
Licences issued by countries in the European Community and European Economic Area (EC/EEA) are largely treated as being equivalent to a UK licence.
If you are moving to the UK from an EC/EEA country, you’ll need to exchange your licence when you turn 70 years old, or after you’ve lived in the UK for 3 years, whichever is longer. So, if you moved here at 68, you’ll have to exchange it when you’re 72.
If you got your EC/EEA licence by exchanging it for another country’s licence previously, that licence will be only valid in the UK for 12 months. You should be able exchange the licence for a UK one if you can prove you are entitled to an EC/EEA licence or if you are from a designated country (we’ll explain what that means shortly).
Northern Irish Licences
You can use a Northern Ireland (NI) licence in the rest of the UK until it runs out, then you can apply for a full UK licence. If your NI licence was issued on or after 1st January 1976 you can exchange it for a full UK ordinary licence, otherwise you might need to take a driving test.
Certain countries have ongoing agreements with the UK for the validity of driving licences. These are all known as designated countries: Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Zimbabwe.
If you move to the UK with a licence from a designated country, you can drive any normal car or motorbike (if they appear on your licence) for up to 12 months. If you want to carry on driving you’ll need to exchange your licence before the end of the 12 months, otherwise you’ll need to stop driving until you exchange it. You can apply to exchange your licence any time from 185 days to 5 years of moving to the UK.
There are a few country-specific rules to remember as well:
- If you want to exchange a Canadian driving licence for a full manual UK licence you’ll probably have to prove that you passed a manual driving test because Canadian licences don’t specify which test you passed
- Driving licences from Japan and the Republic of Korea must be accompanied by an official translation (available for about £15 from their respective embassies)
- You can’t transfer entitlement to ride motorcycles from a Republic of Korea or Faroe Islands licence to a UK licence
- You can’t drive in the UK with an old South African book-style licence, and you can’t exchange these for a UK licence. You have to have a new credit-card style licence or a letter of entitlement to one.
Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man
You can drive any vehicle covered by your licence for up to 12 months after your arrival in the UK, then you’ll need to exchange it for a UK licence. The UK will exchange any licence from Jersey, Guernsey, or the Isle of Man that was issued after 1st April 1991. If your licence was issued before then, you might need to take a driving test.
All Other Countries
If you move to the UK with a full, valid licence, you should be able to drive any type of small vehicle, as long as it is covered by your licence, for 12 months before exchanging it for a UK licence. This basically means you can drive anything that weighs less than 3500kg and has less than 8 seats. You’ll need to pass a driving test before the end of the 12 months to get a full UK licence. If you wait until after 12 months, you’ll have to stop driving until you’ve passed a driving test.
If you’d like more information on taking a driving test, you can check out our blog ‘What happens on your driving test’.
Students from the European Community
Students with an EC/EEA licence can drive cars and motorcycles in the UK while their licence is valid or until they turn 70. If you don’t hold a licence you can take a driving test after you’ve been in the country for at least 185 days.
Students from a country outside the European Community
If you have an International Driving Permit or a licence from outside the EC/EEA, you can drive in the UK for up to 12 months. If your licence is from a designated country you can then exchange it for a UK licence. If you don’t have a driving licence, or your licence wasn’t issued in a designated country, you will need to pass a driving test.
How to exchange a foreign driving licence
To exchange a foreign driving licence for a UK one, you should fill in an ‘Application for a driving licence’ form and send it to the DVLA with your licence and the correct fee (usually around £40-50). It’s important to note when you exchange your licence that the DVLA will keep your old licence and you are unlikely to get it back.
If you have lost your non-UK licence you will need to apply for an official document from the country that issued it as proof that you can drive.
If you need to pass a driving test to get a full UK licence you should first apply for a provisional driving licence and go through the process as though you are learning to drive for the first time.
If you’d like to learn more about provisional driver’s licences, you can check out our blog ‘Can you drive with a provisional licence?’.
A few final tips…
Exchanging a foreign driving licence for a UK one is not as daunting as it might first seem. There are a lot of little rules but the chances are you’ll have at least 6 months to a year to figure out what you need to do. Here are a few things to remember:
- You’ll need to have been living in the UK for 185 days before you can exchange your foreign licence for a UK one
- Depending on which country issued your licence, exchanging it can be as simple as filling out a form
- If you need to take a driving test to get a UK licence, it might be a good idea to get started on the process a while before your initial 12 months ends to give yourself a head start
Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.