Driving In The UK: A Guide For International Drivers

Driving In The UK: A Guide For International Drivers

If you have an international driving licence, you may wonder if it’s legal for you to drive in the UK. After all, the UK has different driving rules and customs from lots of its European neighbours, let alone other continents.

In this guide to driving in the UK for international residents and students, we’ll focus exclusively on driving a car. Different rules apply for other vehicles, such as motorbikes, vans, and lorries. Here, you’ll learn:

  • Whether you can legally drive in the UK on your driving licence
  • How UK driving differs from driving in other countries
  • What you need to know about driving in the UK.

Can you drive in the UK on your non-UK driving licence?

The gov.uk questionnaire will help you find out if you can legally drive in the UK on your foreign driving licence. But here’s a rundown of the general rules for non-UK drivers:

  • If you passed your driving test in the EU, your driving licence is valid in the UK until it expires, or until your 70th birthday.
  • If you passed your driving test outside the EU, you can drive in the UK for 12 months after you first arrived in the UK (if you’re a visitor or student) or 12 months after you became a resident (if you live here). After this, you’ll need to take a UK driving test if you want to continue driving here.

What is an international driving permit and do you need one to drive in the UK?

An international driving permit (IDP) isn’t a driving licence. It’s essentially a document that enables UK authorities to understand the information on your driving licence.

If your driving licence isn’t in English, and you passed your test in a non-EU country, you may be required to get an IDP to drive in the UK.

How does UK driving differ from other countries?

Driving in a new country is always a learning curve. Here are the key differences between driving in the UK and driving in other countries around the world:

  • We drive on the left — unlike most countries, we drive on the left-hand side of the road in the UK. That also means most cars are right-hand drive. This can take some getting used to!
  • The legal driving age is 17 — you can take your driving test from age 17, but you can start learning as early as 15. If you have a valid driving licence but you’re younger than 17, you can’t legally drive in the UK.
  • Traffic rules are strict — traffic laws aren’t widely enforced in some countries, but they are in the UK. All drivers must adhere to the Highway Code. Running red lights or speeding can earn you points on your licence. Points deter people from driving dangerously, as if you get too many points you may be banned from driving.
  • Cars must meet strict vehicle standards — your car must pass an MOT test every year. If your car fails its MOT, you can’t legally drive it. You’ll need to pay for any fixes to make the car roadworthy.
  • Car insurance is a legal requirement — unlike some countries (such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan), you need car insurance to drive legally in the UK.

Driving lessons in the UK

If you’re staying in the UK for longer than 12 months, you may need to take a UK driving test to continue driving here.

Driving lessons aren’t a legal requirement. If you’re a confident, proficient driver, you can skip these and book your driving test. However, driving examiners will penalise you for even small errors (known as ‘minors’), so driving lessons can give you a useful refresher course and help you understand what testers are looking for.

Before you can book driving lessons or a driving test, you need a provisional driving licence. Apply for your provisional licence online. This costs £34.

All learners have to display L-plates on their car. This tells other drivers you’re learning, so they can give you space and time. Even if this doesn’t seem necessary, it’s a legal requirement until you’ve passed your test.

Here’s an L-plate size guide:

Can international students apply for a UK driving licence?

Yes. International students can apply for a driving licence in the UK as long as you have the right type of visa. You need:

  • Permission to stay in the UK for at least 185 days
  • To be able to read a registration plate from 20 metres away (this proves your eyesight is good enough to drive)
  • To meet all standard driving eligibility criteria.

Taking a UK driving test

There are two parts to a UK driving test:

  • Theory test — a two-part test that proves a) your knowledge of the Highway Code and b) your ability to spot hazards on the road.
  • Practical test — an examiner will accompany you on your test drive to determine whether you’re a competent driver.

You can only book your practical test once you’ve passed your theory test.

When you pass both these tests, you’ll be issued with a full driving licence to replace your provisional licence.

Getting UK car insurance on an international driving licence

You need car insurance to drive legally in the UK. This is the case whether you’re driving for ten minutes or ten years. So even if you’re just visiting the UK, you need to make sure you have valid insurance.

Car insurance can be more expensive if you have an international driving licence. Insurers Marshmallow found that the average quote for drivers with an international licence is £1,431, versus £852 for a UK licence:

Learn more about life in the UK

Driving isn’t the only thing that’s different in the UK. If you’re new to the UK, or planning to move here, it can help to learn as much as you can about British life and culture so you’re prepared for your new life.

Find plenty of resources to help you get settled in the Bloom Learning Hub.

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