If you’re moving to the UK from another country, chances are that you’re wondering if you need to exchange your driving licence. Considering the extensive set of guidelines at play, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed and in need of some explanation. That’s why you’re here, after all!
How you go about doing this may differ based on where your original licence was granted and whether or not you are legally considered a resident of Great Britain. However, if you do meet the requirements, you may be eligible for an immediate licence exchange — with no additional driving tests required!!
So, who is allowed to exchange their licence, easy peasy, and who doesn’t need to? More importantly, who will need to retake their driving tests from scratch? Our handy guide examines the requirements for the steps for exchanging a foreign driver’s licence for a UK licence. Plus, as a bonus, we’ll provide some helpful guidance for drivers with non-UK licences who want to drive within the UK.
The short answer to this question is “it depends on who issued the licence”! Whether or not you need to exchange your licence for a UK one — or if you’re even allowed to — rests purely on whether you’re a resident of the UK and where your licence originates from. So, before we dive into the specifics of exchanging your foreign driver’s licence, let’s make sure you’re eligible to do so.
How you answer this question about whether or not you live in Britain will determine whether or not you qualify. As stated on GOV.UK, a person is regarded as a resident of the UK if they have maintained a permanent residence there for at least 185 days. In the following section of our guide, residents can examine the steps required to swap their licences.
Don’t meet the criteria for a British resident? If that’s the case, your non-UK driver’s licence won’t be eligible for an exchange. However, before you completely write off your time in the United Kingdom, you should know that visitors can use their foreign licences to drive in the country for up to a year!
So, if you are a UK resident, are you allowed to exchange your licence? We’ll answer that question in the following section.
As we’ve mentioned before, the first thing to check is if you’re a resident of the UK before you can even determine whether you need to exchange your licence. To see if you qualify to exchange your foreign licence for a UK driving licence, use the super easy GOV.UK eligibility tool. You can find out in a matter of minutes if you can swap your international driver’s licence!
But if you’re finding it hard to decide which options on the tool apply to you, we describe all the situations that revolve around who is eligible to exchange their foreign driving licence for a UK one. Read on to learn more!
Funnily enough, despite being a part of the UK, getting a driver’s licence in Northern Ireland is a bit different. Whereas the DVSA is responsible for issuing licences in England, Scotland, and Wales, the DVA fills the same role in Northern Ireland.
However, drivers from Northern Ireland need not be concerned about moving to any of the other GB countries and needing to exchange their driving licences. That’s because licences issued in Northern Ireland are recognised the same way licences granted in the rest of the United Kingdom are. Without exchanging it for a GB counterpart, you can keep driving on your Northern Irish licence until it expires. But if you’d still like to swap, you’re more than welcome!
The driving privileges of drivers from the so-called “designated countries” are only valid for a year in the United Kingdom, unlike those of EU drivers. This group of countries and territories ranges from close by Jersey to as far away as New Zealand and includes both tiny Singapore and enormous Canada. The only thing they share is that they both have an arrangement with the government of the UK that allows them to exchange driver’s licences.
Drivers from these countries are exempt from taking the UK theory and practical examinations for 12 months. After the 12-month period, they can pay a fee and switch to a British driver’s licence within five years of becoming a resident.
Here’s the full list of “designated countries”:
You should know that you need to prove that you’ve taken a manual driving test if you want to exchange for an equivalent UK licence. Drivers from Japan and South Korea will also require their licences to be officially translated — which they can do at their own expense from their respective embassies.
Also, it is important to note that the aforementioned regulations only pertain to motor vehicles and motorcycle licences. The United Kingdom does not recognise foreign buses, lorries, or minibus driver’s licences. Exams are required to operate one of these vehicles in the UK.
Since the UK was a member state of the EU once upon a time, that means the UK had to align a lot of driving-related rules with the rest of the 27 member states. Since Brexit, none of these rules has changed on either side of the Channel, and, therefore, EU driving licences are still seen as equivalent to their UK counterparts.
So, you are legally permitted to drive in the UK on your original EU licence until you turn 70, and your licence expires if your licence was issued in one of the EU or EEA countries. When you formally move to GB and become a resident, you will only be allowed to drive on your EU licence for three years if you are 67 or older. You must exchange your EU licence for a UK licence once this period has passed.
While you can drive in the UK using your EU licence, you are always free to switch to a UK licence if you like!
However, you should be aware that you can only utilise the EU/EFTA licence you possess for a year if it was switched to a licence from a non-EU nation. This might sound confusing, so let’s break it down a bit. For example, if you lived in the UAE for some time, you would have had to exchange your EU licence for a UAE licence. Moving to the UK after living in the UAE would mean you need to exchange your licence, regardless of the fact that you originally took your driving test in an EU member state.
The current list of 27 EU member states is:
Also, those with licences from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are treated in the same way as those from the EU. Only Switzerland seems to be the odd duck out!
If you’re a resident of the UK and hold a licence that isn’t from any of the countries listed above, we have good news and bad news.
The good news is that your foreign licence allows you to drive in the UK for up to 12 months. Essentially, you’re legally allowed to drive using your foreign driving licence, similar to the countries mentioned in the first list.
And the bad news? You cannot simply swap it for a UK licence after that time is up. This means that if you want to continue driving in the UK after living here for 12 months, you’ll need to retake both the UK driving theory test and practical test in order to get a UK driving licence. Talk about frustrating!
Once you’ve confirmed that you meet the requirements, we’ll discuss how to swap your international licence for a UK one. Thankfully, the process is not complicated at all and takes six simple steps:
First, request an application packet by visiting GOV.UK. This will be mailed to your UK address, so be sure to fill in the right address when prompted. In most cases, only Form D1 needs to be submitted — which can also be found at your local post office!
Once you’ve received the appropriate form, you need to fill out all the important details. These would be information such as your full name, date of birth, current address, your place of birth, phone number and email address. Since the assumption is that you’re a new resident of the UK, you’ll also need to fill out Section 1a of the form to clarify the date of when you started living in the UK long-term.
In Section 3, you need to declare the type of licence that you’re applying for. You’ll see a few options, but you only need to pay attention to the “Exchange” section. Within a darker green box, you’ll see the option to “Exchange my foreign licence for a British one” which you’ll need to cross. Then, ignore Section 4 and fill out any other information necessary.
To help with this process, be sure to thoroughly read the INF1D leaflet that comes along with Form D1. Overall, you’ll need to enclose with your application:
In most cases, the fee for getting your foreign licence exchanged is £43. If you’re exchanging your Northern Ireland driver’s licence, you won’t have to pay a penny!
However, you shouldn’t enclose cash into the envelope. Payments to the DVLA should be made by cheque or postal order.
Once the appropriate documents have been sorted, address the envelope to DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1BT. Then, head to your nearest post office to get that stamped and sent off!
The DVLA states that it could take up to three weeks for you to get your new UK driving licence. However, if you’ve had to declare a medical condition to DVLA, this may take longer so that the appropriate checks can be made.
What happens to your original licence? Well, the DVLA will send it back to the appropriate foreign issuing authority on your behalf. That’s nice of them!
When shipping a vehicle to the UK, you can choose between two different methods. You have the option of doing everything yourself or hiring a car import agent to do it for you. Either way, you’ll need to report to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and this needs to be done within 14 days of it arriving in the UK.
Yes, absolutely! All EU driving licences are considered of the same standard as British ones. Therefore, those with EU driving licences (or from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) are free to drive with their foreign licence up until they reach 70 years of age.
In most cases, you’ll only be allowed to drive for up to 12 months with a foreign licence. If you’re a resident of the UK, you need to exchange your licence for a UK one after that period is up. However, if you’re only a frequent visitor to the UK, the 12 months time limit resets every time you reenter the UK.
UK law only allows a driver to hold one licence at any given time. In the end, it is up to the individual to decide whether they want to drive with a UK or EU licence, albeit this decision may be influenced by how often they travel between the two regions. But if you’re a holder of an EU licence, you don’t need to worry about exchanging your driving licence to a UK equivalent — unless you really want to!
In most cases, you’ll receive your new UK driving licence within three weeks of sending the application. This might take longer if you’ve made an error in the application or if you’ve had to declare any medical conditions.
Unless you’re exchanging a Northern Ireland licence, the fee for exchanging your foreign driver’s licence for a UK driving licence is £43. However, if you have to retake the drivers test to get a UK licence, the overall process is much more expensive (and complicated!).
In the grand scheme of things, a majority of foreigners looking to move to the UK can expect to have to exchange their driving licence. However, those from certain countries listed as “designated countries” won’t have to worry about retaking any driving tests in order to do so.
For those lucky few, the process of exchanging your licence for a UK one is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is fill out some forms, pay the appropriate fee and send them off along with all the right documentation to the DVLA. Remembering to keep your address up to date with the DVLA is key to making this a smooth process!
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