Whether you’re a local or an expat newly living in the UK, here’s what you need to do to get a UK driving license, step by step.
1. Check that you’re allowed to drive
Most people can start to learn to drive at 17 years old. However, it also depends on what type of vehicle you intend to drive (such as a car, tractor, motorbike or even a bus). This is obviously important if you’re a young Brit.
But if you’re an expat moving to the UK, it’s likely that you’re already old enough!
2. Apply for your first provisional driving licence
Once you are of age, you can apply online to get your first provisional driving licence (for a moped, motorbike and car). To apply for this type of license you must:
- be at least 15 years and 9 months old
- be able to read a number plate from 20 metres away
Currently, it costs £34 to apply online and you can pay by MasterCard, Visa, Electron or Delta debit or credit card. During the application, you’ll be asked to provide:
- an identity document unless you have a valid UK biometric passport
- addresses where you’ve lived over the last three years
- your National Insurance number (if you know it)
Once complete, you’ll get a confirmation email from DVLA. You should expect your license to arrive within one week (although there may be delays due to Covid-19 right now).
If you’re an expat and you already have a driving license, skip down below to find out if you can exchange it for a British one!
3. Practice driving, both on the road and theory lessons
It’s recommended that you sign up with a professional driving instructor when you begin to learn to drive. Even a few lessons with a professional can make a big difference with your skill and confidence.
You’ll also need to practice your theory. Thankfully, there’s a lot of theory practice tests online.
The UK has a lot of strange, narrow and winding roads. Make sure to practice as much as you can and in a variety of different places.
4. Book your theory test
Once you have your provisional driving licence and feel ready, it’s time to book your theory test. This test is currently £23.
5. Book your driving test
Once you’ve passed your theory test, it’s time to book your driving test!
You can start driving as soon as you pass your driving test. It’s important to remember that you must have an insurance policy that allows you to drive without supervision.
I would recommend checking out the Gov UK’s checklist for getting a UK driving license here. It also includes the appropriate links for booking tests, paying for tests and making any changes to your tests.
Foreigners driving in the UK
If you’ve moved to the UK from a foreign country, you might want to get a UK driving license. So how can you do that?
For some countries, you can exchange your current driving licence for the British one (such as Canadians). You can take a test here to find out if you qualify. This is the easiest way to convert your international license to a UK driving license without having to re-take any tests.
If you do exchange your license, I would recommend signing up for “refresher” driving lessons with a driving instructor. Many driving schools ofter these “refresher” lessons which are perfect for expats. These lessons are for those who already have a driving license, but may lack confidence or haven’t driven in a long time.
Since many of us come from countries that drive on the right side of the road, it can be really difficult transitioning to driving on the left in the UK.
These refresher lessons help get you comfortable with UK roads, which can be very confusing and scary at first. After a few refresher lessons, you’ll feel confident driving on the left and obeying UK traffic laws.
What if your country isn’t listed?
If you are unable to exchange your driving license for a UK one, it means you’ll need to take the usual route to getting a British license. This means taking the driving and theory tests again in order to get a full driving license valid in the UK.
Currently you can drive on a non-British driving license for up to six months. If you plan on driving longer than that, you’ll either need to exchange your license or re-take the appropriate tests to get a UK licence.
Automatic vs Manual cars
Most cars in North America are automatic, meaning you don’t need to change gears when you drive. The opposite is true in the UK.
If you received your driving license in a country like Canada and exchange it for a UK license, you may not be able to drive manual cars. Make sure to check online before buying a car in the UK.
If you want to drive manual (which is cheaper in the UK) you will need to re-take all the UK driving tests to allow you to drive manual cars. In some cases, it’s not worth it and you’ll need to stick with automatic cars instead.
No matter what car you end up driving, remember that owning a vehicle is expensive. If you want to make sure you don’t run out of money, check out our article: “How to budget for living in England“
Should I take UK public transport instead of getting a driving license?
Personally, I would recommend getting a UK driving license no matter what. Once you have it, you’ll be able to rely on it should you need it.
For expats (or locals) it may be more financially beneficial to use public transport instead of driving. If you want to learn more, make sure to check out our article explaining whether UK public transport is cheaper than driving.