TOP TIPS for Driving | Expat in the UK

As a Canadian, I was terrified of driving in the UK. It is very different and overwhelming and scary and what if I crashed?

Thankfully, I figured it out! And here how you can, too.

First up: you need a license

Certain countries can exchange their full foreign license for a British one up to 5 years after becoming a UK resident. Thankfully, Canadians are one of those nationalities.

Others include:

  • Australia
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • South Korea

If you can’t exchange your license, or you wait too long to exchange it, you will need to take all the tests from the beginning.

Certain nationalities are allowed to use their foreign driving license for 12 months but if you’re intending to stay in the UK longer term, you’ll need to exchange it or get a UK one from scratch.

UK Driving Tips

Automatic vs Manual

In the UK, historically everyone drove manual transmission, or what I would have called “stick shift” compared to North America where pretty much everyone drives automatic.

If you are lucky enough to exchange your foreign license, it’s likely you will receive a British Auto License – meaning, you can only drive automatic vehicles. If you want to drive manual, you would need to redo all the tests in the UK to get your British Manual license.

If you cannot exchange your license and you need to do all the testing, you’ll need to decide if you want to test for a manual or an automatic license.

In my humble opinion, as more and more cars are become electric or partially electric, it’s better to just get an automatic license. They’re also much more easy to drive if you’re anxious about British roads.

It’s also cheaper to go the automatic route if that’s what you were driving in your home country. You won’t need as many lessons as you’re not starting from scratch, but if you’re trying to learn manual from the beginning, it’s gonna cost you.

Costs for testing

If you can’t exchange your license (or you want to re-take the tests to get a manual license) the costs are:

  • Theory test = £23
  • Driving test = £62 (or £75 for evening, weekends or bank holidays)

You must have lived in England, Wales or Scotland for at least 185 days in the last 12 months before the day you take your test, which is about 6 months,

If you exchange your license

If you don’t need to take the tests again, and are able to exchange your license, I would 100% recommend refresher lessons.

That’s what I did, and I’ll absolutely do them again.

Basically I went out with a driving instructor for 2 hours where I got to practice the roads, the roundabouts, the signage and simply driving on the left side of the road and you can book as many of these lessons as you’d like.

Even though I was legally allowed to drive, I didn’t feel like I was ready yet but the refresher lesson made all the difference.

It’s especially helpful if you came to the UK alone and you don’t have a British partner or friend who can drive around with you to practice.

Two hours is about £68 for a manual refresher lesson with loads of availability as it’s most common.

It’s definitely a bit harder to find automatic fresher lessons, but one site I saw listed as: 1 hour refresher lesson automatic car £35 (2 hours £70) Driving lessons after 4pm on weekdays and anytime on weekends cost £40 per hour


It can be really scary driving on foreign roads – the biggest thing for me was driving on the “wrong” side of the road and roundabouts, which I really had no proper experience with in Canada.

Start slow, practice as much as you can and you will figure it out eventually.

Hot tip…

One thing I will say as someone who’s anxious: if you put it off, it will get worse.

In that, if you put off driving in the UK because you’re nervous, I feel like it becomes this even BIGGER stressful thing. My best advice: get into driving here in the UK as quickly as possible and it won’t be this big thing looming over you. You got this!