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Exchanging Your Foreign Driving Licence For A UK Driving Licence

If you’re looking to exchange your foreign driving licence for a UK driving licence, you might be a bit confused by the sheer volume of rules and regulations involved. The process can vary depending on where your original licence was issued and whether you’re officially a resident of Great Britain. If you do fit the bill, however, you might be able to exchange your foreign licence right away—meaning no additional tests!

In this guide, we’ll look at whether you’re eligible to exchange your foreign driving licence to a UK driving licence and what the actual exchange process entails. We’ll also offer up some additional advice for foreign licence holders looking to drive in the UK. Let’s take a look below, shall we?


Can I exchange my foreign driving licence for a UK driving licence?

For starters, before we can get into the nitty gritty of what the licence exchange process entails, we first need to look at whether you’re actually eligible to exchange your foreign driving licence. Your eligibility will hinge on your answer to this question: are you a resident of Great Britain? According to GOV.UK, you’re a resident if you have a permanent address in Great Britain that you’ve lived in for at least 185 days. If you are a resident, then you can proceed with our guide and look at how you’d go about exchanging your licence below.

Not classed as a resident of Great Britain? Then you won’t be able to exchange your foreign driving licence. Before you swear off Great Britain for good, however, you may still be able to drive here for up to a year on your foreign licence.

We’re going to look at how the rules for exchanging your foreign driving licence will vary depending on where your licence was issued in the section below.


Eligibility for exchanging to a UK driving licence

You can check your entitlement for exchanging your foreign licence for a UK driving licence on GOV.UK. In just a few questions you’ll know exactly if you’ll be able to exchange your foreign driving licence.

A D1 provisional driving licence application form

Countries in the EU or EEA

If your licence was issued from a country in the EU or EEA, then you’re officially allowed to drive in the UK on your original licence until you’re 70 and your licence expires. If you’re aged 68 or over when you officially become a resident in Great Britain, you’ll be allowed to drive for 3 years. Once this time has passed, you will need to exchange your licence.

Whilst you are allowed to drive in Great Britain on your original licence, you can still exchange your foreign licence for a UK one at any time if you so wish.

If the EU/EFTA licence that you currently hold was exchanged for a licence from a non-EU country then you’ll only be able to use it for 12 months.

Designated countries

The UK has driving licence agreements with a variety of ‘designated countries’. If you hold a driving licence from one of the countries below, you’ll be allowed to exchange it for a UK driving licence.

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 hold a driving licence from a designated country, you’ll be allowed to drive in Great Britain for up to 12 months. Once this time has passed, you will have to exchange your licence. You’ve got 5 years from the day you became a resident to exchange your licence—as long as it’s still valid.

Residents of Northern Ireland

If you’re a resident of Northern Ireland, you’re in luck—the rules couldn’t be any easier for exchanging your licence for a UK driving licence. As long as your licence was issued on or after 1 January 1976, you’ll be able to exchange it. And the best part? You won’t have to pay a penny for it!

Residents of Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man

Any residents from Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man will be able to exchange their licence if it was issued on or after 1 April 1991. Unlike residents of Northern Ireland, however, you’ll have to pay the standard exchange fee. You will also have to provide a medical report (D4) filled in by a doctor.

All other countries

If you don’t belong to any of the above countries, then you won’t be able to exchange your foreign driving licence for a UK one. That doesn’t mean you should give up on driving in the UK, however! You’re still allowed to drive for up to 12 months on your foreign licence. According to the DVLA, you’re allowed to drive vehicles weighing up to 3.5 tonnes—with up to eight passenger seats—as long as your licence remains valid within the 12 month period. If you want to continue driving in the UK once this year is up, you’ll have to take a theory and practical test to get your hands on a UK driving licence.

Need to book a theory and practical test? Get PassMeFast to fast-track them for you. We even offer shorter intensive courses if you’re looking to iron out any bad habits you might have picked up!

Vocational licence holders

If you’re looking to exchange a vocational licence for a UK driving licence, then you’ll need to fill in an application for a lorry or bus (D2). If your vocational licence was issued in an EC/EEA country, you’ll also have to provide a D4 form if you’re 45 or over.

Please note: when you exchange your foreign driving licence for a UK driving licence, it will not be returned to you. By sending off your licence, you’re surrendering it to the DVLA willingly.

Additional rules for exchanging your foreign driving licence

Checklist

Whilst we’d love to tell you that’s all there is to it, the process for exchanging your foreign driving licence isn’t as cut and dry as it seems. There are a few more niggly rules that could cause a couple of bumps in your journey towards getting a UK driving licence, as you can see below…

If you’re a licence holder from a designated country, your licence needs to be valid at the time it’s received by the DVLA. If you’re from any EU/EEA country, however, you’ll be able to exchange your licence even if its validity has expired.
Canadian licence holders will have to provide evidence that they passed the driving test in a manual car, as Canadian licences don’t show whether the test was passed in manual or automatic transmission.
New Zealand licence holders will also have to provide proof that they passed in a manual car, otherwise they won’t be able to drive a manual car in the UK.
Japanese licence holders must send off their licence with an accompanying translation. This is available for a fee from the Consulate General of Japan at 101-104 Piccadilly, London, W1V 9FN or 2 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 7HW.
South Korean licence holders must also send off  their licence with an accompanying translation. This is available for a fee from the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, 60 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6AJ.
Faroe Island and South Korean licence holders won’t be able to transfer entitlement to ride motorcycles from their current foreign licence to a UK one. This means you’ll have to take a theory and motorcycle practical test in the UK.
South African licence holders won’t be able to exchange their licence if it’s a ‘book of life’ ID instead of the newer credit card style licence.

How to exchange your foreign driving licence for a UK driving licence

Now that you’re sure you’re actually eligible to exchange your foreign driving licence for a UK one, we’re going to look at what that process entails. Fortunately, it’s pretty straightforward. To start, you’ll need to head on over to GOV.UK and send off for your application pack. You’ll receive this by post to your UK address. Most applicants will only need to send off for order form D1. Others will need more than one form, however: if you’re a resident of Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, for example, you’ll need D4 as well.

Once you’ve received your application form(s), you’re one step closer to the finishing line! All that’s left is for you to provide the following documents in your application:

  • A completed application form D1 (and any other required forms)
  • Your passport, a travel document or national identity card
  • A passport-sized colour photo
  • Your current driver’s licence (remember, you won’t get this back)
  • A certified translation of your current licence if you’re from Japan or South Korea
  • A fee of £43 paid by cheque or postal order

You need to send off your application to: DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1BT. Once that’s sorted, you’ll receive your UK driving licence in approximately three weeks. The DVLA will send your original licence to the foreign issuing authorities.

If the foreign licence that you’re exchanging is for automatic transmission, your UK driving licence will be the same. If you want to drive a manual car, you’ll have to pass an additional driving test.

Additional advice for foreign licence holders looking to drive in the UK

Woman driving a red car

Familiarise yourself with the Highway Code

If you’re taking to the roads in the UK then it’s a good idea to read up on the Highway Code. No matter how confident you are with your driving, you need to be sure that you’re familiar with the rules of the road in the UK. The Highway Code is a set of rules and guidelines that are in place to keep all road users safe. As such, it’s a must-read for anyone on the road. You can start reading it right now on GOV.UK. Want to test your knowledge? Take a few Highway Code quizzes!

Understand your UK driving licence codes

When you receive your UK driving licence, you should make sure you know exactly what rules and restrictions are in place for the vehicle you drive. You can find this information on the reverse side of your licence. If you turn your card around, you’ll find a table of vehicles and codes. This will tell you what vehicles you are and aren’t allowed to drive. It will also contain additional conditions that you must follow when driving in the UK. Find out more in our guide to driving licence codes.

Sort out your car insurance

If you’re driving in the UK, whether on a foreign licence or your new UK driving licence, you’ll need to make sure the vehicle you’re driving is insured. It is illegal to drive in the UK without insurance. The minimum insurance you need is third party cover, though it might not be your cheapest option. If you’re looking for ways to save money on your car insurance, you might want to look at: what to check for when you’re buying car insurance or our guide to black box (telematics) insurance.

Take a refresher course

If you’re not entirely confident with driving on the roads in the UK, there’s an easy, sure-fire way to boost your confidence: a quick refresher course. As the name suggests, these courses are for people who just need a few hours or so to iron out their bad habits and get to grips with the more advanced aspects of driving. PassMeFast has three refresher courses to choose from—5 hours, 10 hours or 15 hours—depending on how much guidance you need with an experienced ADI. To book in, give us a call on 0333 123 4949 or book online.


FAQs

① How do I find out if I’m eligible to exchange my licence?

You can find out if you’re eligible to exchange your foreign driving licence for a UK one by using GOV.UK’s licence exchange entitlement tool.

② Does the 12 month period restart if I leave the UK and come back?

Yep! If you spent up to 12 months in the UK and left, your 12 months would start again once you came back to the UK. This applies even if you’re only out of the UK for a couple of days!

③ Will I be able to drive a manual car if my original licence is for automatic transmission?

Nope. If your original licence says that you passed your driving test in an automatic car, then you will only be able to drive automatic cars. If you’re that keen to drive a manual car in the UK, you’ll have to take an additional test.

④ How long will it take for the DVLA to send me my UK driving licence?

The DVLA states that it will take around three weeks for you to receive your licence once you’ve sent them your application pack. Bear in mind that this is an estimate—it might take longer if they need to do additional checks.

⑤ What are the minimum age requirements for driving in the UK?

In order to drive a car or motorcycle in the UK, drivers need to be at least 17 years old. If you’re looking to drive a lorry or bus, you need to be at least 21 years old.

⑥ I need to take a driving test, how do I book one?

If you’re required to take a driving test in order to get your hands on a UK driving licence, it’s as simple as heading on over to GOV.UK to book your test. Bear in mind, however, that driving test waiting times can be long. If time is of the essence, you can get a fast-track practical test with PassMeFast.

⑦ Can I import my vehicle to the UK?

Looking to bring a vehicle into the UK permanently? You’ll have to: inform HMRC, pay VAT and duty, get vehicle approval and register and tax the vehicle. You’ll also have to insure it before you drive it on UK roads. Only going to be driving in the UK for 6 months or less? You’ll need to look at the rules for temporary imports.

⑧ Do I need insurance if I’m only going to be in the UK for a short time?

Yep! It is illegal to drive on the roads in the UK without car insurance, so we really wouldn’t recommend you pushing your luck without it. Third party cover is the minimum insurance cover legally required. With it only covering damage to other vehicles and property, you might want to look at: third party, fire and theft cover or comprehensive cover.

By Bethany Hall

Whether you’re a learner or a pro driver, Bethany is here to help. From defensive driving to the Highway Code, she’ll tell you everything you need know about driving. If she’s not on the road, you’ll probably find Bethany with her head in a book or binge-watching the latest TV show.