Driving License

Which drivers license do you need for the UK?

If you are living in the UK want to drive, you will need a British drivers license. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to do the drivers test again.

The minimum age for driving in the UK is 17 for a motor car (up to 3.5 tonnes laden) or motorcycle over 50cc and 16 for a motorcycle (moped) up to 50cc, an invalid carriage and certain other vehicles. For commercial vehicles up to 7.5 tonnes laden, the minimum age is 18 and for heavy goods vehicles (HGV), it’s 21. Driving licences are issued for certain categories of vehicles, e.g. category A is for a motorcycle, B is for a car, C is for a truck and D is for a bus. Holders of a full foreign driving licence or an international driving permit may drive in the UK for one year.

If you hold a licence from a European Economic Area (EEA) member state or a licence issued in Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Japan, Kenya, Malta, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland or Zimbabwe, you can obtain a British driving licence in your first year in the UK, without taking a driving test. If you don’t apply during your first year, you aren’t permitted to drive after this period until you’ve passed a driving test. If you hold a licence issued by a country that isn’t listed above, you must take a driving test during your first year in the UK. If you don’t pass the driving test during your first year, you must apply for a provisional licence and drive under restricted conditions (e.g. with a qualified driver) until you’ve passed your test.

Some foreign licences (for example those printed in Arabic or Japanese) must be translated into English or an international driving permit must be obtained before arrival. To apply for a British driving licence, you must obtain an application form (D1) and form D100 (which explains what you need to know about driver licensing) from any post office. An eye test certificate isn’t required, although you must be able to read a number plate at 67 feet (20.5m) in daylight, with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary (you’re tested). British licences now contain a photograph and come in two parts; a plastic, credit-card size identity card and a paper licence (old paper-only licences can be exchanged for a photocard licence). Complete form D1 and send it to the DVLA with the appropriate postcode (shown on the form) and the following:

  • Your foreign driving licence and, if applicable, an international driving permit, which are returned to you;
  • A permanent address in the UK;
  • A cheque or postal order for the fee (not cash or banknotes).

Your British driving licence is sent to you around one week later and is valid until age 70. Don’t forget to sign it. After the age of 70, it must be renewed every three years, provided you remain fit to drive. However, you must declare any health problems which might make you unfit to drive at any time and not just when applying for a licence. An international driving permit is required if you intend to drive in some countries. This may vary depending on which driving licence­(s) you hold. Check with one of the motoring organisations.

An international driving licence, valid for one year only, is obtainable from these organisations for £4, either in person or by post. You must provide a passport-size photograph and the fee and complete a form giving details of your British, Northern Ireland or British Forces Germany (BFG) driving licence. Holders of a British or foreign car driving licence can ride a motorcycle of up to 125cc in the UK without obtaining a special licence. For motorcycles over 125cc, you must have a motorcycle licence. Foreign licences issued by EU member states and certain other countries, can be exchanged for a British licence within five years of becoming resident in the UK.

If you change your permanent address within the UK, you must notify the DVLA as soon as possible by completing the section on the back of your British licence and returning it to the address shown. A new licence is issued free of charge (if you have an old-style paper licence, you receive a photocard licence). You can be fined a maximum of £50 if you fail to notify the DVLA of a change of address. A new licence is issued for the following reasons:

  • You wish to exchange an old-style paper licence for a photocard licence;
  • Your licence has been lost, stolen, destroyed or defaced;
  • To receive a clean licence after the expiry of endorsements (see below);
  • To add or remove provisional motorcycle group D or add new groups to a full licence;
  • To obtain a new licence after a period of disqualification;
  • To exchange a Northern Ireland licence for a UK licence.

A provisional licence is exchanged free for a full licence after passing a driving test. A policeman can ask to see your driving licence at any time and you must either produce it immediately or take it personally to a police station (named by you) within seven days. Driving without a licence or while disqualified attracts a heavy penalty. Court convictions for many motoring offences result in an ‘endorsement’ of your licence, which means you’re given a number of penalty points. Most offences ‘earn’ a fixed number of penalty points (e.g. speeding usually merits three penalty points), but some are at a court’s discretion. If you want to request a court hearing for a fixed penalty offence, you must usually do so within 28 days. If you don’t pay a fine within the set period it may be increased dramatically. Some offences cannot be dealt with under the fixed penalty system and you must appear in court.

If you total 12 or more penalty points within three years, you’re automatically disqualified from driving for a minimum of six months. If you already have points on your licence and a new offence would bring your points total to 12 or more, you must appear in court (as only a court can disqualify you from driving). If you’ve been disqualified in the past three years, you usually lose your licence for a minimum of one year (two previous disqualifications normally lead to a two-year ban). You can be disqualified for a single offence, such as drunken or reckless driving, which can also result in a prison sentence where injury or death resulted. If you drive while disqualified, you can receive a prison sentence and have your car confiscated.

The length of time endorsements remain on a driving licence depends on the offence, e.g. it’s 11 years from the date of conviction for offences involving drunken driving and four years for all other offences from the date of the offence or the date of the conviction. You can apply for the removal of a penalty point endorsement after three years from the date of the offence. You can also apply for a disqualification of four years or longer to be lifted after a minimum period of two years. You must apply for a new licence (using form D1) after a period of disqualification. Further information about driving licences can be obtained from Customer Enquiries (Drivers) Group, DVLA, Sandringham Park, Swansea SA7 0EE (0870-240 0009, www.dvla.gov.uk ).

This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.

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Other comments

  • Steve, 29 June 2008 Reply

    Not quite correct

    Quote "If you don’t apply during your first year, you aren’t permitted to drive after this period until you’ve passed a driving test."
    This is not necessarily correct. If you are a resident of the UK and you are from one of the designated countries you have 5 years to exchange to a British license without sitting a test.

    • A 06 Aug 2009, 02:09

      South Africa

      South Africa is also on the list

    • Mario 28 Nov 2009, 08:53

      Kenya

      Kenya ha been removed from the list in 2007, see: the Driving Licences (Exchangeable Licences) Order 1999. Statutory Instrument 1999 No. 1641.

  • Nick, 05 November 2010 Reply

    Incorrect information

    This article is incorrect. The DVLA says that you can only exchange your license if you live in the EC/EEA or in . On licenses from any other countries you can drive for 12 months before having to take a test.

    • des kirby 01 Jul 2011, 12:31

      licence from abroad

      it is correct ,read the list of accepted countries