Driving in the UK with an international licence

When you’ve been living outside of the UK for a number of years it can be all too easy to get confused about the rules and regulations around driving. This can be even more so if you didn’t learn to drive in the UK in the first place. If you’re an expat holding a non-UK driving licence then read our guide to make sure you stay on the right side of the authorities.

From arranging expat car insurance to updating yourself on the law it’s a great idea to make a to-do list before travelling back to the UK. After all, you don’t want any unpleasant surprises on your return! Call the helpful team at Insurance Factory who’ll be only too happy to take you through the quick and easy steps to arranging expat car insurance that’s tailored just for you.

Is it legal to drive in the UK with an international driving licence?
Just as in any country, the rules over who can and cannot drive on the roads are very strictly enforced to ensure the safety of all road users. Unfortunately, these rules can be pretty difficult to get to the bottom of. Particularly when you’ve been living in a different country for some years or your licence wasn't even issued here. That’s why reading this Insurance Factory guide is so useful! From parking reminders for expats to motorway driving quizzes we’ve got plenty of helpful advice just right for you. Take a look at some of our other recent articles and get informed today.

It probably goes without saying that to drive in the UK you’ll first need to meet the minimum age requirement. So, if you want to drive a car or motorbike then you need to be at least 17 years old. While wannabe lorry or bus drivers need to be aged at least 21 years.


Many expats who are just returning to the UK for just a short period of time will probably be fine just using their non-UK driving licence to drive. If they don’t already have a UK driving licence that is. But if you're planning on staying for over a year or more, it probably makes sense to think about exchanging your international licence for a UK one.

We’ll give you more advice on doing this below. But depending on where your licence was issued, you might be made to sit a UK driving test to prove you’re ready for the UK roads. There are quite different rules applied depending on which country your driving licence was issued in and whether you’re a UK resident, a visitor, or a foreign student studying here.

The British government has an easy to use step-by-step online process through which you can quickly discover what your international licence entitles you to do. Be aware that the rules are slightly different if you’re planning on driving in Northern Ireland.

Whether you’re using your car for commuting, school runs, business, sightseeing, or for an occasional weekend getaway, you'll need to check whether you're allowed to drive with your current licence. Never assume, always check before leaving home.

International driving licences split into three main groups.

European Union driving licences
Drivers holding a full licence issued by a country within the European Union can drive in Great Britain using their original licence without any problems. You don’t need to exchange your licence or take any kind of driving test. That is until you turn 70. After that you’ll need to exchange your licence for a British one.
An important point for older drivers is that if you were 67 or older when you became a UK resident, you can drive on your EU licence for three years after that time.

The same rules apply to those with a licence issued by a country within the European Economic Area. These include the European Union countries alongside Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Driving licences issued in Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man or a ‘designated country’
You can drive in the UK for up to 12 months on a licence issued in Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man or a so-called ‘designated country’. These are countries that have agreements with the UK for their citizens to drive here without the need to take a new test. The list of designated countries is:
  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Barbados
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Canada
  • Cayman Islands
  • Falkland Islands
  • Faroe Islands
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Korea
  • Republic of North Macedonia
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • Ukraine
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Zimbabwe
Once this period has ended, you must exchange your licence for a British one to keep on driving legally. However, the good news is that you can exchange it up to five years after becoming a UK resident (if it hasn’t expired) without having to retake your driving test. Phew!
Holders of driving licences issued in Jersey, Guernsey, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man are also subject to the same rules.


Licenses issued by any other country
If your licence was not issued in the EU, EEA or a designated country, the DVLA says you can drive for up to 12 months.

After 12 months, in order to keep driving legally you’ll need to apply for a UK provisional licence and pass the theory and practical driving tests.

You won’t be forced to take any driving lessons in the UK before taking the test. But you probably would find it helpful to get familiar with The Highway Code and get some useful pointers on driving in the UK.
Be warned, don’t delay. Once you’ve received your provisional licence, your international licence is no longer valid. Even if there was still time left on your international licence. Also bear in mind that you won’t be able to drive around unaccompanied with a provisional licence. This is an important consideration for those who drive as part of their job or for whom the ability to drive is essential.

Do I still need car insurance if I have an international licence?
Car insurance is still a strict legal requirement in the UK, even if you’re only planning on driving occasionally. When weighing up whether to get a UK licence bear in mind that you could get slightly cheaper insurance than if you hold a licence issued in the EU or further afield. But whether you’ve got a UK driving licence or an international driving licence, you can be safe in the knowledge that Insurance Factory will search our panel of insurers to find the right cover for you.

If you’re looking for expat car insurance then look no further than Insurance Factory. Give our experienced team of insurance specialists a call today and find out what we can offer. We are here to help you get back behind the wheel in your home country as quickly as possible.

How do you exchange an international driving licence for a British one?
To be eligible to exchange you must be a resident of the UK. According to the DVLA this means you’re normally a resident if you live here for at least 185 days in each calendar year.

Provided you’re eligible, the process of exchanging licences is a relatively straightforward one.
  1. Order the application form D1 from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) website. While most pages can be downloaded digitally, some pages include non-printable features.
  2. Complete the form.
  3. Send it to the address stated on the form. Include any required documents (including your original driving licence) along with the £43 fee.
  4. Wait for your new UK driving licence. It should arrive within six to ten weeks. Although there have been some delays during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s an important final point to be aware of. If you passed your test in some designated countries then you’ll only be able to drive manual vehicles if you can prove you passed your test in a manual vehicle.

Otherwise, you’ll be issued with a licence restricted to automatic cars. This restriction applies to Canada and New Zealand licences.

If you passed your test in Japan then you’ll also need to provide an official translation of your licence.
Expat car insurance from Insurance Factory.

When it comes to protecting your car as an expat driver, you really need specialist expat car insurance. The team at Insurance Factory can help you find cover that’s just right for you and your budget. Benefits include:
  • Specialist cover available for expats returning from most EU and Commonwealth countries
  • Comprehensive levels of cover available
  • The ability to tailor your policy to your individual requirements
  • Flexible payment options available
We’ve been arranging tailored insurance policies for over 20 years. Providing UK expat drivers with an invaluable source of know-how and access to underwriters in the UK.

Alongside these benefits, we can also offer flexible payment solutions, including spreading the cost over monthly instalments. With over 700 reviews and a Trustpilot score of 4.8, you can be certain your insurance cover is in great hands.

Get a quote for car insurance for expats today and get back on the road.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.