The rules around driving in the UK on a foreign licence can be confusing, and getting insurance cover can make things even more complicated. Read our guide and find out when you can drive on a non-UK licence and how to get insurance cover.
If you have a full, valid driving licence issued in your own country, you will be able to drive in the UK for at least a year before you need to exchange your licence or take a UK driving test. See more information below based on each type of licence:
EU/EEC licence: If you hold a full licence issued in a country within the European Union (EU) or European Economic Community (EEC), you can drive in the UK on your original licence until it expires, without having to exchange it or retake your driving test. Your licence will expire when you turn 70 or three years after you become a resident in the UK (whichever is longer).
If you got your EU licence by exchanging a non-EU licence, you can drive in Great Britain for 12 months. You will need to pass a UK driving test if you want to carry on driving after this point.
International licence (exchangeable): You can drive in the UK for up to 12 months on a licence issued in Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man or a ‘designated country’ (Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Zimbabwe).
If you wish to continue driving in the UK after this period, you can exchange your international licence for a UK licence within five years of becoming a resident, without having to retake your driving test.
International licence (non-exchangeable): If your licence was not issued in an EU/EEC or designated country, you are still permitted to drive in the UK for 12 months. If you want to continue driving in the UK after this point, you will need to apply for a provisional UK licence and pass the UK driving test to gain your full licence. You are not required to take any driving lessons in the UK before taking your test, but you may find it useful to brush up on your driving skills and knowledge of UK roads.
International driving permit: You don’t need an international driving permit in addition to your licence, but it may come in useful for proving validity if your licence is not printed in English.
Provisional licence If you don’t have a full licence yet and want to drive in the UK, you must apply for a provisional UK licence. You can take a UK driving test once you’ve been in the country for 185 days (six months).
It’s a legal requirement to have valid car insurance in the UK, even if you only plan to drive occasionally or stay in the country for a short time. (You will not need to take out your own insurance cover for a hire car, as this will be included in the cost of the rental.)
There are three levels of insurance cover available: The minimum legal requirement is third party cover, which only covers damage to other vehicles and property, and not any damage to your car; third party, fire and theft also covers fire damage and theft; comprehensive cover includes all of this as well as paying out for damage to your own car in the event of a claim.
If you’re bringing your own car to the country your existing insurance policy should cover you for third party damage while you’re driving in the UK. You may be asked to provide evidence of your insurance cover, and your insurer may issue you a ‘green card’ document for this purpose. Find out more about temporarily importing your car here.
You will need to take out a UK insurance policy if you’ve bought a car in this country. If you’re a visitor borrowing a friend’s or relative’s car while you’re in the UK, you must be added as a named driver to their policy — but be aware that this is likely to increase the policyholder’s car insurance premium.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult for drivers with non-UK licences to find affordable car insurance. Even if you have many years’ experience driving in your own country, holding a foreign licence could still affect your insurance costs. Insurers base their premiums on perceived risk, and you are considered to be at a higher risk of making a claim if you are not experienced on UK roads.
Many well-known insurers will ignore any no-claims years accrued on your foreign licence. With a no-claims bonus being worth up to 75% discount, starting from scratch once you start driving in the UK can push your premiums up.
Thankfully, there are ways to save on your car insurance if you’re a non-UK licence holder. First, be sure to shop around with specialist insurers. There are many providers that welcome foreign licence holders, and some will even transfer your no-claims years so you get a discount straight away.
If you have a European licence or an exchangeable international licence, you can swap this for a UK licence once you’ve been resident in the UK for six months. Many providers will offer better deals to drivers with UK licences, so you may benefit from exchanging your licence as soon as you are able to (if you know you plan to stay in the UK for the long term).
If you are currently driving on a non-exchangeable international licence you will eventually have to take a test to gain your full UK licence. Your insurance premiums should drop once you gain your licence, so you may benefit from taking your driving test sooner rather than later if you do plan on driving in the UK in the long term. You can apply for a provisional licence and take your test once you’ve been resident in the UK for six months.
The level of insurance cover also has an effect on your costs. You may expect third party cover to be more affordable, as your insurer would only have to pay out for the other party’s repair costs in the event of a claim. However, insurers noted that third party cover was being used as a cost saving tactic by risky drivers, so some raised their prices accordingly. By considering a higher level of cover, such as comprehensive, you could save money while being better protected.
While you can legally drive a company car on a non-UK licence (with the conditions listed above), it's important to note that not all companies will permit this. Many company cars are covered by fleet insurance which excludes non-UK licences.