Driving in the UK

Using a foreign Driver's License

If you hold a US driver’s license, you must obtain a UK driving license by the time you reach your first twelve months of residency. After twelve months of residence, if you have no UK driving license, your auto insurance will cease to be valid. The police may fine you for driving without a license, as well as being uninsured, and may impound your car.

The question about the “one year” issue always comes up. You do not re-start your twelve-month period every time you re-enter the UK. Residency is the deciding factor; if you live here for more than 185 days per year and have personal or vocational ties in the UK, you are considered a UK resident.

The UK allows a number of countries to exchange driver's licenses without taking the test over again, but the USA is not one of these countries. (So anyone with an American driver's license will need to take the test over again!)

See the UK government website for an up to date list of countries: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/law-on-driving-licence-exchange-tightened-to-improve-road-safety.

Insurance and taxes

When you first arrive, you can obtain car insurance by providing details of your US state driving license. Many members have found some of the online UK insurance providers to be a quick and easy way to get their car insurance. The Automobile Association (www.theaa.com), Tesco grocery store (www.tesco.com) and Direct Line Insurance (www.directline.com) are a few examples of these providers.

You may wish to check with your US insurance company to see if they underwrite policies in the UK. USAA (www.usaa.com) and GEICO (www.geico.com) are two companies that do.

No Claim Bonuses UK insurance companies offer a “No Claims Bonus.” This means that the company will discount your premium for every year in which you have not made an insurance claim. The bonuses are worth having so ask your US insurer for a letter confirming that you have no claims for a specified number of years.

Car Tax Car tax must be paid on all vehicles registered in the UK, driven or kept on a public road. Choosing the right car can make a big difference on your tax costs. lf you buy your car from a dealer, they will usually make sure that it is taxed for the first year. You must pay the required car tax it before you can use it. Car tax can be paid or managed online at www.gov.uk/vehicletax.

MOT The MOT (Ministry of Transport) test is an annual test of vehicle safety, roadworthiness and exhaust emissions required in the United Kingdom for most vehicles over three years old. This examination certificate will be required when you renew your car tax. Most garages will carry out the inexpensive inspection, but you must book an appointment in advance.

Driving On The Other Side and Getting Your British License

Following is the recommended order of steps for an experienced driver to obtain a UK license:

  1. Within three months of taking up UK residency, you should apply for a UK provisional license and begin to study for the theory test.
  2. As soon as you receive your provisional license, you should schedule a theory test appointment. The waiting list for this is usually 2-3 weeks.
  3. Contact a driving school and schedule an initial driving assessment lesson. Be sure to inform them of the date of your theory test.
  4. Once you have passed your theory test, you should arrange your practical test appointment. Discuss the waiting list and suitable dates with your driving instructor and then plan the remainder of your lessons up to your practical test date.

It’s important to note that the process to acquire a license can take up to four months.

Note: The UK distinguishes between the driver's license needed to drive a car with a manual vs an automatic transmission. If you pass your driving test with an automatic car, you're only legally allowed to drive automatic cars. Passing the test with a manual transmission means your license will allow you to drive either kind, so you'll have more options

The Legal Aspect of Driving

Your US license or US International Driving Permit (IDP) is valid for one year, starting on the date you arrived with the intention of taking up residency in the UK. Residency is described simply as ‘the place where you live due to personal or occupational ties.’ After this date, your US license or IDP is no longer valid and therefore, to allow you to continue driving legally, you must pass your UK practical test before you have been in this country for one year.

If you do not pass the test within one year and you continue to drive, you will be driving illegally and liable to police prosecution. If caught, you risk having your vehicle impounded. More importantly, your car insurance can also be declared void in the event of an accident or other claim.

The UK Provisional License

A provisional license does not entitle you to drive after your one-year period is up; it merely registers you as a learner driver and entitles you to book a theory test and practical test.

The theory test is a computerized touch screen test, where the minimum pass mark is 43 correct answers out of 50 questions and a hazard perception test which monitors your awareness and reaction to video footage of developing hazards. You can buy the latest edition of The Highway Code from any book shop or online at https://www.gov.uk/take-practice-theory-test. A driver of some experience can simply take the offered practice test as a means of study.

The current fee for a theory test is £23 and you can arrange a test appointment at www.gov.uk/book-theory-test. Do not use any other site that offers you a driving test booking service. The local theory test centers for the majority of AWS members will be Kingston, Guildford, or Staines.

The Practical Driving Test

You must quote your theory test pass certificate number when arranging a practical driving test appointment, which you need to have passed. The waiting list is usually around four weeks but can reach up to seven weeks in the summer months. The current fee for a weekday practical test is £62. You can make an appointment at www.gov.uk/book-driving-test.

The test lasts up to 45 minutes and includes varying types of road and traffic conditions and strict reversing maneuvers. Almost anyone that has taken this test will tell you that that even the most experienced and careful driver is unlikely to pass without some professional lessons; only 43% of applicants pass the practical driving test on their first attempt.

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About the group

The American Women of Surrey (AWS), International Women's Group,  is a not-for-profit club founded in 1975 to provide a welcoming atmosphere for expatriates and their families living in Surrey. We offer social, cultural and philanthropic opportunities for our 230+ members representing more than 30 nationalities.


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P.O. Box 170
Cobham, Surrey
KT11 2YJ

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