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Driving in the UK: A Mini-Guide for Expats

June 7, 2022
3 min read

If you’re moving to the UK and are planning to get a car, this guide is for you.

We’ve put together lots of useful advice about driving in the UK. Like how to drive on the licence you’ve got, how to get a UK driving licence, what you need before you can legally drive, and sorting out your car insurance.

What you need to drive in the UK

I’m driving in the UK on a foreign licence. Will I need to get a UK one?

Firstly, you have to be 17 years old or over to drive in the UK. And, it might sound obvious, but you must have passed your driving test. 

If you took your test in another country and have a licence from that country, you can usually drive in the UK using that licence up to 12 months after you move here.

If you’re driving in the UK 12 months after that point, and your licence isn’t from the EU or EEA, you’ll need to get a UK driving licence. 

Check if you can drive in the UK using your licence that was issued abroad by using this tool here.

How can I get a UK driving licence?

If you’re from a designated country or are from Northern Ireland, Guernsey or Jersey, you can swap your current driving licence for a UK one without taking a UK driving test. 

Designated countries are:

Andorra, Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cayman Island, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Republic of North Macedonia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, and Zimbabwe.

If you’re not from one of those countries or from Northern Ireland, Guernsey or Jersey, you’ll have to take a UK theory and driving test to get a UK licence.

How do I swap my licence for a UK driving licence?

You have to be a UK resident to apply for a driving licence. A UK resident is someone who has a UK address and is living here permanently (or intends to live here permanently), which means at least 183 days a year.

To get a UK driving licence, follow these steps: 

  1. Check you can get a UK driving licence and what forms you’ll need to fill in using the government’s online tool, here
  2. Order the DVLA application forms, here
  3. Send off the forms and the relevant documents. These include your passport/travel document/national identity card, a passport-sized photo of yourself, and your current driving licence.
  4. Pay the £43 fee. 
  5. Wait for your new UK driving licence to arrive in the post. Remember, you won’t get your old one back. 

Moved from Japan or South Korea? You’ll also need to send a certified translation of your current driving licence at step 3.

I’m driving in the UK with an EU licence, has Brexit changed things for me?

If you’re living in the UK but have an EU driving licence, don’t worry! You can keep driving using your EU licence until you’re 70 years old. 

You can still exchange your licence for a UK one if you want to. To do that, follow the steps above. You don’t have to take another driving test to get a licence.

Making your car legal 

So, you’ve sorted out your driving licence - great work! But, before you can start driving, there are a few other things you need to tick off your to-do list.

  • Register your car - Once you get a car, you need to register it. If it’s a brand-new car, the dealer will usually do this for you. And if it’s secondhand, the seller can also do it for you online or by post.
  • Pay road tax (sometimes called car tax) - A legal requirement for all cars. First, find the car logbook, also called a V5C (it's usually kept in the glove compartment). You'll need to make sure this is in your name. Then, find the reference number on it. Finally, head to the government website here to tax your car using your reference number.
  • Check the MOT is in-date - Another legal requirement. MOT is like a health check for your car to make sure it’s safe for the road and the environment. In the UK, cars must have an up-to-date MOT to be road legal. MOTs are done every year unless your car is brand new. If your car is brand new, it doesn’t need an MOT until three years after its initial registration. You can check whether a car has an up-to-date MOT by using this government form, here.
  • Get car insurance - You’ve guessed it! Also a legal requirement. And lucky for you, you’re in the perfect place. Click here to get a quick quote.

Want to know more about buying a car and making sure it’s legal to drive in the UK? Read our blog here

How does UK car insurance actually work?

Unlike some other countries, drivers must have car insurance in the UK.

In the UK, car insurance covers the car, not the driver. So if someone else is going to be driving your car (like a friend, a partner, or family member) you'll need to add them to your policy. We'll ask if you want to do this when you get a quote.

If they have their own insurance on another car, they may be covered to drive other cars on their policy. Always check if this is the case, and make sure you're comfortable with the level of protection.

What levels of car insurance can I get? 

There are three types of car insurance in the UK:

This is the most basic level of car insurance. Third-party insurance only protects the other driver in an accident, not you or your car.

Third-party fire and theft
This type of cover is the same as third party. But it also protects you if: 

  • your car is damaged by a fire
  • your car is damaged by someone trying to steal it 
  • your car is stolen

Fully Comprehensive (or Fully Comp)
This cover protects you and the other person in an accident. Your insurer will pay out if: 

  • you damage your car or someone else's car
  • you injure yourself or someone else
  • you damage someone's property 
  • your car is damaged by fire
  • your car is stolen

For more information on the three types of car insurance cover, read our blog here.

Marshmallow car insurance policies are all fully comprehensive. That’s because we want to offer our customers as much protection as possible.

What’s with all the confusing insurance terms?

We know insurance can sound really complicated - we’re doing our best to make it easier! Here are some common UK insurance terms and what they mean:

  • Excess - An excess is the amount of money you'll need to pay if you make a claim. You'll agree to this sum before you pay. Don't worry, your insurer will still pay all the costs on top - no matter how big the damage is. 

    You'll see your Excess amount when you get your price. This amount is set by the insurer and is called a Compulsory Excess. You can't change this. But sometimes, you'll get an option to top it up with something called a Voluntary Excess - an amount you agree to pay on top of the Compulsory Excess if you make a claim. The benefit of doing this is that it will bring down the cost of your premium. But you should always make sure that you can afford to pay the Total (which is Compulsory + Voluntary) if you make a claim.
  • Courtesy Car - If you have an accident and your car needs to be repaired, the insurance company or garage will often provide a courtesy car until yours is fixed.

    If your car is stolen or written off (where the damage is so bad that repair costs are higher than the car’s value) it is unlikely that you will get a courtesy car. But some companies (like us!) will give you options to upgrade if this is something you might like.

  • Premium - This is the amount you pay every year for your car insurance policy. This is decided based on lots of things, including your excess (see definition below); where you live; how often you drive; and what car you drive.

  • No Claims Discount/No Claims Bonus - This is a discount that drivers get based on the number of years they’ve been driving without making a claim. Most countries have a similar system (even if they don’t have a name for it). In the UK, most insurers will only accept proof from UK insurers. But not us! We can accept proof of no-claims driving from any insurer, in any country, no translation needed.

Still unsure how a No Claims Discount works? Read this blog

Find out more about how we make insurance better and cheaper for people who have driving experience outside the UK here.

Road rules and driving tips

What UK driving rules should I know about?

Here are some good things to know before you set off on the road:

  • Drive on the left-hand side.
  • Everyone in the car has to wear a seatbelt at all times. 
  • Our speed limits and road signs use miles, not kilometres.
  • If you hear sirens or any kind of flashing blue lights, move out of the way! Pull up to the side of the road as soon as possible (in a safe way, of course). 
  • In the UK, you cannot use your phone in your hands if you’re driving. That means no texting, holding your phone to your ear to make a phone call, scrolling through social media, and so on. 
  • But, you can make calls using in-built Bluetooth (if your car has this feature) or a Bluetooth headset. And you can use the phone as a satnav, as long as it’s hands-free and not affecting your vision or your ability to drive safely. 

These are just a few examples of do’s and don’ts. To really get to know our road rules, read through the Highway Code before heading out in your car. You can find it online here

What are some common road signs that I’ll come across?

  • Give way - An upside-down white triangle with a red border that usually says ‘GIVE WAY’. This means you need to give way to other traffic unless it’s safe for you to carry on.
  • Stop - a red octagonal sign that says ‘STOP’. You can probably guess what this one means.
  • National Speed Limit - A white circle with a black diagonal line going through it at an angle. On roads with one or two lanes (single carriageways), this means the speed limit is 60mph. On motorways and most dual carriageways, this sign means 70mph is the speed limit.
  • Maximum speed limit - A white circle sign with a red border. This sign tells you what the speed limit is for the road you’re on.
  • Speed cameras - A white rectangle sign with a black border and camera icon in the middle. This sign means there are speed cameras nearby.

Help! How on earth does a roundabout work? 

To avoid roundabout chaos, here are a few tips on how to use one safely:

  • If you’re approaching a roundabout, let traffic that’s already on the roundabout go first.
  • Traffic on the roundabout will always come from the right.
  • Signs and road markings will tell you which lane you need to use, depending on where you’re going.
  • Let other drivers know which way you’re going before you enter the roundabout by using your indicators. Turning left usually means taking the first exit, and turning right usually means taking the third exit (though roundabouts can have as many as seven exits).
  • If you’re travelling straight, you don’t need to indicate as you approach the roundabout. You only need to indicate once you’ve passed the exit before the one you’re taking. 

Anything else I should know?

There will always be things that seem different when you’re driving in a new country. But don’t worry, we’ve put together lots of other information about what to expect when driving in the UK over on our blog. Read it all here

We started Marshmallow to help migrants and expats get more affordable car insurance. We take ALL your driving history into account when we price up your policy, wherever in the world you lived before. That means we can give you the same experience-based discounts as everyone else. So you can spend more on the things that really matter. Why not see how much we could save you? Get a quote