Life in England

Can Americans Drive in the UK? How to get a UK Driving License.

Updated December 31, 2022

How to Get a UK Driving License.

If you’re a British resident who’s never driven OR a new resident needing a UK driving license, these are the steps to take.

  1. Apply for a Provisional license
  2. Practice driving with an instructor or UK driving license holder
  3. Study and pass a Driving Theory Test at a Theory Test Centre
  4. Book a Driving Test at a Driving Test Centre
  5. Pass a Practical Driving Test within 2 years of passing the Driving Theory test
  6. Receive your permanent Driving License

UK driving license

Not American? Find out if you’re eligible to exchange your foreign driving license for a UK license without taking a test.

Is it Legal for Americans to Drive in the UK?

  • You’re  allowed to drive in the UK  for up to 12 months with your US driving license.
  • Once those 12 months are up , you’ll need to apply for a full UK license and start the licensing process as if you were a beginning driver.
  • I advise applying for your UK driving license well before the 12 month period is up to allow you to drive and practice legally while you’re waiting to take a test.
  • You won’t have to surrender your US driving license.

When I first moved to England, I didn’t intend to get a car but then the pandemic happened just as my 12 months was up. It took another 4 months before I was able to move forward on getting my UK driving license and the whole process took me about 6 months because I had to keep re-taking the test! My advice is to start as soon as you can.

UK Driving License Tips for Americans In the UK

Watch my video on UK Driving License Tips


How to Get Your UK Driving License

1. Apply for a Provisional License

2. Practice Driving

  • Once you receive your Provisional license you can start practice driving.
  • You’ll need a passenger who’s had a UK driving license for at least 3 years in the car with you at all times.
  • You can’t drive on highways (motorways) while on this license
  • You must display L plates. These are magnetic signs you stick on the front and rear of your car. (can be purchased at multiple locations, online or at Halfords)
  • Hire a driving instructor. Most learner drivers in the UK take driving lessons to prepare for the practical driving test at this point. If you don’t own a car, you can take lessons and the test in the instructors car. Lessons average around £30 ($42.) per lesson which is 1-2 hours. You may get a better rate buying a block of lessons. Your chances of passing are better if you get a good driving instructor who teaches you how to pass the test.

3. Pass a Theory Test

  • The next step is to pass a driving theory test, which is a written test on rules of the road, signage and hazard perception.
  • Study for the test using Youtube videos and online study materials like these which is what I used.
  • Book the theory test online (the cost is £34. ($48.) once you feel ready.
  • The test is taken in a designated Theory test centre and each applicant sits in front of a computer at the designated time you’re given when you book online.
  • The general rules of the road section is in multiple choice format. The hazard perception portion is a series of videos you watch, clicking on the mouse when you perceive a “hazard” situation.
  • You need to correctly answer 43 out of 50 questions on the the theory portion of the test to pass and 44 out of 75 questions on the hazard test to pass. You must pass both portions of the test.
  • Once you’ve passed the theory test you have up to 2 years to pass your practical driving test. If you don’t pass within 2 years, you’ll need to take the Theory test again.
  • As soon as you pass your theory test you’ll be given a letter that shows you passed. Hold onto this and your Provisional License as you’ll need your Driving license number to book the practical driving test.

4. Book a Practical Driving Test

  • When you feel you’re ready, book your practical driving test here. If you expect to take the test with your instructor  you can add their instructors number to the booking. 
  • Allow enough time before your test date to continue to practice driving routes around and near your designated test center.
  • You can take the driving test in a manual (standard) OR auto transmission car. If you take it with manual you’re legally able to drive either auto or manual. Pass with an auto transmission and you’re only able to drive an automatic. I bought an automatic car so I could take the test in it.
  • It’s harder to find instructors who offer lessons in automatics but they can be found.
  • You can buy a car and get insurance with a provisional license.
  • You may drive your own car to the driving test. You’ll still need to drive with a passenger, per the rules.
  • If you rent a car for the test it has to have dual controls (clutch and brake on passenger side). But your own car isn’t required to have dual controls.
  • The DVSA doesn’t publish driving routes but Google your test center to see what routes are published online. Some apps may suggest driving routes and you may find local videos on Youtube. Your local driving instructor should know which routes the test may take.

5. Take your Practical Driving test

  • Your test begins at the designated driving test center where you booked an appointment and can take 30-40 minutes.
  • You’ll drive with a test examiner while you follow GPS (sat nav) instructions as well as an independent driving period where the examiner will give you directions.
  • You’ll also be asked questions related to Show Me Tell Me about how your car operates.
  • You may need to wear a mask depending on what rules are in place at the time you take your exam.
  • If you have a major fault while driving, the examiner will have you return to the test center right away.
  • If you don’t pass your test the first time, you need to wait at least 2 weeks before booking another test. The test fee is £62 ($87.)
  • I used an app to help re-book my tests  and I highly recommend it – Driving Test Now
  • The driving test has an average pass rate nationally of 45-50% which tells you that it’s tough to pass! 
  • When you pass, give your Provisional license to the test examiner, they will send it in to the DVLA and you’ll receive your UK Driving license in the mail.

Surprisingly the best pass rate is among 17 year olds.  Apparently the older you get the harder it is to pass! I think if you’ve driven for many years you learn certain habits which, while safe, may not be what the test instructors are looking for.

t’s very helpful to book a few lessons with an instructor to get a real sense of what the test will require of you. Keep looking until you find an instructor you feel comfortable with and trust. I went through 5-6 instructors and the last one I found was the best. He focused on what it would take to help me pass the test. It’s more important to learn to pass the test than focus on driving skills.

Search here for UK driving instructors.

The word to remember is “safety”. Everything you do has to be considered “safe driving”…. from checking your mirrors and blind spots to making sure you don’t create a hazard for another driver. If you have one “serious” fault, you’ll fail the test. 


About Author

With over 30 years in a creative role in advertising and publishing, and a lifetime of journeys between the US and UK, I've created Hipoverfifty for you. I hope my journey and perspective will guide you on yours.