What you need to know about driving in the UK if you’re moving here from the US or a country without reciprocity with the UK.
To start, as a US driver you’ll be used to driving on the right side of the road. One of the biggest challenges is learning to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. But an even bigger obstacle is getting your UK driving license!
Can Americans drive in the UK legally?
- You’re only allowed to drive in the UK with a US driving license for up to 12 months. You’ll need to apply for a full UK license once those 12 months are up and start the licensing process as if you were a beginning driver.
I would advise applying for your UK driving license well before the 12 month period is up so you can continue to drive legally and practice while you’re waiting to take a test. You won’t have to surrender your US driving license.
This is something I wish I’d done! 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 meant I wasn’t able to move forward on getting my UK license for an additional 4 months which meant further delays due to additional lockdowns. It’s been a bit of a nightmare as driving tests have been cancelled due to lockdowns and instructors are backlogged into 2022 because of pent up demand from new drivers.
My advice then is to start as soon as you can – it’s a long involved process and expensive to boot!
What You Need to Get a UK Driving License
First Step – Pass a Theory Test
- The first step is pass a driving theory test, which is a written test on rules of the road, signage and hazard perception. The general rules of the road part of the test are in multiple choice format. The hazard perception portion of the test 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 to get your provisional license.
- The test is taken in a designated Theory test centre and each applicant sits in front of a computer at a designated time. You can study using Youtube videos and online study materials. This is what I used to study .
- You book the theory test online. The cost is £34. ($48.)
- Once you pass your theory test you’ll be given a letter that shows you passed and a provisional license card will be mailed to you within 2 weeks. Hold onto both of these as you’ll need your Driving license number when you book a practical driving test.
- You have two years to take and pass your driving test after you’ve passed the Theory test. If for some reason you don’t pass your driving test within that time, you’ll have to take the Theory test again.
- You’ll need to pass a practical driving test to get a full license which entitles you to drive on your own on any road
- Until you get your full license and while you’re on a provisional license you’ll need a driver who’s had a license for at least 3 years in the car with you at all times.
- You can’t drive on the highway (motorway) while on this license and you must always display L plates (magnetic signs you stick on the front and rear of your car – buy at Halfords)
- Most learner drivers in the UK take driving lessons before booking a driving test. They may also take the test in the instructors car especially if they don’t own a car. Lessons average around £30 ($42.) per lesson which is 1-2 hours. If you buy a block of lessons you may get a better rate.
Third step – Book Driving Test
- Book your practical driving test here. If you’re learning with an instructor and you expect to take the test with them in their car, you’ll need their instructors number when booking so they don’t get double booked.
- You can choose to take the driving test in a manual or auto transmission car. If you take it with manual you’re legally able to drive either auto or manual. With an auto transmission you’re legally only able to drive auto. If you’re from the US you’ve probably always driving automatic. I failed my first test in part because I was trying to take it in a manual transmission car. It’s harder to find instructors who offer lessons in automatics but they can be found. I ended up buying an automatic so I could take the test in that. You can still buy a car and get insurance with a provisional license.
- You can bring your own car to the driving test, or come with a driving instructor in theirs. If you rent a car for the test it has to have dual controls (clutch and brake on passenger side)
- Book a test in advance with enough time to take lessons or practice driving routes near your preferred test center.
- The DVSA doesn’t publish driving routes but you can Google your test center and find a list of possible routes online or your instructor should know which routes the test may take.
- Because the pandemic interrupted tests and instruction there’s currently a backlog wait to book a driving test of 20 weeks or more and some instructors have told me they are fully booked through to 2022. I used an app to help re-book my test and I can highly recommend it to jump the queue – Driving Test Now
Final Step – Take your Driving test
- The driving test starts at a designated driving test center. The test takes 30-40 minutes and consists of driving with a test instructor while following GPS (sat nav) and then an independent driving period.
- 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 current rules.
- 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.)
- The driving test has an average pass rate nationally of 45-50% which tells you that it’s tough to pass!
The best pass rate is among 17 year olds surprisingly and 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. It’s helpful to book a few lessons with an instructor to get a real sense of what the test will require of you. 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.
Be prepared to be very assertive about getting an instructor to sign you up especially if you’re not in the market for a large block of lesson time. Search here for UK driving instructors.
Good luck and let me know if you have any questions.