Obtaining a UK Driver’s License

The best source of information for obtaining your UK driver’s license is Directgov under the motoring section.  Clicking here allows you to use an interactive tool to help you decide whether or not you need a UK license as a student. If you currently hold a valid US driver’s license, you have 12 months to legally drive in the UK before you need to obtain a UK license.  Because it can take several months to complete the process, it is advised you start the initial stages 3-5 months before your first year has ended.  Here are the various steps to obtaining your UK license:

Provisional License – First you need to get a provisional license.  These are £50 and you can apply online for this document. It will take around 2 weeks for this to be sent to you after ordering it. You may need to visit the DVLA office to have your documents verified before the application can be sent in.

Theory Test – The first major step in obtaining your UK license is taking the theory test.  Please see this for complete information. The theory test has two parts, multiple choice and hazard perception, both of which are taken on the computer at a test center. The fee is £30. You can book this test online through the Directgov website. You may have to book 2-4 weeks in advance to find a suitable time slot. Remember not to book until you think you have had sufficient time to learn all of the information.  To prepare for the theory test, you can read through The Highway Code on-line, purchase a copy online or at a local bookstore, or borrow it from the library. It has extensive rules explained complete with pictures/diagrams, as well as multiple pages of the many signs used on the roads. The DVLA and other companies also have learning DVD’s to help make the process easier so it may be beneficial if you purchase one of these to help you study. Many rules vary from the US, so it is advised you are very familiar with this material before taking your theory test. Should you fail, you will have to repay the fee, rebook and retake the exam.

Driving Lessons with an Instructor – While it is not required that you take lessons with a qualified instructor, many internationals find it very helpful to take several in-car driving lessons so they can learn the specifics of what they will be tested on. Be assured that the standards here are more strict than in the US so it really is time and money well spent to hire an instructor. You can usually book lessons with an instructor once your theory test is booked, or once you have passed your theory test. Driving schools and instructors are plentiful in the area so you will have no problem finding one on-line. You may also want to ask other internationals for referrals.  As you search one that is right for you, make it clear that you have driven for years in the US and just need to know how you will be tested for the practical exam. Ask if they can provide this service for you. Two to six one hour lessons about once a week (giving you time to practice on your own in between) should suffice.  Lessons cost usually around £30-£35 an hour. It may be possible for one spouse to sit in the backseat free of charge to listen to the instruction. Ask if this would be acceptable.  If you already own a car it may be permissible to use your car for your lessons. Also ask your instructor to provide you with a copy of the mark sheet the examiner will use on the test day. This will help you know specifically what they are looking for.

On the test day you will need:

  • a car, of course – either your own or your instructor’s
  • “L” plates – these indicate you are a learner. They can be obtained inexpensively at Poundland and other places around the city. Usually they are magnetic, though, some are actual stickers.
  • an extra review mirror if you are using your own car. This is for the examiner to see what you are seeing behind you. They stick on by suction-cup and can be found at ASDA or Halford’s (though they are much cheaper at ASDA).
  • paperwork – certification letter stating you passed your theory test, your provisional license, and anything else your test date letter might state.
  • a licensed driver. Do not show up by yourself. You can have a friend or your instructor (that you will have to pay) take you. Also, your instructor is allowed to be in the car with you while you take the exam if he/she does not say anything. If this would be comforting to you then request it.

The Practical Test – This is the final step in obtaining your license! For a full description of the practical test, please go here.  The practical exam can also be booked on-line any time after you have passed the theory test.  Depending on the test center you choose (in the Aberdeen area it is either Altons or Bridge of Don), and the day, and time you choose you may have to wait anywhere from 4-8 weeks for a time slot. Please factor this time in when trying to obtain your license before you have been in-country for a year.

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