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How to get a UK driving licence

Driving in the UK can be a bit of a minefield. Anybody who has recently moved here may well be baffled by its odd rules of the road. And it’s true. The UK has many.

From fines for driving too slow to a ban on parking on London pavements, there are many obscure offences that could catch you out. Not to mention roundabouts, the ‘no-no’ of hogging a middle lane and fines for warning other drivers about potential police speed traps.

But it’s worth it. Not only does it get you from A to B and give you a newfound sense of freedom, but driving can also massively help you with potential job prospects. If you have a UK driving licence, you’ll be a much more eligible candidate for potential jobs. In fact, it’s estimated that almost one in six jobs require a UK driving licence.

Let’s not waste any more time then. Here’s how to get your UK driver’s licence.

What do I need to get a UK driving licence?

In order to apply for a UK driving licence, you need to be at least 17 years old. For a lorry or bus, it’s 21 years old. You also need to be a UK resident. This means all foreign nationals need to prove they’ve been living in the country at a permanent address for a minimum of 183 days in the last 12 months.

You’re also legally required to be able to read a licence plate from 20 metres away. So if you wear glasses or contacts, make sure you’re, you know, actually wearing them.

Can I use my existing driving licence in the UK?

If you already have a driving licence issued in another country, you’re in luck. Any person with a valid driving licence in their country of origin can legally drive in the UK for at least 12 months. This applies to designated countries, which include Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Zimbabwe. After this period, you’ll be required to exchange your documents for a UK driving licence. This may mean having to take (and pass) the DVSA’s UK driving test.

And there’s better news for holders of an EU driving licence. Those with a licence issued in the EU/EEA nations can drive until their document expires. You won’t be required to exchange your documents or retake your driving test. Bear in mind though— your driving licence will expire once you turn 70 or you’ve been a UK resident for three years (whichever is longer).  

How do I apply for a UK driving licence?

If you don’t already hold a driving licence issued in another country, you will need to apply for your first provisional UK driving licence to legally drive a moped, motorbike or car in the UK. The application costs £34.

To apply, simply head to the Gov.uk website. You’ll need to be at least 15 years and 9 months old. You’ll also need to be able to read a number plate from 20 metres away. (Time to get those specs out again).

You’ll need to provide an identity document, your national insurance number and any addresses you’ve lived at for the last 3 years. Once your identity has been successfully confirmed, you should receive your provisional licence within 3 weeks. Happy days!

So, what next?

Once you’ve received your provisional licence, it’s time to learn to drive. You can choose to use a professional driving instructor, with lessons roughly costing between £25-30 an hour. Alternatively, you can choose to learn under the supervision of friends and family. They must be 21 years old or older and qualified to drive the vehicle you’re driving in. They must also have held their driving licence for at least 3 years.

According to the RAC, the average person needs around 45 hours of driving lessons and a further 22 hours of practice before they’re ready to take their test. To save money, it’s worth shopping around for driving instructors to see if they offer lesson packages. If you’re really struggling with the costs, there’s always the friends and family supervision option. (Just make sure you don’t pick up any of the bad habits we all inevitably pick up after we’ve passed our tests).

Taking the test

In order to acquire a UK driving licence, you must pass both a theory test and a practical test. The theory test must be taken before your practical test. In fact, it can be taken anytime after you receive your driving licence number from your provisional licence. So, if you’re eager to get things going, book yourself in for a theory test as soon as you think you’re ready.

A theory test comprises a set of multiple-choice questions and a hazard perception video test—both of which need to be passed in order to pass the full test. A theory test for a car or motorbike costs £23. Don’t forget to do your revision. After all, the test pass mark is 86% so it’s worth putting the time in to make sure you’re 100% prepared.

Once you’ve passed your theory test, the next test to pass is the practical exam. This costs £62 on weekdays or £75 on a weekend, evening or Bank Holiday. A good driving instructor will let you know when you’re ready to take your practical test. Be patient with this process. It might be tempting to book in before you’re ready, but failing your test and having to rebook will be a lot more expensive and time-consuming in the long run. Not to mention (very) frustrating. 

You’ll also need to take into account the costs of car hire for your test. If you plan on using your instructor’s car, you’ll need to factor in their time for the test. The actual practical test takes about 40 minutes, but you’ll want to factor in an hour to cover your eyesight check and the ‘show me, tell me’ test. You’ll definitely need your specs on at this point.

How do I pass my practical test?

In order to pass your practical driving test, you need 15 or fewer minor faults and no serious major faults. Minor faults are things that aren’t potentially dangerous—so things like hesitation and incorrect hand positions on the steering wheel, for example. 

Meanwhile, major faults meanwhile are those that cause danger to you, the examiner, the public or property. One of these will render your result a fail. So erm, best to avoid those then (for many reasons). 

At the end of your test, your driving examiner will let you know if you’ve passed your test and will talk you through any minor or major faults. If you pass the first time, well done you! You join an elite group of 47% of people that do.

Most people require two or more attempts to pass, so don’t be too disheartened if you don’t pass the first time. A few more lessons should do it. And once you’re ready to get going again, you can book yourself in for another test. 

You’ve passed!

Once you’ve passed your test, your examiner will give you your pass certificate. They’ll then take your provisional driving licence and send it to the DVLA to be updated for your full driving licence. Usually, it takes about 3 weeks to arrive via post. But don’t worry—you can use your pass certificate in the meantime as evidence you’ve passed. 

So, does this mean you can hit the road as soon as you’ve passed your test? It most certainly does! Just make sure you’re properly insured on the car you’re driving—if you’ve been insured on learner driver insurance up until the point of your test, you’ll need to contact your insurance company to change it or arrange new car insurance altogether.

Don’t forget your car tax too—vehicle tax is a legal requirement and you must have it before driving anywhere. No, seriously.

You’re driving! 

Once you’ve passed and you’re insured and taxed, you’re officially ready to drive by yourself. Wahoo!

Take the time to develop confidence on the road. You may want to consider some P-plates to warn other road users that you’ve recently passed your test. It’s not essential, but it should deter some impatient drivers from getting too close to you or honking their horn if you inevitably make a little road error. (Don’t worry, as long as it’s a minor and nobody gets hurt, it’s all good). 

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2021-06-01

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