Even before arriving here, practically every expat knows that in the UK we drive on the left hand side of the road. However, that isn’t all you need to know if you want to start driving in Britain or Northern Ireland. Like every other country, you need to be aware of the laws that relate to driving and car ownership, and you will need to make sure that your licence is valid in the UK – which will depend upon where it was issued and whether you intend to drive here for more than 12 months.
Tips for road users
If you are new to driving in this country, we would suggest that you purchase a copy of The Highway Code and familiarise yourself with the rules and laws you will need to know. You can pick up a copy online or at most bookshops. In brief, however:
- You need to be at least 17 years old to drive in the UK
- Seat belts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers in a car
- It is against the law to talk on a mobile phone while driving
- It is against the law to drive under the influence of drugs
- Blood alcohol limits apply and are strictly enforced
- You must drive within the speed limits, which are 30mph in a built-up area, 60mph on a single carriageway road and 70mph on dual carriageways and motorways, unless otherwise indicated.
Are you licensed to drive?
If you have a driving licence issued by a country within the European Economic Area (EEA), you may drive within the UK for as long as that licence is valid. The EEA includes all the EU countries plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway. Non-EEA citizens may drive on their national driving licences for a period of up to 12 months, dating from the start date of their residency in the UK. If, however, you are expecting to stay in the UK for longer, you will be required to sit the UK driving test and obtain a UK driving licence.
The UK driving test consists of a written paper and a practical test behind the wheel. In order to sit the driving test you must be resident in the UK and apply for a provisional licence first. As the UK test includes demonstrating a number of manoeuvres that are not included in the American driving test, US expats are advised to book a couple of lessons beforehand with a professional driving instructor so you know what will be expected of you.
Buying or leasing a car in the UK
For expats who are coming to the UK for just a matter of months, leasing a car may seem to make more sense than buying one – certainly from a financial viewpoint. However, many expats find that without a UK credit history, finding a reputable company to lease them a car will prove difficult. You may be able to find a lease deal if you can prove your income, but it’s unlikely to be financially favourable. If you are employed by a large corporation, speak to your HR department to find out what other newly-arrived expats have done, and whether you can get a company car.
The other alternative, of course, is to buy a car in the UK, either used or new. Given that you are likely to wish to resell the car after a relatively short period of time, we would suggest that you opt for a used car to avoid losing out on the massive amount of depreciation experienced by new cars in the UK market. Typically, a new car will be worth 15 to 20 per cent less the moment you drive it off the forecourt.
All drivers in the UK must, by law, be insured to drive. This is another area that can prove sticky for expat drivers. Experience shows that US expats have found insuring themselves to drive on their US licenses may cost considerably more than insuring a driver with a UK license – so this is one reason to apply for a UK license as soon as you arrive in the country. Furthermore, many UK insurers won’t take into account your driving experience in your home country, and will thus quote you rates of insurance they apply to new drivers. Be sure to ask them about this point and shop around until you find a company that does take your driving experience into consideration. You may find that an independent insurance broker will be able to help you in this area.
If you live in London or one of the UK’s other major cities, you may find that it’s simply not worth your while to invest in a car – if you only need it intermittently, you could probably make do with just short-term car hire as the need arises – or perhaps look into joining a car club. However, if you live further afield or need a car for your work, it may be necessary to find a more permanent solution. Buying a car in a foreign country can be a nerve-racking experience, so if you want to avoid the financial and legal pitfalls, why not take some professional advice from your relocation agent. They will be able to advise you on all matters necessary to get you on the road – from buying or leasing a car to whether your license is valid in the UK and where to go for insurance.
To find out more, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Saunders 1865 and speak to one of our advisors.
Our Settling-In & Orientation Assistance program includes help with all aspects of getting on the road. It also provides many other essential support components to make life a whole lot easier for your UK-bound assignees.