Motoring – Check Your Employees Driving Licences

Vehicle Category Descriptions 1

Holders of Overseas Licences

Checking the driving licences of drivers from outside the UK is very important, as different restrictions apply to different countries, and further caveats and restrictions exist in addition to those outlined in this section.

The best policy is to check all foreign licences very carefully and seek assistance from the DVLA where necessary. The DVLA’s website at contains a lot of information about driving in the UK on foreign licences and will provide you with a good starting-point for checking drivers’ eligibility. You may also find it useful to contact the UK-based embassy of the country in which the licence was issued, to check that the licence is still current and valid. Often, embassies can supply official translations of licences, if needed.

Defining residency

The rules governing eligibility for driving in the UK for visitors or new residents depend upon their country of origin and the type of vehicle they wish to drive.

The term ‘resident’ is not, in fact, explicitly defined in British legislation for the purposes of driving licences. However, it is a prerequisite for obtaining a UK licence that the applicant ‘meets the relevant residency requirement’ highlighted in Section 89(1a) of the 1988 Road Traffic Act (as amended).

The term ‘normal residence’ is defined in relevant European legislation, in Article 9 of the second EC Directive on Driving Licences (91/439/EEC), which states:

“This is used to help define residency for EC/EEA nationals. For the purpose of this Directive, ‘normal’ residence means the place where a person usually lives, that is for at least 185 days in each calendar year, because of personal or occupational ties; or in the case of a person with no occupational ties, because of personal ties which show close links between that person and the place where he is living.”

While the term ‘normally resident’ is not defined for drivers who hold non-EC/EEA driving licences, it is possible that a court might take the definition contained in the second EC directive into consideration in determining the individual’s status.

The DVLA notice INF 38 states:

“Your country of normal residence is taken to mean the place where you usually live and have personal and/or occupational ties. A visitor’s stay in this country must be of a temporary nature and the driver must be normally resident outside the UK.”

European Community/ European Economic Area

If a driver comes from the European Community/European Economic Area (which includes all countries in the EU, as well as Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway), their Community licence has similar eligibility to the UK licence. If they hold a valid Community licence and are visiting Britain, they can drive any vehicle categories/class(es) for which full entitlement is shown on the Community licence, for as long as that licence remains valid.

For new residents, ordinary licence holders may drive on their Community licence until aged 70, or for three years after becoming resident, whichever is the longer period. Alternatively, they can apply to the DVLA to exchange their licence for a UK licence. Exchanging the licence will also give the driver access to the fixed penalty system for road traffic offences, instead of them having to go to court.

Community vocational licence holders, with entitlement to drive minibuses, buses or vehicles over 3,500 kg, who live in Britain must, by law, register their details with the DVLA. Holders of these licences have greater restrictions based on age:

  • drivers under 45 can drive on their Community licence up to the age of 45 or for five years after becoming resident, whichever is the longer period
  • drivers over 45 but under 65 can drive until their 66th birthday or for five years after becoming resident, whichever is the shorter period
  • drivers over 65 can drive for just 12 months after becoming resident

Once an age or time limit is met, the driver must obtain a UK driving licence.

The medical standards for obtaining a Community licence are similar to those that apply for UK licences. Residents must report any change in medical conditions to the DVLA. If you are in any doubt about entitlement to drive, contact the DVLA.

Northern Ireland

Drivers from Northern Ireland can exchange a full car licence issued on or after 1st January 1976 for a UK licence, or a bus and lorry licence issued on or after 1st April 1986.

British external countries and designated countries (non-EC)5

There are a number of designated, non-EC countries to which a different set of rules apply. These countries are listed in Appendix E. Visitors from these countries who hold a full ordinary licence from their country of origin, are entitled to drive vehicles up to 3,500kg with up to 8 passenger seats, for up to 12 months from the date of entering Britain. If the licence covers medium-sized or large lorries or buses, drivers are only entitled to drive vehiclesthat have been registered outside of Britain and which they have driven temporarily into the country.

To ensure a continuous entitlement to drive, visitors must exchange their original licence for a UK one before the 12-month period elapses. If an exchange is not made within 12 months, the individual must not drive, although they may still apply to exchange their licence any time within five years of becoming resident.

For new residents from these countries, their foreign licence is valid for 12 months for cars, mopeds and motorcycles. To ensure continuous driving entitlement, the original licence must be exchanged for a UK one within this period, otherwise the licence becomes invalid and they cannot drive on public roads.

Holders of vocational driving licences from designated countries must pass the relevant UK driving test before driving medium-sized or large vehicles or passenger carrying vehicles, with the exception of drivers from Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man. A driving licence from a designated country can be exchanged for a UK licence up to five years after taking up residency, but driving must cease after 12 months until the full UK licence is obtained.

A number of other caveats apply to certain designated countries, such as the requirement for licences from Japan and the Republic of Korea to be accompanied by an official translation (usually available from the relevant embassy). If you are dealing with employees from designated countries, seek clarification and advice from the DVLA.

5 The British external countries are Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man.

All other countries

Drivers from all other countries cannot exchange a foreign licence for a UK licence. However, a visitor with a full, valid licence may drive a vehicle up to 3,500 kg with up to eight passenger seats in Britain for up to 12 months, as long as the licence or International Driving Permit remains valid. Drivers of medium-sized and large vehicles are only entitled to drive vehicles that have been registered outside Britain and which they have driven temporarily into the country.

New residents who hold ordinary vehicle licences may drive on these foreign licences for up to 12 months. To ensure continuous entitlement to drive, they must obtain a provisional UK licence and pass the appropriate driving tests within this 12-month period. During this time, the usual restrictions on the UK provisional licence do not apply (i.e. they do not need to display ‘L’ plates, may drive on motorways and need not be accompanied by a qualified driver) but, if a full UK licence is not obtained within the 12 months, standard provisional licence conditions will come into effect.

If a provisional UK licence is not applied for in the first 12 months, all driving must cease until a provisional licence has been obtained. Again, in these circumstances, provisional licence restrictions will apply. Vocational licence holders taking up residency may not drive medium-sized or large vehicles until they have passed all the relevant UK driving tests.

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