Can I drive in the UK?

Updated on 30 December 2020


This page provides brief information on what you need to do before driving a car in the UK.  It is important to note that sometimes there are different rules for Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK. We highlight where this is the case below.

Image of a miniature car sitting on a UK map
(c) Shutterstock / ivosar

If you want to drive a car in the UK, there are certain things you need to be aware of and do in order to do so legally. In broad terms, both you and the vehicle must have a licence, you must have insurance, the car must be safe to drive and the car must also be taxed.

Basic information

When you come to the UK to live or work, you are allowed to bring your car (or other motor vehicle) with you if you comply with certain requirements.

If you decide to buy a used car when you are in the UK, it is up to you to check what you are buying. You can find information on what to look for from the Automobile Association (AA). The previous owner will notify the DVLA that they have sold the car to you and the DVLA should send you a V5C registration certificate (also known as a logbook) – you should keep this safe. You can find information on what to do if you do not receive your V5C on GOV.UK.

In the UK, we drive on the left. There may be different speed limits, rules and customs in the UK to what you are used to, and you must be familiar with them before you drive on UK roads. The Government produces a Highway Code that details the requirements for all road users in the UK. You can find more information in the question below.

The rest of this page tells you what you must do to understand your legal obligations as a driver in the UK. These include having a valid insurance policy covering the car in the UK, having an MOT (this is a certificate that the car is roadworthy) if the car is more than three years old (or more than four years old in Northern Ireland) and having a valid driving licence. In addition, you must tax your car. You can find more information about driving in the UK on GOV.UK.

What if I have a foreign driving licence?

If you wish to drive in Great Britain (England, Scotland or Wales) and you have a foreign driving licence, you need to check whether or not you are allowed to drive with your non-GB licence, and if so, for how long.

The tool on GOV.UK explains the rules which apply to you depending on which country your licence is from.

It is often the case that you can drive on a foreign licence for a while, but then need to change it for a UK one. If you need to exchange your foreign driving licence for a British licence, you can use the tool on GOV.UK to find out how to do this.

If you are in Northern Ireland, you should check nidirect.

Vehicle tax

If you own a car in the UK, you usually have to tax it; otherwise it is illegal to drive it. There are some exemptions, for example if you are disabled or if your car is ‘historic’. There is more information on GOV.UK.

This is known as vehicle tax or 'road tax' (previously evidenced by a 'tax disc'). The cost of the vehicle tax usually depends on the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of the car. You can use a tool on GOV.UK to work out how much your vehicle tax will be.

You can apply for vehicle tax on GOV.UK in Great Britain and Northern Ireland (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). GOV.UK provides information on other ways of applying to pay vehicle tax such as the Post Office. The DVLA will check things like whether your car has a valid MOT and insurance cover before allowing the vehicle to be taxed.

The DVLA should send you a V11 or V85/1 renewal reminder when your vehicle tax is due to run out. You can find information on how to tax your car without this, for example, if you lost it, on GOV.UK.

You should note that if you buy a second-hand car in the UK, the previous owner’s vehicle tax will be cancelled and they will be sent a refund for any full months remaining – it is not possible to transfer it to you anymore. You will then have to tax the car yourself, which you can do using the New Keeper Supplement (V5C/2) if you have just bought the vehicle and are waiting for the ownership to be transferred. You can find more information about vehicle tax refunds on GOV.UK.

Since October 2014, the DVLA no longer issues paper tax discs to display in your windscreen. The details of your tax cover are held electronically by the DVLA instead – police cameras automatically check a car’s licence plate to establish whether vehicle tax has been paid.

Do I have to insure my car?

If you own a car in the UK, it is a legal requirement that you insure the vehicle. There is more information on vehicle insurance on GOV.UK.

This may be a different situation than in other countries, where sometimes the driver is insured, rather than the vehicle. This is not the case in the UK, so it is important to understand the rules before you borrow someone’s car or lend your car to someone else.

What is an MOT test?

An MOT is a Ministry of Transport test. If you own a vehicle that you drive on the roads in the UK, you must keep it in a roadworthy condition. The MOT test checks that your car meets basic road safety and environmental standards.

You normally have to get an MOT test for your car on an annual basis once it is three years old (or more than four years old in Northern Ireland).

There is more information on the MOT test on GOV.UK.

What is the Highway Code?

The Highway Code sets out rules for all users of roads, including drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders. Many of the rules are legal requirements – if you break those rules, you commit a criminal offence. You can find the whole Highway Code as it applies to England, Scotland and Wales on GOV.UK.

If you live in Northern Ireland, you should look at the information on the Highway Code from nidirect.

Where can I find more help and information?

You can find more information on GOV.UK about driving in England, Scotland and Wales.

You can find more information from nidirect about driving in Northern Ireland.

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