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How Legal is a UK Driving License Abroad

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Exploring the country by motorhome is a liberating experience, but you might have the itch to cross the border and drive your motorhome abroad. Although this is an exciting way to travel, it also needs extensive preparation.

Some details to consider are your passport and visa, how long you’ll be staying, and the country’s driving regulations. For example, if you’re from the UK, many countries will require you to drive on the opposite side of the road. Automatic motorhomes are also widely preferred for their convenience, but their availability varies from country to country. They’re less common in Australia, while all of the motorhomes in US and Canada are automatic.  

Main Documents for Driving

To avoid legal inconveniences, make sure that you have all of the proper documents before leaving. Aside from your passport, the most important document that you should always have is your driver’s license. It serves as your proof of identification, and in some countries, it’s all you need to start driving. A pink plastic photocard license enjoys more validity abroad than a green paper-only license, so upgrading is a must if you only have a paper license.

For countries that don’t accept a UK driving license, you’ll have to obtain an international driving permit (IDP). Like the standard license, it’s proof of your ability to drive. The difference is that the information in the permit is translated into several languages, so foreign officials can easily read it.

IDPs are available in local post offices and motoring organisations. When you apply, bring your driver’s license along. An IDP only costs £5.50, and although it’s valid for a year, you should use it for travel within three months. On your abroad trip, be ready with both your IDP and driver’s license.  

Driving in EU Countries

In general, the UK driver’s license is valid in around 30 countries that are part of the EU or European Economic Area (EEA) as well as Switzerland. 

However, Brexit makes the rules a bit more complicated. Although it will only be finalised on Oct. 31, 2019, whatever is decided on that day will affect the validity of the UK driver’s license throughout the EU. If the UK separates from the EU with a deal, then you can continue using your license freely in the EU.

On the other hand, if the deal doesn’t happen, some EU countries may require an IDP. The government is very much aware of this possibility, and it promises to take steps so that eventually, EU countries will still honour the license even after Brexit. Until that happens, people will have to settle for obtaining IDPs. To get to an EU country, you’ll have to drive past several others, after all, so an IDP is more or less unavoidable.

There are three types of IDPs, depending on the abroad country that you’ll be in: 1968, 1949, and 1926. 1949 only applies to Andorra and Cyprus, while 1926 is for Liechtenstein. The 1968 IDP covers all of the other countries.

Notably, at least 20 EU countries have already made arrangements with the UK, giving their word that they won’t require an IDP even after Brexit. These countries include Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, and Switzerland. Some countries such as Germany and Austria will only honour a UK photocard driving license, though.

For the full list of each EU countries’ projected license or IDP requirements after Brexit, check out this detailed government page.

Driving in Non-EU Countries

Most countries outside the EU will only allow you to drive if you have an IDP. Japan, Brazil, and India are only a few of the countries where a UK driver’s license isn’t enough.

On the bright side, there are three countries outside the EU where you won’t be breaking the law if you don’t have an IDP: US, Canada, and Australia. In the US and Australia, you can use your license for a maximum stay of 3 months, while Canada is more flexible, allowing for 3-6 months. But even though police won’t be pulling you over in these countries for lacking an IDP, motorhome companies are increasingly tightening up their policies, and they may only be willing to assist you or lend you a motorhome if you show your IDP.      

To avoid any inconveniences when borrowing a motorhome (or making any sort of transaction with rental companies), it’s overall safer to obtain an IDP.

Moving to an EU Country

As you’d guess, the original EU arrangement made it possible for you to use your local license even when you relocate to another EU country. This remains valid until the finalised Brexit on October 2019. Similar to the scenario for tourists, those who relocate may no longer be able to use their UK license.

IDPs are only meant for temporary stays. If you’re relocating, exchange your UK license for a local license. The process is fairly straightforward, provided that you can prove that you’re a resident of the non-UK country and your license has no complications.

Conclusion

Before the Brexit fully takes place, you can still drive around the EU with only your UK photocard license. However, after the Brexit, watch out for further announcements and expect that you’ll have to file for an IDP. Although countries outside the EU such as Canada, Australia, and US require only a UK driver’s license, an IDP is great to bring along for dealing with motorhome rental companies.    

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