Getting a UK drivers licence

30 March 2015

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With my NSW drivers licence approaching its expiry date, I had to make a decision - do I renew it or trade it in for a UK drivers licence?

I did some research and found that while you can renew a NSW drivers licence overseas (by filling in a form and having it signed by a witness at the Australian Embassy), they will only deliver your new licence to the address in Australia to which your current licence is registered. This seemed like more trouble than it was worth and since my visa will allow me at least another 2.5 years in the UK it made sense to obtain a UK drivers licence instead.

Exchanging your licence

I’ve held a full NSW drivers licence for five years so I had no desire to take another driving test here in the UK! Thankfully, Australians can exchange their licence for a UK one. (If you are from Europe or one of a few other designated countries you can also do this.)

To apply to exchange your licence you will need the following:

  • A D1 Application For Driving Licence form. You can request this form online and it will be mailed to you, or you can pick one up from your local post office.
  • A recent passport size photo
  • Your current foreign drivers licence
  • Your passport (including your visa)
  • A cheque or postal order for £43 made out to “DVLA, Swansea”

Sending your application form

Unlike in Australia, the UK does not have licensing centres where you can take your licence application (there were some a few years ago but they’ve all been closed down). Instead, you need to mail your application form to the DVLA office in Swansea along with the supporting documents listed above. Yes, you need to send your passport and current drivers licence. There’s no option for an express application so I was faced with the prospect of having no form of photo ID and not being able to leave the country for approximately 3 weeks. I left a two month gap in my travel plans just in case there were any delays with getting my passport back.

The DVLA won’t take responsibility if your passport gets lost in the mail so I made sure to send my application by special delivery. This guarantees next day delivery and provides compensation cover for up to £500 for loss or damage. I also included a self-addressed return special delivery envelope - if you don’t do this the DVLA will mail your passport back without any form of tracking or guarantee. As an extra precaution I made copies of all the pages in my passport and my licence card - maybe I’m just super paranoid but with a visa I think you can never be too careful.

One thing I did forget to do before mailing my application was to write my name and date of birth on the back of the postal order (payment slip). This is just in case it somehow gets separated from your application form the DVLA can easily match the two up again. In the end it didn’t matter but for peace of mind don’t forget this step.

The waiting game

With the special delivery, my application arrived at the DVLA office the next day. It took a little over a week to receive my passport and brand new UK drivers licence in the mail - a lot quicker than the suggested 3 week turnaround. The DVLA don’t return your foreign drivers licence.

The fee change

I requested DVLA send me the application late last year, however due to needing my passport for upcoming travel plans I didn’t submit the application until March. The information accompanying the form suggested that the licence fee was £50 so this is the amount I sent via postal order with my application form. However, sometime between when I received the form and when I mailed off my application, DVLA reduced the licence fee to £43. About a week after I got my passport back I received a cheque from DVLA for £7. Until I received the cheque I had no idea I had overpaid, props to the DVLA for refunding the extra amount. It’s definitely worth checking the DVLA website to make sure you get the most up to date information!

What about Australia?

It does feel a bit strange no longer having an Australian drivers licence but I’m still able to drive in Australia on a UK licence when I go back home and if I were to move back to NSW getting a new licence there is pretty straight forward. I could probably even get one next time I pop back for a visit but I’m not sure its worth paying the licence fee for something I wouldn’t be using.

I like that I now have an official form of ID in the UK so I don’t have to worry about having to carrying around my passport for simple things like going to a bar or conducting bank transactions. Does this mean I’m edging closer to becoming an honorary Brit?



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