The UK driving test for expats: Over the course of your first year in the UK, you will need to tackle the UK driving test (unless you happen to have hold driver’s license from a handful of countries, acquired through taking a full test in a stick-shift car – see here). This is a lot more involved than the US test. I highly recommend taking driving lessons, you may be the exception to the rule, but I don’t think anyone can pass it without. If you want to get it all done by the time your license expires, I’d say give yourself at least 4 months to get through the whole process, ideally more. The fail rate is around 50% in most London test centres, so you may well have to schedule a second try.
Here the steps:
1) Apply for a provisional license with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), currently £50. You will need to send in your passport (!!!!!), there’s no way around that. It took 10 days for ours to come back, but the website says it could take up to a month. So make sure you don’t send it when you’re planning to travel outside the country.
2) Once your provisional license has come through, sign up for the written (aka theory) test. There are test centres all over the country, so you can pick one near you. It currently costs £31. Then study up – rules are different in the UK, and the test includes a ‘Hazard Perception’ test – worth getting some experience with these. There are many online providers for test preparation – I happened to use this site, and it worked for me. Comes with App option.
3) Schedule driving lessons. I googled ‘driving school’. Lessons came in at around £25 per hour. Your instructor will give you an idea of how many lessons you are likely to need – I’d say a minimum of 5 hours even for the best of drivers, plus a bunch of driving on your own to practice the routes around the driving test centres (as long as you are still within 12 months of having entered, and have a valid US license). It’s those scary-as-hell roundabouts…. So let’s say this will cost you around £150.
For tips on the practical aspects of driving in the UK, I found this (free) site very helpful: www.drivingtesttips.biz, especially the driving test tutorials and the section on what to expect on the test day.
[You can drive even if you don’t have a US license, with magnetic ‘L’ plates stuck to your car – but you’ll need someone in the passenger seat who has held a UK license for at least 2 years.]
4) When you get close to comfortable with London roads, sign up for the driving (practical) test, for your local test centre, currently for £62. This is also the area you’ll have criss-crossed with your instructor. It’s very likely that dates are booked out some 2 months in advance. If you are in a hurry, keep checking that website – people drop out and much earlier slots become available (and disappear again quickly). You could take the test in your own car, but that’s not the one you’ll have practised in (and you need to install a second rearview mirror for the examiner) – so likely, you’ll opt for your instructors car. In my case, the booking included a short lesson before the test, and hiring costs for the car during the test, for a total of £65.
5) Good luck!!! Pass rates differ between test centres. A quick look at London shows around 33% for Wanstead in the NE, to 51% in Tolworth in the South. If you get it this time, you’ll have spent around £270 on the experience.
6) If you fail, try again. Annoying, but it’s happened to the best of us ; ). In my case, for driving too confidently… I took one more lesson, and then another test for a grand total of £420 from start to finish. Ouch.