Planning a trip to the UK can be fun and daunting, especially when it comes to transportation. Driving in the UK has its own quirks, just like driving in any country. If you’re staying in the UK for any length of time, you may want to consider using your own car, especially if you live within driving distance of the UK.
But how to drive a foreign car in the UK? If you are not a resident of the United Kingdom, you can drive a foreign car without registering it in the UK for up to 6 months. If you are a resident of the UK, you are not allowed to drive any car that is not registered in the UK with only a few exceptions.
Whether you are a UK resident looking to import your dream car or a non-UK resident planning the trip of a lifetime, I have all the information you need to know about how to drive a foreign car in the UK.
How to Use a Foreign Car in the UK If You Are Visiting
If you are simply planning a short visit to the United Kingdom, then you are in luck because the UK makes it easy for visitors to use their own cars on UK roads. There is very little you will have to do to be able to travel to the UK with your foreign registered car.
The United Kingdom allows all non-residents to use their foreign cars in the United Kingdom for up to six months as long as that car is registered and legal in the country where you are a resident, and the car is covered by insurance. (source)
It is important to note that the six-month allowance does not need to be consecutive. If you are driving your car in the UK for six months total, no matter how many times you leave the UK, you must go through the process of registering the car, paying associated taxes, and getting insurance in the UK.
This can pose a problem for people who travel to the United Kingdom frequently for business or to visit family. To drive legally in the UK, you will need to keep track of how many days you spend there throughout the year.
So, if you are planning a trip to the United Kingdom, then you will probably be fine to drive your foreign registered car, but here are some requirements your car must meet and some things to consider like how you will get the car to the UK and whether you have enough insurance on it.
There are some requirements that you and your car must meet in order for you to use it in the United Kingdom. In most cases, these requirements will not be difficult to meet and are rather reasonable. (source)
- The car must be registered to the driver, or the driver must have proof that they are allowed to use the car. This is to help prevent the theft of foreign vehicles.
- The registration number must be displayed on the front and back of the car.
- Registration numbers need to be displayed in Latin characters and Arabic numbers so those police officers can read it.
- There must be some sign of what country the vehicle is registered in on the rear of the car. This can be added to the car specifically for your trip or be a part of the registration number.
- The car must be legal and safe for road use in the country where it is registered.
Essentially if you are legally driving your car in your country of residence, then you can legally drive it in the UK for a short visit without issue.
Transporting the Car
First make sure that you really want to bring your own car with you. If you’re only going to the UK for a short vacation and visiting primarily urban destinations, bringing your own car may just be an added headache.
If you are committed to bringing your foreign car to the UK, you will need to figure out how you are going to get it there.
If you’re coming from Europe, you can have your car transported (with you in it) by train on the Channel tunnel. It costs about £49 per vehicle. Not bad considering you can fit your whole family in the car, and the crossing only takes about 35 minutes.
You can also take a ferry depending on where you are coming from, but this will take much longer than taking the Channel tunnel.
If you live outside of Europe or you are not travelling across Europe in your car to get to the UK, then you will need to have the car shipped through a shipping company. This would be the case if you were from the United States or Australia, and probably only cost-effective if you are making a permanent move.
Before you get to the UK make sure that you have parking available for your car. This is especially true if you are travelling to a busy urban area like London. Parking comes at a premium in some areas.
Check with wherever you are staying that there will be a place for your car to park.
Driving on the Left Side
An estimated 35% of the world’s population drives on the left side of the road, and the United Kingdom is one of these places. If you’re from a country that drives on the left side of the road, then your transition to driving in the UK will be much easier.
If you’re used to driving on the right side of the road, then you’re going to experience a learning curve. Most people find driving on the left side a fairly easy transition, but it does take some getting used to. You’ll be surprised at how different it feels!
You can use your right-hand traffic car, as in a car that is designed to be driving on the right side of the road, in the UK. You can even register a right-hand traffic car in the UK if you need to. However, it can be more difficult to get used to driving on the left side of the road if you’re still using your right-hand traffic car.
Here are some tips if you’re used to driving on the right-hand side of the road:
- Place a reminder on your dashboard like a post-it note that says “drive on the left!” It may seem silly, but it can be really helpful.
Most of us spend enough time behind the wheel that the process of driving becomes second nature. We hardly need to think about it at all, but this can get you into trouble when you are still getting used to driving on the left side.
- Before your trip, try practising simple manoeuvres like parking and turning in an empty parking lot. This will give you a chance to work out any initial issues you might experience in a safe environment instead of the first time you pull onto a road in the UK.
- Avoid bringing a manual transmission. This is especially true if you aren’t used to driving a manual transmission vehicle. You don’t need to be thinking about shifting gears when you’re getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road and traffic signs and laws you aren’t used to.
- If possible, start your trip someplace that does not have heavy traffic so that you can adjust to this different way of driving without the stress of traffic.
- If you come across any traffic circles, and you probably will as they are very common in the UK, remember that traffic flows counterclockwise. You will need to turn left when entering a traffic circle.
- Look up the most important traffic laws and what traffic signs mean in the UK so that you don’t unintentionally break any traffic laws. This will allow you to focus on driving on the left side instead of deciphering signs.
- For your first trip, make sure you have mapped out where you’re going or that you have a GPS so that everything goes as smoothly as possible.
Check Your Insurance
To drive any car in the UK, you must have valid car insurance. If you use a rental car, the car will come with at least the minimum amount of insurance required. You can often choose to add extra insurance for an added fee.
As long as your car is insured in the country where it is registered and that insurance covers you during international trips, you will not need to make any changes to your car insurance. If your insurance does not cover international trips, you will need to add that coverage to your policy.
You do not need to get the insurance that is authorized to provide insurance in the UK unless you are in the United Kingdom for more than 6 months or if you are a resident of the UK. Essentially, if you need to go through the car registration process, you will need to switch the insurance as well.
Paperwork when Traveling by a Foreign Car in the United Kingdom
When you are travelling in the UK with a foreign-registered car, you will need to make sure that you keep proof that you are doing it legally in the car with you at all times to you to prevent your car from being confiscated.
This will include your driver’s license, registration paperwork, proof of insurance, and any proof you have of the day you entered the UK with your vehicle. If you got an exemption from the HMRC so that you would not have to register your car in the UK, then you should also have that available.
If you are driving a car that is not your own, you will also need to prove that you have permission to use the car.
How Long Can I Drive in the UK with a Foreign Driver’s License?
Registering your car is not the only thing you have to think about when driving in the UK as a non-resident.
- As the law currently stands, no matter where you are from, you are allowed to drive in the UK for up to 12 months if you have a driver’s license from any country.
- If you have a license issued by a country that is a member of the EU or EEA, you can use that license in the UK until it expires.
- If you have an EU license because you exchanged it with a non-EU license, you can only use it for 12 months before getting a UK license.
- If you have an exchangeable international license, you can use it for up to 12 months before you must exchange it for a UK license without taking a driving test.
- If you are in the UK for over 12 months and you do not have an EU, EEC, or exchangeable driver’s license, you will need to take a driver’s test to obtain a UK driver’s license and be allowed to continue driving in the UK.
You do not need to get an International Driving Permit, but if your license is in a language other than English, you may find it useful to have one in the event that you are pulled over for a traffic violation.
- An International Driving Permit is essentially a translation of your driving credentials into several different languages.
When Do You Have to Register a Foreign Vehicle?
As I said above, if you are a resident of the UK, then you will need to register your foreign car right away regardless of how long you expect to use it in the UK. There is no loophole in the law that allows you to get around this.
Some erroneously think that by leaving the UK every six months, you can avoid having to register the car in the UK, but this is not the case for a number of reasons. (source)
First of all, the wording of the law is clear. If you are a resident of the UK and import foreign care, you must register your car in the UK and pay all necessary taxes that are associated with that.
Secondly, for residents, there is not a six-month grace period for registering the car. You have to register an imported car within two weeks of its arrival in the UK, and you are not permitted to drive it before it is registered.
If you are planning on visiting the UK with your car, but you are not planning to take the car back out of the UK when you leave, then you must register the car in the UK. For example, if you are visiting a vacation home, and you intend to leave your car at the vacation home while you are not there, it must be registered in the UK.
If you become a resident while you are visiting the UK, you will need to register your vehicle in the UK. For example, if you decide to stay in the UK long term after finishing a course of study.
Additionally, it is important to note that a UK resident cannot even drive a car that is owned by a non-resident unless it is registered in the UK. Seriously, there are loopholes!
Who is Considered a Resident of the United Kingdom?
To be considered a resident of the United Kingdom, you must reside in the UK for 185 days out of a tax year (source). This is just a few days over half a year. This means someone who travels to the UK for one week out of the month through the entire year is not a resident.
If your residency status changes while you are in the UK, then you will need to go through the process for importing a car into the UK immediately.
If you are not a resident, but your car is in the UK for more than 6 months out of 12 months, then you need to register it in the UK.
A police officer may consider you to be a resident if you have a UK driver’s license, bank card, and employment in the UK (source). If you are not a resident, you must be able to prove it. Be sure to keep documentation that supports this claim.
There are some very specific exceptions to these rules that allow a UK resident to drive a foreign car in the UK.
The most commonly used exception is for rental vehicles. If you drive a rental vehicle from another country in the UK, you will not be violating any laws as a resident of the UK. This allows UK residents to travel freely. Meaning, a UK resident could fly to France, and return to the UK using a rental car registered in France.
Diplomatic vehicles are also exempt from following the same rules as other vehicles that drive in the UK long term. A diplomatic vehicle is allowed to drive on UK roads with foreign registration without being subjected to the same requirements as other vehicles.
If you work in a country that is part of the EU, you can temporarily use a company vehicle in the UK that is registered in your employer’s country. You also do not need to worry about breaking the law in this case.
Students and temporary workers residing in the UK for a fixed period longer than 6 months may also be exempt from needing to register their car in the UK. They will need to apply to the HMRC for an exemption before or upon arrival. (Source)
How to Register a Foreign Car in the UK
If you are a resident or become a resident of the UK, then you must register your car in the United Kingdom, and if you plan on staying in the UK for more than 6 months, it is a good idea to register your car sooner rather than later.
To register a car in the United Kingdom as a resident, you will need to go through the process of importing the car.
First, you will need to notify HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). If you import the car from the EU, you will need to notify HMRC using the Notification of Vehicle Arrivals service. If you import the car from outside of the EU, you will need to use form C384. (source)
After you submit the proper paperwork, the HMRC will tell you if you have to pay a Value Added Tax (VAT) or duty and will notify you when your application has been processed so that you can proceed with the next steps.
You will not have to pay a VAT if you have already paid a VAT in another EU country, the car has been used for more than 6 months, AND the vehicle has been driven more than 6,000 kilometres or 3,728 miles.
If you are required to pay a VAT, then you need to pay it to HMRC before you can register the car.
Next, if the vehicle is less than 10 years old, then you will need to get vehicle approval. This step basically ensures that your vehicle meets safety and environmental standards.
If the car is registered in the EU, you simply need a European Certificate of Conformity. If it is not an EU registered car you will need to apply for Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA). (source)
Once you have completed all of these steps, you can order an imported pack from the DVLA to register the vehicle. It can take up to 6 weeks before you receive your registration certificate.
Why Aren’t UK Residents Allowed to Drive Foreign Registered Cars?
It seems strange that non-residents are allowed to enter the UK with foreign registered cars, but the residents of the UK cannot have such freedom, but there are good reasons that the government insists upon this.
The UK government estimated that between 2010 and 2013 an estimated 350,000 cars had been driven in the UK illegally, which costs £60m in unpaid road taxes.
But the financial hits don’t stop there. An estimated £2.3m in speeding fines were avoided by improperly registered drivers over a two-year period, as well as millions of pounds of parking tickets. (source)
There is also an association between criminal activity and foreign-registered vehicles. Drivers of foreign-registered vehicles are difficult to track down, and they know it. They are more likely to flee the scene of an accident, and a foreign registered car will allow someone to get away with a crime more easily. (source)
Of course, most people driving foreign registered cars are a tourist and not criminal masterminds, but using foreign-registered cars is a method used by some criminals to avoid detection.
If a car is going to be in the UK permanently, the UK government wants to be able to track down who is driving it. It is not just about the money, but about the safety of the roads.
What’s the Worst that Can Happen?
What kind of consequences are in place for people driving improperly registered cars? The consequences are not overly severe as driving a car that is not registered the right way is not a criminal offence.
No one is going to jail because they haven’t registered their car in the UK when they should have.
The consequences can vary by location, but this is generally what you can expect to happen if you are found to be driving an improperly registered car. If a police officer pulls someone over for driving an improperly registered vehicle, he can confiscate the car on the spot and leave those in the car stranded.
In order to get your car back, you must pay the pound a set fee, daily charges, and a surety fee. In addition, you must properly register the car in the UK within a certain number of days. Consequences for second-time offenders can be more severe including having their car taken and destroyed. (source)