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UK driving licences ‘could be invalid’ in EU after Brexit

A European Commission report suggests that the UK licence won’t be valid after Brexit when driving in the EU.

Sample UK driving licence
A sample UK Driving Licence (Source: Gov.uk)

I have always thought it odd (or is it lucky?) that the UK driving licence is accepted in Europe. After all, driving in Europe is not so different from driving in the USA where a UK-licence holder must take a driving test and get a full U.S. licence before being able to drive there in the long-term. (Visitors to the USA can use an International Driving Permit (IDP.)

The road and driving laws are different in the UK compared to mainland Europe, and, as we all know, we drive on the left in the UK (as does the Irish Republic, Malta and Cyprus), which changes so much in terms of driving awareness and safety when a driver takes to the right-hand side – especially at roundabouts! So, perhaps the rumour-mongering that the UK licence could be “invalid” in Europe after Brexit shouldn’t come as a big surprise or be a big upset.

According to reporting in the UK press (Telegraph, Auto Express, The Sun and others), a European Commission presentation suggested that the ‘mutual recognition’ of UK driving licences would end after Brexit.

At the moment, British driving licences are accepted in the EU and Switzerland. The European Commission commented in the presentation that the end of the mutual recognition of licences would be a ‘consequence of the UK becoming a third country in the road transport sector’ and that ‘all current EU law-based rights, obligations and benefits [would] cease’.

The International Driving Permit to the rescue

Drive on the left

If a new arrangement or deal is not made before Brexit, it is suggested that British drivers would have to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP), the same document that is needed when driving in the USA and other non-EU countries, including Hong Kong and Brazil.

The IDP is easy to obtain and costs just £5.50 from a UK Post Office. It is an official, multi-language translation of the credit-card style, plastic driving licence, and should not be confused with an International Driving Licence (IDL), which, according to the AA is not a legally recognised document – but you will see online companies selling the IDL and charging far more than £5.50 for it.

If you apply in person at a UK Post Office, the IDP costs £5.50. If you make a postal application through the AA or RAC the total cost will be £8.50 and £8 respectively (including the IDP plus service and postal charges).

Critically, to obtain the IDP, you must have passed your driving test, be 18 or over, be a GB or Northern Ireland resident and you must make the application in person at the Post Office (third parties applications are not accepted.) And the AA makes the following important points:

  • You can’t apply for an IDP more than three months before you travel.
  • You could be fined (or worse) for relying on just an IDP – you must carry your UK licence too.

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