Overseas Health Insurance News: Guide to driving matters for expats -
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Overseas Health Insurance News: Guide to driving matters for expats

Moving abroad involves a lot of preparation and there are many elements of your life that will need to be transferred to your new country. One of these is your driving licence, which will be very useful when organising your home and once you are settled.

If you are making visits to your new country in advance of moving you may wish to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) to tide you over. Once you have become a resident it is important to get a proper driving licence for the nation where you live.

International Driving Permit

You do not need an IDP if you are travelling to a country in the European Union, European Economic Area or Switzerland, as your UK driving licence will suffice. For countries outside of these regions you must apply for the document, which is valid for one year, and is only available if you are already in possession of a licence.

There are two types of IDP- the 1926 and the 1949 – with the majority of countries requiring visitors to have the second one. Exceptions to this are Brazil, Burundi, Iraq and Somalia, so if you are relocating to these countries make sure you get the 1926 version.

Getting a local licence

The IDP will allow you to drive abroad while you are house hunting, visiting schools and making other preparations for the move, but once you are an expatriate it is important to obtain a local driving licence. Like most elements of international bureaucracy, the processes for doing this vary across the globe.

Expats who have lived in Spain for two years must register with the local Trafico office to get a Spanish driving licence or face a fine of €200 (£168) if caught. As of January this year, British drivers resident in the country must undergo a medical every ten years. This becomes five-yearly if the driver is over 65.

Meanwhile, anyone applying for a Dutch driving licence can expect the process to take two weeks to complete at a cost of €50. During the period that the application is being processed, you are not permitted to drive, which can be quite inconvenient, so plan to send it off when you are going on holiday or can cope without using your car.

In Australia the process of applying for a local licence is further complicated by the fact that it varies from state to state. As a general rule, you need to obtain a local licence after being there for just three months, so it is a good idea to get everything in order soon after relocating.

You may be required to take an eyesight or knowledge test for the vehicles you wish to drive and even a driving test, so be prepared for all of these.


When swapping a British driving licence for a foreign one, several forms of documentation may be required. As many countries require applicants to attend in person it is worth taking all of these with you to avoid having to make multiple trips.

The photocard and paper counterparts of your British licence, an official translation, birth and marriage certificates, your passport and residency documents for your new country may all be required. The majority of places will also ask you to supply a colour photograph, so bring this along too.

Country specific regulations

While drivers should take care on the roads in all countries, there are certain regulations that are applied in some nations, but not all. It is important to look up what these might be prior to moving abroad so that you can stick to them. The AA's website has a useful section devoted to these rules and is often updated.

For example, in France you are required to carry a breathalyser and red warning triangle in your vehicle at all times. Failure to comply with local regulations can often result in fines.

Driving on the right side of the road

Most expats make a conscious effort to remember which side of the road to drive on when they first arrive in a country if it is different to their home nation. The problem often arises after the expat has become comfortable in their new home and reverts to auto pilot. Ask your family to remind you to drive on the right after taking breaks or whenever you get in the car to help prevent accidents.

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