One of the more frequent topics on the American expat facebook groups is about driving and obtaining a UK driving licence. The GOV.UK site does a great job of explaining the process here but it always helps to have a first-hand explanation of how to do it.
A good thing to do before you move over here from the states is obtain a copy of your no-claims history from your current insurance company, the further back the better because motor insurance here can be astronomical! Having a copy of mine saved quite a bit of money--this can also be obtained by contacting their customer service but usually the sooner you obtain it the better that way any mistakes can be corrected. For example I didn't realise that Geico had shown that I'd filed a claim when we had called in to find out what the insurance would cover when someone had gone on a brick-throwing vandalism spree in our neighbourhood a few years back and knocked out the back glass of my pickup. We ended up not using the insurance and paying out of pocket but unfortunately someone had clicked the wrong button and I was only able to claim 3 years of no claims versus 7 years which would have saved an additional £200.
You CAN drive in the UK on your US driving licence for up to a year but making plans to get it earlier can save an immense amount of stress. I waited until the very last moment and really wish I hadn't, I was in a near-panic with trying to get everything done in the last two months left.
No matter how good of a driver you are, take lessons! It's not about learning how to drive for most of us but it's about unlearning habits that will fail us on the exam and learning what the examiners are looking for. Also most of the instructors will be giving lessons on the actual routes used which will help minimise mistakes.
The first step is to obtain your provisional licence by starting here, I obtained the D1 application form from our local post office, filled it out, enclosed the money and appropriate sized picture, and sent it off to Swansea with my passport. It all came back well within the 3 weeks quoted on the site. As a bit of a segue, if you haven't obtained your NINO (National Insurance Number) do so!
After you have received your provisional you can still drive on your US licence (providing you are still with your year) but it's time to start studying for the theory portion of the test. Don't expect to give it a quick read through a few minutes before the test and pass. While some of it is common-sense the wording here is different enough that it will trip you up, there are also a fair bit of non-driving related questions from the Highway Code that will be on the exam. I highly recommend getting a current copy of the DVSA theory test book or software. There are also lots of practice tests available online, take as many as possible to review/revise.
Book your theory test! Don't forget to take along your shiny new provisional licence. Take and pass your theory test! Keep your copy of this safe because you will need to take it along with you for your practical
Now book your practical, depending on where you live it can be several months before the first opening but you are not limited to taking it at your nearest test centre. Do a search of the surrounding areas to find out if you can take the test sooner at a different place. I ended up travelling to one 30 minutes away in order to get it booked within 2 weeks rather than over a month. Also you can check the website daily to find out if there are any cancellations to get it done quicker--you can change your appointment up to 6 times without having to cancel and rebook.
|L aka Learner Plates|
Remember when I mentioned taking lessons earlier? That bears repeating, TAKE DRIVING LESSONS! If you don't gel with the instructor, find a different one. This driving test is stressful enough without having to deal with someone who you don't get along with, their job is to make you a safer driver for the UK and to do their best to get you through the test, not belittle or demean you.
My tips: Study!!!!! Practise!!!! Practise your reversing, emergency stops, mirror checks, hill starts, and your show me/tell me items. Next, relax (yeah, I know easier said than done). Exaggerate your mirror checks, talk through what you are doing as you drive, if you make a mistake, just keep on, you are allowed a few minors and if it's just a one time thing rather than a repeated mistake it probably won't count against you.
Hopefully this helps for those going through the process, please feel free to ask any questions. I wrote about my test experience here with all the gory details of why I didn't pass the first time. One thing I didn't expect was that when my motor insurance came up for renewal after obtaining my UK driving licence was that I was considered a 'new' driver again and had to shop around for a cheaper policy so be aware of that.