Car insurance for non-UK residents

Can you get car insurance in the UK if you live abroad? And do you need to swap your international driving licence for a UK one? Read on for the answers and more.

Can you get car insurance in the UK if you live abroad? And do you need to swap your international driving licence for a UK one? Read on for the answers and more.

Kate Hughes
Car insurance expert
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 25 NOVEMBER 2021

Can I get car insurance with an international licence?

Welcome to the UK - famed for its scenic roads, classic cars, historic destinations and polite drivers. Most of the time... 

If you’re visiting and want to drive someone’s car while you’re here, one option is to get temporary car insurance. You’ll typically have to pay a higher premium than UK residents as you’re considered a higher risk though, even if you have a good driving record abroad. 

The cost of your cover, described as the premium, will depend on your circumstances, driving and any relevant medical history, the car itself and several other factors.

In fact, a lot depends on which country you’re coming from, and it’s not just down to which side of the road you’re used to. You’ll probably find it easier to get short-term insurance if you’re arriving from places like the EU, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, or are an ex-pat. Some insurance providers may even transfer your no-claims discount over from certain countries.  

If you’re planning to borrow a car from a friend or family member, you could ask them to add you as a named driver to their policy instead. They’ll normally have to pay extra to add you to their policy, but it might be cheaper than buying temporary cover. It’s worth comparing both options. 

Things are more straightforward if you’re hiring a rental car. You won’t need to worry about car insurance as it will be included in the price. But it’s worth checking the rental agreement carefully to see what’s included in the insurance package and, if it looks sparse, you might consider buying extra cover. You can do this from the car hire company or get a separate policy, but at the moment we don’t offer this kind of policy at Compare the Market.

I’m coming to live in the UK. Can I get car insurance?

If you’re moving to the UK to work or study, you might want to buy a car – especially if you’ll be based in a rural or semi-rural spot with, often, remarkably limited public transport. If so, you’ll need to follow UK rules, meaning your car must be: 

  • Registered in your own name
  • Taxed
  • Insured
  • Have a valid MOT (the official Department for Transport test of vehicle safety, roadworthiness and emissions) if the car is more than three years old. 

Once that’s in place, you should have the same insurance options as UK residents: 

  • Third-party car insurance: the most basic level of protection. It covers damage you cause to other people and their cars, but not your own.
  • Third-party fire and theft car insurance: includes third-party cover, and it could also cover you if your car is stolen, or damaged in a fire.
  • Fully comprehensive car insurance: the most comprehensive form of car insurance, it includes third party, fire and theft cover. But it could also protect you and your vehicle, even if you were found to be the one at fault for the accident.

I’m bringing my car to the UK. Will I be covered?

If you’re bringing your own car into the UK, you may be covered for at least third-party damage by your existing overseas car insurance policy. However, you might want to bring your level of cover up to fully comprehensive, so you and your vehicle are financially protected. You should check to make sure, and to see exactly what’s covered before you start driving. 

You’re required by UK law to have at least third-party car insurance in place to drive on roads in the UK, even if you’re only visiting. 

It’s a good idea to ask your insurance provider for a Green Card if you’re coming from one of the 48 countries that are part of the scheme. This proves that you have valid insurance in case you have an accident. 

As well as having very useful articles, the UK government’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and its Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) are good sources of additional information on the conditions and criteria required of you, your vehicle and your insurance.

Can I drive in the UK on an international driving licence?

Yes, you can drive in the UK with a valid international driving licence. But depending on the country where it was issued, you’ll normally have to switch to a UK driving licence after a certain amount of time. And in some cases, you may have to take the UK driving test. Here’s how it works… 

  • If you have a driving licence from the EU and you were younger than 67 when you became a UK resident, you can use it to drive in the UK until you turn 70 and your licence expires, or for up to three years after you gain UK residency. This is still the case following Brexit. You can also choose to swap your EU licence for a UK one for a small fee, without needing to take a test.
  • If you have a driving licence from a ‘designated country’, you can use it in the UK for up to 12 months, but then you’ll have to exchange it for a UK licence. If you apply within five years of becoming a UK resident, you won’t have to take the UK driving test. Designated countries are those that the UK has a driving licence exchange agreement with and include Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Switzerland.
  • If your driving licence was issued in the US, a non-EU or non-designated country, you can drive in the UK on your international licence for up to 12 months. After that, you’ll need to apply for a provisional UK driving licence and pass the full UK driving test

You can quickly check what applies to you if you’re driving in England, Scotland or Wales with the GOV.UK tool

Some different rules apply in Northern Ireland – so if you want to drive there you should double check what’s required for driving on a foreign licence

Regardless, it’s probably worth getting hold of and reading through an up-to-date copy of the Highway Code to be 100% confident, even if you’re not required to retake your test.

Should I change my foreign licence for a UK one?

If you have a foreign driving licence and you’re coming to stay in the UK, it might be worth changing it to a UK licence. There could be a couple of advantages to this: 

  • Having a UK licence could mean you pay less for your car insurance as you fit more neatly into insurance providers’ various risk profiles.
  • You can use your UK driving licence as ID – useful for everything from buying a pint in the pub or joining the local library. 

If you’re staying in the UK for more than a year, you’ll need to have a UK licence to drive, by law, unless you’re an EU licence holder living in the UK. If you’re here for 12 months or less, you’re free to drive any small vehicle – like a car or motorbike – on your international licence. 

Swapping your international licence for a UK one is fairly easy. If you’re a UK resident and your driving licence is from the EU or a designated country, you won’t need to take another test –just fill in the online form at GOV.UK and pay a fee. Be warned though, it’s taking longer than usual to process applications because of coronavirus (COVID-19), so make sure you apply in good time. 

Again, slightly different rules apply if you want to exchange your licence in Northern Ireland.

Swapping your international licence for a UK one is fairly easy. If you’re a UK resident and your driving licence is from the EU or a designated country, you won’t need to take another test –just fill in the online form at GOV.UK and pay a fee.

Do I need an international driving permit?

An international driving permit is a document that validates your UK licence worldwide, but you don’t need one to drive a car in this country. What you’ll need is: 

  • A valid driving licence
  • Insurance
  • ID, for example your passport
  • Breakdown cover is optional, but it could prevent you being stranded by the side of the road 

For information about international permits for UK residents, read our guide to driving abroad.

Frequently asked questions

Can I use my no-claims discount from overseas?

If you’ve built up a sizeable no-claims discount elsewhere, it would be frustrating not to be able to benefit from it. Get a certificate from your insurance provider, proving your no-claims bonus abroad, and you should be able to use it to negotiate a discount here (although you might find there's a limited number of insurance providers who’ll accept the certificate).

Similarly, if you’re a UK resident moving abroad, ask your insurance provider to give you a certificate you can take with you.

How long can I drive my foreign car in the UK?

If you decide to stay in the UK for longer than six months within any 12-month period – no matter whether it’s in one single stay or several shorter stays added together – or if you become a UK citizen, you’ll have to register your foreign car and pay road tax to continue driving it on UK roads.

How can I save on my car insurance as a foreign driver?

If you’re an international driver, working or living in the UK, you can save money on your car insurance by:

  • Exchanging your foreign licence for a UK driving licence
  • Finding car insurance that takes into account the no-claims discount you’ve built up in your home country
  • Shopping around to find the best deal

That’s where we can help. Compare car insurance with us and see what deals are available. 

Looking for a quote?

Compare quotes with us today and see if you can start saving.

Get a quote
Compare car insurance Get a quote