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DRIVING IN EUROPE

How do rules for exchanging UK driving licences compare for Brits around Europe?

Brexit is forcing Britons living throughout the EU to exchange their UK licences for an EU one in their country of residence. But the rules they face in each country are quite different and many may need to take a new test.

UK driving licence photocard. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP)
UK driving licence photocard. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP)

Brexit has thrown up numerous bureaucratic hurdles for the 1.2 million Britons living throughout the EU, from residency to healthcare, but one of the main hangovers left after Britain’s divorce from the EU is around the issue of driving licences.

The UK government has been warning its citizens in the EU that they cannot renew their licence in the UK and should “consider exchanging your UK driving licence for an EU licence as soon as possible.”

While that sounds fairly straight forward, the problem is that the rules are different in each country and the reality has meant exchanges are not possible, at least not yet.

Driving licences were not covered in the Withdrawal Agreement that guaranteed citizens’ rights, so the result is a mash-mash of different rules and exchange deadlines in each EU country.

Here’s a run through of the differences in each country with information taken from the UK government’s website (countries marked *) as well as more detailed input from our journalists throughout The Local’s nine European countries.

Austria

You can use your UK licence in Austria for short visits, but if you live in Austria you will need to exchange it.

You can exchange your licence before July 1st 2021 without having to take a test. After that Brexit means you’ll have to take a driving test to get an Austrian licence. 

The British embassy in Austria confirmed: “If you are resident in Austria, according to a draft update to Austrian law, you will have 6 months from January 1st to swap your driving licence.”

After this date the embassy warns that UK licences “will cease to be valid”. For anyone wishing to get an Austrian licence after this date, things get more complicated and they may have to take a driving test as is the case for some third-country nationals who fail to exchange their licence within 6 months.

The British embassy says: “If you are legally resident in Austria it is important that you swap your UK licence for an Austrian one, or, according to a draft update to Austria’s law, it will cease to be valid from 30th June 2021. Please be aware that if you spend more than six months in the year outside of Austria, this may affect your right to residence.”

The process for swapping over your licence is slightly different depending on the local authority you apply to.

The Austrian government says that most driving licence authorities require the original documents plus copies.

More information on how to swap over your licence and the documentation you will need is available at the following link. 

READ MORE: What Britons in Austria need to know about exchanging UK driving licences

*Belgium

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible. If you hold a licence from Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, you may need to take a test.”

Driving in Belgium.

*Bulgaria

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible. If you hold a licence from Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, you may need to take a test.”

Driving in Bulgaria.

*Croatia

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible.”

*Cyprus

The UK government says: “You can continue to use your licence without exchanging until 7 July 2021. You are encouraged to exchange your licence within this period otherwise you may need to take a test. If you hold a licence from Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, you may need to take a test.”

Driving in Cyprus.

*Czech Republic

The UK government says: “Most drivers can exchange their licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible. If you hold a licence issued by the Isle of Man, you will need to take a test to exchange your licence.”

Driving in the Czech Republic.

Denmark

Following Brexit, UK driving licence holders resident in Denmark must exchange their driving licences for a Danish one, according to information on the Danish transport authority website.

Residents of Denmark who hold a UK driving licence issued before January 1st 2021 can exchange their licence for a Danish one without having to take a driving test. This must be completed within 180 days of moving to Denmark, or by June 30th 2021, whichever is later. 

Current rules say that anyone who does not manage to exchange their UK driving licence within the aforementioned timeline or whose licence was issued after January 1st 2021 will have to take a test to exchange their UK driving licence. 

READ ALSO: What are the current rules for UK driving licence holders in Denmark?

*Estonia

The UK government says: “Most drivers can exchange their licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible. If you hold a licence issued by the Isle of Man, you will need to take a test to exchange your licence.”

Driving in Estonia.

Finland

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test for licence categories A1, A2, A or B. Consider doing this as soon as possible.”

Driving in Finland.

France

British residents in France can continue to drive on a UK licence until December 31st 2021, but by then they must have swapped their licence for a French one.

This is easier said than done, however, because the British government has so far not settled on a reciprocal agreement with the French about driving licences, so no applications for UK licence swaps are currently being accepted. Most people can continue to drive on their UK licence, but for people whose licence is about to expire or has expired (for example people turning 70) the situation is grim as they cannot either extend their UK licence or swap it for a new one, and some have been left stranded with no licence at all.

The British Embassy in Paris says it hopes a deal will be agreed shortly that can allow swaps to start being processed. Anyone who ends up having to take a driving test in France faces a complicated and expensive process.

READ ALSO Four years and €1,800 – what foreigners should know about French driving tests

Visitors, tourists or second-home owners can continue to drive on a UK licence and do not need an International Drivers’ Permit.  

Germany

Germany recently confirmed that it will enter into a reciprocal agreement to allow UK driving-licence holders to swap their licence for a German one – without taking a new test.

If you’re only staying in Germany for a short period of time, you can continue to use your UK licence as normal.

If you’re a British national living in Germany you should exchange your licence for a German one within six months of becoming a resident.

According to the UK Government’s Living in Germany advice, British nationals living in Germany who didn’t swap their licence before the end of the transition period (December 31st 2020) have until June 30th 2021.

“If you were living in Germany before January 1st 2021, you can use your UK photocard licence to drive in Germany until June 30th 2021, provided that it remains valid in the UK,” the site says.

But unfortunately it appears you won’t be able to swap it if your licence isn’t valid. You can read more in our story below.

Reader question: Do I need to swap my German licence for a British one?

*Greece

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test from 1 February 2021. A medical – physical and eye – examination will be required.”

Driving in Greece.

*Hungary

The UK government says: “Most drivers can exchange their licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible. If you hold a licence issued by the Isle of Man, you will need to take a test to exchange your licence.”

Driving in Hungary.

*Iceland

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible.”

Driving in Iceland.

*Ireland

The UK government says: “UK and Northern Ireland licence holders’ resident in the Republic of Ireland must exchange their driving licence for an Irish licence. UK and Northern Ireland licences aren’t legal for driving in Ireland for residents. However, they can be exchanged without the need to take a driving or theory test.”

Driving in Ireland.

Italy

After months of uncertainty, the Italian interior ministry confirmed on April 24th that UK nationals who were officially living in Italy before January 2021 are in fact allowed to continue using their UK licences until December 31st 2021.

The British Embassy has said that talks continue on a reciprocal agreement that would allow Brits to swap their licences without resitting the exam.

If a deal is reached before the end of the year, people with UK driving licences could end up escaping the notoriously tricky theory and practical tests, which have to be taken entirely in Italian.

If you started the process of exchanging your UK licence before 1st January 2021, you’re in the clear and will not have to re-sit a driving test.

*Latvia

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible.”

Driving in Latvia.

*Liechtenstein

The UK government says: “Most drivers can exchange their licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible. If you hold a licence issued by the Isle of Man, you will need to take a test to exchange your licence.”

Driving in Liechtenstein.

*Lithuania

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test if you obtained the licence before 1 January 2021. Consider doing this as soon as possible.”

Driving in Lithuania.

*Luxembourg

The UK government says: “Most drivers can exchange their licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible. You may need to take a test to exchange Category C and D licences in 2021.”

Driving in Luxembourg.

*Malta

The UK government says: “You can continue to use your licence until 1 July 2021. From 1 July 2021, you will need to take a test to exchange your licence. Consider exchanging your licence as soon as possible. If you hold a licence from Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man you may need to take a test.”

Driving in Malta.

*The Netherlands

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible.

“However, in some cases, you may need to provide a certificate of health that could involve a medical examination.

“If you became resident in The Netherlands before 31 January 2020, you must exchange your UK licence by 1 May 2021. If you exchange by this date, you do not need to provide a health certificate. Your UK licence will no longer be valid to drive on Dutch roads after 1 May 2021.

“If you became resident in The Netherlands between 31 January 2020 and 13 June 2020, your UK licence is no longer valid to drive on Dutch roads. You must not drive until you have exchanged it for a Dutch licence.

“If you became resident in The Netherlands between 13 June 2020 and 15 February 2021, you must exchange your UK licence by 1 October 2021. Your UK licence must have been valid on 14 December 2020 to benefit from this extended validity.

“If you became resident in The Netherlands after 15 February 2021, you must exchange your licence within 185 days of becoming a resident.”

Driving in the Netherlands.

Norway

Brits in Norway will be able to use their UK licences as Britain and Norway have an agreement whereby British driving licences receive the same treatment as EU/EAA licences.

It may be worth exchanging your licence, however, as a Norwegian licence can be used freely across the EU/EAA. 

You will be able to swap your British licence without taking a test. This is good news as driving tests in Norway can be difficult and expensive.

To swap your licence, you will have to submit your British licence as well as documentation of when you took up residence along with an application form. This can be done in person at a vehicle licencing office or by post.

You will need to apply for a temporary permit if you plan on driving while you wait for your Norwegian licence.

Driving in Norway: How to exchange your licence for a Norwegian one

*Poland

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible.”

Driving in Poland.

*Portugal

“You can continue to use your valid UK licence in Portugal until 31 December 2021. If you are resident in Portugal, you should exchange your UK driving licence by 31 December 2021.”

Driving in Portugal.

*Romania

The UK government says: “Most drivers can exchange their licence without having to take a test. Consider doing this as soon as possible. If you hold a licence issued by the Isle of Man, you will need to take a test to exchange your licence.”

Driving in Romania.

*Slovakia

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test. If you have been resident for over 185 days starting from 1 January 2021, you must exchange your UK licence for a Slovak one within 60 days of completing the 185 days and before 2 September 2021.”

Driving in Slovakia.

*Slovenia

The UK government says: “You can exchange your licence without having to take a test until 31 December 2021, or within one year of becoming resident, whichever is longer.”

Driving in Slovenia.

Spain (including Balearic and Canary Islands)

As things stand, UK nationals who were Spanish residents before January 1st 2021 will be allowed to drive in Spain with a valid UK driving licence until June 30th 2021.

British drivers who wanted to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one had to register their intention to do so with the Spanish Traffic Authority (DGT) before December 30th 2020. 

Depending on whether they did this or not, the process for getting a Spanish licence will be different. Find out more here.

“The UK and Spain are currently in discussion about an exchange process, for the long term,” – Regional Consular Policy Adviser at the British Embassy in Madrid Lorna Geddie said during a recent Q&A, adding at another date that one of the points being negotiated is “a licence exchange without the need for a practical test”.

So those with UK driving licences might be able to exchange their licences in the future without having to resit the driving exam in Spain, but nothing is confirmed yet.

If no deal is reached, UK licence holders in Spain who don’t meet the DGT’s registration and exchange requirements will have to pass their driving licence again. 

The theory exam can be done in English but the practical test is in Spanish, unfortunately for those who aren’t proficient in the language.

READ ALSO:

Q&A: How to pass Spain’s driving test and get a Spanish licence

Spanish driving licence: the essential language to pass your practical test

Driving in Spain: the 10 questions everyone gets wrong in their theory test

Sweden

Just like EU/EEA drivers, Brits will continue to be able to use their licences in Sweden indefinitely, regardless of whether or not they live in Sweden or when they moved.
 
But as British driving licences are connected to a UK address, the UK may still require Brits to change their licence if they plan to take up long-term residence in Sweden.
 
If they want to do that, they won’t have to break a sweat. The Swedish government says it will be possible for Brits to swap their licence for a Swedish one for free from July 1st.
 
This means they won’t have to take the Swedish driving test as non-EU/EEA licence holders normally have to after a year of living in Sweden, and will in turn avoid the 4,000 kronor cost (approximately $477) for the compulsory elements of the test.
 
 

Switzerland

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, meaning that Brexit has not had a dramatic impact on the rules for licences – unlike in some of the above countries. 

You can exchange your licence without having to take a test, but will need to do so within 12 months of moving to Switzerland. 

Changing your licence over within a year of moving to Switzerland is relatively easy and does not require any additional tests. 

You’ll however need to bring the following: a completed application form, original driving licence (with a translation if applicable), residence permit (and residence certificate if you have one), two colour passport photos and a certificate from a qualified ophthalmologist. 

If you’re applying for a class 3 licence, you’ll also require a medical certificate. 

You’ll need to exchange the licence at your cantonal authority and the cost for doing so varies from canton to canton. 

For short tourist visits, you do not need to change over your licence.

If you hold a licence from Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, you may need to take a test.

More information is available at the following link. 

Driving in Switzerland: How to convert your drivers licence for a Swiss one

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BREXIT

‘So stressful’: How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple’s Tuscan dream

One couple from Manchester found the home of their Tuscan retirement dreams, but the stalemate over a UK-Italy driving licence agreement is throwing their future into question.

'So stressful': How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple's Tuscan dream

Iain and Lynn Gosling lived and worked all their lives in and around Manchester – at a bank, where they met, then in various schools – but had always dreamed of retiring in Tuscany.

In 2018, with the Brexit clock ticking, they decided to take the plunge, and after a lengthy Place in the Sun-style hunt, they finally found their ideal home.

The podere (farmhouse) they chose just outside the town of Pomerance, in the province of Pisa, checked all their boxes: it had an olive grove, was close enough to the beach, had a friendly local community, and the town was particularly invested in green energy, sourcing most of its power from renewables.

Most importantly, it was just over an hour’s drive from Pisa airport, meaning they could regularly go back and visit family in the UK.

READ ALSO: ‘We bought the cheapest house in Piedmont and live mortgage free’

“We’d holidayed in Tuscany for 20 years, and the views and everything were even better than where we’d been holidaying. So we kind of thought we struck gold really,” says Lynn.

“When we saw it, we just knew, and when we went into the town it was such a good, welcoming feeling.”

Iain and Lynn's podere in Pomerance.

Iain and Lynn’s podere in Pomerance. Source: Iain Gosling.

The couple began building a new life, learning Italian and befriending local residents. They were careful to take the necessary steps to secure their future in Italy before the Brexit deadline, registering with the town hall and later obtaining carta di soggiorno residency cards.

But – like many other British nationals in Italy – the pair didn’t anticipate that almost two years on from Brexit, negotiations for a reciprocal driving licence agreement between the two countries would have stalled. It’s an ongoing state of limbo that threatens to make their retirement dream unworkable.

While with hindsight the pair would have exchanged their driving licences before the Brexit deadline, they believed a deal would soon be reached – especially as the UK allows EU licence-holders to drive with almost no restrictions.

“If we cannot drive in the short term, I’m sure we can find a way round it somehow,” says Iain. “Longer term? No, not really.”

READ ALSO: Do you have to take Italy’s driving test in Italian?

A 12-month grace period granted in 2021 is due to expire in January unless an agreement is reached, forcing UK drivers to choose between taking an Italian driving exam that could well turn out to be unnecessary, or gambling on a last-minute deal that risks leaving them without a valid licence if it doesn’t materialise.

For Iain and Lynn, who live a four-minute drive from the town on hilly country roads without access to public transport or pavements, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice.

“I’d be absolutely lost without driving,” says Lynn, who judges that without a car the couple would have to make daily hour-long round walks into town to buy basic necessities.

They decided that Iain would take the exam so that at least one of them would still be able to drive in the absence of a deal, and booked his theory test for November to give him time to prepare.

As a minimum of 32 days must pass between passing the theory test and sitting the practical exam, he’ll only just secure his Italian licence in time in the event that there’s no agreement – if he manages to pass both on the first go.

READ ALSO: Some of the best learner sites for taking your Italian driving test

Iain and Lynn outside their Tuscan farmhouse.

Iain and Lynn outside their Tuscan farmhouse. Source: Iain Gosling.

“So – no pressure on the theory test,” says Iain, who plans to fly back early from Christmas holidays in the UK to sit his practical exam if he succeeds in passing the former.

The couple know they could have begun the process earlier. But the test requires answering the same theory questions as a native Italian speaker and a taking mandatory six hours of practical lessons, and it isn’t cheap – Iain and Lynn estimate the total cost to be just under €1,000.

What’s more, those who pass an Italian driving test are classed as new drivers (neopatentati) for three years, which comes with a range of restrictions on speed limits and vehicle engine size, and a zero tolerance policy on alcohol.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

All this has made taking the test a last resort for people who believed the UK and Italian governments would have reached an agreement by this point – or have at least issued clear guidance as to what action UK licence-holders should take.

The UK’s ambassador to Italy stresses that negotiations continue – though has encouraged British residents to book an Italian driving test.

A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Rome told The Local in October: “Since August we have continued and intensified further our work with our Italian colleagues and have made progress towards our shared objective.”

Lynn says: “Over the last six months it was very optimistic, everything we were hearing. It’s just in the past two months that we’ve thought, well, wait a minute.”

If Iain doesn’t manage to pass the test before the deadline and no deal is reached, “we are stuck,” he says.

“This situation is so stressful.”

READ ALSO: How UK drivers in Italy face new problems after passing Italian driving test

The couple fear that without the ability to drive, their current lifestyle would be unsustainable.

“You wake up thinking about it, and you go to bed thinking about it,” says Lynn. “Anxiety, that’s how it makes you feel.”

“Someone will turn around and say, well why didn’t you take your driving tests 12 months ago so you’re not in this situation?” says Iain. “But if all the signs were encouraging from the ambassador, we thought well OK, we can keep our benefits here and we don’t want to lose them.”

While the embassy insists that negotiating the agreement is its top priority, Iain worries that the recent political upheaval in both the UK and Italy has pushed the issue on to the back burner.

“We have no choice but to have faith in our British representatives to deliver and soon too, because the previous regulation extension was far too late,” Iain says. “We need to know now so we can make definite plans and contingencies.”

Despite the stress, Iain and Lynn are determined to do all they can to find a way to remain in Pomerance, where they say they’ve been embraced by local residents and have become good friends with their Italian neighbours who occupy the other half of their semi-detached property.

“We don’t want to give this up,” says Iain. “We love it here and we want to stay.”

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