Driving Licences

Nothing on this page should be taken as professional / legal / road safety advice. Consult with suitable professional experts and the authorities mentioned here where appropriate.

For Ukrainian refugees, we provide information here relating to driving licences for personal drivers driving cars up to 3,500 kgs or motorcycles; we don’t cover commercial vehicles or licences. This information was discussed and reviewed with DVLA in March 2023, and then again in August 2023.

These are the relevant Government departments referred to in this web page:

  • DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) – responsible for issuing driving licenses in England, Scotland and Wales.
  • DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) – responsible for conducting driving tests in Great Britain in England, Scotland and Wales.
  • The equivalent department for Northern Ireland is DVA (Driver and Vehicle Agency) which covers driving licenses as well as driving tests.

The UK licence is a ‘GB licence’ for England, Scotland and Wales (collectively known as Great Britain), and a ‘NI licence’ for Northern Ireland. We use ‘UK licence’ to mean either and to keep the page readable, but we strongly caveat that while we have tried to confirm as best as we can where the process may differ for Northern Ireland, our resources for doing so are limited and you would need to take additional steps to confirm and verify the information provided.

UPDATE 17/07/23: The Department for Transport ran a 4 week consultation around driving licence exchange which closed on 2nd May 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/ukraine-driving-licence-exchange. 3000 responses were received and reviewed. The outcome is that the Government has put in place legislation to extend the period that Ukrainians can drive with their Ukrainian licences in the UK from 12 months to 3 years, to match the length of the Ukraine Visa schemes. The legislation came into effect on 7th July 2023 (see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/driving-in-great-britain-ukrainian-driving-licence-exchange).

As many people will have already exchanged their Ukrainian licences for UK licences due to the earlier 12 months deadline, we still provide information on what this means and what happens on returning to Ukraine (as far as we are able to determine).

Driving in the UK with a Ukrainian licence

You must have both a full driving licence and valid motor insurance to drive a vehicle on UK roads. Holders of a full, valid Ukrainian driving licence may drive small vehicles (cars up to 3,500 kg and motorcycles), according to the entitlements granted by the Ukrainian licensing authority, for a period of 3 years from the date they arrive in the UK, to match the length of their Ukrainian visa.

DVLA rules around licences

DVLA have defined rules around foreign driving licences, which we’ve captured here.

Some types of entitlements (i.e. rights to drive particular categories of vehicles) are recognised by DVLA, whereas others are not. In addition, some types of foreign licences are exchangeable, whereas others are not. During the first 3 years, you may continue to drive whatever vehicles you were permitted to by the Ukrainian licensing authority. After 3 years, you need to have a UK licence in order to continue driving in the UK, and furthermore, if you hold an exchangeable foreign licence, it must be surrendered before you can receive a UK licence.

Provisional entitlements refer to being able to drive a vehicle while you are learning or don’t have a full licence. There are rules around what you can do and your level of supervision in this case. Full licences don’t have such restrictions. On exchange, your new UK full licence may contain provisional entitlements for other vehicle types.

What does this mean?

  • For those with exchangeable licences and recognised entitlements, it is straightforward to exchange your Ukrainian licence, as you will be returned a full UK licence with the same entitlements and can continue as before.
  • For those with exchangeable licences and unrecognised entitlements, on exchange, you will be returned a full UK licence, which doesn’t include the unrecognised entitlements fully, only provisionally. In order to regain those entitlements and ‘upgrade’ your UK licence to include them, you must now only drive those vehicles according to provisional rules, and pass the relevant tests as specified, to get full entitlements.
  • For those with non-exchangeable licences, there is no possibility to exchange them after 3 years. Instead, you must take out a provisional UK licence (i.e. the licence type you take out when learning to drive) and pass the relevant tests to get a full UK licence.
  • A UK provisional licence is still a UK licence, and therefore it’s not permitted to hold this as well as a Ukrainian exchangeable licence (contrary to what we were told previously in calls with DVLA).

Car licences issued in Ukraine are exchangeable in the UK. However, for drivers who took a test in Ukraine before 28 December 2021, the law only allows automatic car entitlement to be granted when the UK licence is issued. This is because the Ukrainian driver licensing authority does not retain information to confirm whether a test was taken in a manual or automatic car before this date, only afterwards, and the two situations need to be treated consistently by the UK authorities.

Motorcycle licences are non-exchangeable. If you have a motorcycle only licence, you do not need to send in / surrender your Ukrainian licence in this case after 3 years. However, you cannot continue to drive your motorcycle on your Ukrainian licence either after 3 years.

Motorcycle entitlement is not recognised. Therefore, if you have an exchangeable vehicle licence which includes motorcycle entitlement, you need to exchange it after 3 years, but as a result, you will not be granted the equivalent motorcycle entitlement on your new UK licence.

Note that a full UK car licence includes provisional entitlement for motorcycles i.e, the ability to ‘learn’ to ride a motorcycle. A full UK automatic car licence additionally includes provisional entitlement to ‘learn’ to drive a manual car. Thus, you won’t need to take out a separate provisional licence if you have received a relevant full UK licence.

In addition, it is not possible to book a driving test without a UK driving licence number.

We have summarised the situation in this handy table, and what to do:

Type of vehicle test was passed on in UkraineUkrainian licenceExchanged UK licenceWhat to do next
Automatic carShows automatic car entitlement, or does not specify whichHas automatic car entitlementNo action required
Manual carExplicitly shows manual car entitlement (issued after 28 Dec 2021)Has manual car entitlementNo action required
Manual carDoes not explicitly show manual car entitlement (issued before 28 Dec 2021)Does not have manual car entitlement; only automaticTake a manual car practical test to regain entitlement. Book this as soon as possible after receiving your UK automatic licence. You can only drive your manual car under provisional entitlement rules in the meantime.
MotorcycleMotorcycle licence onlyNot applicable – non-exchangeable Ukrainian licence, so do not send this in to DVLA.Take out a UK provisional licence and complete Compulsory Basic Training (CBT), theory and practical tests to get full UK motorcycle licence. Do this well before the first 3 years are up if you want to keep driving without a break. Gaining UK motorcycle entitlement will be subject to UK requirements e.g. age restrictions. You can only drive your motorcycle under provisional entitlement rules in the meantime.
MotorcycleMotorcycle and car licenceDoes not show motorcycle entitlementAs above, except you will need to use your new UK car licence to ‘learn’ to drive your motorcycle; you can’t have a separate UK provisional licence.

How to exchange your licence

See https://www.gov.uk/exchange-foreign-driving-licence for the process if you are based in England, Scotland or Wales. The results of following this tool for a Ukrainian car or motorcycle driver are given here: https://www.gov.uk/exchange-foreign-driving-licence/y/yes/car-or-motorcycle/a-designated-country-or-territory-countries-or-territories-with-exchange-agreements-with-great-britain/ukraine.

The fee is stated as £43, and the standard time for receiving your exchanged licence is 3 weeks.

The equivalent link from DVA if you are based in Northern Ireland is at: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/exchanging-your-foreign-driving-licence#toc-3.

If you used the ‘UK Immigration: ID check’ app when you applied for your visa, you should be able to generate a share code to prove your identity digitally for DVLA. Otherwise, you will need to send in your BRP. You may want to take a photo of your BRP before sending it in, just in case it takes a long time, but we absolutely do not recommend trying to travel abroad without a BRP.

Can you drive a manual car under your Ukrainian licence?

According to our contact with DVLA, Ukrainian car entitlement for licences issued before 28 December 2021 includes manual entitlement. Even if you passed your test in an automatic car, you were granted manual entitlement by the Ukrainian licensing authority, and the UK recognises this for the first 3 years.

DVLA reconfirmed this in this statement to us on August 3rd: “Only drivers with a restriction code 78 on their licence are restricted to driving automatic vehicles while driving on their Ukraine driving licence.” It is our understanding that:

  • Licences issued before 28 December 2021 do not carry this restriction, regardless of the car the test was passed in
  • Licences issued after 28 December 2021 only carry this restriction if the test was taken in an automatic car

Therefore, as long as your Ukrainian licence does not explicitly indicate that you took your test in a vehicle with automatic transmission (i.e. as could be the case if your licence was issued after 28 December 2021), you are entitled to drive a manual car using your Ukrainian licence for the first 3 years. This is fortunate, as many people will have brought over manual cars or will be driving a host or family member’s manual car here.

Can you provide any kind of proof that you passed your test on a manual car in Ukraine?

According to our contact with DVLA, no proofs can be accepted, other than the entitlement shown on licences issued after 28 Dec 2021.

Whilst your licence is being exchanged, can you continue to drive?

According to our contact with DVLA, yes, provided that your entitlement on your Ukrainian licence entitles you to drive (or doesn’t explicitly restrict you), and you continue to meet all other conditions specified in this document from DVLA: https://ukrainianrefugeehelp.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/INF188X6-Driving-while-your-application-is-with-DVLA.pdf

So while you are exchanging your Ukrainian licence which allowed you to drive a manual car in Ukraine, you can still drive a manual car unsupervised in the UK, even if you know you’ll now receive back an automatic only licence.

However, once you receive your new UK automatic licence in the post, you can now only drive a manual car under provisional entitlement rules, until you pass the manual test.

What validity period does the new exchanged UK licence have?

Even if your Ukrainian licence only has 2 years validity on it before it expires, when it is exchanged for a UK licence, this will have a validity period according to British rules (generally longer).

Do you need to apply for a provisional licence in order to upgrade your entitlement after exchange?

According to our contact with DVLA, no you do not; the full UK licence received after exchange gives you provisional driving entitlement for other categories of vehicles.

You will have provisional entitlement to drive a manual car under a full UK automatic licence. Similarly, you should have provisional entitlement to drive a motorcycle under a full UK car licence.

See here for more information on driving with provisional entitlement.

Are you able to drive with your UK licence if you visit Ukraine?

If you need to return to Ukraine and you have exchanged your licence for a UK licence, you will need to be aware of the rules for driving abroad which are given here: https://www.gov.uk/driving-abroad. Make sure you have insurance cover to drive abroad.

How to get back your Ukrainian licence after exchange

DVLA said the Ukrainian licence will be sent back to the Ukrainian licensing authority on exchange. DVLA assure us that there will be no problems with getting your licence back on return to Ukraine and you will not have to retake any tests on return to prove your previous Ukrainian entitlements.

We understand the process to exchange your UK licence back for your original Ukrainian licence to be as follows:

  • The Ukrainian licence authority will request the person to obtain a certificate from DVLA to state that the licence was exchanged for a GB one in accordance with GB law and was not taken away because of any offence.
  • The certificate then needs to go to the Ukrainian consulate to be translated into Ukrainian and then notarised with their stamp before it will be valid in Ukraine.

DVLA responded to say:

  • They will be able to provide a certificate by email or alternatively you can use their online checking service using this link: www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence
  • Here, you will find all the information you need on obtaining a certificate by email (details are given in the link under ‘Other ways to apply’ – you will be able to fill in a form which is then sent by email to subjectaccess.requests@dvla.gov.uk) or on how to share driving licence details with another party using the online service.
  • The View, Share and Check Driving Licence online service has been in place since 2015 and allows a driver to check their own driver record including driving entitlement and any valid endorsements.
  • The driver can share their driving information with a third party by opting to generate a share code. They can also print a PDF or generate a QR code to fulfil the same function.
  • DVLA understands that the Ukrainian Embassy is aware of these services

However, very frustratingly, we are hearing from hosts that Ukrainians have had trouble getting their Ukrainian licences back on return to Ukraine, with the authorities being suspicious of whether the UK licence was obtained legitimately. Contact DVLA by emailing DriversPolicy@dvla.gov.uk if this is the case.

Learning to drive / applying for a provisional licence

If you want to learn to drive while you are in the UK, you are eligible to do so. More details are available here: https://www.gov.uk/browse/driving/learning-to-drive.

You first need to apply for what is known as a provisional driving licence (or have a UK licence with provisional entitlement for the vehicle type you want to learn to drive).

See the information on how to apply for a provisional licence if you are from Ukraine here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/driving-and-public-transport-homes-for-ukraine#apply-for-a-provisional-licence. You should give your Ukrainian address on the forms to complete the required 3 year address history.

When applying for a provisional driving licence, you can prove your identity either through a share code or documents such as your BRP: https://www.gov.uk/id-for-driving-licence.

The equivalent links for applying for a provisional licence in Northern Ireland are given here: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/book-change-or-cancel-your-theory-test-appointment.

Driving under provisional entitlement

Whilst you have provisional entitlement only to drive a particular vehicle type, certain rules and restrictions apply according to the Highway Code.

To drive on public roads, you must be supervised appropriately and attach ‘L’ plates to your car or motorcycle.

You must follow the rules described here when driving a car under provisional entitlement: https://www.gov.uk/driving-lessons-learning-to-drive. You can take lessons with a qualified approved instructor, and you can also practise with family and friends provided they meet these rules. You are allowed onto motorways under certain conditions only.

You can drive a motorcycle up to 125 cc in engine size unaccompanied on public roads provided you have passed your Compulsory Basic Training (CBT), but in order to drive a motorcycle that is over 125 cc in engine size after completing your CBT, you must be accompanied by a qualified approved instructor (not family or friends). See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/annex-2-motorcycle-licence-requirements. You cannot drive on motorways.

Note: These are high level rules only and further caveats and considerations may apply. It is your responsibility to be aware of the rules.

Taking driving lessons to refresh your skills

If you hold a full Ukrainian licence, and want to take some lessons with a driving instructor to refresh your skills, then we have been informed by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) that an approved driving instructor can give refresher lessons to anyone who has a valid licence. It can be a provisional or full licence. As such, there should not be any problem with giving driving instructions to a Ukrainian licence holder.

You do not have to take a test at the end of your lessons.

The UK driving test

The driving test in the UK consists of two parts: a theory test on your knowledge of the rules of the road or Highway Code and a practical test. In order to prepare, you may want to:

Unfortunately, if taking the theory test in England, Scotland and Wales, you will not be able to take the test in any language other than English, nor will you be allowed to use translation tools. However, Northern Ireland has provisions to use interpreters if required, but you have to be resident there. See this section for more details.

If you are upgrading from an automatic to a manual car, you only need to take the practical test; see https://www.gov.uk/automatic-driving-licence-to-manual.

Both IAM RoadSmart and RoSPA road safety charities have a variety of reasonably priced courses, delivered by volunteer ‘Advanced Drivers’ in the individual’s own car.

Booking driving tests

You will need to pass your theory test before booking your practical test. Book your theory test here: https://www.gov.uk/book-theory-test. Note: If you are ‘upgrading’ from an automatic licence to a manual licence, you do not need to pass a theory test.

Practical driving tests can be booked here: https://www.gov.uk/book-driving-test. This page also includes instructions for booking an ‘upgrade’ test to go from automatic to manual. Note that you can only book tests using a UK driving licence number, so you will need to have followed the steps to exchange your Ukrainian licence first or have applied for a provisional driving licence.

The equivalent links for booking tests in Northern Ireland are given here: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/book-change-or-cancel-your-theory-test-appointment

Be aware that currently, people are reporting a 6 month wait to get an appointment for a practical driving test.

You will need a UK driving licence number to book a test, so unfortunately, they cannot be booked in advance while you are waiting to receive this.

However, we hear that there are frequently late cancellations, so keep looking regularly on the booking system and you may pick up a closer appointment.

Requesting translation support for theory test (Northern Ireland only)

DVA provided us with this information around getting translation support for the theory test. There are 3 ways to access the support you will need:

  • You can apply online here and request support on the first screen.
  • You can call DVA on 0345 600 6700 to speak to an agent directly who can look to approve the additional support for you.  
  • Or you can email dva.theorytestsupportni@dvsa.gov.uk explaining which language you would like translated. You must also include your name, date of birth, driving licence number and full address with postcode.

Once approved, DVA will proceed with requesting dates from your preferred test centre.

You will need to pay for the translator to attend the test. The approved provider is a company called Flex – you can enquire about costs and book by calling 0289 072 7878.

The test centre will provide 3 slots to choose from for the test. Once you have these times, you will need to check with Flex to ensure the translator can attend one of the slots you have been given. 

DVLA, DVSA and DVA contact details

Summary of contact details for the departments: