I know many readers of this blog find their way here via search engines and often arrive at the small series of posts about acquiring a UK driving license. In order to keep the information complete and up to date, I’d like to add a note about the upcoming price changes I saw mentioned in last Friday’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.


From April 1st 2009, the fee for the theory test will rise to GBP 31 (from GBP 30), and the fee for the practical section of the test will rise to GBP 62 (from GBP 56.60).

As always, be sure to check the DSA web site for  the definitive answer to driving test related questions.


In the first entry in this series of three on obtaining a UK driving license, I reflected on the process of obtaining a UK provisional driving license. Here, I will outline my experience with the second stage of the process, the driving theory test.

Once your provisional driving license arrives (usually two to three weeks after sending in the application form) you can book your test online via the DSA test booking site.  In order to do this, you’ll need your license number and a credit card to pay the fee (at the time of writing this is GBP 30 for the theory test**).

The process is a straightforward 5 or 6 step web form.  Then, within a few days you’ll receive confirmation via mail, re-iterating the date, time and location of your test.  It is important that you keep this written confirmation from the DSA as you will be required to produce it before sitting the test.   If you cannot produce it you will not be permitted to sit the test and forfeit your booking fee.

There is a veritable ocean of material (books, DVDs, online, computer programs etc.) available to prepare you for the driving theory test and they cover the entire spectrum of expense and convenience.  If, like me, you are on a tight budget, then use public libraries to obtain written material, or look to eBay or Amazon for secondhand copies (just ensure you are using a recent copy as there are occasional changes to the material).

I used the AA Driving Theory Test book from a local library.  It includes 1200+ practice questions and took me about two evenings to work through the entire  book.  In addition to this book, I picked up a copy of the DSA Official Highway Code book for reference purposes as the AA book only gives questions and answers with little or no explanation (at the time, Sussex Stationers, a high street bookstore, had this on special offer for GBP 2.99.)

A week before my driving theory test, Woolworths went out of business and I bought the third and final piece of preparation material for the tests at a knock-down price.  It was the [ad#co-1] for the PC and was well worth the money.  It retails for GBP 9.99, but some retailers sell it for a little less and cheaper secondhand copies are available via eBay and Amazon.  Again, be sure to buy the most recent release.  The DVD contains a wealth of material including practice theory tests, the Highway Code book and, more importantly, practice Hazard Perception Tests.

The Hazard Perception Test is the second part of the driving theory test and follows immediately after the 50 question multi-choice theory test.  In it, you will be shown a series of videos and you will use the mouse to identify when certain situations on the screen could develop to become a hazard to you as driver and other road users (for example, a cyclist moving out ahead of you to pass a parked vehicle.)  I strongly recommend working through the entire selection of 30 or 40 clips given on the Driving Test Success DVD.

For experienced American drivers, the multi-choice part of the test will be similar to the written test used in some states, although a little longer.  Just be aware of the differences (roundabouts instead of four-way stops, speed limit differences etc.) and the fact that the underlying principles of both theory and practice test are put in place to encourage safe driving (sometimes to an excessive degree.)

You get your test results immediately and must pass both parts of the test before proceeding to book the driving practical test. If you do not reach the passmark for one section of the test, then you must resit both sections again (paying the full entrance fee again).

Here are some additional tips and recommendations based on my first hand experience:

  • make sure you know the location of, and transit time to, the test center; if possible drive/travel to the test center timing your journey, also scope out parking in the area as many test centers do not provide parking for candidates;
  • on the day try to arrive 10 minutes early; if there is availability, the test administrators might allow you to sit the test early. I was 45 minutes early and as a result finished my test before my scheduled start time;
  • if you are not going to the test center alone then find out whether the test center allows non-candidates to enter their offices; the test center I used offered no waiting area for non-candidates;
  • read the above-mentioned AA book from cover to cover as it contains questions very similar to the multi-choice section of the test; I’d be willing to wager 95% of my actual test questions were similar to questions in the book.

Once you pass the driving theory exam you will be given a pass certificate. With this certificate, you will be able to book the driving practical test online.

** EDIT: On April 1st 2009, the fee for the theory test went up to GBP 31.

** EDIT [2010-04]: From October 2009, a further element (the “case study“) was added to the theory test. It involves a scenario or short story delivered and answered as part of the multiple-choice part of the test; candidates are asked 5 questions about each scenario. Much additional informative comment – including information about the case study questions – can be found on the DSA’s youtube channel.


Recently, I went through the protracted ordeal of obtaining a full UK driving license.

In order to gain a full UK driving license, one must pass two examinations in the prescribed order:  the theory test and the practical test. 

The theory test comprises two parts delivered by computer.  Part one is a fifty-question multi-choice test based on the UK Highway Code which you answer via a computer touchscreen.  Part two is the somewhat controversial hazard test which you answer at the same computer screen using the mouse.

For me, there was a great disparity between how, on the one hand, these tests were presented to, and largely feared by, the public at large, and the reality in that they are simply a well designed sequence of tests aimed at emphasizing good practice and safe driving.  Without any formal UK driver training, I was able to ace the theory test (100%) and pass the practical driving test with very few driving faults. 

In this entry, the first in a series of three, I will reflect on my experience from beginning to end in the hope that it will shed light on the process and ease some of the anxiety and heartache for anyone currently embarking on the same journey.  Largely, this is written from the perspective of an individual transitioning from a United States license and driving environment to a UK license, however much of the detail could apply to individuals coming from one of the many other countries which have no reciprocal license arrangement with the UK.

In order to book the UK Driving Theory Test, one must first have a UK provisional license (similar to a US Learner’s Permit).  Unlike the US, where most mid- to large-sized towns have one or more offices authorized for the distribution of licenses (BMV/DMV), in the UK the issuing of all driving licenses is undertaken by a centralised agency, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), in Swansea.  To get a UK provisional driving license, one must fill out the required form (currently called the D1 application form).  You can get this form from any branch of the UK Post Office.  Once complete,  send it to the DVLA in Swansea with a recent passport photograph, your current passport and payment (currently GBP 50.00) in an appropriate form.  

If sending a passport through the post sounds like a risky undertaking then I agree, it is.  However, the Post Office offer an expedited, registered service for this purpose and I strongly suggest paying the GBP 5.00 and using it.  Likewise, when returning your passport, since the DVLA cannot be held liable for loss in transit, it is a good idea to pay for registered, expedited service for the return (and make a note of the serial number on the return envelope before sending it away).  By default, the DVLA send back your passport as regular first class mail. 

The DVLA are understandably strict when checking the form and will not hesitate to return it as incomplete if there is reason to do so (for example, if your signature is not entirely within the bounds of the box provided).  If time is tight, then you can have the form checked at a local DVLA center for a small fee and they will also send in your form to Swansea.  Some post offices also offer this form checking service for the same small fee.

The DVLA will send back your passport once they have performed the required checks (usually within 10 days) and provided there are no errors or incomplete sections on the D1 form, your provisional license should be with you within three weeks of them receiving your application.

Here are some additional recommendations based on my first hand experience:

  • be sure to double check  your application (or have someone else run their eyes over it) and wherever possible have it checked and received at a local DVLA office.  In my experience, post office staff were able to answer only the more superficial questions related to the process; however, this might not nescessarily be true of all post office staff;
  • be fully aware of the photograph requirements as these have changed in recent times and may be different from current US passport photograph regulations (for example, you must take off your glasses for the photo even if you are unable to see anything without them etc.)
  • hand in your application at a local DVLA office;  the staff will check your form and knowledgeably answer any questions you have related to the process.  Also, depending on the origin of the passport you hold, they might be able to perform certain checks and return your passport on the spot;
  • if sending your passport to the DVLA in Swansea, be sure to include the necessary payment and paperwork to have your passport returned via insured registered mail (note the serial number of the return envelope!);
  • take appropriate funds to pay for your license processing fee, GBP 50.00 at the time of writing;  DVLA local offices will take a GB sterling cheque drawn on a UK bank, cash or banker’s check;  if you are not using a local DVLA office then be sure to send in the fee in an appropriate form;

Once you hand over the forms and payment, you’ll have to wait approximately three weeks before your provisional license arrives.  If you are under time contraints (as was I) then be sure to put this time to good use by beginning to prepare for your UK Driving Theory Test.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to get this process started as soon as possible.  If you carry a full US driving license then, at the time of writing, UK law permits you to drive on your US license for a maximum of twelve months commencing the day you enter the UK.  Before entering the UK, you should ensure your US license is valid for a further 12 months since because, depending on your circumstances and situation, it could take anything from 8 weeks to 12 months to get a full UK driving license.  Be aware there are many steps involved in obtaining a UK driving license, each of which can (and quite possibly will!) take a little longer than you anticipate.