Emigrating to the UK: Buying car insurance and exchanging your foreign driving license

This image shows the Big Ben in the UK and the roads before it.

While the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the UK pushes out the BNO (British National Overseas) visa and extends the LOTR (Leave Outside the Rules). Thus, a number of Hongkongers decided to jump the gun and moved to the UK prior to the reopening of borders. According to the Census and Statistics Department, the net outflow of people alone for last year was 39,800 people. It's no surprise that this broke the record as the highest number of people leaving Hong Kong. Britain's Home Office also recorded 34,300 BNO visa applications in the first season of 2021. Once Hong Kong reopens its borders, this emigration trend will only continue. 

Compared to here, the vast expanses of land in the West means that you might be in trouble without a car. That's why getting a driver's license is necessary to avoid becoming a bird without wings overseas. 

In this series of Kwiksure articles, we'll explore 4 of the most popular emigration destinations among HongKongers: the UK, Canada, Australia, and Taiwan. We'll shed light on the frequently asked questions, including how to exchange your foreign driving license, get a license in the UK, buy car insurance, and how to transfer your NCD/NCB. 

1. Exchanging your foreign driving license

Did you know? There's a driver's license exchange agreement between the UK and Hong Kong. As long as you have your Hong Kong license, you don't need an international driving license. Within 1 year of your entry into the UK, you can legally traverse the roads there. However, past that time frame, you'll need to go through the following process: 

You are eligible for exchanging your driving license if you… 

  • Are a UK resident (includes holders of a Residence Visa)
  • Have a functional address in the UK 
  • Have a Hong Kong driver's license 
  • Have lived in the UK for at least 185 days 

The application process for exchanging your driving license 

  • Sign into and register on the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) website. Request for a "D1 application pack" to be mailed to you.
  • After receiving the form (included in the pack), fill in your personal information, such as your BNO passport number, and so on. Next, mail this back along with all the required documents, including:
  1. GBP £43 for the license exchange + a photograph
  2. Original copy of your Hong Kong driver's license, Hong Kong's Certificate of Driving License Particulars, or the TD320 form (to prove that you've obtained your driver's license in Hong Kong and the length of time/years you've had your license. This is best applied for before you depart for England. After you've completed your form, mail this to the Transport Department together with your car license copy and a HKD $160 cheque. This process should take around 10 working days.) 
  3. BRP (Biometric Residence Permit)
  4. Within 3 weeks, you will receive your UK driver's license. That said, your Hong Kong license will not be returned to you. Its processing time might take even longer because of the serious COVID-19 pandemic situation.

Note that the UK is still in the Brexit transition period, so changes can be made on short notice to the current driving license exchange policy. 

Can the Hong Kong probationary license be exchanged for a provisional driving license in the UK? 

Yes, the application process is the same as above. 

2. Getting a driving license in the UK

We would recommend obtaining your license in Hong Kong if you're planning to move to the UK but don't already have one. That's because exchanging it for a British one is much easier. The UK, along with South Africa, Singapore, Japan, and more, are notorious as countries that are the most difficult to get your license in. To illustrate, the pass rate for the driving test has remained at 40% in the UK for years. However, if you're ready for the challenge, let's take a look at how to get your license in the UK! 

You are eligible for a UK driver's license if you are…

  • A UK resident (includes holders of a Residence Visa)
  • At least 15 years and 9 months old 
  • Able to read road signs 20 meters away 
  • Already living in the UK for at least 185 days within the past year 

The application process for getting a driving license in the UK 

  • Head to the DVLA website to register for learning how to drive. The fee is GBP £34. 
  • About a week later, you will receive a physical copy of the registration form. Complete this form and along with your BRP, mail these back to the DVLA. 
  • Nearly one week later, you will receive a provisional license. 

Theory test

  • Multiple-choice questions - you must score correctly on 43 out of 50 questions, which are based on basic driving knowledge, such as driving rules and scenarios.
  • Hazard perception test - watch 14 simulated driving video clips. Point and click with your mouse the locations of possible hazards. You can score up to 5 points with each item; the passing score is 45 points. Keep in mind that the faster you answer and the more accurate you are, the higher the score.

Driving lessons

  • Some of the most popular driving schools in the UK include BSM, AA, Red, and more. On average, an aspiring driver takes 40 hours' worth of driving lessons - manual driving lessons cost on average GBP £24 per hour, whereas automatic driving lessons are around GBP £27-28 per hour. 

Driving test 

  • Scoring criteria: There must not be any Dangerous Faults or Serious Faults. As for Minor Driving Faults, do not go over the maximum of 15 faults. 
  • The test takes 70 minutes and the items are as follows:
  1. Eyesight test. Read the license plate number from 20 meters away; if you misread it, you will be disqualified.
  2. 'Show me, tell me' questions. The examiner will select 2 out of 19 questions, mainly to test your knowledge on a vehicle's structure and its function. For example, how to check the fuel level. A wrong answer here is only regarded as a Minor Driving Fault.
  3. 40-minute driving. This is divided into two parts, 20 minutes each. The first is to follow the GPS' instructions to reach your destination. Having said that, there are also a fifth of candidates who don't possess a GPS. In their case, they must read the road signs to reach the destination on their own. Though driving examiners would usually have one on the day to provide too. The second part includes following your examiner’s instructions to reach the destination.
  4. Parking. Perform one of the following manoeuvres: parallel parking (S position), bay parking (L position), and pull up and reverse.

3. Buying car insurance in the UK

British car insurance can be expensive or cost-effective. The premiums range from tens of pounds to hundreds of pounds a year. A number of emigrated HongKongers claimed that buying local car insurance when you already hold a British license is cheaper than if you are holding a license issued elsewhere.

Thus, it's best to immediately exchange your driving license after living in the UK for 185 days. You'll also receive the added convenience of using your new local license in place of your proof of address and identity. After which, you can go ahead and secure a long-term car insurance plan.

In addition, car insurance policies in the UK are insured to follow people, not vehicles. Only the named driver will be insured. Other people driving the same vehicle will not be insured. It's important to note that the UK has stricter road safety rules than Hong Kong, and the penalties and fines are also higher.

 4. Transfering your NCD/NCB to the UK

Ask your insurance company in Hong Kong to issue a No Accident Letter, stating how long you've not had an accident and claim compensation. Depending on your insurer, it may charge you a fee of HKD $500. Present the certificate to a local insurance company when you arrive in the UK. Of course, whether British insurers are willing to accept this certificate, or whether they will deduct certain NCDs are up to the company's practices.

Contact Kwiksure for your insurance solutions

Besides car insurance, are you interested in learning more about other types of insurance policies (medical, accident, and life insurance) for emigration? Check out one of our previous articles on a similar topic: Is my insurance still valid after migrating to another country?

Kwiksure has over 20 years of experience in the car insurance industry in Hong Kong. Our parent company, Pacific Prime, also provides car insurance (third party and comprehensive), as well as comprehensive medical insurance in the UK

Contact our team of insurance advisors today for a free UK car insurance plan comparisons and quotations