Published: 17 Nov 2021  |  Category: Integration  |  Stage: We have welcomed a family

Driving in the UK

Understand how you can support a refugee to drive in the UK

Community Sponsorship groups have shared with us that many of the newly arrived refugees they are welcoming are keen to have access to their own transport, to enable them to be independent. Refugees arriving with a valid driving licence from another country are usually permitted to drive on that licence for 12 months. In order to continue driving after this time, they must apply for a provisional driving licence, and pass their theory and practical test in the UK. In England, Wales and Scotland the theory test can only be taken in English, with audio descriptions available in English. In Northern Ireland, the theory test can be taken in Arabic. 

Groups can support refugees who wish to continue to drive in the UK. In this resource, we provide practical ways in which you can help.

For family members wishing to continue to drive in the UK longer than 12 months after arrival, we suggest obtaining a provisional licence and booking a test as soon as is realistically possible. Further advice on supporting family members whose permit has expired is available at the end of this article.

Providing support to family members wishing to drive in the UK

If the family member you are supporting does hold a valid licence and can drive in the UK, it can be difficult to explain why they can do so for 12 months following arrival but, in that time, they must also pass their test. Groups have told us that this can cause lots of confusion, so it’s important to be clear from the outset. The theory test can only be taken in English and Welsh, so in order to pass this test, the driver must have strong enough English skills to understand the questions. You can support them to pass their test if they wish to do so as part of their goal setting activities.

There is a budget form to help family members calculate the cost of buying and running a vehicle and some top tips from Abdullah, one of our Experts by Experience, on how to successfully qualify as a driver in the UK. This resource is also available translated side-by-side into Arabic, as a download.

What to explain

It’s essential that you provide clear guidance to the person you are supporting that in order to drive in the UK they must: 

  • Hold a valid licence from another country
  • The rules for new residents driving in Great Britain are as follows;
    • New residents possessing valid driving licences issued by countries outside the European Community/European Economic Area (EC/EEA) may drive any category of small vehicle (cars up to 3.5 tonnes and with up to 8 passenger seats) shown on the licence for up to 12 months from the date they became resident;  
    • To continue driving on the expiry of the 12 month period a new resident must obtain a British driving licence in the case of a holder of a non-exchangeable driving licence, by passing a British driving test;
    • To take a driving test, a provisional driving licence must be obtained, although provisional licence conditions would not apply until the expiry of the initial 12 month period; 
    • An application for a provisional driving licence can be made in any Post Office branch that deals with car tax, by picking up a UK driving licence application form (D1). The completed form needs to be sent to the DVLA, Swansea, using the appropriate postcode shown on the form. An identity document such as a passport or biometric residence permit will need to be included with the application;
  • Their car must be registered with the DVLA, taxed, insured and hold a valid MOT. Not doing so can lead to prosecution – you should do everything in your power to make this clear. The DVLA do not provide this information in Arabic and you might find it useful to have these points translated; you’ll then know that you have done everything within your gift to make the family aware of the consequences of not adhering to this.
  • Abide by the laws of the road – you may find it useful to explain speed limits, parking restrictions, congestion charging/toll roads where applicable, the use of bus lanes and any other useful information including wearing seatbelts and the use of child car seats.  
  • Be able to read a number plate from 20 meters away.
  • If one of the family members expresses an interest in driving in the UK, you could carry out a budget setting exercise, explaining the running costs for a car and how you can support this. An example of this is detailed below. 
  • It is not your role as a Community Sponsorship group to provide a car for a family, however, you could help them to budget or assist them in searching for an appropriate vehicle. If you do decide that you will fundraise or provide financial support for the purchase of a vehicle, you should make it clear how you are able to do this, and that the provision of it does not make you responsible for the upkeep of the vehicle.  
  • That within 12 months, the driver must apply for a provisional license, pass their theory and practical tests and ensure that they have car insurance, tax and maintain the MOT. 
  • You should ensure that you make the driver aware of the impact of committing driving offences. Foreign licence holders who commit road traffic offences in this country are subject to the same penalties as British licence holders;
    • If the holder of a foreign (non-EU) licence obtains a British provisional licence and during the period for which he can drive on his national licence is convicted of an endorsable offence, details of the conviction would be entered on the agency’s database and on the provisional driving licence.  
    • The endorsement would also stay on the British driving licence for four years or up to 11 for more serious offences. 
    • A driver can be banned (disqualified) from driving if they are either convicted of a driving offence, or get 12 or more penalty points (endorsements) within 3 years. They will get a summons in the post that tells them when they must go to court.
    • More details are available from


How you can help with driving tests

As well as assisting the family in budgeting for owning a car and driving in the UK, you could help in preparing them to take their tests. You can do this by: 

  • Explaining how to apply for a provisional licence, what is needed to drive a car and explain the process to apply for a licence. The DVLA website provides a step-by-step guide on this.
  • Explaining how the driving test works in the UK; that there is a theory and practical element to this. Explain that many people do not pass first time.  
  • You could build your informal ESOL classes around the language needed by those who drive in the UK. You can read more about how the Croeso Abergwuan group achieved this on the Citizens UK website.  
  • You’ll find it useful to go through the theory test yourself to understand the questions that will be asked, and the language used. Groups have told us that the individuals they are supporting have often struggled to understand words such as ‘hard shoulder’ and ‘blustery’. You can take a free theory test for Cars and Motorcycles online. Make sure you practice these words. Theory test apps are also available. 
  • The Glasgow Syrian Network has created some videos of the theory test translated into Arabic which have been uploaded to YouTube; this might be a useful tool to point drivers toward but be sure to emphasise that the actual test will only be in English.
  • When the refugee you support signs up for their theory test, they can tick a box to be able to listen to the questions through a headset in addition to reading. This can be useful to someone learning English as hearing and reading the question simultaneously might lead to better comprehension.
  • Should the refugee you are supporting not pass their test first time, make sure you take time to reflect on their journey so far and explain how you can assist going forward. Remember that many British people don’t pass the first time either!

Providing support to family members with an expired permit

If you are supporting someone whose permit has expired, you should take time to explain:

  • It would be illegal to continue to drive on a non UK license, this means that should they be involved in an accident there would be no insurance in place. 
  • Offer to support the family with any statutory off road notices on their vehicles and updating insurance
  • Offer to continue to practice the theory test with the family member

Other considerations

  • Discuss whether your group could support the driver to continue driving on their provisional license by being in the passenger seat. You should think through carefully how this might work in line with the boundaries you have set as a group, and the level of risk you would be taking. For example, if the driver does not speak English and you do not speak their language, how would you take responsibility for keeping them safe?
  • If the family member is driving at present and it’s essential for them, would they consider riding a scooter/moped if they stay local? They would need to pass the CBT certificate before being able to ride on a provisional licence. 


Budgeting for a car [84.9KB] Download .PDF

Budgeting for a car - MSWord version [41.1KB] Download .DOCX