Exchanging your foreign driving licence

If you are the holder of a foreign driving licence and you want or need to change to a Northern Ireland driving licence, there are certain conditions that need to be considered when applying.

Driving licences from other countries which are exchangeable

Be alert to unofficial websites offering online driver licensing. You cannot apply for a Northern Ireland driving licence online.

Northern Ireland will exchange community driving licences issued by the following European Economic Area (EEA) member states on a like for like basis:

  • United Kingdom (including Jersey, Guernsey and Isle Of Man)
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden

Northern Ireland will also exchange the equivalent of Category B (car) and Category A (motorcycle) driving licences issued by Gibraltar and 15 designated countries. The designated countries are:

  • Australia
  • Barbados
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Provinces and Territories of Canada
  • Falkland Islands
  • Faroe Islands
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Monaco
  • Republic of Korea
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • Zimbabwe

Motorcycle entitlement from the Republic of Korea and Faroe Islands is not exchangeable.

Designated country licence exchange

Northern Ireland will exchange licences issued by 15 designated countries. The designated countries are: Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Provinces and Territories of Canada, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Monaco, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Zimbabwe.

If you are a visitor in Northern Ireland and hold full ordinary entitlement, you can drive any category of vehicle, up to 3.5 tonnes and with up to eight passenger seats, shown on your licence, for up to 12 months from the date you last entered Northern Ireland. This is whether or not you brought the vehicle into Northern Ireland.

If you also hold full entitlement to drive large lorries or buses, you are only allowed to drive large vehicles registered outside Northern Ireland that you have driven into the country.

To ensure continuous driving entitlement you must apply for a Northern Ireland licence before this period runs out. If you do not do this you must stop driving, although you may still exchange your licence within five years of becoming resident.

Republic of Korea and Faroe Islands

Republic of Korea and Faroe Islands are designated for the exchange of the equivalent Category B (car) but not Category A (motorcycle).

Canadian driving licence

A Canadian driving licence does not show whether the driving test was taken in a car with manual transmission or automatic transmission.

A Northern Ireland driving licence issued in exchange for a licence from Canada will therefore restrict the applicant to driving vehicles with automatic transmission only, unless documentary evidence is submitted which proves that the driving test was taken in a vehicle with manual transmission.

South African driving licence

South African driving licences can only be exchanged if they are in the new style credit card format.

Also, the following rules apply:

  • the South African licence and photograph must be valid - since 18 March 2009, if the photograph has expired the application will be rejected
  • licences must be exchanged within five years of being resident in Northern Ireland
  • other types of licences issued in Transkei, Ciskei, Venda, KaNgwane, KwaNdebele, Gazankula, Lebowa and Bophuthatswana are not acceptable for exchange
  • if you only hold a letter of entitlement from the South African Driving Licence Authority, this must show an expiry date and be valid for six months from the date of issue
    If you are exchanging your South African photocard driving licence, this will be returned to the South African licensing authority.

Vocational designated licence holders

New residents may not drive medium or large vehicles or passenger carrying vehicles until they have passed the relevant Northern Ireland driving test. Gibraltar vocational licence holders can drive for 12 months and can exchange a valid vocational licence within five years of date of residency.

Applying for the exchange of your foreign driving licence

If you want or need to change your driving licence for a Northern Ireland driving licence, you must complete the application form DL1 that is available from the main Post Office branches or MOT test centres.

You will need to enclose original paperwork confirming your identity, a passport style colour photograph and suitable proof of residency (see 'identity documents and photographs' link below for further details). Send your completed application and the right fee to:

Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA)
Driver Licensing
County Hall
Castlerock Road
Waterside
Coleraine
BT51 3TB

If you don't want to post personal documents such as passports, licences and so on to the DVA Driver Licensing office because you'd prefer to visit the office in person, it's best to make an appointment before your visit by telephoning 0300 200 7861 and asking for the Identity Checking section. At the appointment, DVA staff will check your documents and return them to you.  

If your vocational licence was issued in a European Economic Area (EEA) country you need only send a medical report form if, on exchange, you are 45 years of age or over. This applies even if your vocational licence is still current. 

Medical form DLM1 is available from MOT test centres, or you can contact DVA on:

  • phone: 0300 200 7861

Rules for exchange

The following conditions must be met before a licence can be granted in exchange for a NI one:

  • you must be normally resident in NI and have a permanent address here
  • if you are a community driving licence holder applying for a NI driving test at the same time as exchanging your licence, you must have been resident in NI for at least six months before taking your test
  • licences from the designated countries must be current at the time the application for exchange is received by DVA but if your driving test was not passed in the designated country that issued your current driving licence you may not be able to exchange therefore contact DVA for advice
  • licences from the designated countries must be exchanged within five years of being resident in NI
  • DVA do not exchange any bus or lorry entitlements from licences issued in a designated country - this also applies if you passed any lorry/bus tests in a designated country
  • licences from the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands are acceptable for exchange if issued after 1 April 1991 - those issued in any EEA country may be valid for exchange even if they have expired, but must be supported by a Letter of Entitlement from the issuing authority which they have obtained within the last two months
  • when exchanging a licence from a designated country in order to get a NI driving licence which confers entitlement to drive vehicles with manual transmission, DVA must be satisfied that the driving test was passed in a vehicle with manual transmission - or the NI licence will be restricted to vehicles with automatic transmission
  • you must surrender your foreign licence which will be returned to the issuing authority
  • international driving permits are not exchangeable
  • test pass certificates are not exchangeable except for those issued in Great Britain or Gibraltar when the test was passed within two years of the date of the licence application
  • Japanese licences must be accompanied by an official translation, available for a fee from the:
Consulate General of Japan
101-104 Piccadilly
London
W1J 7JT
or
Consulate General of Japan
2 Melville Crescent
Edinburgh
EH3 7HW

Republic of Korea licences must be accompanied by an official translation from the:

Embassy of the Republic of Korea
60 Buckingham Gate
London
SW1E 6AJ

You may have to pay a fee to the Embassy of the Republic of Korea for this service.  Translations from other sources are not acceptable.

Motorcycle licences from the Republic of Korea and Faroe Islands are not exchangeable.

Return of supporting documents

The driving licence fee includes return of your supporting documents (where applicable) by second class post. If you would like your supporting documents returned by secure delivery, you must send the right size pre-paid special delivery envelope.

DVA will not provide compensation for any loss or delay resulting from the use of second class post.

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