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4A Quay Street, Lymington,SO413AS, info@softlandingsuk.com

Just because South Africans and the British drive on the same side of the road, does not mean it’s all plain sailing - or rather, plain driving - for South Africans moving to the UK who plan on owning a motorcar. In fact, there is lots to learn and some serious tips to take note of.

Exchange your licence

Expert relocation consultants Soft Landings warn that after your arrival in the UK you will only be allowed to use your South African credit card style licence for 12 months. The old style licence found in ID books is not permitted. Soft Landings also advise that you exchange your licence for a Great Britain issued licence before the 12 months expire.

Officially you have up to five years to make this exchange but you will not be allowed to do so after your SA licence has expired. If your SA licence expires you will have to fully retake your driver’s test in the UK or get a new one issued in South Africa.

To swap your credit-card style licence you need to visit the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) website and download order form D1 here. You will need to send the completed form, a £43 fee and documents specified (including your SA credit-card style driving licence – which you don’t receive back) to the address on the form. The process should take no longer than three weeks, or you could get Soft Landings to take care of it on your behalf. The forms are also available at your local post office.


It is highly illegal to drive an uninsured vehicle in the UK. Third party insurance is the legal minimum but you will be well advised to ensure you have comprehensive insurance. Comparison insurance websites offer a good start to look for the best deals.

Soft Landings warn that unlike South Africa where a vehicle’s insurance is not necessarily linked to specific drivers, almost every insurance policy in the UK is directly linked to specified drivers. This means that only the persons specified to drive your vehicle, like you and your spouse – or children of a legal driving age – will be allowed to drive your car. If you drive a vehicle you are not insured to drive, or an uninsured vehicle – you can be given a fixed penalty of £300 and six penalty points (see penalty points below).

Soft Landings will be able to connect you with direct links to their contacts within the insurance industry.

Know ‘The Highway Code’

The Highway Code, first published in 1931, is a set of advice, guides and mandatory rules for all road users in the United Kingdom. Its objective is to promote road safety. Even if you are an excellent road user, The Highway Code makes for essential reading if you intend to drive in the UK. While many rules might seem similar to what you will be used to in South Africa, it does contain information that’s unique to the UK, like explaining the difference between two yellow lines on the side of the road as opposed to one, or what the speed limit is when you see a weird looking white sign with a black line drawn through it at a 45 degrees angle (see below under ‘Speed limits’).

Speed limits

In South Africa, the imperial system for road signs was abandoned as far back as 1961. It is still in use in the UK. All limits and restrictions are set in miles per hour (1 mile = 1.61 kilometres) and yards (1 yard = 0.91 meters). Knowing the national generic limits for cars and motorbikes will make life a lot easier, so you don’t have to convert in your head while driving. On UK roads, it is unusual to find speed limit signs unless the speed limit differs from the ‘standard’ limit for that road type. You will merely see the sign mentioned above and it is your obligation to know what speed limit applies. The column below will explain what you need to know:
If police catch you speeding, you are at risk of:

– A verbal warning;

– Attending a speed awareness course, which you’ll have to pay for;

– A Fixed Penalty Notice (a speeding ticket) plus a £100 fine; or

– Prosecution. You will have to go to court and you could face a fine of up to £1,000 (£2,500 if you were speeding on the motorway) and a possible driving disqualification.

Penalty points

Penalty points are endorsements issued to you for traffic offences, like speeding. They stay on your driving record for between four and 11 years and can see you lose your licence if you collect too many, normally if they collect 12 penalty points over a period of three years, or six penalty points in the first two years that you have held your UK licence. Acquiring penalty points can not only see you lose your licence but can also cause your car insurance premiums to increase drastically.

Great courtesy

Soft Landings also indicates that the courteous behaviour of most UK drivers might come as a surprise to foreigners. When trying to get into a busy road, almost always someone will give you a chance with a wave or flash of lights. The best thing to do, is do the same next time you see someone trying to get in. Another interesting experience is the cars parked in the road. A lot of roads are not very wide and cars are allowed to park in the road. This means a lot of only one lane situations. Again, the polite British drivers will always give way to another driver, and often thank them with a hand gesture for doing so.

And finally…

Terminology – you may have heard this before, but it remains important. What you would refer to in South Africa as ‘robot’ is a ‘traffic light’ in the UK. A ‘traffic circle’ is called a ‘roundabout’. Get these wrong and you will be greeted with blank stares. And while on the topic of traffic lights, before traffic lights turn from red to green in the UK, you will see a yellow flashing light. This simply means you may proceed if it is safe to do so, even if the green light is not on yet.

Zebra crossings – it is mandatory to stop at what is called a ‘pedestrian crossing’ in the UK if a pedestrian has stepped onto it. Many crossings are monitored by CCTV and your £100 fine will be in the post if you fail to do so.

Drinking and driving – simply do not take chances. The British police employ various methods – not only roadblocks – to arrest drunk drivers, which include undercover police officers counting drinks in bars and following patrons home. In England and Wales, the alcohol limit for drivers is 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath or 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine.

The alcohol limit for drivers in Scotland is different than in the rest of the UK. In December 2014 the limit was reduced to 50 milligrammes of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of blood. The breath alcohol equivalent reduced to 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath. The general rule is that more than one drink is too much.

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