Can I drive in the US with a full UK license?

Can I Drive in the US With a Full UK Licence?

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People with UK driver’s licences are able to rent vehicles to drive in the US, due to an agreement between US and UK officials. The age restrictions for renting a car will depend on the company and some will allow you to hire a car at the age of 21 but many of the main hire companies have a minimum age of 25.
The good news is that yes, you are able to drive in the US with a full UK licence nd do not require a US licence unless you are moving there. However, there are a number of different factors to consider if you are planning on driving in the US, especially if you are thinking about hiring a car.
Legally, a UK licence is accepted to allow you to drive in the US. You should also be aware that there are different driving laws across different States in the US. Wherever it is that you are planning on visiting in the US, you should check the local driving laws to see if they are different to where you usually drive. To start with, driving in the US is on the right-hand side of the road, so if you are used to driving in the UK that will be one major difference!

What Documents Do You Need to Drive in the USA?

There is a reciprocity agreement between the USA and Canada, Germany, France, and other countries when it comes to driving licences. But, unfortunately, there is no reciprocity agreement when it comes to the UK driving licence in the USA. If you are a new driver, in a new state of residence, you have to apply for a UK licence. The process involves an application, theoretical test and practical test, and also proof of residence and visa. The driving licence will be valid in all states of the USA. But beware that the laws differ in the states of the USA, and drive legally, and responsibly. Respect the speed limits at all times, stay on marked roads, be aware of special weather and road conditions, follow parking rules, etc.
If you have intentions to drive in the USA in a short term, you will need a full UK driving licence or an International Driving Permit (IDP). In case you have an old-style paper driving licence, a passport, and an IDP will be alternative forms of photographic ID. The UK driving licence in USA is usable, but in short term. With this information, you can start to prepare to drive safely on your road trip around the USA.

How to Apply for International Driving Permit (IDP)?

You can apply for an international driving permit at a post office over the counter, which costs £5.50. You must be living in the UK or Northern Ireland when you apply and have a driving licence issued in the UK, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, or Guernsey.
You must get to a post office to pay the fees and apply for the IDP. Take your photo-card licence, a valid passport, and passport photographs when applying for your IDP. Also, get car insurance with your IDP to cover you when you're driving abroad. It helps to know the requirements of the country you plan to use the IDP and align yourself with them.

Car insurance Is Necessary to Drive in the United States

In the United States, you are only allowed by law to drive if you have the financial capacity to handle damages and liabilities in case of an accident. The easiest way to prove this is through car insurance, which is mandatory in many states.
Each driver must provide proof of assets in states where car liability insurance is not compulsory. The assets must be sufficient to cover medical bills and damages in an accident. If you do not have recognized car insurance or proof of assets, you risk facing legal penalties like losing your driving licence or car registration. In case of an accident, you may spend a fortune on damages and hospital bills.

Driving Laws Are Different in the US: Rules and Regulations in the USA

US driving rules vary from state to state. Each state in America has its own rules and regulations. Most traffic regulations are similar to other countries, but some road signs and traffic lights may differ. Drivers are encouraged to understand the traffic regulations of the state in which they are driving.
Even though the driving regulations between the UK and the USA have some differences, it is essential to take care of the oncoming traffic, traffic lights, and avoid drunk driving in every country across the globe. Below, you fill find the top tips for your driving in the USA:
  • Vehicles in the USA drive on the right side of the road.
  • Overtake others on the left side of the road.
  • All vehicle drivers must wear seat belts.
  • Turning right at a red light is permitted, but unless otherwise stated, it is only permitted after a stop.
  • The use of mobile phones while driving is prohibited except for the hands-free kit.
  • Always use a turn signal when turning right or left.
  • Radar detectors are illegal in some states.
  • All vehicles must give way to emergency vehicles, police, ambulance, firetrucks.
  • The driver must carry a valid driver's license, registration documents, and insurance documents every time when driving.
  • If you are stopped by the police, pull over safely to the side of the road, turn the car off, roll down your window and do not exit the vehicle.

Things to Consider When Driving in the USA With a UK Licence

Health Insurance

When driving in the United States, you must have comprehensive health insurance. If any traffic accident occurs, proper health insurance is essential to avoid unnecessary administrative work and high treatment costs.

Check Your Driving Licence Is Valid

Any driver in the USA must have a valid driver's licence. You should always carry all your travel insurance in your car, along with your driver's licence, proof of residence/visa, and IDP.

Shipping a Car to the United States

If you are thinking of shipping your car or several cars to the United States, due to restrictions on vehicle imports into the United States, bureaucratic hurdles need to be cleared. You must comply with the requirements and standards of Customs and Border Protection, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Ministry of Transport. For many, buying a new car in the United States is easy and cheap. However, if you are considering shipping your car, we recommend that you use the services of a qualified and experienced moving service for cars that understands the appropriate protocols and logistics.
Each driver is required to pay the appropriate fine in accordance with national law. If you do not comply, your vehicle registration will not be extended.

Car Hire Companies

It is important to note that some car hire companies will require that you have an International Driver’s Permit before they will let you hire a car from them. Whilst it is not considered to be compulsory for driving in the US, the stance on requiring IDP varies between the hire companies
An IDP is available to apply for from post offices in the UK and costs £5.50. If you have time to apply for one, then it will make hiring a car much easier.

Insurance Type

One of the other factors to consider is the type of insurance that you get with your car hire company. Not all companies will provide full insurance as some States do not require third-party insurance, or Supplementary Liability Insurance as it is referred as in the US.
It is worth shopping around a bit to see what the best car hire deals are, taking into account all of the other factors such as whether there is any excess payments for younger drivers, or what the fuel policy includes, as some companies will charge considerably more for fuel consumption compared to what you would pay if you filled it up yourself at a fuel station.

The Age Limit for Driving

There are different rules regarding the ages of drivers that car hire companies will accept. Some companies will allow drivers of 18 years and over, whilst many insist that drivers are at least 21 years old. Previously, it was very common for car hire companies to only allow foreign drivers aged 25 and over to hire vehicles in the US.
If you are flying into the US with ESTA then the best place to pick up a hire car will be at the airport, althoughthis won’t necessarily be the cheapest place to hire a vehicle. By arranging your car hire as early as possible, you should be able to get the best deals and this will also give you more time to check the different requirements and the insurance details of each company that you look at using.

To Conclude: The Checklist for Driving in the US

In conclusion, here is the checklist for UK citizens driving in the US:
  • You must be above 18 years and have a valid driver's licence from the UK. If you plan to drive rental cars in the US, have your IDP handy, as many rental companies require it.
  • Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of driving in the US and the state you plan to drive in, as different states have varying driving laws. Also, keep in mind that vehicles drive on the right in the US.
  • Get a valid car and health insurance to cover you while in the US in the unfortunate event of an accident.
  • Anytime you drive, always have your driver's licence, passport, registration documents, and insurance on you.
  • If you plan on using a car rental in the US, familiarize yourself with their rules and regulations. Some rental companies do not rent cars to people under 21, and some are 25. Most do not rent cars to people without an IDP.
To cap it up, UK citizens aren’t just allowed to travel to the US with an ESTA instead of a traditional visa if they meet the criteria, but they are also allowed to drive in the US with a UK licence.
If you do drive in the states, ensure you meet all the requirements to avoid legal action being taken against you or spending a fortune in case of an accident.


As a foreigner, you can drive in the US with a UK licence for three months from when you enter the US. When this time expires, you either stop driving or use your IDP if you have one. If you plan to stay longer than three months in the US and drive during your stay, you should get an IDP from your home country. The US does not issue IDP to short-stay visitors.
Unless you have become a New York resident, you do not need a New York driver's licence to drive in New york. You can drive there with a UK licence, an IDP, or an out-of-state licence provided it is valid.
The UK driving licence is recognized in many countries around the world. You can use your UK driver's licence in the US, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Iceland, Canada, Norway, and most parts of the European Union. If in doubt, get an IDP, as it is recognized in about 140 countries worldwide.
You do not need an international driving permit to drive in the US if you do not plan on staying more than three months in the US. You only need an IDP if you will stay longer than three months or if you plan to use a rental car during your stay.

Written by Abisola Fikayomi

Abisola is an accomplished writer interested in US Travel, immigration, passports and visas. She’s passionate about exploring new places and cultures and willing to share her experiences, expertize and findings with others. That is her primary drive for specialising in this industry.