Up to 1 million British people living in the EU may have to take new driving tests after a no-deal Brexit if they do not exchange their UK licence for a European one before 29 March, the government has said.
In advice issued on Monday focused on driving in the EU after Brexit, the Department for Transport (DfT) tells UK nationals: “In the event that there is no EU exit deal, you may have to pass a driving test in the EU country you live in to be able to carry on driving there.” It warns that as Brexit approaches, there may be delays in processing exchange applications.
Short-term visitors could also have to return to the UK to obtain paperwork over a post office counter, with three different types of international driving permit potentially required for British holidaymakers in Europe in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The advice is likely to cause particular consternation to more than half a million Britons living in France and Spain, where many have retired and may have passed driving tests some decades earlier.
Currently, British driving licence holders can drive in all EU and European Economic Area countries using their normal licence, without a permit.
Ireland is the only EU country where British drivers will definitely still be able to travel without additional checks after Brexit, according to the government.
Adding to the potential confusion and new rules for British drivers, visitors to France and Spain would also require different types of permits because the two countries ratified different conventions.
Drivers with existing international driving permits (IDPs) issued in Britain, which are obtainable through motoring organisations such as the AA or RAC, have either 1949 or 1926 permits.
Britain will start issuing a third type, for those countries that have ratified the 1968 convention on road traffic, which will be necessary for most EU member states – although a 1949 version will be needed for Spain, as well as Cyprus, Malta and Iceland.
But from the end of January, the permits – which can currently be bought online for £5.50 – will only be obtainable at UK post-office counters.
The AA described the situation as “a real mess”. Edmund King, the motoring organisation’s president, said: “Thousands of expats, many of them elderly, will not relish the prospect of having to retake their driving test in a different country and different language if there is no deal.
“Drivers without the appropriate IDPs could also be turned back at the ports. Currently they could obtain an IDP from the AA shop at the Eurotunnel port, but that won’t be allowed after the end of this month.”
“It’s another thing which is a real mess and could potentially catch people out, particularly expats. It really does seem a backward step that drivers will no longer be able to apply for IDPs in the post.”
The UK will continue to allow EU citizens to drive with their EU licence in Britain after Brexit, the DfT confirmed, for up to three years after coming to live in the UK, and allow any them to exchange their licence for a British one.
The latest no-deal scenarios emerged as the government updated its information on travel after Brexit, including collating advice for those working in the aviation industry. UK licences or safety certificates for pilots and cabin crew may no longer be recognised in Europe after March, potentially grounding some who work for airlines operating in the EU – such as Ryanair.
While the DfT advises pilots who could be affected to seek to transfer their licences to another European state, the regulator, the CAA, has said it cannot guarantee that process would take place in time.