Driving in the UK as a Tourist: What You Need To Know

Driving in England and the UK as a tourist can be an exciting experience, but it’s essential to familiarize yourself with local rules and customs to ensure a safe journey. This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of the necessary knowledge and information for driving in England and the UK as a tourist.

We’ll begin by discussing how to understand UK road signs, which may differ significantly from those in your home country. Next, we’ll tackle the crucial aspect of driving on the left side of the road – a challenge for many visitors.

Furthermore, we will cover obtaining a UK driver’s license if necessary and explore specific road rules in England and Wales. Finally, navigating roundabouts is an integral part of British driving culture; hence our guide wouldn’t be complete without addressing this topic.

By following our expert advice on “Driving in England and the UK as a Tourist: What You Need to Know,” you’ll feel confident while exploring all these beautiful countries have to offer.

Table of Contents:

Understanding UK Road Signs

Before you hit the road in England or Wales, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with common UK road signs. These signs are designed to keep drivers safe and informed while navigating the roads. In this section, we’ll cover some of the most important road signs you need to know as a tourist driving in the UK.

Driving in the UK as a Tourist

Warning Signs

Warning signs alert drivers about potential hazards ahead, such as sharp bends or pedestrian crossings. They’re usually triangular with a red border and white background. Some examples include:

  • Bend Ahead: Indicates an upcoming bend in the road that requires caution.
  • Narrow Road: Warns that the width of the roadway is restricted ahead.
  • Pedestrian Crossing: Alerts drivers to be prepared for pedestrians crossing at designated points on the street.

Regulatory Signs

Regulatory signs inform motorists about specific rules they must follow on certain sections of roads, such as speed limits or parking restrictions. These can be circular or rectangular and come in various colors depending on their purpose:

  1. Circular Red Border: Mandatory instructions (e.g., Stop sign)
  2. Circular Blue Background: Instructive information (e.g., Minimum Speed Limit)

Speed Limits & Parking Restrictions

Familiarizing yourself with local speed limits is essential when driving abroad since these vary between countries and even within different regions. UK speed limits are displayed in mph and can be seen on circular signs with a red edge.

Parking restrictions are indicated by rectangular signs with a blue or red background, depending on whether parking is allowed or prohibited. Pay close attention to these signs to avoid fines and penalties.

Information Signs

Information signs provide helpful guidance for drivers, such as directions to nearby towns or attractions. They’re usually rectangular with either white text on a green background (for primary routes) or black text on a white background (for non-primary routes). Examples include:

  • Directional Signs: Point the way towards destinations like cities, airports, and tourist sites.
  • Milestone Markers: Display distances between locations in miles.

To ensure safe driving while visiting England and Wales as a tourist, take some time before your trip to study UK road sign meanings and regulations. This will help you navigate unfamiliar roads confidently and legally during your stay.


Key Takeaway: As a tourist driving in England or Wales, it’s important to understand the UK road signs to keep yourself safe and informed while navigating the roads. You need to familiarize yourself with warning signs, regulatory signs such as speed limits and parking restrictions, and information signs that provide helpful guidance for drivers.

Driving on the Left Side of the Road

Driving on the left side of the road can be challenging for those accustomed to driving on the right, but with some practice and preparation, they will soon adjust. However, with some practice and preparation, you’ll quickly adapt to this new way of driving while visiting England or Wales.

Tips for Adapting to Left-Side Driving

  • Mental Reminders: Constantly remind yourself to drive on the left side. You can use visual cues like placing a sticky note on your dashboard or repeating “left” aloud when making turns.
  • Road Markings: Pay close attention to road markings as they will guide you through lanes and intersections. In particular, look for arrows indicating which direction traffic should flow.
  • Junctions and Roundabouts: When approaching junctions or roundabouts, remember that traffic will first come from your right-hand side. Give way accordingly before proceeding.
  • Overtaking: Overtake other vehicles only from their right-hand side (the outside lane). Be cautious not to drift into opposing traffic accidentally during overtaking maneuvers.

Safety Tips While Driving on The Left Side

In addition to adapting your mindset and habits when switching sides of the road, it’s essential to consider safety precautions specific to left-side driving environments:

  1. Buckle Up: No matter where you’re driving in England or Wales, always wear your seatbelt – both drivers and passengers must do so by law (UK Government Seat Belt Law).
  2. Mirrors: Adjust your mirrors properly to ensure a clear view of the road and other vehicles around you. Adjust your mirrors to make sure you can see clearly, as the blind spots may be different when driving on the left side.
  3. Speed Limits: Familiarize yourself with local speed limits and always adhere to them. Speeding can result in fines or even license suspension (UK Government Speed Limit Information). Remember that speed limits are expressed in mph instead of km/h.
  4. Pedestrian Crossings: Be extra cautious near pedestrian crossings, as pedestrians will also come from unfamiliar directions compared to right-side driving countries.

Taking the time to familiarize yourself with these tips and safety precautions will help make your transition into left-side driving smoother and more enjoyable during your visit to England or Wales. If you’re uncomfortable driving, consider using public transport or hiring a driver. Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before your trip and check with your rental car company about any specific rules or regulations. You can also use Google Maps to help navigate unfamiliar road types and traffic lights, but be aware of speed cameras and always drive safely.


Key Takeaway: Tourists visiting England or Wales must adapt to driving on the left side of the road. They can use mental reminders, pay attention to road markings and give way accordingly when approaching junctions or roundabouts. Safety precautions such as wearing seatbelts, adjusting mirrors properly, adhering to speed limits and being extra cautious near pedestrian crossings are essential for a smoother transition into left-side driving.

Obtaining a UK Driver’s License

To drive in the UK, tourists must understand the requirements and conditions of obtaining a valid driver’s license. This section discusses the required documents and any additional conditions that apply to tourists.

International Driving Permit (IDP)

If you hold a driving license from your home country, you may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) alongside your existing license while driving in the UK. An IDP is required if your current driver’s license isn’t written in English or doesn’t have information about categories of vehicles permitted to be driven by its holder.

Visitors from EU/EEA Countries

Suppose you’re a visitor from the EU/EEA and hold a valid driver’s license issued by one of these countries. In that case, it can be used in the UK without an IDP until expiration or up to 12 months after residency is established, if before expiry.

Countries with Exchange Agreements

  • Australia
  • Barbados
  • British Virgin Islands
  • and many more

In addition, certain non-EU/EEA countries have exchange agreements with the UK, allowing their citizens holding valid licenses issued by these nations to drive legally within Britain for up to 12 months without requiring further documentation such as an IDP. After 12 months of residence, drivers must pass both parts of the British driving test – theory and practical – before using their foreign licenses on British roads.

Applying for a UK Driver’s License

If you plan to stay in the UK for an extended period or become a resident, you may need to apply for a UK driver’s license. To do so, you must meet specific eligibility criteria, such as being at least 17 years old and having a valid reason to drive in the country.

Required Documents:

  1. A completed D1 application form is available from the DVLA or Post Office branches.
  2. An original identity document (e.g., passport).
  3. A color passport-sized photograph that meets specific requirements.

In conclusion, obtaining a valid driver’s license is crucial when driving in England and Wales as a tourist. Ensure that British authorities recognize your current license or get an IDP if necessary. If residency is established during your visit, consider applying for a local driver’s license after meeting all relevant requirements.


Key Takeaway: Tourists planning to drive in the UK must understand the requirements for obtaining a valid driver’s license. They may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) alongside their existing license, or if they’re from certain non-EU/EEA countries with exchange agreements, they can legally drive within Britain for up to 12 months without requiring further documentation such as an IDP.

Rules of the Road in England and Wales

When driving in England and Wales, it is essential to familiarize yourself with local laws and regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. This section will overview some key rules necessary for safe and pleasant navigation.

Speed Limits

In general, speed limits are as follows:

  • Built-up areas: 30 mph (48 km/h)
  • Single carriageways: 60 mph (97 km/h)
  • Dual carriageways: 70 mph (112 km/h)
  • Motorways: 70 mph (112 km/h)

These are general guidelines, and specific roads may have different posted speed limits. Pay attention to road signs indicating the maximum allowed speed for your safety and compliance with local traffic laws.

Parking Restrictions

Parking restrictions vary depending on location but generally include:

  • No parking on double yellow lines at any time.
  • No parking on single yellow lines during specified hours – usually indicated by nearby signs or markings.
  • No stopping or waiting within marked zones called “clearways” or “red routes.”
  • Paying close attention when parking near pedestrian crossings, junctions, bus stops, cycle lanes, school entrances, and other restricted areas.

Check out this guide from The Highway Code for more detailed information about UK parking restrictions.

Traffic Signals & Signs

Understanding traffic signals and signs is crucial for safe driving in England and Wales. Some key points to remember include:

  • The red light means stop, while green indicates you may proceed.
  • A yellow light is an alert that the signal will soon transition from green to red or vice versa.
  • Zebra crossings are marked by black-and-white-striped road markings with flashing yellow beacons on either side of the road, giving way to pedestrians waiting at these crossings.

Refer to The Highway Code’s guide on traffic signs for more information.

Seat Belts & Child Restraints

In England and Wales, seat belts must be worn by all vehicle occupants. Additionally, children under 12 or shorter than 135 cm (4 feet, 5 inches) must use appropriate child restraints such as car seats or booster cushions. For more details regarding seat belt laws and child restraint requirements, check out this guide from the UK government.


Key Takeaway: Knowing local laws and regulations is crucial as a tourist driving in England and Wales. Key rules include speed limits ranging from 30 mph to 70 mph, parking restrictions on double yellow lines or clearways/red routes, understanding traffic signals and signs such as zebra crossings, wearing seat belts for all vehicle occupants, and using appropriate child restraints for children under the age of 12 or shorter than 135 cm (4 feet, 5 inches).

Navigating Roundabouts

Understand how to navigate roundabouts safely and efficiently while driving in England or Wales.

Roundabouts are frequent on British highways, created to maintain traffic circulation and lessen the danger of crashes at junctions. As a tourist, it’s essential to understand how to approach and navigate roundabouts correctly. In this section, we’ll cover some key tips for handling roundabouts confidently.

Approaching the Roundabout

  • Maintain your lane: Choose the appropriate lane before entering the roundabout based on your intended exit direction (left lane for left turns or straight ahead; right lane for right turns). Keep within your chosen lane as you approach and enter the roundabout.
  • Giving way: Always give way to traffic already on the roundabout from your immediate right-hand side (Highway Code Rule 185). Wait until there is a safe gap in traffic before proceeding onto the roundabout.
  • Traffic signals: Some larger or busier roundabouts may have traffic lights controlling entry points. Obey these signals just like any other set of traffic lights.

Driving Around The Roundabout

  • Clockwise circulation: Remember that vehicles circulate clockwise around UK roundabouts due to driving on the left side of the road – always ensure you follow this pattern when navigating them.
  • Mirrors & blind spots: Regularly check your mirrors and blind spots as you navigate the roundabout, especially when changing lanes or preparing to exit.
  • Speed: Maintain a safe speed while on the roundabout – usually around 20-30 mph (32-48 km/h), depending on the size and visibility of the junction. Be prepared to adjust your speed if necessary based on traffic conditions.

Exiting The Roundabout

  • Signal: Use your left turn signal before exiting the roundabout to indicate your intention to leave (Highway Code Rule 186). This helps other drivers anticipate your movements and maintain a smooth traffic flow.
  • Maintain lane discipline: Stay in your chosen lane until you have fully exited the roundabout, then check for any road markings or signs indicating which lane you should be in after leaving it.

These tips will help ensure you can confidently handle UK roundabouts during your visit. For more information about driving safely in England and Wales, consider reviewing resources such as Know Your Traffic Signs, which provides detailed explanations of common road signs throughout Great Britain.


Key Takeaway: Tourists driving in England or Wales must understand how to navigate roundabouts safely and efficiently. Approaching the roundabout, maintaining lane discipline, checking mirrors and blind spots, and using signals before exiting are key tips for confidently handling UK roundabouts. It is also important to follow traffic rules, such as giving way to traffic already on the roundabout from your immediate right-hand side and obeying traffic lights controlling entry points of larger or busier roundabouts.

If you’re preparing to pass your UK driving theory test or need additional resources to refresh your knowledge before hitting the road, check out the mock theory test for helpful study materials.


An International Driving Permit (IDP) may be required if your license is not in English. Additionally, ensure you have appropriate insurance coverage and are familiar with local traffic laws.

In England, drivers must stay on the left side of the road and overtake on the right. Familiarize yourself with UK road signs, roundabout navigation rules, speed limits (measured in miles per hour), and local traffic regulations before hitting the roads.

Yes, tourists can drive in the UK provided they hold a valid driver's license from their home country or an International Driving Permit if necessary. Following all local traffic laws and obtaining proper insurance coverage during your visit is essential.

American tourists can use their US driver's licenses for up to 12 months while visiting England without needing an IDP. However, adhering to British traffic regulations and securing adequate car insurance for your trip duration is crucial.