Is your driving licence valid?

30-second check to save a £1,000 fine

Over two million people have an out-of-date photocard driving licence. There's a £1,000 fine if you don't renew it, so check yours now.

This guide shows you how to check whether your licence is valid, how and where to renew, and how to ensure you're covered when driving abroad, plus what to do if you still have a paper licence.

In this guide...

Check your driving licence NOW or risk a £1,000 fine

There are three big checks to do on your driving licence. Dig yours out NOW and ensure you do 'em all, or you could be stung with a £1,000 fine.

1. Check the photocard driving licence expiry date

Photocard licences replaced paper licences in 1998, and must be renewed every 10 years. The DVLA says a whopping 2.3 million photocards are out of date.

Driving licence photos must be replaced every 10 years (no matter how young you look!)

It's easy to forget, but a quick check now could save you a fine of up to £1,000 if your photocard's expired. It's an annoying £14 to renew (£17 if you renew by post), but that's a far better option.

There are a few dates printed on the photocard, but the one you need's the photo expiry date printed on section 4b on the front of the card. If you really can't find your photocard, see how to renew below.

  • The process is similar, whether you're renewing a licence or replacing a lost or stolen one. There are three ways to apply:

    • Online.

      You can apply online at Gov.uk, providing you've a valid UK passport.

    • By post.

      Alternatively, anyone can get forms from most Post Offices, or order one from the DVLA website (in the other ways to apply section).

    • In person at selected Post Offices.

      This costs an extra £4.50 on top of the £17 fee.

  • There's a £14 fee for each renewal if you do it online, £17 if you renew by post. You should be sent a reminder and form about two months before expiry. However, as many miss this or forget, it's well worth making a note of when yours expires.

    Though the photocard needs to be renewed every 10 years, in general, driving licences are valid until you're 70, after which it needs renewing every three years. If you only need to update your address or name, or you're over 70 and you're just renewing it, this is free. There's no limit to the number of times you can update your name and address for free.

    The new card should arrive within three weeks (though it's wise to apply earlier just in case). If you apply online, you'll usually get your new card within one week.

  • The DVLA's told us it strongly advises people to renew photocards promptly to avoid the risk of being fined up to £1,000, but don't panic if you've overlooked yours – it says renewing late won't prompt a fine.

  • A DVLA spokesperson told us:

    Appearances can change, and it's important that photocard licences are updated every 10 years.

    This is to ensure the police and other enforcement agencies have the best possible photograph to help them correctly identify whether a driving licence is being used fraudulently, and so help prevent driving licence impersonation – stopping disqualified and perhaps dangerous drivers taking to our roads.

    The DVLA writes to every driver when their photocard driving licence is due for renewal, providing instructions on how to renew and the penalty for not doing so.

  • The DVLA scrapped the paper counterpart to the photocard driving licence in June 2015, for anyone with a licence issued after 1998 – it now has no legal status and should be safely binned.

    You used to need the paper part to detail any penalty points. Now, they're stored in an online system.

    If your record needs to be checked by a third party for any reason - for example, you're hiring a car or you drive for a living and your employer needs to check your record - you'll need to request a code. This can be done online and is valid for 21 days.

    However, this only applies to licences issued after 1998. If yours was issued before then and you only have a paper licence, it is still valid so keep it safe and away from the bin - see below for more.

  • If you have a paper licence that was issued pre-1998, these generally don't expire until you're 70, so you don't need to do anything until then unless your address or personal details change. All licences must be in the photocard format by 2033.

    Once you reach 70 there's no fee to renew, and you'll then get a photocard.

    If you want to upgrade before then, you can apply to change your paper licence for a photocard, though it'll cost £20 and you'll need to show extra ID (see Gov.uk).

  • If you're looking to renew your licence, don't just Google it. Sadly, do this and you may find unofficial websites charging a fee of about £10-£80 to process your application, on top of the standard driving licence cost.

    The DVLA told us:

    The DVLA is receiving complaints from customers who have not used the DVLA’s official website to apply for their driving licence. These unofficial sites are not affiliated with the DVLA, and may charge an additional fee.

    So always use the official Gov.uk link to make sure you don't get caught out. If you're concerned about an unofficial driving licence website, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

2. Check your correct address is on it

It sounds bonkers, but forget to update your address and you risk a £1,000 fine if stopped by the police - so check now to make sure it's correct.

If your address isn't accurate, or if you've moved since you registered, it's free to update and you can do this as many times as needed - click below for how.

  • If your address is wrong, you can update it online via Gov.uk, or by post (see Gov.uk for info). There's no limit to the number of times you can do this for free, so it's handy if you have any other house moves down the line. See the Driving licence warning MSE News story for more.

  • If you're only changing your personal details, the photocard's renewal date won't be updated. While it's free to change your personal details, if you decide to include a new photo to renew your photocard at the same time, this will still cost £14 online, or £17 by post. But if you're only updating your address, you don't need to send a new photo unless your previous photo has expired.

3. Check your name is correct if you've changed it

The third check is to make sure your name is correct on your driving licence, particularly if you've changed it since getting married.

Direct Line previously found 3% of married women had an out-of-date name on their licence, which bizarrely could also incur a £1,000 fine. So if you think you could be affected, check now.

  • To update your name, order the form from Gov.uk and post it to the DVLA, along with the documents needed (forms are also available from most Post Offices).

    As with address updates, handily there's no limit to the number of times you can update your name for free. See the Driving licence warning MSE News story for more.

  • If you're only changing your personal details, the photocard's renewal date won't be updated. While it's free to change your personal details, if you decide to include a new photo to renew your photocard at the same time, this will still cost £14 online, or £17 by post. But if you're only updating your name, you don't need to send a new photo unless your previous photo has expired.

Driving in Europe: A UK licence is sufficient

A UK driving licence is accepted throughout the EU, so see the renewal info above to check yours is valid before you go.

It's also worth noting the DVLA advises any driver travelling abroad to carry a photocard licence, rather than an all-paper version. This isn't obligatory, but it may make your journey easier. See above for how to upgrade a paper licence.

Outside of this, don't assume you're automatically covered if you're taking your car to the continent. See our Driving in Europe guide for full help - here are some quick pointers:

  • Car insurance

    Most comprehensive or third party, fire and theft policies become third party (ie, they'll pay if you damage another car but not your own, and you're not covered if your car's stolen) if you drive outside the UK but within the EU or other European countries such as Andorra, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. You may need to tell your insurer about your trip, so check your policy or call to confirm (see our Cheap Car Insurance guide for more info).

  • Breakdown cover

    Go outside the UK and often your breakdown cover isn't valid. Do a check and if not, you can either upgrade to a European policy or buy special one-off temporary cover (see Cheap Breakdown Cover).

  • Do a maintenance check

    Do all maintenance before you go, and ensure you've got manuals and the numbers to call if your vehicle breaks down.

  • Driving rules

    Check the country-by-country overseas driving regulations on the AA website to make sure you're familiar with the local rules before you go.

Driving outside the EU: Check if you need an extra permit

A UK driving licence is accepted throughout the EU, but if you're planning a road trip further afield, check if you'll need an International Driving Permit (IDP).

These are required or recommended in over 140 countries, for example Thailand and India. Drive without one where it's needed and you risk trouble with the authorities, and may be refused a hire car.

They're in booklet format, and contain several translations of your driving licence. There are two types, known as the 1926 and 1949 Conventions, and both are the same price. Which you'll need depends on where you're off to.

It's also worth noting that the DVLA advises any driver travelling abroad to carry a photocard licence, rather than the older all-paper version. This isn't obligatory, but it may make your journey easier. See above for how to upgrade a paper licence.

Will I need a permit?

Before you leave, check the AA website for the full list of countries where a permit's required or recommended; it'll also tell you which type to get. You'll need to be 18 or over to get an International Driving Permit, and hold a full driving licence (see above for how to renew).

How to apply

There are two ways to get an IDP:

  • It's £5.50 in person from selected Post Office branches.
  • Alternatively, you can get one by post at £8 from RAC or £8.50 from the AA.

The IDP lasts a year, and you can apply up to three months in advance of going away so there's no need to leave it to the last minute. The fastest way to get one is at the Post Office, where you'll get it over the counter, or the AA's told us you need to allow 10 working days by post.

It doesn't replace a driving licence though, as you'll need to show both when required. Only buy an IDP via the methods above:

Beware websites selling 'international driving licences' – these aren't legally recognised documents, so don't get caught out.

An AA spokesperson told us:

Some people mistakenly refer to International Driving Permits as 'international driving licences'. However, there is no such thing as an international driving licence – they are not legally recognised – so don’t be fooled into buying one, as they are not worth the paper they are printed on.

An IDP, on the other hand, is required or recommended in 140 countries and is recognised internationally – they are issued in accordance with Road Traffic Conventions, which stipulate that they can only be issued by motoring organisations or motoring authorities.

If you're thinking of hiring abroad, check out the Cheap Car Hire guide for tips.

SPOTTED OUT OF DATE INFO/BROKEN LINKS? EMAIL: BROKENLINK@MONEYSAVINGEXPERT.COM