Well, not exactly a life of crime, but I feel as if that's what I've been doing. When we pitched up at Newcastle airport's car rental desk last week, I presented my old, pink, paper UK driving licence to the clerk. (For some reason I assumed rental companies would feel safer with someone who'd passed a British driving test, albeit several decades ago.) The poor guy nearly fell off his chair when he saw it and asked me how long I'd been out of the country.
So I sort of lied and said "About twenty years, off and on". Which is true.
I was then told to send my licence back to the DVLA immediately and under no circumstances to show it if a police officer required prrof of eligibility.
"Oh", I said.
According to Mr. Car Rental, a) I should have a new plastic licence with photo ID, and b) I won't be able to get one because I'm not resident in the UK.
Well then. Who knew.
As soon as I could I went on to the DVLA web site to clear up the matter (and research this blog post). Most of what he said is there in black and white.
- You can't renew a UK driving licence unless you're resident in the UK.
- You can drive for a year on many foreign licences (including a US one).
- The new, plastic licences actually have an expiry date on them (which many Brits apparently didn't know) so even though you can drive till you're 70, you may have to renew your licence several times before that
I asked what happens when you come back to the UK for say, two years. Mr. Car Rental said you can do something which makes your foreign licence more permanent, but I couldn't find anything to that effect on the web site. And since I have the old pink paper kind, which doesn't have an expiry date on it, what's all the fuss about?
I will be calling DVLA for a full explanation as soon as I have a moment, but just a warning to expat Brits out there - your UK licence may be well past its sell-by date.