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I’m looking into buying a cheap car to use for travelling around Australia but have been spending quite a bit of time trying to ascertain the legalities/pitfalls of doing so with a UK issued licence. I’m 22 years old, passed my test four months ago in the UK and have a twelve month working holiday visa. I arrived about a month ago and wish to travel across a number of territories including (but not necessarily limited to) South Australia, Victoria, the ACT, New South Wales and Queensland. I’m presently in South Australia. Additionally, I don’t currently have an International Drivers Permit (IDP) but plan to acquire one soon (since the UK licence is already in English these aren't necessary but I want to get one anyway in case I need one in the future).

When I arrived I assumed that my UK licence would be sufficient to get behind the wheel of a car and drive off into the sunrise. However, I’ve heard a lot of conflicting information about this; some people have told me I’m only allowed to use my UK licence for three months after arriving in the country while other people tell me I’d have to wear P Plates since I’ve had my licence for under a year. And other people tell me that this is all nonsense and I’m good to go as is, without any restrictions. I’ve found a bit of chatter on forums about this but nothing definitive or authoritative.

I’ve been using the following site in an attempt to answer some of my concerns: http://australia.gov.au/faq/existing-licence-driving-in-australia

It’s the government website so obviously seems more legit that other resources, but I was disappointed to see the following written on there:

“As a general rule, you are able to drive in Australia, as a visitor, on a valid overseas driver's licence that covers the same vehicle class for a maximum of three months after arriving in Australia.”

I’m hoping to work for a few months in SA before travelling off to see the rest of Oz by car, so to read that is a bit deflating as it implies red tape I’d rather not have to cut through. However, I’ve set to researching this further and have thus far found very little to substantiate this “general rule”. For example, the ACT website point blank states visiting drivers are not required to obtain a state driving licence. The link to the SA page similarly states “If your visit is temporary, you may drive the equivalent vehicle in Australia as authorised by your current licence issued to you in your home country” with no other restrictions. NSW is a bit more complicated, claiming a state licence isn't required so long as you’re only a visitor but goes on to state “If you are regarded as a temporary overseas visitor and have resided in Australia for a continuous period of at least six months, you may apply for a NSW licence.”, although I’m interpreting this as an optional thing rather than a necessity. Each site I check seems to say similar things.

Essentially, I’m seeing very little to back up the “maximum of three months” general rule claim on the actual websites for the respective Road and Traffic Authority. It appears that I can drive with my UK licence without any restrictions for the duration of my working holiday stay. So why do I keep hearing about this three month limit for visitors given that there seems to be so little to back it up? I’d appreciate if someone could put my mind to rest and advise me on whether or not I am legally allowed to drive in Australia presently or in the future based on my situation (22 years old, UK licence under a year old, 12 month working holiday visa) and whether there are any restrictions I ought to be aware of. It follows that if my UK Licence is acceptable for Aussie driving then I won't need to bother with P plates, but if I'm wrong then please correct me there (I'd rather not wear them if I could help it but I don't want to do anything illegal).

Anyway, I sorry for this question being kind of long.

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On the issue of buying a car, you would need to check if you have the necessary documentation required to transfer the vehicle's registration into your name. Part of the transfer involves proof of identity (and residential address) which may/may not be an issue, but worth mentioning. See more here: sa.gov.au/subject/Transport%2C+travel+and+motoring/Motoring/… –  GreaseMonkey Oct 9 '13 at 8:08
    
I think IDP have a relatively short validity, there is no point in paying for one just in case, better do it a few weeks before a trip for which you will actually need it. –  Relaxed Nov 29 '13 at 16:22

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Short answer: Your UK license is fine.

Long answer: Australia is a federal state, each state licenses their own drivers, with the federal government having only minor oversight (eg. ensuring that a license valid in one state is valid in others as well). However, as far as I'm aware, all adhere to the same principle that temporary visitors -- including those on working holiday visas -- can use foreign licenses for the length of their stay, it's only when you switch to a permanent visa that you need to convert to an Australian license. Chapter and verse from the South Australian government's site:

If your visit is temporary, you may drive the equivalent vehicle in Australia as authorised by your current licence issued to you in your home country. ...

If you are issued a permanent visa and become a resident of South Australia, you must obtain a South Australian driver's licence within three months and you may be required to surrender your overseas driver's licence

There's some extra small print about holders of UK provisional licenses and drivers under 19, but since you hold a full license and are 22, none of these conditions apply and you should be good to go.

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Thank you for your answer! In addition, I fired off an email to the South Australian transport authority and received a helpful reply. The main point was as follows: "As a visitor to South Australia, you can drive on the basis of a foreign licence for as long as you can be classed as a visitor, and providing your licence remains current." So everything appears to be AOK. Thanks again :) –  user8540 Oct 9 '13 at 3:33

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