Of all the issues in moving to the UK, Transportation must be one of the most painful. One either has to become accustomed to driving here, deal with getting a UK license, or cope with the public transportation. It’s not easy any way you do it. Even as a pedestrian, one must relearn how to cross the street.
According to the DVLA (Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority), “Visitors may drive vehicles up to 7.5 tonnes and with up to 16 passenger seats, provided your full licence or driving permit remains valid for up to 12 months from the date of entering Great Britain. "
“Residents, provided your full licence remains valid, can drive any category of small vehicle shown on your licence for up to 12 months from the time you became resident. To ensure continuous driving entitlement a provisional GB licence must have been obtained and a driving test(s) passed before the 12 month period elapses. If you obtain a provisional licence during this period, you are not subject to provisional licence conditions e.g. displaying `L’ plates or being supervised by a qualified driver or being precluded from motorways. However, if you do not pass a test within the 12 month concessionary period you will not be allowed to drive as a full licence holder and provisional licence conditions will apply. If you do not apply for a provisional licence within the first 12 months you must stop driving and obtain a British provisional licence with a view to passing a driving test. Provisional licence conditions will then apply."
Applying for a Provisional Licence
If you are required to pass a GB driving test in order to gain a full British licence you must first apply for a provisional driving licence. To do this you should complete a D1 and D750 application form (available from the Post Office) and return it to DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1AD with the correct fee. Once you are in possession of the valid provisional licence, you must comply with the conditions applicable to provisional licence holders. These are printed on the back of the licence itself. You may not take a test unless you are resident in this country. Once you have passed both theory and practical parts of the driving test, you may then apply for your full licence.”
You can get further information from the DVLA website and the DSA website. Most local booksellers, like WHSmith, sells an assortment of books and software to help you study for the theory test. In the yellow pages you can find listings for Driving Instructors if you’d like to take a few lessons first, which anyone would wholeheartedly recommend, most everyone goes through the paid lessons. There are several manuevers that you will be tested on which are not commonplace in the US, such as, reversing around corners, turns in the road, and reverse parking, to mention a few. Being on the right-hand side of the car and shifting with your left hand, whilest being on the left side of the road is a bit like trying to write with the wrong hand until you get used to it. If you take the test in a car with automatic transmission, you will be restricted to driving automatics.
Roundabouts are very confusing at first, make sure someone explains to you how they work. The traffic moves clockwise and you yield entering the roundabout to traffic coming from your right. (See additional comment from Rob below.)
Signs and markings are different as well, a bit like reading an entire other language sometimes.
Buying or Leasing a Car in the UK
Is roughly the same as in the States. However, the registration plates belong to the car and not the owner, you can tell from the first letter on the plate the year that the car is. There is a guide to these as well as a UK version of the “Blue Book values” called Parkers and at the Auto Association(AA) website. (Auto insurance is covered on the Insurance page and is required by law.) Once you have purchased the car, you must send in the signed registration to have the ownership record changed, possibly get MOT certification (car safety testing), as well as get a tax disc from the Post Office. Make sure to keep your MOT and tax discs up to date as there are steep penalties for the lack of, or invalidation of your auto insurance!
There are a range of guides to buying a car on Autotrader.co.uk.
Walking and Cycling
Being a pedestrian in the UK is an experience in itself! Drivers often ignore pedestrians right of way, so you must take great care in crossing traffic. Some drivers will not stop at zebra crossings, others will let you cross most times, wait until you’re certain traffic is stopping. (zebra crossings are marked by black and white posts and pavement.) Crossings are a necessity and getting around a roundabout is one of the worst things about walking. Country walking is a fantastic experience. There are public footpaths which traverse throughout the country, through the fields, hills, and valleys, along the canals and rivers. Farms have access gates to let you pass through their property, you should take care to mind their gates and respect their land by not leaving any litter of course.
People of all ages get around on bicycles, mountain bikes are the most common. There are many biking events, as well as cross country rides and routes. Take care in traffic and especially on roundabouts.
The British have the basis for a good public transport system in theory, but it lacks in reliability these days from long periods of underfunding and management difficulties. You only have to read the current headlines for a week to find the complaints of the public. Some may find it is more economic to drive than take the train.
You can get to most larger towns and cities by train, though you may have delays and may have to make connections. The Railtrack website will give you train times for your journey, and you can order tickets online from Trainline.co.uk. If you can do this up to 3 months in advance, you can save a good bit of money off of the fare cost. Savings can also be made in using a rail card or rail pass.
The London Underground, or Tube, is a subway system which covers most of London and connections can be made via several London rail stations. There are many useful websites which help you plan your journeys.
Buses seem to run quite well and to most every area for a reasonable cost. There are local buses and nationwide coaches. It is often less time consuming to take a coach to your destination than a train, depending on the number of connections and train availability as services are cut in rural areas. Again this depends on your destination, shop around.
There are usually taxi stops at train stations and town centres where you can usually catch a taxi. At busy times however, you may have to wait a short while or in a queuewaiting lines for people checking out/in or traffic. Charges are fixed at metered rates, there are additional charges for excess baggage, long journeys (those in excess of 6 miles) and when there are 2 or more passengers. You can also call out a taxi on long or short notice, if you have a number already. You can locate a taxi service near you by visiting the Scoot website or by calling their service from your mobile (some mobile phone networks offer free calls to Scoot, check with your own for special phone number to call for the Scoot service).
Gareth R comments, "Contrary to what's written in the "Walking and Biking" section, pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way in the UK. This is (or should be) drummed into you when you're learning to drive!
Rob comments, "... You give way (yield) to traffic already on the roundabout. If you intend to cross straight over use either lane of the roundabout junction. If turning to the left or right, use the appropriate lane. Always indicate your intent to exit the roundabout, even if crossing over, when you reach your exit. And watch out for foreign truck drivers. They have a habit of using both lanes on a roundabout which can lead to some nasty incidents if you are unaware."