How to drive in Australia with an overseas licence

Your licence requirements depend on where you live and what visa status you have. If you are a visitor or a temporary visa holder, in most Australian states and territories (except the Northern Territory) you can drive on a current overseas licence.

If your licence is in a language other than English, you must also carry an English official translation or an International Driving Permit.

An official translation means a translation certified by an Embassy or Consulate or by an authorised translator. National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) accredited translator Simon West says getting the translation is simple.

“It’s quite a straight forward procedure. A simple translation by a NAATI qualified translator of the original driver’s license into English. As long as it accompanied by a NAATI stamp is generally sufficient.” Often migrants will need to change their overseas licence over to a local one.

VicRoads' Executive Director of Registration and Licensing David Shelton says it often varies.

“For people who wish to convert a foreign license into an Australian license the first question really to ask is “do I need to?”, so I would suggest that if you are a temporary visa holder in Australia you in fact can drive on your overseas license provided your visa is valid and provided that your overseas license is either in English or you have an English translation with you. So you may not need to convert to an Australian license in some instances.”

He says an International Driving Permit (IDP) translates your foreign licence.

“An international license is essentially a translation of a driver license. So you still need to have a full driver license in order to get an international driving permit. The permit is quite useful because it is a translation of the license that you might hold in a language other than English. So it’s important to have that translation in particular if you are driving here while you are still on a temporary visa.” 

If you are a permanent visa holder, then you must convert your overseas licence within either three or six months of arrival. The process to convert your licence slightly differs according to the state or the territory you live in. 

“There’s a small number of recognized countries, these are countries for which you do not need to sit a test to convert to a Victorian license. Countries that are recognized include Singapore, Japan, Spain, Malta, Sweden, obviously the UK, Canada, and many European countries.” - says VicRoads' David Shelton.

He says people from all other countries need to sit the standard knowledge, eye, perception and practical drive tests.

People from certain countries can convert their licence to an Australian one and not sit any tests.

“However many new migrants to Australia, such as people from India, Sudan, China, Pakistan, these people who do not come from recognized countries they will need to go through a full set of tests in order to convert to a Victorian license.”

Victorian driving instructor Attilio Kermac explains what’s involved in the driving test.

“They go through what they call a pre drive check, they are checking for the applicants to know and understand the use of the controls and make sure the vehicle is roadworthy. So this is the very first thing you do before you even start driving. Then there are two parts for the driving test. The test in total goes for about 30 minutes, but the first 10 minutes is when they will ask you to perform a three point turn or a reverse parallel park. And if they pass that assessment then they do a 20 minute drive and the 20 minute drive takes in major roads, takes in lane changes and at the end of that, 30 minutes is up and you are back at the testing station, and passed all that you got a license.”

Australian driving conditions can be a challenge for new migrants.

Attilio Kermac lists areas of concern for a new driver.

“Trams are a big issue. Understanding how to interact with pedestrians, because pedestrians basically they have more right of way than what motor vehicles do and in some countries that’s not the case. So they find themselves placed in an awkward situation trying to understand those. Out of the city but on the highways I found that a lot of people that come from overseas they are just not used to long drives, they don’t drive the sort of distances that we drive; they don’t drive on the sort of roads that we drive on. We have a lot of exposed edges and things like that so we know of people running off the road because they lose control when they hit the rough edges.”

If English isn’t your first language, reading signs and understanding directions is another challenge.

“I think for an applicant that come from overseas the most difficult thing is not even the test, it’s our road laws that can confuse a lot of people. Obviously no English speaking people, it’s difficult for them to interpret a lot of the laws. And when they are receiving directions where they have to go sometimes they get quite confused. I think the biggest problem is the fact that a lot of people come from roads where they traditionally drive on the right hand side, and of course in Australia we drive on the left. And that does throw them out quite a lot.”

Each state and territory has its own system for regulating roads and licences.