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Returning expats in 'limbo' while waiting months for driver's licence exchange

Motorists fear they will be forced off the road completely if insurance companies cancel their policies.

Image: Eamonn Farrell

IRISH EXPATS RETURNING to Ireland are being forced off the road for up to six months due to delays in exchanging their foreign driving licences for Irish ones.

Returning motorists have been advised that it can take between two weeks and three months before they are issued with a Irish driver’s licence.

However, in some cases this is taking up to six months with some saying they are left in “limbo” while they wait. 

Drivers fear insurance companies will cancel their policies over the inability to produce a copy of their licence, while others, who require a car for work, fear they are at risk of losing their jobs. 

In most cases, motorists who emigrate must surrender their Irish licence to be granted a licence to drive in the respective foreign country. 

If expats decide to return to Ireland in the years after that, they have to go through a similar exchange process with the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) here. 

The foreign licence is held by the NDLS and the driver is issued with a receipt confirming they paid the €55 processing fee but which also states it “cannot be used in place of a Driving Licence/Learner Permit”. 

Sarah (29) and her partner Pete (30) followed this process through their local centre in Wicklow when they returned home from a three-year stay in Australia.

Both Sarah and Pete made an application on 23 January and while Sarah received her new licence within weeks, Pete is still waiting for his six months later. 

Meanwhile their insurance company has contacted them on four occasions advising that they urgently need to submit copies of his Irish licence or their policy will be cancelled. 

“We both went in on the same day and sat in booths opposite each other in January. Three weeks later I had my licence back to me,” Sarah told TheJournal.ie

“It’s six months now on the 23rd of June and we’re still waiting for his licence to come back,” she said. 

“They said it would take up to three months, so we surrendered our Australian licences and were issued with a piece of paper. We contacted them at least five times since and were just told it’s in progress and to wait another two weeks.

“There are no convictions, no speeding fines, nothing like that and I told them that the insurance company has contacted me saying ‘why have you not got his licence yet because we need a copy of it’, but we don’t have it to give. 

“They told us they’d extend it for another three weeks and then he won’t be able to drive… and I told the NDLS that he works and that the insurance company has contacted us,” she added. 

All licence exchanges are gathered by the 36 centres around the country but processed in the same place at the NDLS headquarters in Ballina, Co Mayo. 

A spokesperson for the RSA which oversees the NDLS operation said “licence exchange applications are more complex than standard licence applications or licence renewals and so will have a longer processing time”.

Asked why some applications were taking up to six months in some cases, the spokesperson said “when exchanging a licence we have to go back to the original licensing authority to confirm licensing entitlements etc.”.

“The time this takes is something we have no control over.” 

Limbo

Keith Nolan returned to Dublin with his partner earlier this year having lived in New Zealand for 12 years. 

He was offered a job in a research field which requires him to travel around Ireland but this is in “limbo” as he waits – for more than two months now – to receive his Irish driving licence. 

“They’ve been talking about making it easier for people to come home to Ireland for years and they’ve done nothing on this,” Keith said. 

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“The biggest issue has been motoring and insurance,” he said, adding ” some insurers won’t even quote us without the licence.”

“The problem I have is that I was offered a job that requires me to drive extensively and the company has been lenient knowing that I have just returned home, but at some stage this is going to give,” he said.

“From the company’s perspective they can’t allow me to drive because I’m in limbo and between licences.

“I rang up and asked where it was and they said ‘it’s still in the process but there doesn’t look to be any issues with it’. They said they couldn’t give me any more information. 

“I’m two months without a licence though so clearly there are hold ups with it,” he added. 

Both Keith in Dublin, and Sarah and Pete in Wicklow were advised by NDLS staff that if they drive and are stopped by Gardaí, it is at the garda’s discretion as to whether they accept the NDLS payment receipt in lieu of a licence. 

TheJournal.ie sought clarification from gardaí in relation to this but did not receive a response at the time of publication. 

An RSA spokesperson said that drivers can drive during the wait period but would be required in this case to produce their licence at the local garda station once it was received. 

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