Travelling around the world with number plates | AD

*This is a collaborative guest post

If you’re an avid traveller, you’ve probably noticed the small details that make each country unique. From the food to the architecture to the language, there are countless nuances that make every place you visit distinct. But have you ever paid attention to the number plates on the cars around you? Number plates may seem like a small detail, but they can actually tell you a lot about a country’s history, culture, and identity. So buckle up and get ready for a mini global tour of number plates. As we continue to drive on the roads around the world, number plates will remain a vital aspect of our daily lives, connecting us to our vehicles and to the countries we call home.


Registration numbers were first introduced in the United Kingdom with The Motor Car Act in 1903. Since then, there have been several different formats, namely dateless, suffix, prefix and finally the current-style system. The latter has been in effect since 2001 and consists of a local memory tag, an age identifier with 3 random letters. Furthermore, all number plates including personalised registrations, must comply with the BSAU145e, which is the obligatory British standard. 


Americans tend to refer to number plates as ‘licence plates,’ and their format tends to differ from state to state. So there are plenty of variations with some plates containing symbols like landmarks and historical figures, colours and slogans associated with the respective states. In general, the standard number plate format is a combination of four letters followed by three numbers, although this can change depending on the state. 


Number plates in India were established as per The Motor Vehicles Act 1998, which required all vehicles must be registered with the RTO. On an Indian number plate, you will find the first two letters, which indicate the registered state. For example, DL stands for Delhi, MH stands for Maharashtra, and KA stands for Karnataka. After the state code, there are usually two numbers that represent the RTO (Regional Transport Office) responsible for the registration of the vehicle. This is followed by a series of numbers to ensure uniqueness. 


China is the second most populous country in the world, but the number plate system only requires seven characters. Interestingly enough, many cities have restricted number plates as a reaction to overcrowded roads and worrying air quality., Shanghai implemented this policy in 1994, while Beijing implemented it in 2011 and many other cities followed suit. This has caused demand for plates to heavily outstrip supply and prices have risen as a result. 


The City of Gold is home to some of the most expensive number plates in the world. But why is this the case? It is known that private registrations serve as status symbols, and Dubai is no exception. There are nearly 70,000 millionaires and plenty of supercars speeding down the streets, so there is more incentive to stand out. Generally, a plate is more desirable with fewer letters and numbers. However, it isn’t just a shallow display of wealth. The most sought-after private plates are sold at auctions to raise money for various charities. Fundamentally, number plates in Dubai comprise one or two letters with a maximum of five digits on a white plate. 


It is characteristic of Nigerian number plates to feature a national flag alongside other visual elements representing the country. The number plate system in its current form has been in place since 1992 and was revised in 2011. Like many other countries, Nigeria has colour-coded plates to signify different factions within society. Additionally, plates with the Nigerian coat of arms are reserved for national assembly members. While green number plates with white characters are issued to military personnel and their family members.


The first vehicle registration was issued in 1910, 4 years after the first driving licence. Today, the number plate system has continued to develop to accommodate the country, whereby each region has its own colours and symbols represented on the plate. However, Queensland has taken private plates to a whole new level of fun and personalisation, allowing drivers to add emojis to their registration. As of right now, the emoji selection is quite limited and incurs an extra fee. It will be interesting to see if this change is implemented in other countries in the near future. 

While number plates may seem like a mundane aspect of driving, they actually hold a rich history and cultural significance around the world. As a traveller, taking note of these small but significant details can add richness to your experiences on the road.


  • Donna Wishart

    Donna Wishart is married to Dave and they have two children, Athena (12) and Troy (11). They live in Surrey with their two cats, Fred and George. Once a Bank Manager, Donna has been writing about everything from family finance to days out, travel and her favourite recipes since 2012. Donna is happiest either exploring somewhere new, with her camera in her hand and family by her side or snuggled up with a cat on her lap, reading a book and enjoying a nice cup of tea. She firmly believes that tea and cake can fix most things.

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