How does car insurance work when driving abroad?

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By Sarah Watts
Updated on Friday 3 September 2021

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Similar to the UK, it’s imperative you have a valid Driving Licence and a minimum of third party car insurance for driving abroad.

To make sure you have valid car insurance abroad, you should check with your insurer if your existing policy specifically covers you for driving abroad, exactly what cover it provides, the duration of cover and for which countries.

And, whether you’re driving abroad for the first time or you are a seasoned overseas driver, there has been a recent rule change regarding driving in Europe that you may not be aware of. We explain all you need to know in our guide below.

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Can I drive abroad?

Usually, you’re legally able to drive abroad in your own vehicle and some rental cars, in Europe and most other countries, subject to any necessary permits like a Green Card or International Driving Permit, if:

  • You’re 18 years old or more
  • You possess a full, valid UK Driving Licence
  • You have valid car insurance

If you plan to drive abroad, you must remember to take a valid UK Driving Licence and if driving in your own vehicle, a V5C registration (log book) with you.

If you have an old paper Driving Licence or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man, you may need an International Driving Permit to travel to certain countries in Europe.

You must check with your insurer what cover you have abroad, if any. Very often, if your existing policy does provide cover abroad, it will only be basic third party cover meaning that damage to you or your car will not be covered by your insurance.

So, even if you have fully comprehensive insurance in the UK, you will not usually have fully comprehensive cover abroad (or even third party fire and theft cover) unless you specifically ask your insurer for this and pay an additional fee.

Insurance when hiring a car

Typically, insurance for driving abroad is included with your foreign car rental fees but be sure to check exactly what cover is provided, the excess payable and whether you need a DVLA check code to give to the car rental company.

There can be different rules that apply when renting a car overseas. For example, some rental car companies will have age restrictions that you have to be at least 21 or 25 years of age with three years’ driving experience to rent a car.

If you plan to drive a car that you hired or leased in the UK, you will need a VE103.

Does your car insurance cover you abroad?

Most existing, standard UK car insurance policies can very often provide basic third party cover for Europe but usually for limited periods of time, typically between 30 to 90 days.

To ensure your short term car insurance for driving abroad is valid, you’ll need to make sure you:

  • Contact your insurer to let them know which country you’re going to and for how long
  • Ask your insurer what overseas car insurance cover you will have (i.e. breakdown cover)
  • Put a GB sticker on your car to show you’re from Great Britain
  • Comply with the latest covid travel restrictions (you cannot travel to red list countries)
  • Check if you need to apply for a Green Card or International Driving Permit (IDP)
  • make sure your licence hasn’t expired or isn’t about to (if it has, you can renew it online)

If you’re moving abroad or going to be there for a long time, you cannot rely on a standard UK policy and will need to take out international car insurance.

Cynical as it is, we all know only too well that if there’s a valid, legal reason that an insurer can use to refuse to honour a claim then they’ll find one. So, for peace of mind, make sure you’re fully covered for driving in other countries before you go.

What car insurance do I need if I'm going to be driving abroad?

Your existing UK insurance policy will typically provide cover for driving abroad.

But, as most standard UK policies will only provide basic driving abroad insurance to certain countries, unless you make specific arrangements with your insurer for additional cover, your existing policy will typically only provide third party cover.

For this reason, if you want to make sure you have either third party fire and theft or fully comprehensive cover, plus certain add-ons like international breakdown cover, then you should arrange this with your insurer before you go.

If you want to drive anywhere abroad, you should contact your insurer several weeks before an overseas trip to let them know:

  • You plan to drive abroad
  • The country (or countries) you’re travelling to
  • How long you’ll be driving there
  • What additional cover you require (if any)

You will also need to apply for an IDP if you’re travelling in some countries in Europe (outside of the EU) and other worldwide countries.

Is UK car insurance valid in europe?

Yes, usually most UK car insurance policies will be valid car insurance for France, Germany, Spain and any other EU/EEA countries you may wish to drive in, although most standard UK policies will only provide third party cover. Check your policy documents or contact your insurer to check if your existing policy provides sufficient cover before you go.

The government provides a full list of countries where you can travel with UK insurance on their website and a list of countries not in the EU and in the rest of the world where you may still need to carry a Green Card to drive in.

Do I need a green card to drive in Europe now?

No, not if a country is part of the EU. As of 2nd August 2021, the European Commission confirmed that obtaining a Green Card from UK insurers is no longer a legal requirement before taking your car abroad to drive in EU or EEA countries. However, there are certain non-EU or EEA countries where you may still need a Green Card.

What is a Green Card?

A Green Card is effectively an international car insurance certificate.

After Brexit, initially, it was necessary for all UK drivers planning to drive in EU countries to request a Green Card from their insurers to be legally entitled to drive in all european destinations.

Before 2nd August 2021, international authorities in the EU and EEA would need to see a Green Card to prove that a UK driver was legally entitled to drive in their country.

Thankfully, since 2nd August 2021, all UK motorists are able to drive in european countries in the EU (including Ireland and EEA countries) using their existing UK car insurance, just like they could before Brexit.

There are certain european countries and non-european countries where you may still need to carry a Green Card - see the government’s website for a full list.

Note: If you plan to drive in the EU shortly after 2 August 2021, the Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) recommends that drivers still continue to ask their car insurer for a Green Card and insurers continue to issue them for a short period of time, during this transitional phase.

You might also want to read: Covid-19 travel insurance and healthcare abroad post-Brexit.

What to consider when driving abroad

In addition to making sure you’re:

  • Fully insured
  • Have a valid Driving Licence
  • And a GB sticker on your car

you should also consider the following:

Driving abroad during covid-19

Before travelling abroad, make sure you check up-to-date Covid-19 travel restrictions before you go. You’re not permitted to travel to (or drive in) red list countries. Check the government’s website for updates. You should also check if you need a Covid Passport.

Unlimited European car insurance

If you plan to drive around Europe to various destinations for more than a couple of weeks, then you should consider taking out unlimited European car insurance.

International Driving Permit (IDP)

If you’re planning to travel to certain countries in Europe or worldwide, you should apply for an International Driving Permit. Visit the Gov website to check if you need an IDP and which IDP you will need.

You can apply for one or more IDPs at the Post Office.

If you have a paper Driving Licence or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man, you may need an IDP to travel to certain countries in Europe (but not in the EU or EEA).

Check the government’s website for full details about IDP requirements and/or use the Post Office IDP-checker tool.

DVLA driving abroad code

If you plan to hire a vehicle abroad, in addition to showing your photocard Driving Licence, certain car rental companies may request a DVLA driving abroad code so they can verify your licence.

You can create a licence ‘check code’ online via the government’s ‘view Driving Licence’ page or call DVLA on 0300 083 0013.

Overseas driving rules

Finally, before setting off on your exciting, if not a slightly terrifying, driving trip abroad, make sure you’re familiar and compliant with a country’s driving rules, especially which side of the road you should drive on!

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