Driving abroad – a simple guide

If you’re planning on driving abroad there are a few things you ought to know – including changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’re planning on driving abroad there are a few things you ought to know – including changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daniel Hutson
Head of Motor Insurance
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Posted 29 SEPTEMBER 2021

Driving abroad and the COVID-19 pandemic

The travel traffic-light system currently states that trips to green and amber-listed countries are legally permitted if you live in England and Scotland. If you live in Wales or Northern Ireland, you still need to follow the rules for your relevant government.

If your destination of choice is on the green or amber list, you still need to check the latest travel advice and entry requirements for each country you visit or transit through. This is to ensure you are aware of any specific requirements relating to entry and ensure travellers from the UK are permitted. Countries can have their traffic light status changed with short notice and you should take this into consideration when looking to travel. Please check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) for the latest information.

The FCDO currently advises against all but essential travel to red list countries. 

For more detailed information about driving during the COVID-19 pandemic, read our coronavirus and motoring FAQ page

Please note: This information was correct at the time of publication on 28 September 2021, but because of the impact of COVID-19, things are changing rapidly. We aim to keep this page updated, but check with your insurance provider or potential provider directly, to confirm any details.

Can I drive abroad?

In theory, if you’re over 18 and have a full UK driving licence, you can drive abroad. But some countries ask that you have at least a year’s driving experience under your belt first.

If you’re hiring a car, some hire companies insist you must be over 21 or over 25, and have at least three years’ driving experience, so it’s important to check in advance.

How do I know if my car insurance covers me when driving abroad?

The easiest way to see if your car insurance covers you for driving abroad is to check your policy documents or contact your insurance provider directly.

All UK-based car-insurance policies offer third-party cover to drive in the EU, including Ireland. However, the same might not apply when driving in other countries. 

Even if your policy does mention cover when driving abroad, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the details, including:

The level of cover – many policies will only offer the most basic form of cover when abroad. Don’t assume that because you have a full comprehensive policy in the UK, that you’ll automatically have the same once you cross the Channel. 
The period of cover – you might find policies have a limit on the number of days they’ll cover you while driving abroad. This could be a continuous limit, for example 14 days in a row, or it could be a total yearly allowance. It’s worth discussing the specifics of your journey with your insurance provider, to tailor it for your dates. 

What about insurance if I’m hiring a car?

If you’re hiring a car abroad, insurance is typically included in the hire costs. But it’s worth checking the level of cover included and how much the excess is (the amount you’ll have to pay towards a claim you make on your insurance), should you need to make a claim. You may also need a DVLA check code.  
For a car you’ve hired or leased in the UK, you’ll need a VE103 document, which you may need to pay for. Contact your hire or lease company for more information before you travel. The VE103 vehicle-on-hire certificate can provide proof that you’re allowed to drive a hired or leased car abroad.

What’s a Green Card?

The Green Card system was originally created to help make it easier to drive between countries in Europe by creating one recognised European document. The Green Card is now recognised as an international certificate of insurance and can prove to foreign authorities that you have the minimum compulsory level of insurance for the country that you’re driving in.

Currently, all UK residents do not need a green card to drive in Ireland and the EU. The same applies in: 

  • Andorra
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Norway
  • Serbia
  • Switzerland  

However, you may need a green card to drive in other countries. You can find more details about these on the gov.uk website. As well as a green card, you should always carry your driving licence with you, too. Check the government website before you travel to make sure that there have been no changes to the list of countries above. 

Having a green card means that if you’re in an accident caused by a foreign vehicle, you could be compensated in the country of the accident.

How can I get a Green Card?

You need to get a green card from your insurance provider and you might be charged an admin fee. It’s a good idea to apply for one at least six weeks before you travel – it will be sent to you through the post.

Some insurance providers will send Green Cards via email. If you choose this method, you’ll need to print it double-sided and in colour – make sure you check the exact requirements before you do this.

Please note that even if you bought your car insurance through Compare the Market, you need to apply directly to your insurance provider for your Green Card. Compare the Market can’t provide you with a Green Card.

What is an International Driving Permit?

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is an internationally recognised permit that allows you to drive abroad in tandem with a UK driving licence. A 1926 IDP or 1949 IDP lasts 12 months from the date of issue, while a 1968 IDP lasts for three years or until your driving licence expires. 

It may sound a bit technical but, in most cases, you’ll need a 1949 IDP. You’ll only need a 1926 IDP if you’re going to drive in Mexico or Somalia.  

To see if you need an IDP, check on GOV.UK or use the Post Office’s IDP checker

If you own a photocard driving licence issued in the UK and you’re planning on driving in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, you will not need an IDP.  

The rules change slightly if you have a paper driving licence or one issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man. If this is the case, you should check if you need an IDP with the embassy of the country you’ll be driving in.

How can I get an international driving permit?

You can get your international driving permit by applying at your Post Office. IDPs cost just £5.50. 
Remember that having a permit is not the same as having insurance for driving abroad.

Do I need a GB sticker on my car to drive abroad? 

From 28 September 2021, you’ll need to clearly display a UK sticker on the rear of your car when driving outside of the UK. 

There are some exceptions, though. If your number plate displays: ‘UNITED KINGDOM’, ‘United Kingdom’ or ‘UK’ alongside a Union Jack, you will not need a UK sticker. 

In Spain, Cyprus and Malta, you’ll need to display a UK sticker no matter what is on your number plate.
GB stickers will need to be covered or removed from the same date.
You do not need a GB or UK sticker to drive in Ireland.

Do I need breakdown cover to drive in Europe?

It’s always a good idea to have breakdown cover if you’re driving abroad. Check if your current breakdown policy covers you for Europe, or if you have cover included with any other products, a bank account for example.  
If you need to buy additional cover, it’s worth comparing the cost for a single trip and annual cover, depending on how often you drive abroad.

Which countries drive on the right?

Most countries in Europe drive on the right. Make sure you know whether vehicles in the country you’re visiting drive on the left or right. 
If you’re hiring a car when you get there, the only problem you might have is getting used to sitting in the ‘wrong’ seat. 
If you’re nervous about driving on the right, Cyprus and Malta drive on the left, so you might consider them as your next road trip destination.

What do I need to do before my trip?

Once you’ve sorted out your car insurance for driving abroad, there are a few other important things to do to prepare for your trip, including:

  • check your car – if you’re taking your own car, make sure your tax and MOT are up to date and you’ve checked your oil, water and tyre pressure.
  • check the rules – depending on where you’re going, the rules of the road could be quite different from here at home. Even driving laws and requirements in neighbouring countries differ, so it’s a good idea to do your research.
  • check your equipment – you’ll need to think about whether you need to carry any additional items in your car. Certain countries, such as France for example, require you to have the following in the car:
    • reflective hazard triangles
    • fluorescent jackets
    • a portable breathalyser
    • if you’re driving in the winter, check whether you need to fit winter tyres and consider carrying snow chains in your car
    • when travelling to most countries, your car must display a GB sticker on the back (unless there’s already a GB on your number plate), or, from 28 September 2021, a UK sticker. If you don’t display a sticker, you could get an on-the-spot fine.
  • check your documents – it’s worth being organised and collecting all the documents you’ll need, in case you run into difficulties on your travels. You’ll need your passport, your driving licence, vehicle registration document (V5), breakdown policy, travel insurance documents, emergency helpline numbers and, last but not least, your car insurance certificate. If you’re driving a vehicle hired or rented from the UK, you’ll need a VE103 document.

Click here for more general tips from GOV.UK on how to stay safe when driving.

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