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
From the Motor team
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Posted 13 JANUARY 2021

Driving and the COVID-19 pandemic

Following new restrictions implemented on 5 January 2021, you can only travel internationally if you're legally permitted to do so while the UK is under full lockdown restrictions.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) currently advises British nationals against all but essential international travel. See the latest FCDO advice for further information.

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 13 January 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 check if your car insurance covers you for driving abroad is to check your policy documents or contact your insurance provider directly. 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, 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.

As we’ve now left the EU, all UK residents will need a Green Card to drive in Ireland and the EU, plus Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Serbia and Andorra. As well as a Green Card, you should always carry your driving licence with you too.

Possession of 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 a month 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. They are valid for 12 months from the date of issue. To see if you need an IDP, check on GOV.UK 
It sounds a bit technical but, in most cases, you’ll need a 1949 Convention IDP. You’ll only need a 1926 Convention IDP if you’re going to drive in Brazil, Iraq or Somalia.

How can I get an international driving permit?

You can get your international driving permit via the AA or 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 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. It may also be a good idea to check the laws against drink driving, in case they differ from the UK in any way.
  • 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). 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. 

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

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