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Driving abroad – a simple guide

If you’re planning on driving abroad, there are a few details you ought to know before you set off.

If you’re planning on driving abroad, there are a few details you ought to know before you set off.

Written by
Kate Hughes
Insurance expert
Last Updated
16 JANUARY 2024
7 min read
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Do I need car insurance for driving abroad?

Yes, whether you’re taking your own car abroad or hiring a car when you get there, you must legally have at least third-party insurance to drive abroad.

Your UK car insurance will automatically cover you on a third-party basis when driving your own car abroad. Check your policy or ask your insurance provider to find out exactly what’s covered.

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 overseas car insurance for 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 fully comprehensive policy in the UK, you’ll automatically have the same once you cross the Channel. It doesn’t really work like that. 
The period of cover – you might also 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 cover to your travel dates.  

What about insurance if I’m hiring a car?

If you’re hiring a car abroad, insurance is usually 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.

The hire company may also ask to see your driving licence information. You can share this by getting a DVLA check code and you can do this up to 21 days before you travel.

For a car you’ve hired or leased in the UK before travelling overseas, you’ll need a VE103 document, which you might need to pay for. The VE103 vehicle-on-hire certificate can provide proof that you’re allowed to drive a hired or leased car abroad. Contact your hire or lease company for more information before you travel.

What documents do I need to drive abroad?

Essential documents you’ll need to drive your car abroad are:

  • A valid full UK driving licence and national insurance number
  • Proof of valid UK car insurance
  • Proof of ID (passport)
  • Your vehicle’s V5C registration certificate (log book)
  • Travel insurance documents
  • European Breakdown Cover policy number and documents
  • Additional documents if you’re taking a boat or going in a vehicle other than a car or motorbike.

In some countries, you might also need:

What do I need to take in my vehicle when driving abroad?

It depends on the country you’re visiting. If you’re driving in the EU, you’ll need to be equipped with:

  • Reflective jackets – every person in the car needs one and they need to be kept in the car
  • Warning triangle – compulsory in most countries
  • Headlamp deflector stickers
  • Clean air permit stickers – for example, in certain regions of France you’ll need a Crit’air sticker
  • UK car sticker
  • First aid kit (compulsory in Austria, Germany and France)
  • Snow chains – carrying snow chains is compulsory during the winter months in most European countries, even if you already have winter tyres fitted.

It’s also recommended that you take the following items with you when driving abroad:

Top tip – 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.

What’s a Green Card?

The Green Card is 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.

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.

Currently, 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.

How to get a Green Card

You need to get a Green Card directly from your insurance provider. If they post it to you, it could take up to six weeks to arrive, so give yourself plenty of time to apply before your trip. Some providers will send Green Cards via email to print out yourself.

Please note that even if you bought your car insurance through Comparethemarket, you need to apply directly to your insurance provider for your Green Card. Comparethemarket 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. 

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 won’t need an IDP.  

The rules change slightly if you still 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.

Remember: having a permit is not the same as having insurance for driving abroad.

How to get an international driving permit?

You can get your international driving permit by applying at your Post Office. IDPs cost just £5.50 (correct as of March 2023). 

What you’ll need to apply:

  • Full UK driving licence
  • Passport-standard photograph
  • £5.50 application fee
  • Proof of ID (passport).

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.  

European Breakdown Cover can usually be added as an optional extra as part of your car insurance for travelling abroad.

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.

What rules do I need to be aware of when travelling abroad?

Each country may have their own road rules. These can also vary between EU countries. Before you set off, here are some details you need to be aware of:

  • Right or left – most countries in Europe drive on the right, with the exception of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, which all drive on the left.
  • Vignettes – some countries in Europe require you to buy and display a vignette sticker on your windscreen. A vignette is a pre-paid toll that allows you to drive on certain roads and autobahns in that country.
  • Alcohol and speed limits – drink-driving rules can vary between countries, but to be on the safe side, don’t drink at all before getting behind the wheel. Speed limits can also vary, so if in doubt, slow down.
  • Emergency number – if you need to call emergency services anywhere in Europe, the number to call is 112.
  • Mobile phones – using a handheld mobile phone is against the law in most countries.
  • Travel insurance – you’ll need the right cover for the countries you’re visiting. Even if you have a GHIC for Europe, it won’t offer the same level of cover as travel insurance. For example, a GHIC won’t cover lost baggage or repatriation.
  • Towing a trailer – if you’re towing a trailer over 750kg, you may need to add a category BE to your licence and register your trailer before travelling. Also check your trailer is properly covered by your car insurance for driving abroad.

Frequently asked questions

Can I get comprehensive cover for driving in Europe?

If you have fully comprehensive car insurance at home, and you want the same level of cover for driving abroad, ask your insurance provider if they can extend your policy to include comprehensive European car insurance cover. You might need to pay extra, but it could be worth doing for greater peace of mind.  

Can I get temporary car insurance for driving abroad?

If you can’t get the cover you want with your existing policy, then temporary car insurance for driving abroad could be a good option.  
Short-term policies can typically be taken out from one hour up to 28 days. It might also be easier than trying to extend your existing cover.  

Can I drive abroad on a provisional licence?

No. You can only drive abroad if you have a full UK driving licence.  

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

From 28 September 2021, you no longer need a GB sticker. Instead, you’ll need to clearly display a UK sticker on the rear of your car when driving outside of the UK.

You don’t need a GB or UK sticker to drive in Ireland.  

Are there still COVID-19 restrictions for driving abroad?

While COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in most countries, these could still change at short notice. Please check the latest travel advice and entry requirements for each country you’re visiting or travelling through on the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) website.

Also check the latest requirements for international travel and returning to the UK on the relevant government website for England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

What should I do if I have an accident when driving abroad?

If you’re involved in an accident when driving abroad, contact your insurance provider immediately. Most providers offer a 24/7 emergency helpline with a number you can contact from overseas. You’ll also need to contact the local police.

Follow the same procedure as you would if you had a car accident at home. Take a note of the other driver’s details, name and get contact numbers of any witnesses. Gather as much evidence as you can and remember to take photos or videos to help back up your claim.

Has driving abroad changed after Brexit?

Drivers now need to carry their UK licence with them when driving in Europe. Depending on what type of licence you have, you may need an International Driving Permit to drive in some European countries. Read more on European car insurance. 

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