European car insurance

Get the right European car insurance, learn more about insurance Green Cards and find out how Brexit has affected driving in Europe.

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We Brits love to drive to Europe on holiday. Under usual circumstances, millions of us do it every year. So for anyone planning to take their car across the Channel, we explain what you’ll need to do to get European car insurance plus if and when you need an insurance Green Card.

What is European car insurance?

European car insurance is cover to drive your car (or another car from the UK) in Europe.

If you have a UK car insurance policy, you’ll usually be covered to legally drive the car covered by that insurance in European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) countries. However, in most cases the policy will only give you third-party cover to drive in Europe. This applies even if your policy is fully comprehensive for driving in the UK. Third-party cover is the minimum legal requirement and it won’t cover injury or damage to yourself, your passengers or your own car.

Your UK policy may also impose limits on how many days you can drive in Europe, in a single stretch and overall in a year.

If in doubt, contact your insurer and find out your level of coverage before you zoom off on holiday.

Do I need extra car insurance to drive in Europe?

It depends. Driving abroad can seem pretty scary and alien, thanks to driving on the “wrong” side of the road and having to remember the different rules that apply. You may not want to risk being stranded on a foreign road after an accident without the certainty that it’s your insurer’s job to help you pick up the pieces.

If your UK insurance only covers you to drive in the EU on a third-party basis, you might want to ask your insurer if you can pay extra for a higher level of cover when driving abroad.

And if you want to spend more time driving in Europe than your policy allows, you may need to to buy an extra European car insurance policy. Depending on how long you need extra cover for, short term European car insurance may do the trick.

COVID-19 and driving in Europe

For obvious reasons, travel to Europe – whether by car or any other means – dropped significantly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But as things start to open up, you may feel tempted to get back on the (European) road.

If you’re planning to drive to Europe (and back), you’ll be subject to the same restrictions as someone travelling by air. For example, there is currently a ban on travelling to red list countries except in “extreme circumstances”. Check the government’s rules before you go – and remember that rules can change very rapidly. The status of the country you’re going to may alter while you’re away.

Traffic light lists can be different between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Keep an eye on individual government website advice.

Remember that the country you’re travelling to may have its own rules. The Eurotunnel website has useful advice on the legal requirements for travelling to France, for example.

We strongly recommend having travel insurance as well as European car insurance if you’re planning to drive abroad. Bear in mind that if you travel to a country where all travel has been banned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, your travel insurance policy will become void.

How do I get European car insurance?

If you want to get a higher level of cover than your insurer offers as standard for when you’re driving in Europe, let it know. It should be able to boost your cover for the period you’re overseas. This is likely to cost extra. Your insurer may also be able to advise you on any extra cover you may want. For example, depending on the insurer, you may be able to add on European breakdown cover.

Regardless of whether you want to boost your level of cover or not, you will need to carry evidence of valid car insurance with you when driving in Europe; your policy documents, for example. In a few European countries, you also need to ask your insurer to issue a Green Card as proof that you are insured to at least the minimum level.

Which countries are covered by European car insurance?

Most European countries are covered by a standard UK car insurance policy. All EU member states are covered, as are European Economic Area (EEA) countries such as Liechtenstein and Norway. Some other European countries, such as Switzerland, are also likely to be covered, but check with your insurer before you leave to be sure.

However, there are a few popular destinations that aren’t. These include Russia and Turkey. So you don’t suddenly turn your holiday into a Jason Bourne film, check your policy with your insurer before you go abroad.

Brexit and European car insurance

As before Brexit, any UK car insurance policy that offers the legal minimum coverage for travelling in countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) will still work.

For a few months after the UK left the EU, UK licence-holders driving in Europe also needed to carry an insurance Green Card, as proof of valid UK insurance. From August 2021, this requirement was waived in EU countries. While you need to carry a hard copy of your insurance documents with you when driving in EU countries, there are now only a handful of non-EU countries that require you to carry a Green Card.

What is a car insurance Green Card?

A Green Card is an internationally recognised document that serves as proof of insurance. You get one from your insurer and it shows that you have (at the very least) third party cover. If you don’t carry one with you in countries that require it, you could face a fine or prosecution, and risk your car being impounded.

Which European countries do I need a Green Card to drive in?

You don’t need to carry a Green Card in EU countries and select non-EU countries, including Norway and Switzerland.

European countries that do require you to carry a Green Card include:

  • Albania
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Moldova
  • Russia
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine.

How do I get a car insurance Green Card?

Get in touch with your insurer well before you’re due to head off. The Association of British Insurers says you should make the request at least a month before you travel – longer is better. Your provider will need to process your request and post the Green Card to you, which can take a while. Also, depending on your insurer, you might have to pay a fee to get one.

Can I get temporary car insurance to drive in Europe?

Yes. There are several reasons why you might want to take out short term European car insurance:

  • You need to drive your car in Europe for longer than your standard UK policy allows.
  • You want to be able to drive a friend or family member’s car while you’re in Europe, either because you’re borrowing it or you’re sharing the driving.

If you’re hiring a car from a rental company, you probably won’t need to worry about taking out your own car insurance policy. Necessary cover should be included as part of the rental package.

What do I need to do to prepare to drive in Europe?

The preparation below applies wherever you’re headed. Check any specific rules for each country, too, to avoid risking an unexpected fine.

Make sure you have the right cover in place before you go

  • Contact your car insurer to increase your level of cover if you want to, and make sure you’re covered for the countries you’ll be driving in.
  • Check your policy covers you for the length of your trip. If not, look into buying extra insurance.
  • If you need one, ask your insurer to issue a Green Card well in advance of your trip.
  • If you don’t have it already, consider buying breakdown cover for the countries you’ll be driving in. You can get this from your insurer or directly from a breakdown company.
  • Make 100% sure your tax and MOT are up to date (this is a legal requirement to drive in the UK too).
  • In some cases, you may need to attach a GB sticker to your car. You won’t need this if your number plate already includes the GB identifier, unless you’re travelling to Cyprus, Malta or Spain. These countries always require a GB sticker, no matter what’s on your number plate.

Get your documents in order

Take these documents with you and be prepared to show them if asked by officials:

  • Your full, valid driving licence
  • Your passport
  • Your vehicle’s registration document (V5C; this should be the original document, not a copy)
  • Print outs of relevant insurance documents (car insurance and travel insurance)
  • Your insurance Green Card (if applicable – it’s required to drive in some non-EU countries)

Do I need an international driving permit to drive in Europe?

In most cases, no. Your UK licence should cover you if you’re driving in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland. You’ll never need one if you’re driving in Ireland under a UK licence.

However, you might need an international driving permit to drive in some EU countries and Norway. This may be the case under the following circumstances:

  • You only have an old-style, paper driving licence
  • Your licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, the Isle of Man or Jersey

You can check if you need an international driving permit on gov.uk. If you do, you can get one over the counter at the Post Office for a fee of £5.50. You must be 18 or over, a UK resident, and have a full UK driving licence.

Are the driving laws different in Europe?

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Finder insurance expert Danny Butler points out key differences to be aware of

By and large, the rules of the road are similar in the UK and Europe. Follow the same basic principles and you should (usually) stay on the right side of the law. For example:

  • Always wear a seatbelt
  • Don’t drink and drive – all European countries have strict alcohol limits
  • Don’t use your phone while driving (some countries may not allow hands-free use either)
  • Don’t exceed the speed limit (and make sure you know what it is, as different countries will have different limits on different types of roads)
  • Don’t drive uninsured

Some European countries have specific laws to follow, so brush up before you go. For example, some require you to keep your lights on at all times, or that all kids under 12 must sit in the back. Check what safety equipment the country you’re driving in expects you to carry too. Many require you to carry a reflective safety vest and red safety triangles. In France, you’re also expected to carry a Breathalyser.

And, of course, you must drive on the correct side of the road. Before you roll your eyes at this statement of the blooming obvious, it’s intended as a reminder that driving in Europe can be trickier than driving at home. This can particularly be the case if you’re driving a right-hand-drive car on the right-hand side of the road, as your visibility may sometimes be more restricted.

If you’re understandably concerned about this, consider boosting your European car insurance beyond the third party cover included in most UK insurance policies. It’ll seem a small price to pay in the event of an accident on foreign roads.

Bottom line

If you have a valid UK licence and an up-to-date UK car insurance policy, you’ll be legally covered to drive in most (though not all) European countries. You’ll need to carry proof of your car insurance with you. Bear in mind that your UK insurance may only cover you on a third party basis. There’s also likely to be a time limit on how long you can drive in Europe, per year or in one go. Check with your provider about what and where you’re insured for before you go; it may be able to boost your cover to a level that suits you better.

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