International car insurance

Driving to Europe or perhaps even further? We explain how to get international insurance for either your car or a rental.

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If a road trip to the not-so-far reaches of mainland Europe is on the cards for your next adventure, you’ve probably already begun planning.

Snacks, playlists, sat nav and phone chargers are likely to be on your list of essentials, but don’t forget car insurance. Depending on where you’re travelling to, you may need international car insurance if your current policy doesn’t include it. A quick call to your insurer should answer this minor query. But what’s it all about, anyway?

What is international car insurance?

If you’re planning to drive abroad, you’re going to need international car insurance. It works in the same way as the car insurance that you have at home, plus it gives you protection for driving overseas.

Depending on the specifics of your car insurance policy, you may have a certain number of days’ worth of cover when driving abroad included in the policy, in which case, you may not need to add extra cover to drive abroad. It’s a chore, but reading your policy documents is a necessary evil here to make sure you’re fully covered before you set off.

If your car insurance doesn’t cover driving abroad, you’ll need international car insurance. This usually means paying a bit more to your insurer so that your policy fully covers you when you leave the UK. It’s worth getting all this sorted before you set off, as you can be asked for proof of insurance at the border of a country that you’re visiting and could even be denied entry after driving all that way. It’s rare and it’s cruel, but it can happen if you haven’t got the right insurance (or proof of it).

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

The answer to this question lies deep within your car insurance policy documents that you will have been sent by post or email when you took out the policy.

The documents should specify whether your car is covered for driving abroad, for how long and what the level of cover is. If you’re having trouble finding the answer, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your car insurance provider’s customer service team. They’ll be able to get you up to speed on the ins and outs of your policy, and even add cover for driving abroad if your policy doesn’t include it already. The best plan of attack is to start researching in advance so you’re not scrambling for information the day before you set off, as you may need a Green Card and these can take up to 6 weeks to arrive.

What is a Green Card?

Great question. A Green Card serves as physical proof that you have valid car insurance for driving abroad. It shows that you have the minimum level of cover required to drive in the country that you’re entering.

How do I know if I need a Green Card?

As of August 2021, you don’t need a Green Card if you’re driving in the EU, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia or Switzerland. All UK car insurance comes with the minimum third party cover to drive in these countries.

You may need a Green Card to drive in Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. Check with your insurer for the most up-to-date guidance on these particular countries.

You may also need additional insurance for your vehicle, trailer or caravan. We recommend checking the latest foreign travel advice for the most up-to-date guidance.

How do I get a Green Card?

Simply contact your insurer to get a Green Card for your vehicle. It can take up to 6 weeks if it’s arriving by post, so be sure to do this well in advance of your road trip. Some offer the straightforward process of simply downloading the card to print and show as proof of insurance at the border of any country that you’re entering. You’ll also need it if you’re stopped by the police.

You may need an extra Green Card if you’ve got a trailer or caravan, or have multi-car or fleet insurance. Be sure to tell your insurer the specifics of your vehicle and trip so they can get you sorted with the right documentation for your travels.

How does international car insurance work?

European Union and European Economic Area

You’ll need to get in touch with your insurer and let it know you’re driving to Europe. If you’re fine with having the most basic level of insurance (third party) then your provider should let you drive off without having to pay for any extra international car insurance. This is because anyone with car insurance in the UK will have (at the bare minimum) third party insurance when they head over to the EU or EEA. So should you hit a car while in Spain, your insurer will help pay to fix the other person’s car.

Your vehicle is a different matter, though. Even if you have a comprehensive policy here, this might not extend to Europe. You could well revert to a third party level of cover. So if you want to keep your precious wheels safe and protected, call your provider and ask if you can extend your level of cover for your big trip to the continent.

Outside the EU and EEA

You obviously can’t drive to a war zone and expect to stay insured on your UK policy.

In these countries, you can use a Green Card, which is an internationally recognised certificate proving you’ve got (at the very least) third party insurance.

This includes the EEA members, and also countries like Andorra, Switzerland, Serbia, Russia, as well as several countries in the Middle East and others bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

However, you’ll need to ask your insurance company if you can get one for the countries you’re visiting. Some insurers won’t let you go to many of these countries.

What is the right insurance for me?

There are 3 types of cover you can get, whether you’re driving in the UK or abroad.

  • Third party car insurance. To legally take to the roads in the UK or in Europe, you need at bare minimum an insurance type called “third party car insurance”. It only covers the cost of paying other people for any injury or damage. So, you won’t get any compensation if you hurt yourself or damage your vehicle.
  • Third party, fire and theft insurance. This offers the same as third party, but will help you out if your vehicle is damaged having been stolen or due to a fire.
  • Comprehensive car insurance. As the name suggests, this brings all the benefits of third party, fire and theft insurance. However, you’ll be compensated if your car is damaged. You could also be helped out with medical and legal expenses.

You’ll have to decide which insurance type is right for your trip. However, if you have third party insurance in the UK, you probably won’t be able to upgrade to a higher level just because you’re going on holiday.

If you do have comprehensive car insurance, though, then get in touch with your insurer and see if you can take the cover with you.

What is an International Driving Permit?

Some countries may require you to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive there. It depends on the country you’re going to and for how long you plan to stay there.

You won’t need an IDP if you’re driving in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein so long as you have a photocard driving licence that was issued in the UK or Northern Ireland. You may need one for these countries if your driving licence is a paper one, or was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man. To find out, check the embassy of the country that you will be travelling to.

If you’re driving anywhere else outside of these countries, you may need an IDP. There are 3 different types and they each depend on which country you plan on driving in. There’s a handy table will all the relevant information here.

Which European countries are covered by European car insurance?

European car insurance covers Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

Which countries drive on the right?

Europe generally drives on the right, with the exception of Cyprus, Ireland, Malta, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.

Will I need breakdown cover?

Generally speaking, European breakdown cover isn’t included in most standard car insurance policies. Check with your insurer about adding it for the duration of your travels and work out if it’s worth adding to your policy.

Has the pandemic affected driving in Europe?

European travel has changed throughout the course of the pandemic. Driving may seem like a safer option compared to flying for some. But while things are feeling a little less fragile at the moment, amber and red list countries should still be treated with the same level of caution, even when driving.

In terms of driving requirements, it’s business as usual. You still need proof of insurance, a GB sticker on your car, a passport and, if necessary, a visa, Green Card and IDP.

Petrol stations are open, as are garages and roadside assistance services across mainland Europe. If the worst happens, you won’t be stranded – at least not for long.

Do I need to buy additional insurance when renting a car?

Renting a car in the UK and driving abroad

If you’re renting a car in the UK and driving it abroad, you’ll certainly need to pay extra. This might come in the form of Continental Cover or the company might charge you a cross-border fee. Whatever the case, this is the rental car business charging you extra insurance costs for taking the vehicle over land and sea.

Make a million percent sure the place you’re renting from knows you’re going abroad and specify which countries. Not all companies will allow you to drive outside of Britain. If you go to a country without permission, you could be driving illegally and the insurance could be made void – then you’d have to foot the entire cost for fixing the car!

Hiring a car abroad

So maybe you’re flying to Spain or Greece and you want to hire a car when you get there. Great idea, but should you get any additional insurance? The short answer is no. Insurance should be part of the deal when you rent a car. In terms of the long answer, you might want to buy your own car hire excess insurance.

Why? Well if you have damage your rental car in any way, you’re liable to pay an excess. This is the amount you have to cough up before insurance kicks in and foots the bill. With rental car basic insurance policies this might well add up to anywhere between £500 and £2,000. So by taking out a car hire excess policy, you won’t have to stump up a large sum to repair the car. You can find insurers who offer policies like these online.

International driving checklist

So your big road trip is here and you’re ready to go! Well, nearly, because you need to double check you’ve got the following essentials. In some countries, it’s illegal to drive without reflective vests in your boot, so it’s key you make sure you’ve got the following:

  • Full driving licence
  • Car registration documents
  • Insurance documents
  • Company car authorisation letter
  • Breakdown policy documents
  • Travel insurance papers
  • European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
  • Reflective jackets
  • Warning triangle

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