Driving in Europe after Brexit

British drivers visiting Europe should bear in mind the new changes that came into force from January 2021, after the UK left the EU. Read on to find out how driving in Europe will change post-Brexit.

Rhiannon Philps Published on 23 October 2020. Last updated on 25 January 2021.
Driving in Europe after Brexit

Throughout 2020 there was speculation about what leaving the EU would mean for UK citizens driving abroad. Now the UK has left the EU with a deal, the post-Brexit changes for driving in Europe are confirmed.

So what are the changes?

International Driving Permits

If you have a valid UK photocard driving licence, you don’t need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, or Lichtenstein. You can drive in these countries without an IDP for a set period of time which, depending on the country, could vary from 30 days to 12 months.

You may need an IDP if you plan to drive in other European countries not in the EU. Furthermore, if you have an old-style paper driving licence, or your driving licence was issued in the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, or Gibraltar, you may need an IDP to drive in Europe.

You can check if you need an IDP and which type you would need on the gov.uk website.

There are two different International Driving Permits available for travelling in Europe- the 1949 and 1968- which each apply to different countries. It is essential you get the right IDP for the country you are visiting. You can purchase an IDP from the Post Office for £5.50 each.

Green cards

You will need to carry a green card for driving in Europe post-Brexit. A green card is an international certificate provided by UK insurers to prove a motorist has at least the minimum insurance required to drive in that country. You may be able to purchase further cover from your insurer if you want more comprehensive insurance while driving abroad.

You can apply for a green card from your insurer, who may provide one free of charge or upon payment of a small administration fee. They can send you a physical copy or, alternatively, they could send a digital copy that you would need to print out before you travel; only a physical document will be valid. However, the document no longer has to be on green paper, so you can now print it out on white paper.

If drivers are towing another vehicle, they should apply for an additional, separate green card.

To make sure you receive your green card in time, you should contact your insurer well in advance of travelling, ideally at least six weeks before.

GB stickers

In most cases, you won’t need a GB sticker if your car’s number plate has the GB identifier alone or with a union flag.

If your number plate has an EU flag or an English, Scottish, or Welsh flag, you will need to display a GB sticker when driving in Europe from January 2021, even if your number plate also has the GB initials.

If you drive in Spain, Cyprus or Malta you will need a GB sticker regardless of your number plate.

You should display your GB sticker on the rear of your vehicle.

Vehicle registration documents

All UK motorists driving on European roads in a UK-registered vehicle for less than 12 months will be required to take their log book (V5C).

If your vehicle is hired or leased, you will need a VE103 Vehicle on Hire Certificate.

Claiming on your insurance

Pre-Brexit, your car insurance provider would have dealt with the other driver involved in case of an accident. If they refused, you would have turned to the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB).

From 2021, if you have a road accident while travelling in the EU, you should still contact your insurer.

However, any legal proceedings that may follow will need to be brought in the country that the accident happened, and claims may need to be made in the local language.

If the accident is caused by an uninsured or an untraced driver, UK drivers may not even receive the necessary compensation. To guard against this, it’s well worth discussing these kinds of matters with your insurer before travelling.

Health Insurance Cards

Before leaving the EU, European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) gave UK residents access to free or reduced state healthcare in the EU.

From January 2021, UK citizens visiting EU countries can continue to use their EHIC until it expires.

Some groups, including EU nationals living in the UK and UK students studying in the EU, will be able to get a new EHIC from 2021.

The majority of people, however, will need to apply for a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) which replaces the EHIC. Be aware that, unlike EHIC, the new GHIC won’t be available for use in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Lichtenstein.

Like EHIC, GHIC is free and can be a safety net if you need emergency medical treatment while abroad. It is not intended to replace travel insurance which offers more comprehensive cover.

Passports

You can continue to use your existing passport until it expires. However, to travel to most European countries, you will need at least 6 months left on your passport. This doesn’t apply for travel to Ireland.

Pets

A pet passport issued in Great Britain will no longer be valid when taking a pet to Northern Ireland or an EU country, although you will still be able to use pet passports that were issued in Northern Ireland or the EU.

Before travelling with your pet to Northern Ireland or an EU country from Great Britain, you will now need to do the following:

  • Pet owners must have their dog, cat or ferret microchipped, either before their rabies vaccination or at the same time.
  • Pets must be vaccinated against rabies before travelling. Pets must be at least 12 weeks old to get the vaccine and you must wait at least 21 days after the vaccination before you take your pet abroad.
  • You will need to get an animal health certificate from a vet no more than 10 days before travel. It will be valid for four months.
  • If you are taking your dog directly to Northern Ireland, Ireland, Malta, Norway, or Finland, a vet must treat it for tapeworm no more than 5 days before.

UK nationals already living in Europe

If they haven’t done so already, UK nationals living and driving in the EU, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway or Switzerland will need to exchange their UK driving licence for a local licence of their country of residence.

The deadline for exchanging your licence varies between countries, but it is worth doing it as soon as possible. In many cases you can exchange your licence without taking a new test, but if you miss a country’s deadline you may be required to sit a driving test to get your licence. See the gov.uk website for more information on each country’s deadlines and requirements.

People will still be allowed to drive in the UK with an EU licence. If UK nationals return permanently to the UK and had previously passed their driving test in Britain, they will be able to exchange their EU licence for a UK one without the need for another practical assessment.

Food

The EU has rules on what food products you can bring in from a non-EU country. So, now the UK has left the EU, UK drivers are subject to these restrictions. From January 2021, you are no longer able to bring any meat or dairy products into the EU, even for personal consumption, with limits on what other items you can bring such as fruit, vegetables and fish.

There are some exceptions for baby food and other specialist food.

When coming back into Great Britain from outside the UK, you will be able to bring in a certain quantity of goods under your personal allowance but there are limits.

For example, there is a set alcohol and tobacco allowance, while for other goods you can bring in up to £390 worth without paying any tax. See gov.uk for the most up-to-date information.

European breakdown cover

As before, drivers will need European breakdown cover when they’re driving in Europe post-Brexit. UK breakdown cover is not valid for European travel.

Having European breakdown cover means you will be covered if your vehicle breaks down in Europe, so your car could be fixed at the side of the road, or in a garage if you’re having trouble.

Read our guide on what you need to know about European breakdown cover for more information.

Both single and annual trip policies are available. Here you will find single trip European breakdown cover and multi-trip European breakdown policy where you can compare a range of cost-saving deals and have peace of mind on your next European trip.

About the author:

Rhiannon is a financial writer for NerdWallet, with a particular interest in personal finance and insurance guides for consumers. Read more

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