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 04 October 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.

Car insurance

From 1 January 2021 until 2 August 2021, you needed to carry a green card when you drove in Europe to prove you had at least the minimum insurance required.

However, from 2 August 2021, drivers will no longer need a green card. Your standard car insurance documents will allow you to drive in the European Economic Area (EEA), Andorra, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia and Switzerland.

It may still be worth checking with your insurer that your car insurance policy will cover you in Europe.

If drivers are towing another vehicle, they may still need to apply for a green card.

UK stickers (formerly GB stickers)

As of 28 September 2021, the government announced that GB stickers are no longer valid when driving in Europe. In place of the GB sticker, you must have a UK sticker displayed if your number plate has no identifier, and if it features the Euro symbol or GB identifier and Union flag.

If your number plate has an English, Scottish, or Welsh flag, you will need to display a UK sticker.

If your number plate includes the Union Jack and a UK identifier, then you don’t need to display a UK sticker in your car.

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

Driving in Ireland does not require a UK sticker.

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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