Changes to driving in Europe post-Brexit

On the first of January this year the UK left the EU, and while all our minds have been dominated by the pandemic, there have been major shifts in driving rules affecting UK motorists. Here, we’ve pulled together the key changes so that drivers, like you, are not caught unaware over the coming months.


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Will UK Driving licences still be valid in Europe after Brexit?

While the chances of getting to the continent this year are limited, British motorists should be aware of changes to the rules for when mainland Europe does open up for drivers again.

Driving licences issued in the UK will still be valid when driving in EU member states. However, if you are one of the over 3,000 UK drivers who still hold a paper licence and haven’t opted for a photocard upgrade, you will need an International Driving Permit

This permit will be required to drive in 27 EU countries, as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. 

What exactly is an International Driving Permit (IDP)?

There are actually three types of permits needed for driving in the EU and it’s worth making sure you have the right one. If you’re caught behind the wheel in the EU or EEA without the correct IDP, you may be fined, sent to court, or even have your car confiscated.

The three IDPs required on the continent are:

  1. 1926 IDP – a niche requirement, you’ll only need this IDP if you want to drive through, or in, Lichtenstein.  

  2. 1949 IDP – required when driving in Cyprus, Iceland, Malta and Spain. The popular destination of Spain typically gets over 15 million British tourists a year* so it’s important that UK drivers remember to make this purchase when travel resumes.

  3. 1968 IDP – All other EU/EEA countries require drivers to travel with a 1968 IDP, regardless of their driving experience. 

IDPs cost £5.50, they last for three years and can be purchased from most post offices. It’s worth noting, because of the special Post-Brexit arrangement the UK has with the Irish Republic, British drivers travelling to Ireland do not require a special driving permit beyond their licence.

Are there any extra rules on travel and motor insurance after Brexit?

Despite the Brexit vote, until January 1st this year, insurance policies continued to offer protection to British drivers overseas as they had before 2016. However, now the transition period has come to an end, things have changed, and you will also now need a green card, provided by your insurer, when driving in Europe. 

These green cards provide a minimum level of third-party cover in case you get into an accident. It doesn’t matter if you have more comprehensive insurance in the UK, green cards do not necessarily match the level of cover that you pay for in the UK, only basic third-party coverage. Drivers should apply for green cards a minimum of 6 weeks before they are due to travel to ensure the card arrives on time. 

A unique green card should also be registered for every wheeled vehicle in your convoy so separate green cards are needed for multiple cars, trailers and caravans. If requested on the continent, the green card must be handed over in physical form, meaning drivers cannot rely on simply showing their phone. It is important that all drivers speak to their insurers about green cards before trying to drive in the EU.

What about British Expats in the EU?

Before January 1st, there were almost half a million British drivers, holding UK drivers’ licences, living in EU member states who were required to trade in their licence for one issued in those countries or face having to sit a new test. 

This is no longer the case. Any British person moving to a European country from 2021 onwards will now have to take a new test in order to drive legally while a resident in that country. 

This is particularly likely to affect British pensioners who wish to retire to countries such as France or Spain, who may have had decades of driving since last taking a test.

Can you still take a leased vehicle overseas?

If you wish to take your lease vehicle abroad you will need to contact your finance provider to obtain the relevant permissions before you leave for your trip. You will need to fill in a Vehicle-on-Hire-Certificate (VE103B) form, a legal document that acts as an alternative to the V5C logbook. The VE103B contains the details of the vehicle such as registration number, make and model and will also confirm the name and address of the person leasing the vehicle as well as the length of the contract.

Smaller rules to adhere to that you might have overlooked in the past

The UK leaving the European Union may also lead to Europe’s highway police cracking down on UK drivers.

One of the most popular driving holiday destinations, France, has a number of laws to be aware of. For safety reasons, all cars on French roads must be kitted out with a warning triangle and have a high-vis jacket stowed in case of emergency. The French also expect all drivers to carry a breathalyser kit at all times. This may sound pricey, but disposable breathalysers are available and it’s recommended that you carry two of these so that if one is used, you can continue on your journey with a spare.

It is necessary for all cars without an EU licence plate to carry a GB sticker, to indicate that your car is British. The exception is cars carrying an EU plate, which a majority of British cars produced before the Brexit period do. No British cars produced post-Brexit will carry EU plates so any car manufactured after this year will have to carry a GB sticker when travelling in Europe. 

However, if you’re driving in Spain, Cyprus or Malta, the age of your car is immaterial and you’re required to present a GB sticker regardless of your number plate or the age of your car.

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