What car insurance cover do I need to drive abroad?

Driving can be a great way to travel overseas, but you need to make sure you are covered in case something goes wrong. This guide will help ensure you have the right car insurance before you start your trip.

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The rules for driving on much of the Continent have changed a little since the UK left the EU on 1 January 2021 and carrying a green card as proof that you have car insurance is now a requirement in many European countries.

The EU has said it is planning to withdraw this requirement, but the change won't take effect until mid-July at the earliest. Until then people planning to drive abroad will still need one in place.

How do I get a green card?

A green card is an internationally recognised document of proof that you have car insurance, and as of 1 January, 2021 it is necessary to carry this document when driving abroad. 

You must show the green card if you are involved in an accident, and you may be asked to produce it:

  • at borders between countries

  • if you are stopped by the police

Contact your insurance company and they will either send you a green card through the post or advise you how to download a copy that you can print yourself.

How do I get the right cover for my trip

Taking your own car

If you are driving around Europe in your own car, you should consider:

Renting a car

If you are renting a vehicle to use on your trip, think about:

  • Car hire excess insurance – which pays your excess charge if you damage a hire vehicle

Checklist for driving my own car abroad

Check your existing policy

Contact your car insurance company before your trip to let them know you plan to drive abroad, and ask what cover you already have in place.

All insurers provide basic third-party only overseas cover as standard when travelling to EU countries, but ask them for a copy of your green card which you may need to show as proof that you have insurance cover.

If you plan to drive outside the EU check your policy or contact your insurer to see if your destination is covered.

You can extend the level of cover from basic third-party insurance to comprehensive cover when driving overseas, but this may cost you extra.

Choosing the right cover

There are two main factors to consider when choosing the appropriate cover:

  • Your personal attitude to risk

  • The legal requirements of the country in which you’ll be driving

You need to have at least third-party car insurance to drive in most EU countries, the same as the UK.

Most policies that come with European cover will only give you third-party cover, unless you pay extra to get fully comprehensive insurance. Find out what each cover type protects against here.

Check how many days your policy will cover you for. Many car insurers offer up to 180 days European cover a year, but there may be restrictions on how long each individual trip can last.

Checklist for driving a hire car abroad

When hiring a car to drive abroad your rental agreement will include at least a basic third-party level of insurance. This is a legal requirement.

If it only includes this minimum requirement, you may want to pay extra to extend your cover.

If your hire car comes with a fully comprehensive policy as standard, it will likely feature a very high excess. You can resolve these issues by:

Trying to extend the cover

Some car hire companies give you the option to extend the standard cover given to include:

  • Theft

  • Collision damage

  • Windscreen, lights and tyre damage

  • Personal accident cover

Depending on the package you choose, you may be able to reduce or even remove the excess amount. This comes at a cost, sometimes as much as the rental itself, so a cheaper option may be to get separate cover for the excess.

Buying excess insurance

If you are involved in an accident that is your fault you will need to pay an excess amount, which can be as much as £2,000 depending on the car you choose.

The company you hire from might offer you excess insurance to cover this. It can be expensive, however, so make sure you compare standalone policies elsewhere before buying from the car hire company.

For example, you could get cover for as little as £2 per day, so compare car hire excess insurance here.

You can choose between cover for a single trip or multiple trips abroad throughout the year. Be careful, as there is usually a limit on how many days you will be covered – usually between between 60 and 180 days.

What is excess insurance?

What should I bring when driving abroad?

You will need your UK driving licence when driving within the EU/EEA. 

If you are driving outside these countries you may need an International Driving Permit, which will cost £5.50 and can be purchased through the Post Office – which is now the sole issuer of IDPs.

You’ll need to apply through your nearest IDP-issuing branch. Details of which countries require IDPs and the Post Office’s issuing branch finder are on this website.

Documents you should take with you include:

  • Full driving licence

  • International Driving Permit (if applicable)

  • Vehicle registration document (V5c)

  • Motor insurance certificate and green card

  • Passport

For more information on what you need to drive abroad, visit GOV.UK, or read this AA guide that covers the local driving rules for more than 40 countries.

How to claim when abroad

This is what you need to do in the event of an accident abroad:

  • Call the local police. They must attend an accident involving a foreign car in most countries. Find out the local emergency service contact numbers before you travel, and make sure you ask for a copy of the police report.

  • In Europe, complete and keep a copy of the European Accident Statement. This should be provided by the police at the scene and will make sure all information is exchanged between the parties involved. Only sign it once you are happy all the information is correct.

  • Show your documents. You may be asked to show your driving licence, V5C and insurance certificate or green card so make sure you have these with you.

  • Contact your insurer. Do this immediately after the accident, or you can wait until you return home if it is a minor incident. If you were driving a hire car, check with the rental company first as you may need to complete a claim form.

The citizens advice website has more information on what to do if you are involved in an accident abroad.

Can I get breakdown cover for driving abroad?

Most car insurance policies do not provide breakdown as standard, so you will need to add this to your policy if you do not already have it.

If you have a standalone breakdown insurance policy, check to see if you are covered overseas.

Most policies will allow you to upgrade your cover to include European breakdown, but it will be more expensive.

Compare European breakdown cover

For all your travel essentials in one place, visit our Travel Hub.

Whatever car you drive, make sure you find insurance that covers everything you need as cheaply as possible by comparing policies.

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