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International Car Insurance

What to do when driving abroad?

Our guide to picking the best car insurance when driving abroad, and what all the options offer

By Anita Shargall

Published: 18 January 2021

Caravan on scenic coastal road

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Licence essentials

First of all, make sure you have the right to drive in your country of choice.

All British drivers can drive in any European Union (EU) member countries, in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, although you must have a green card to prove you have insurance in place. You should also display a UK sticker. Allow yourself time to obtain the necessary paperwork from your insurance provider before you go. The green card is free but your insurer may charge a small admin fee.

To drive in countries outside of these zones you are likely to need an International Driving Permit (IDP) from the Post Office, the AA or the RAC, at a cost of £5.50.

To get an IDP you must be over 18 years of age, with a full licence and be a resident of the GB or Northern Ireland.

Getting insured

Some UK insurance policies allow you to drive abroad, but check with your provider to find out exactly what they will cover outside the UK.

Before leaving the UK, let your insurer know you are travelling overseas and they can let you know if you need to upgrade or buy another policy.

Sometimes, insurers will cover damages but not theft, but within Europe it is normally basic third-party cover. Which means your car won’t be covered for damages, or any expenses for personal injuries sustained.

Getting the right insurance for you

Whether you choose third-party only, third-party damage, fire and theft (TPFT) or comprehensive cover is completely your choice, but make sure you know the difference before you travel.

Third-party only insurance will cover accidents deemed to be your fault, so will help cover other people (this includes your passengers) and their property or car.

For instance if you bump into a parked car or drive into the back of someone – damages to their car or person would be covered, alongside any medical expenses incurred.

However, damage to your car or injuries to your person is not covered, and would have to come out of your own pocket. Ultimately, third-party insurance ensures that those who are injured or have property damaged are able to claim back any costs.

Then you have third-party damage, fire and theft insurance. This type covers the above, alongside replacing your car if it is stolen. It also covers damage which has occurred when something is stolen from it.

Cover for fire damage applies for both arson (deliberate) or accidental fires that occur. Though the former will need a police incident number.

Then, there is the all-encompassing comprehensive cover, which covers all of the above and damages to your car and any injuries sustained by you. In the past, this was considered the most expensive but is actually now only slightly more expensive than the supposedly cheaper third-party cover.

You may want to find out if you can extend your comprehensive insurance to cover Europe. You might have to pay more for it, but be sure to check. Your insurer will then provide you with a Green Card. The card is free and is an internationally-recognised document acting as proof of insurance across Europe.

If your insurer won’t extend your policy, it may be possible to add cover for Europe as an extra, but check the small print for exactly how long this extension is for. Some companies will limit the amount of days you are fully insured, but it is usually 30 days.

Green Card

The Green Card is not insurance in itself, only proof that you have purchased cover for that specific country.

A Green Card is required for driving in Europe – now that the UK is not part of the European Union. Having the card should make it easier if you need to make a claim, exchange details with another driver, or have any dealings with the police.

Breakdown cover

It is always a good idea to have breakdown cover, but especially when you are driving abroad. Imagine breaking down in the middle of a forest in Germany when a garage could be miles away!

The cost of repair and bringing your car back from another country could be much higher than the cost of the cover, so it is definitely worth having it.

Check with your provider if you already have European breakdown cover on your policy, or if you can upgrade. Read our guide for more information about breakdown cover abroad.

International driving checklist

As Benjamin Franklin said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, so make sure to follow this checklist of documents, equipment and preparations to make your trip as safe as possible.

Make a pack of the documents you’ll need including:

  • Passport
  • Full driving licence
  • International Driving Permit (if necessary)
  • Car registration documents (either yours or the hire car)
  • Authorisation letter (if in a company car)
  • Insurance documents and green card
  • Breakdown cover policy documents (if not included in above)
  • Travel insurance documents
  • European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or UK Global Health Insurance Card

We would also recommend taking the following equipment, some of which may be compulsory in certain European countries.

  • Red warning triangle
  • High visibility jacket (reflective)
  • First aid kit
  • Headlight beam converters
  • UK sticker for outside of car
  • Tool kit
  • Torch
  • Fire extinguisher

Then, you should prepare your car for ease of mind.

  • Check water, oil and coolant levels
  • Check pressure of tyres and tread
  • Place UK sticker on car
  • Convert your headlights (but don’t forget to change them back on your return)
  • If in doubt, get your car serviced
  • If you are travelling with children, they will need baby or child seats

And finally, be sure to have a good time!