Driving in Europe after Brexit – everything you need to know

Alex Robbins
Muddled planning and relentless uncertainty make Brexit a problem for British drivers planning to travel abroad  - REUTERS

If you’re planning to visit Europe later this year, the chances are you’ll have wondered how to drive over there, especially if the repercussions of Brexit include changes to the validity of British driving licences. Whether you’re intending to take your own car to France or hire something further afield – Italy, Spain or Greece, perhaps – you’ll probably want to know what you’ll need to get on the road abroad, and what preparations you might need to make before you leave.

At the time of writing, we're not sure exactly when – or if – we'll be leaving the European Union, but the advice below is tailored to our best understanding of the political situation.

Will my driving licence still be recognised?

This is the factor that could most impact your ability to drive abroad: whether the British driving licence is still recognised as valid in Europe. 

Were we to leave the EU with a deal, the chances are that your driving licence would still be valid. However, with no deal in place, the likelihood is strong that British driving licences would no longer be recognised as legally valid on their own in the EU. This would happen overnight. 

However, that doesn’t mean British drivers would no longer be able to drive in Europe. Instead, they would probably need an International Driving Permit, or IDP. 

The IDP is a permit that effectively translates your licence officially, enabling you to drive in countries that don’t recognise your own country's driving licences. It takes the form of a small card-bound document complete with your photo, that’s valid for a year from the date it’s issued.

Which countries will I need an IDP to drive in?

Of all the EU countries that formerly recognised your UK driving licence, only Ireland will allow you to drive without an IDP. The remainder will require you to obtain an IDP if we leave the EU with no deal.

There are three different types of IDP available, based on the three different conventions to which they refer.

Requiring an International Driving Permit is just one of the changes likely to affect British motorists under current Brexit plans Credit: Steve Parsons /PA

A 1926 Convention IDP will allow you to drive in Liechtenstein; a 1949 Convention IDP will allow you to drive in Iceland, Spain, Malta and Cyprurs; and a 1968 Convention IDP will allow you to drive in all of the remaining EU countries, as well as Norway and Switzerland.

Where can I get an IDP for the EU?

In the UK you can obtain an IDP from larger Post Office branches; to do so, you need to go to the Post Office counter, pay a fee of £5.50, and supply a passport-sized photograph and your driving licence. You’ll also need to show your passport if you still use an old-style paper licence.

What about my car insurance?

Currently, you don’t need a Green Card to drive within the EU, EEA, Andorra, Serbia or Switzerland, and that state of affairs would probably continue were we to leave with a deal. However, were we to leave the EU without a deal or any reciprocal arrangements, your British car insurance policy document on its own will not be recognised as the legal minimum cover to be able to drive in Europe.

With that in mind, if you’re planning to drive in Europe post-Brexit, you will need to arrange for a Green Card, which serves as evidence of motor insurance cover when driving abroad. These are usually available free-of-charge from your car insurance provider, and will cover you to drive your car in non-European countries. Be warned that these can take as long as a month to arrange, so it’s worth making sure they’re in order early on.

It’s also worth noting that some countries require you to have a separate Green Card if you’re towing a trailer or caravan – so make sure you check if that’s your intention and, if necessary, ask your insurer for two Green Cards – one for your car, and the other for the trailer.

What do I need to take if I’m driving my own car?

Currently, you need to carry your vehicle log book (V5C), or alternatively, a VE103 form which shows you’re allowed to use a hired or leased vehicle when you’re abroad, or a letter of authorisation if you’re driving a company car. You should also carry your valid insurance documents. There’s no suggestion that any of this will change once we leave the EU.

Paperwork required for British drivers, both private and commercial, could change in a 'no deal' Brexit Credit: PASCAL ROSSIGNOL /REUTERS 

The same goes for the equipment you’ll need to bring with you. Each individual EU country has its own set of regulations with regard to first aid kits, reflective vests, breathalysers, spare bulbs and other accoutrements you might need to carry with you, so it makes sense to read up on the exact requirements of your destination (and any countries you plan to drive through) before you travel.

Will my GB numberplate still be valid?

This is still one of those unknowns. GB stickers are a requirement when driving in the EU at the moment, but a numberplate that displays the Euro symbol and a GB identifier is currently allowed in lieu.

We couldn’t come up with a definitive answer as to whether that will remain the case once we’ve left the EU. Nevertheless, Government advice is to display the GB sticker irrespective of whether you currently have a numberplate that features a GB identifier.

Can I still hire a car in the EU?

Yes, you can. However, as above, you’ll need the correct IDP for the country you’re visiting if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. Your car rental provider may refuse to hand over the keys if you fail to present an IDP.

Can I still be sent a speeding fine from the EU?

Thanks to the Cross-Border Enforcement Directive, which has been in force since 2017, it’s now very easy for European police to trace you and your car and issue you with traffic and speeding fines, and potentially even points on your licence.

However, without a deal – and potentially even with one in place – this directive would no longer apply. That would therefore make it much harder for European police forces to trace British drivers, and in theory, could result in far fewer fines being issued to British-registered cars.

European countries' police forces often have wider roadside powers than their British counterparts  Credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN /AFP

Don’t imagine that this will give Brits free reign to break speed limits abroad, though. In many European countries, on-the-spot fines will still apply, and many police forces are endowed with the ability to seize vehicles there and then. If they’re aware they might not be able to enforce a fine issued later, the chances are they might be more inclined to do so.

What if I’m involved in a crash in the EU?

Currently, if you’re involved in a car accident in the EU, you can make a claim off the back of that crash via either a UK-based Claims Representative, or the Motor Insurers’ Bureau.

However, should we find ourselves outside the EU without any agreements, UK residents will need to bring an insurance claim against either the driver or the insurer of the other vehicle(s) involved in the crash in the country where the accident happened. This may need to be done in the local language.

And worse luck if the driver is uninsured or untraceable; if that’s the case, there’s a strong chance you won’t receive any compensation at all, as the legal mechanisms aren’t in place to find the driver and claim against them.

Will I be able to travel through Dover after Brexit?

There’s no suggestion that you won’t be. However, depending on the final outcome of Brexit, there may be some disruption. The Government had advised travellers to expect, in a worst-case scenario, “very significantly reduced access across the short strait [of Dover] for up to six months”.

The Port of Dover, already susceptible to delays, could become very seriously disrupted under Brexit plans Credit: Dan Kitwood /Getty images Europe 

In other words, delays to freight traffic in the even of the hardest forms of Brexit might result in far less capacity for tourist traffic on ferries and trains across the English Channel. That’s without mentioning the increased difficulty of travelling to the port itself that may come about if Operation Stack is put in place.

However, if the outcome is a softer form of Brexit, the likelihood is that these issues won’t come about. Should we enter into an agreement which allows freight to remain relatively frictionless across the Channel, it’s unlikely that the hold-ups will be anywhere near as bad, though there may still be a few small delays here and there.

What about other ports like Portsmouth and Ramsgate?

Other Channel ports are unlikely to be as severely affected as Dover in the case of a hard Brexit as their longer crossing times mean they’re less heavily relied upon for just-in-time freight. However, travellers could still face delays at other channel ports as traffic is likely to spill over from Dover if delays mount.

The M20, British drivers' main route to Channel crossings at Dover and Folkestone, could become extremely congested as freight traffic builds up Credit: Gareth Fuller /PA

Will I need a visa?

You probably won't, provided that the UK offers reciprocal visa-free access for EU citizens after Brexit. In the unlikely event that the UK chooses not to, you will need a Schengen area visa in order to enter the Schengen area (i.e. to get through the border crossing at your port of entry), though this should cover you for travel within the zone.

Will my European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) still be valid?

Almost certainly not, if we leave with no deal, so the advice is to ensure you have travel insurance which covers you as you would if you were travelling in a country outside the EU.

However, even if we leave with a deal, there’s no guarantee it’ll include the reciprocal healthcare arrangements we currently enjoy. That being the case, it might be prudent to have a good travel insurance policy in place regardless.

Will I still be able to buy cheaper alcohol and cigarettes in France, or 'duty-free'?

Most likely, yes – but possibly not as much. The UK Government will probably decide to maintain the current personal alcohol and cigarette import allowances from the EU in the short or long term.

But if it doesn’t, those allowances will probably be brought into line with current allowances for goods brought in from outside the EU, which allow up to 16 litres of beer and up to four litres of wine – just over half a case. You can also bring in up to a litre of spirits over 22 per cent alcohol, or up to two litres of other alcoholic drinks with up to 22 per cent alcohol, or any combination thereof.

As far as tobacco is concerned, current allowances cater for one of either 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars, or 250g tobacco, or a mix thereof.

We’ll be keeping this story updated as and when new information about our future relationship with the EU emerges, so please check back nearer to your travel dates, and hopefully we’ll be able to fill you in with the latest information.

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