Brexit: what you need to know about driving in the EU after 29 March 2019

If you’re bored with the B word, we’ve got some bad news: Brexit really is the gift that keeps on giving. And whether you support it or not, it could well change how we all drive abroad. Sadly, that doesn’t mean life is going to get any easier or involve less admin.

Whether you’re taking a car abroad or planning to drive a hire car once you get to a foreign country it’s likely you’ll have to apply for some paperwork. Read on to find out what you’ll need – if we leave the European Union/European Economic Area (EEA) without a deal.

What sort of driving licence do you need?

Currently when we drive in continental Europe, our Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) driving licence card is sufficient. Should the UK strike an exit deal with the European Union, this arrangement will continue.

If there’s no deal between the UK and EU for 29 March 2019 onwards, this could change. Drivers will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) for driving in all EU countries apart from the Republic of Ireland. And not any old IDP either

What licence for which country?

Most of the popular European countries for driving in (eg: France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Austria) are covered by what’s known as the 1968 IDP. But if you’re going to be driving in Spain (or Cyprus, Iceland and Malta) you’ll need a 1949 IDP. Travelling to Spain through France will require two sorts of IDP.

What happens if you don’t have one?

If your IDP isn’t valid for the country you’ll be driving in, you could be turned away at the border with the EU. And if you’re caught driving in an EU country (plus non-EU countries such as Andorra, Switzerland and Serbia) without the relevant IDP, you could be fined, have your car confiscated, or be sent to court. The message is clear: get the right IDP.

How much and where from?

You can get an IDP from main post offices in the UK. They only cost £5.50 each but as they last for between one and three years depending on the type, it’s another layer of aggravation you probably don’t need when preparing to go away.

Do we need car country identifiers?

A country identifier on the car’s number plate or as a body sticker signifies that a car has been registered in the UK. Even while we’re in the EU, every car has to show some kind of GB (or other part of the UK) signage while abroad.

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If you’ve got one of these, you’ll have to replace it (Picture iStock/MarioGuti)

A lot of modern cars have registration plates with the GB sign inside the EU flag, called Euro plates. Should we leave the EU without a deal, these will no longer be valid and drivers whose cars have these will have to display GB (or similar) signage too. If you have a registration plate with just the GB symbol on but not in Euro plate format, these will still be legal.

What about insurance for driving in the EU?

An insurance green card shows that you have the minimum level of cover necessary for driving in a particular country. The (currently) 28 EU countries, along with European Economic Area countries plus Andorra, Serbia and Switzerland are part of a green-card free zone. This means you don’t need an insurance green card to drive legally.

After we leave the EU, if there is no exit deal, there’s still a chance there’ll be an agreement letting us continue as part of the green-card free area, although this may only come into force some time later. Otherwise, every UK-registered car could be checked for proof of insurance. And drivers will need to carry a motor insurance green card when driving in EU/EEA countries.

How much and where from?

You apply to your motor insurer for a green card; some may charge for it. And as you may be contacting your insurer anyway to tell them you’re travelling abroad, it might not be any added hassle. However, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has warned that insurers may charge for a European green card to cover the added administration they’ll face.

What happens if you have a crash?

If we leave the EU without a deal, you really don’t want to have a road traffic accident in an EU/EEA country. At the moment if this happens, we claim via a UK-based claims representative or through the UK Motor Insurers’ Bureau.

From 29 March 2019 onwards, if you need to claim against a driver or insurer based in an EU/EEA country, you’ll have to do so in the country where the accident took place, which may involve lots of admin in a foreign language. And if you have an accident caused by an uninsured or untraced driver, you may not receive any compensation if we leave the EU without a deal. The government says this will vary from country to country.

If you’re involved in an accident in the EU/EEA before 29 March 2019, get proceedings underway before we leave the EU. It’ll make life an awful lot easier.

It would also be beneficial to have a European Accident Statement in the car. In many countries this has to be signed after a crash. The advantage of having one with you is it’ll be in English, not a foreign language, so you’ll know what you’re signing.

Do you need a visa?

From Brexit, we’ll be limited to 90 days in any 180-day period in the Shengen Area. From 2021, all non-EU residents (ie us) will need to have a Shengen Visa otherwise known as a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) to travel in Europe. It’s online admin, rather like filling out an ESTA for travel in the US. The idea is to keep track of visitors to the 26 Shengen countries within Europe that have abolished border passport controls. We’ll need one of these to visit the EU/EEA whether we leave the EU without a deal or not.

What if you’re taking pets abroad?

Things aren’t going to become any easier post Brexit. Pets will need to have a health certificate from an authorised vet every time they enter the EU. More boringly, their owners must have their pet’s paperwork checked each time they enter the EU. Speak to your vet at least four months before travelling.

What about customs queues?

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Queues at borders are unlikely to get any shorter – for UK drivers anyway (Picture iStock/Thomas Dermarczyk)

Whatever happens regarding the deal or no deal, queues at the borders between the UK and EU/EEA countries (ie. ports and airports) are unlikely to get any shorter.

Check your passport

Passport validity rules are changing. Your passport will have to be valid for at least six months (and in some cases up to 15 months) at the date of entry. You can check your passport here. The 15 months is because until autumn 2018, the UK Passport Office used to allow renewal up to nine months early and carried forward that period. Passports could therefore be valid for up to 10 years and nine months. The last nine months is now invalid.

European Health Insurance Card

We could lose access to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which guaranteed reciprocal healthcare on the same terms as a resident of that country (not necessarily free). We have a replacement arrangement with Ireland and Switzerland but will need to negotiate agreements with all other countries if no deal is agreed for EU exit. EHIC is in addition to travel insurance but neither replaces the other. The loss of EHIC will make buying travel insurance and fully declaring medical conditions even more important.

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