Preparing for a no-deal Brexit: driving in the EU and vehicle insurance

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On 23 August 2018, the UK Government began publishing technical notes on the effect of a no-deal Brexit. These notes are intended to provide guidance to citizens, businesses, public sector bodies and Non-Governmental Organisations in the United Kingdom on how to prepare for the possibility of the UK leaving the EU next March without concluding a Withdrawal Agreement. It is expected that around eighty technical notes will be published in total. Over the next two months SPICe Spotlight will provide analysis and comparative information on a number of these. The first blog provided an overview of the UK Government’s Preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

This latest article covers two related technical notes:

Driving in the EU; and

Vehicle insurance

Driving in the EU

At present, UK driving licences are valid in the EU, the EEA and Switzerland and vice versa – licence holders are able to drive in each other’s countries without the need for any additional documentation. In addition, licence holders who move to another EU Member State can exchange their licence for one issued by their new home country. There is no requirement to re-sit a driving test.

In the technical note on driving in the EU, the UK Government indicates that, while it hopes the EU will continue to recognise and exchange UK driving licences, this may not be possible in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Without an agreement, UK licences may no longer be valid on their own for driving in the EU and individuals may be unable to exchange their licence should they move to an EU country.

International Driving Permits

The note indicates that, if no agreement is reached, UK licence holders may need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in the EU. IDPs are already required by UK licence holders to drive in a number of non-EU jurisdictions, including Japan and some states in the USA.

EU countries currently require third-country licence holders to have one of two types of IDP – the 1949 type, governed by the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, or the 1968 type, governed by the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. The type required depends on the country being visited.

If the UK and EU fail to reach an agreement, UK licence holders wishing to drive in the EU would need both their driving licence and the appropriate IDP. Failure to produce the correct IDP could result in being turned away at the border or facing other enforcement action, including fines.

The 1949 type IDP is currently available over the counter at around 90 Post Offices, or by mail order from two private companies, for a cost of £5.50. The mail order service will cease on 31 January 2019 and, from 1 February, both the 1949 and 1968 type IDPs will be available at 2500 Post Offices across the UK.

Moving to or living in the EU

The note indicates that, following a no-deal Brexit, holders of a UK driving licence who move to an EU country may lose the automatic right to exchange their licence for one issued by that country. In some countries, individuals may also be required to take a new driving test. To avoid this, the note suggests that individuals who have already moved could seek to exchange their UK licence before 29 March 2019.

EU driving licence holders visiting or living in the UK after Brexit

The note confirms that, even in a no-deal scenario, arrangements for EU licence holders visiting or living in the UK will not change. The UK does not require visiting motorists to hold a separate IDP to guarantee recognition of their driving licence. EU licence holders are able to drive on their EU licence until it expires or they reach the age of 70, and for up to three years after coming to live in the UK. The note also commits the UK Government to continuing to allow EU licence holders to exchange their licence for a UK version as long as they passed their test in an EU or EEA country.

Vehicle insurance

Under the EU Motor Insurance Directive, anyone who holds a compulsory motor insurance policy in an EU country is covered to drive throughout the rest of the EU. One feature of this system is a Green Card-free circulation area. This means that UK motorists who wish to travel with their car do not need Green Cards as proof of third party motor insurance in the EU, EEA, Andorra, Serbia or Switzerland.

Following a no-deal Brexit, the UK would no longer be part of the Green Card-free circulation area. UK motorists would likely be subject to document checks when entering those countries still party to the system, with Green Cards becoming mandatory. UK motorists who arrive at the border without a Green Card would have to purchase local insurance in the country they are entering, which could be expensive. Without proof of third party cover, motorists may not be allowed to drive in the country concerned and could face legal action or fines. Commercial operators with fleet insurance would be required to have Green Cards for each vehicle and, in some countries, each trailer. EU motorists wishing to travel with their vehicle in the UK would also likely require a Green Card.

UK motorists can request a Green Card from their insurance provider and the note makes clear that there will be no need to purchase additional third party insurance. Insurers are currently required to provide third party cover for travel to EEA countries and this would continue.

On 17 May 2018, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) indicated that Department for Transport (DfT) officials had confirmed in a letter that the UK Government planned to keep the UK within the Green Card-free circulation zone. The ABI also suggested that, although this decision was subject to formal approval by the European Commission, the UK had already secured the agreement of the Council of Bureaux, meaning that the Commission had simply to confirm an introductory date. The DfT appeared to confirm this position in a statement issued to the media on 18 May. No mention is made of this in the technical note.


On 14 September, RAC Europe spokesperson, Rod Dennis, said:

“Drivers are concerned that the ease, and relative affordability, of driving across the Channel will be eroded from next March.”

“While the majority would like certainty that costs and inconvenience will not increase (59% and 57% respectively), four in 10 (41%) of drivers believe it will get more expensive and 55% think there will be more hassle.”

“For the 2.6m private motorists and lorry drivers that head to EU countries each year, we would hope that any Brexit agreement makes travel as seamless and straightforward as possible.”

On 24 September, Hugh Savill, Director of Regulation at the Association of British Insurers, said:

“The Government and motor insurance bodies across Europe have already agreed a plan to keep the UK in the EU’s car insurance zone – the timeframes simply need rubber-stamping by the European Commission. We hope the Commission gets on with this as soon as possible to protect motorists and haulage operators, here and in Europe, from the unnecessary hassle and cost of having to return to a Green Card system.”

Andrew Warden, SPICe Research