Driving in the EU after Brexit: what you need to know

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Driving in the EU after Brexit European Union sign

There are several new rules and regulations to consider from January, although not all have been confirmed yet – Top Gear expert Paul Horrell explains what you should look out for

Taking your car to the continent has been, for the past few decades, almost trivially easy. But as the UK steps across the Brexit threshold on 31 December 2020, it’s likely to get far more complicated.

This is the date the transition period – when, although we were out, everything carried on as if we were in – comes to an end. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this article in mid-November, many critical aspects of 2021 travel have yet to be agreed. Brexit negotiations were always going to be a wrangle, and with COVID-19 taking both sides’ eyes off the ball, it descended into something of a last-minute scramble. 

Still, it’s possible to outline the aspects that you should check before taking your car to the EU (plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein) in early 2021, and where you can find up-to-date information on the new requirements. 

• Watch: Top Gear expert Dan Read answers your general motoring questions

Visas, passports, tickets and permits 

Driving in the EU after Brexit UK visa

You won’t need a visa if you’re on holiday and in Europe for less than 90 days. But you will need to have at least six months – but no longer than 10 years – remaining on your passport. 

It’s possible that on entering the EU, you’ll have to show a return ticket – for yourself and your car – and demonstrate that you have enough money to support you during the whole of your stay. But at the time of writing this piece, it’s unclear how this will be enacted at the Channel ports. 

You might also need an international driving permit (IDP). Or, more accurately, one or more of three, depending on your route. Each IDP is named after the year of the international convention in which it was agreed. Most European countries are covered by the 1968 IDP, which is valid for three years or until the end of your driving licence, whichever is sooner – but the 1949 and 1926 IDPs are only valid for a year. You can find out which, if any, you’ll need on the government services and information website

Note that the IDP isn’t a licence – it’s effectively a translation of it – so you’ll need to carry your valid UK licence, too. You can get IDPs over the counter at many post offices. They cost £5.50 each and to buy one you’ll need passport-size photos, plus your driving licence – if it’s the old kind that doesn’t bear your photo, you’ll need your passport too.

Your car's paperwork

Let’s get the easiest step out of the way: the car must wear a GB sticker, whereas in the past an EU number plate would do. You’ll also need to show that the car’s owner has given permission for the trip. If it’s yours, carry your V5C logbook. If it’s leased or hired, get a VE103 ‘vehicle on hire’ certificate from the BVLRA or RAC by filling in an online form and sending them a letter of authorisation from the legal owner, plus a small fee. 

Insurance for you 

In the past, UK residents have been part of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme, granting the right to emergency state-provided healthcare across the Union (although not repatriation and so on, so you still should've had insurance). But now, insurance is vital, and likely to be more expensive. Be sure to buy cover carefully – while the EHIC covered pre-existing conditions or pregnancy, most conventional travel health policies don’t. 

Insurance for your car

Driving in the EU after Brexit man on phone

You’ll be required to carry your certificate of insurance, plus a green card – it’s green but not cardboard – issued by your insurer to show you have third-party cover for the countries you’re visiting. Most European countries have said they won’t enforce this, but that hasn’t been confirmed by the European Commission. You need a green card for a trailer or caravan, too. They take up to four weeks to come from insurers and, as with any of these documents, extra demand around these New Year changes might push waiting times up. 

It also goes without saying – but we’ll say it anyway – that you should ensure that your breakdown and vehicle repatriation cover explicitly extends to all the countries you will be visiting. 

The usual extras 

One thing is for certain: you’ll need the same accessories you always have – headlamp beam converters if your car needs them (some modern lights allow you to modify the beam by a switch), bulb kit, high-vis tabards, warning triangle and, for France, breath-alcohol testers. I admit I’ve often hurriedly bought that lot at the Eurotunnel terminal or on the ferry, because you could cross the Channel with little preparation and almost zero notice. That’s about to change, but at this point we don’t actually know by how much. 

Pets and phones

Driving in the EU after Brexit dog sleeping

The pet passport scheme is ending. Depending on the final agreed status of the UK, it’s possible that your dog, your cat or your ferret might need four months’ worth of preparations including a rabies vaccination. But less than six weeks before the deadline, that agreement hadn’t happened. 

The current mobile phone roaming agreement, where you pay the UK cost for calls and data when you’re away, is also coming to an end. Major UK networks have said they will continue in the same way – but check with your provider to avoid a possible bill shock. 

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Need to know more? 

Find out more about driving in the EU after Brexit by visiting the government portal.

Photos: Getty Images

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