The end of the post-Brexit transition period means new rules now affect how Brits drive in Europe.

This includes new driving licence and insurance requirements, which Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said marks a “historic moment for British motorists” and that those who wish to drive in the EU can “continue to do so with ease.”

This Insight explains these new requirements for driving in Europe in 2021 and beyond, and for EU licence holders driving in the UK. Some details are subject to change and should be read as correct at the time of writing.

Are UK driving licences still valid in the EU?

UK photocard driving licences will continue to be valid while driving in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Those with a paper driving licence only, or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man, may need to purchase an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in some EU countries and Norway.

The type of IDP a driver will need (there are three), depends on the countries in which they wish to drive. The UK Government recommends checking with the relevant embassy before travelling.

Those who live in an EU country – or in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland – and are currently using a UK driving licence, will have to exchange it for a local one. The deadline for doing so depends on the country in which they live. For example, UK driving licences will continue to be recognised in France until 31 December 2021, whereas those living and driving in Spain will have to exchange theirs by 1 July 2021.

The situation is less certain for those who split their time between the EU and the UK. Drivers can hold only one licence at a time. The type of licence a person has (either UK or EU) is ultimately a choice for them, although it may depend on the number of days each year they live in each country.

What car insurance is needed to drive in Europe?

Drivers should check policy documents or contact their insurance providers to see whether policies cover driving abroad. Any UK car insurance policy which provides the legal minimum coverage for travel in countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) is still valid for driving in Europe – provided those drivers are travelling with an insurance ‘green card’.

A green card is an international certificate of insurance guaranteeing the minimum third-party motor insurance cover required by law. Motorists can request a green card from their insurers and separate green cards are needed for trailers and caravans.

The UK Government says it has urged the EU to issue an Implementing Decision confirming the UK’s participation in the green card-free circulation zone as a third country. Until the EU issues such a decision, the Government’s advice to all UK motorists who intend to drive their own vehicle in the EU, EEA, Switzerland, Serbia or Andorra is to obtain a green card – this includes motorists from Northern Ireland travelling into the Republic of Ireland.

Is it necessary to display a GB sticker?

Each country has its own distinguishing mark for the purposes of international traffic. For the United Kingdom it is ‘GB’, standing for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Motorists will need to display a ‘GB’ sticker on the rear of their UK-registered vehicles when travelling in Europe unless their number plate includes the letters ‘GB’ on their own or with a Union Flag.

A GB sticker must be displayed when driving in Spain, Malta or Cyprus, regardless of what’s on the number plate.

What rules apply to professional drivers?

Bus and coach drivers and drivers of heavy goods vehicles) must carry their Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) card when driving in Europe.

Drivers who work for a UK company and have a CPC card can continue to use their card to drive to or through EU countries for all international journeys that UK companies are allowed to make.

UK CPC cards belonging to drivers who work for an EU company may no longer be recognised in EU countries and should be checked with companies.

What about EU licence holders driving in the UK?

EU licence-holders visiting the UK can continue to drive using their EU licence without needing an International Driving Permit. If a person’s vehicle is insured in the EU, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia or Switzerland, they should carry either an insurance green card or other proof of insurance when driving in the UK.

EU licence-holders living in the UK can continue to use their licence as long as it is valid, subject to UK licence renewal requirements. This means an EU licence must be changed to a UK licence at the age of 70 or three years after the holder becomes resident, whichever is the later.

UK residents with an EU licence can exchange their licence for a UK one, if they wish to do so, without the need for a re-test.

As the Government notes, negotiations between the UK and EU Member States around the exchange of driving licences is ongoing. In the future, these rules could change depending on the outcome of these discussions.


About the author: Michael McGrath is an enquiry executive at the House of Commons Library, working with the Transport Hub.

Image: Driving in Italy by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash

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