Information last updated 26 March 2019
British motorists thinking of taking their cars across the Channel for holidays in Europe and the Republic of Ireland after the UK leaves the EU may feel they are driving into the unknown in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
And the issue does seem to be a long way from being resolved after Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal was crushed in the Commons. Following that defeat the Brexit date has been pushed back to April 12 in the event of agreeing no deal or May 22 if Prime Minister Theresa May wins the backing of Parliament before the earlier deadline.
Now British motorists face the possibility of being demoted to “third-country nationals” status, showing they are neither from the country they are visiting nor from another EU member state.
It will also mean that British drivers could be legally obliged to carry a Green Card to prove their insurance status on their overseas driving trip.
Many motorists have have been asking: “How will Brexit affect travel from the UK to Europe?”
Here, HIC’s insurance experts ponder the questions that need answering for anyone planning to head off for a continental driving holiday this summer.
And in basic terms, motorists are advised to organise their Green Card insurance and other travel admin before they set out – because it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Will I be able to use my British driving licence for driving abroad?
After Brexit UK driving licences will lose their EU validity. That means that if you move to a European Union country, you will need to apply for a new licence.
It is still not clear what the rules will be for British tourists driving in the EU but you may need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP), according to the Department for Transport (DfT).
But that’s not as simple as it sounds. Confusingly, there are two kinds of IDP required by different EU countries.
The permits are governed under different guidelines:
- The 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic: an international treaty designed to facilitate international road traffic and increase road safety by establishing standard traffic rules among affiliated countries. This will be required for travel to Ireland, Spain, Malta and Cyprus.
- The 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic: this treaty attempted to update the aims of the Geneva Convention and is recognised in most EU countries, plus Norway and Switzerland.
The DfT has warned that UK licence holders may be turned away at the border or face other enforcement action, such as on the spot fines, if they don’t have the correct IDP.
You can get the IDP which is appropriate for your travels at the Post Offices and it costs £5.50 a year. It’s not a great deal of money, but it is another administrative hassle before your holiday or business trip.
How will Brexit affect travel to Spain, France and other EU countries?
Motoring organisations have warned there could be long delays at the borders as EU countries will revert to more vigorous passport control post Brexit.
There will be other administrative checks too, such as Green Card authentication that will delay your passage further.
In the worst case scenario, motorways this side of the Channel and autoroutes in France could be turned into lorry parks for vehicles queuing for their passage. The Government already has a contingency plan to queue lorries in temporary parks on the M26 and the M20 in Kent.
As well as the possible delays, if you plan to drive through France to holiday in Spain – a pretty typical journey for countless British families each year – both types of IDP will be needed.
If you are driving to Europe, another document you will need is a Green Card which is explained later in this article.
However, owing to the “unique social, political and economic circumstances” the UK government has said it would not introduce any new checks or controls on goods at the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
What will happen to expats living abroad but still driving on British licences?
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, Brits living in other EU member states may have to take new driving tests in the country they are living in.
To avoid that, they should exchange their UK licence for a European one before Brexit, the government has said.
But it warned the closer Brexit draws the bigger the possibility of delays in processing exchange applications because of the increased demands. They advise expats to exchange licences now rather than leaving it until the last minute.
When will Brexit affect travel to and from Europe?
Britain is scheduled to withdraw from the EU on April 12 or May 22.
If you take your car across the Channel shortly before then it should be plain sailing – but when you come back after that date Europe will have a very different complexion.
With no deal, it seems there will be more border checks, more red tape and more inconvenience for British travellers.
Will my Green Card international travel document still be recognised?
It is currently not obligatory to hold a Green Card when driving in Europe. But it may become so in the event of a no-deal Brexit, as it was before Britain joined the then European Economic Community in 1973.
A no-deal Brexit would probably mean that access to the Green Card-free circulation area would end. That could mean UK motorists will be legally required to carry a Green Card as proof of third party motor insurance cover when driving in the EU, EEA, Andorra, Serbia and Switzerland.
The validity of UK Green Cards in these countries is subject to agreements that need to be reached between the UK’s Motor Insurers’ Bureau and the relevant National Insurers’ Bureau. These agreements ensure Green Cards are recognised and facilitate the settlement of claims for traffic accident victims.
The Government has warned that motorists should expect documentation checks to be carried out when entering these countries.
If you don’t have a valid Green Card you risk:
- being turned back at the border; or
- an on the spot fine; or
- being forced to buy expensive local insurance in the country you are visiting, also known as border insurance.
The Green Card must be for 15 days or more from the date you travel, and it must be printed on green paper. If you are mailed your Green Card and you print it at home on white paper it will be invalid and you will have issues with border security personnel.
I have heard I will need a separate Green Card for my caravan. Is that true?
Some countries require hauliers to have separate trailer insurance to that of the towing vehicle, which means a separate Green Card.
It is not yet clear if the same rules will apply to tourists towing caravans, but it is possible.
What will happen to my British passport?
British passports that expire after Brexit will continue to be valid as UK travel documents, but they will no longer be “European Union” passports. That means you will lose the automatic right of free movement within the 27 countries that make up the EU.
In legal terms, British travellers will become “third-country nationals”, and there are complex rules about passport validity in these circumstances.
The Schengen Border Code – covering almost every EU nation – stipulates that third-country nationals must have at least three months’ validity remaining on their passports on the date of intended departure from the Schengen area; however the Government is advising British travellers to have at least six months validity remaining on the date of arrival.
British passports issued after Brexit will not include the words “European Union” on their covers and by the end of the year all newly issued passports will revert to a dark blue rather than the EU’s burgundy.
Will I need a visa to travel in Europe?
The jury is still out on whether you will need a visa to travel in Europe.
In its Brexit white paper, the Government proposed reciprocal visa-free travel for UK and EU citizens to continue. But Brussels has insisted that third-country nationals – such as British passport holders post-Brexit – will have to register with ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) prior to their trip.
It’s not quite a visa, but it works in a similar way, making security, criminal, credit and other legal checks.
And if you plan to take your pet with you, that will be the subject of documentation checks too.
Currently dogs and cats can travel anywhere in the EU as long as they have a “pet passport”.
Three weeks before travelling, owners must go to the vet to have their pet vaccinated against rabies and microchipped.
But in the worst case no-deal Brexit, pet owners would have to visit a vet at least four months before visiting the EU.
The animal would have to have a rabies vaccination followed by a blood test at least 30 days before travel, to prove the vaccination was successful. Pet owners would then have to get a health certificate from the vet no more than 10 days before departure.
How will Brexit affect travel insurance?
Even though your have insurance for your car and caravan on your European motoring holiday, for your own protection and peace of mind you should take out travel insurance.
It is unlikely there will be a dramatic change in the way travel insurance works post Brexit, even without a deal.
The Foreign Office has updated its foreign travel insurance advice with Brexit in mind.
Will my EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) still be valid?
In its Brexit white paper, the government said it wanted UK citizens to still be able to use the European Health Insurance Card to receive healthcare while on holiday in the European Economic Area.
That would mean British holidaymakers in the EU would qualify for medical treatment on the same basis as the citizens of the country they are visiting – but that would depend on the stance taken by each independent EU country.
What will happen with regards duty free shopping?
The cloud over European travel post Brexit does have a silver lining. If you are taking your car abroad and you intend stocking up on duty free goods on the way back, chances are you will pay less than you have done in recent years though you probably won’t be able to bring back as much.
After Brexit, Britain will have the same status as the rest of the world in terms of duty-free allowances, meaning cheaper spirits, tobacco, perfume, electronic goods and jewellery.
Has the Government done enough to allay motorists’ fears about a no-deal Brexit?
Andy Morton from insurance experts HIC thinks much more travel advice should be made available to those thinking about driving to Europe or Southern Ireland post Brexit.
He thinks confusion about what may or may not be demanded of British drivers abroad could have a detrimental impact on the number of people taking their cars across the Channel this year.
He said: “I think motorists will be less inclined to take their cars abroad this year because of the uncertainty – though much depends on the state of the pound against the euro. If the pound does well post Brexit, the slump might not materialise.
“But motorists must remember they will need to get Green Card insurance prior to their visit, and if they are regular cross-Channel trippers they will have to get one for each trip, unless they do the sensible thing and take an annual Green Card.
HIC are Green Card specialists having been issuing them for travel to European countries outside of the EU member states countries for years.
Andy advised motorists planning trips to Europe or the Republic of Ireland after a no-deal Brexit to prepare for every eventuality: “Get your Green Cards early and take out good travel insurance to be safe rather than sorry.”
He added: “There are many scary stories about what may or may not happen come Brexity. The Government should be doing much more to separate the fact from the fiction for motorists.”
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