Many of us consider driving our cars abroad, but do you really know what insurance cover you have when you drive through other countries? When studying motor insurance policies there are many consistencies, however there will be some differences between the various insurance companies which you’ll need to be aware of should you need to use your vehicle abroad.
Firstly, we need to look at the history of motor insurance within Europe. In 1972, the European Union member states passed a bill which made it a requirement for each member state to provide the minimum compulsory cover required in each other member state whilst their vehicles are in those other states. This act was upgraded in 1990 with the implementation of the Third Motor Directive which added that each member state should provide the minimum level of cover required by law in the country of travel, or the minimum of their home country, whichever one is greater.
Prior to the EU you needed a ‘Green Card’ to cross borders into Europe. A Green Card, or international Motor Insurance Certificate to give it it’s correct title, is a printed document, that is issued by a motor insurer as proof that a policy of insurance is in force and complies with the local insurance laws in the necessary countries which have adopted the Green Card System. Historically, this document took its name from the colour of paper it was printed on.
However, with the passing of the Codified Motor Directive, it is no longer necessary for a driver to possess a Green Card when travelling between countries which are members of the European Union, or those who subscribe to the Motor Directives but who are not members of the EU (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). You may however, be required to show proof of valid insurance when entering these countries and this can be done in the form of your valid Certificate of Insurance. Some insurers will provide you with a multilingual fact book to communicate the terms of your Certificate to any border agency staff.
So what are you covered for in the EU under your motor policy?
Most policies will provide you with the same level of cover as you have at home but for a limited period. This permitted period is usually between 30 and 90 days, but this can vary depending on your insurance company. Remember this is for cover in the EU and those countries that subscribe to the Motor Directives only. If you wish to travel outside these countries then it is vital you check with your insurance company to see what cover, if any, they will provide for you.
If you wish to stay longer than the permitted period in any of the EU countries then your policy cover will automatically drop down to the minimum required in that country (or Third Party Only, whichever is the greater). So, in the event of you having a “at fault” accident, there will be no cover for the damage to, or loss of, your vehicle. In some circumstances, you can obtain an extension to the permitted period at full policy cover, but this is at the discretion of your insurance company and will usually incur an additional premium.
If your motor policy in the UK is for comprehensive cover then subject to being within the timeframe and geographical limits stipulated, your cover will include any damage to your vehicle, whilst travelling in, or between, the countries by rail, air or sea. If travelling by sea, some insurers will stipulate that cover will only be provided if the journey follows a recognised sea route and takes no longer than 65 hours. Furthermore, if your car has been involved in an accident in a country which is covered by your comprehensive insurance policy, your insurers will also pay any reasonable costs of delivering the vehicle back to your main residence address in Great Britain, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. If your car is deemed a write-off, and has to be abandoned in a foreign country, the insurers will also pay for any customs duty which this incurs.
Many people will drive through a number of European countries, some of which will be members of the European Union or agree to their directives so, as previously mentioned, you’ll only need your Certificate of Insurance for proof of valid insurance. However, your trip may take you through countries which fall outside of the aforementioned rules and regulations. To gain entry into these states you’ll need to have a ‘Green Card’. These are available from your insurance company and need to be requested in advance of your journey. Insurers will usually charge a small fee for the provision of a Green Card.
If you do find that you wish to visit a country which is not covered by your insurance certificate or the ‘Green Card’ then you are strongly advised to look at how to buy insurance cover before setting off on your journey.
Similar to your insurance in the United Kingdom, any damage which is the direct result of Riot, Civil Commotion, Acts of War, Terrorism and Earthquakes are specifically excluded. Some parts of Europe (mainly Italy, Greece, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria) are particularly prone to Earthquakes. If you are planning on travelling to these areas, please consider that your vehicle will not be covered as a result of Earthquake. War and Civil Commotion risks will also be excluded. Although most of Europe is free from conflict, there are regions in which the threat of conflict is high. With the current troubles in Eastern Ukraine and the long-running tensions in former Yugoslav nations; it is advisable to consider the consequences of driving your vehicle to these countries.
There are several oddities which occur across Europe in regards to motor insurance. If you are travelling to Croatia, your motor insurance certificate will need to include cover for Bosnia-Herzegovina as there is a 20-km stretch of road which joins Northern Croatia to the South and travels through Bosnia; this is not automatically covered by your insurance policy.
In Spain, it used to be law that if you were involved in a road accident the Spanish Police had the right to hold you and/or your vehicle and you needed to pay a ‘bail bond’ to secure your release. Any visitors to Spain who wished to drive their vehicle on Spanish roads had to provide proof that their insurance policy covered the releases of the above. However, since the law has been abolished your insurance policy no longer needs to provide cover for this.
In Hungary, if you are involved in an accident with a Hungarian citizen, you need to report the incident to the Association of Hungarian Insurance Companies and the Hungarian police will write you a statement which you need to show upon leaving the country.
If planning on driving in Turkey, your motor insurance certificate will be inspected upon arrival at the border. This certificate needs to provide proof that it covers your vehicle in both the European and Asian parts of Turkey; otherwise you will need to purchase relevant insurance at the border.
Finally, as well as making sure you have the correct cover whilst driving abroad, you need to make sure that you adhere to the local laws and customs of countries you visit.
 European Member States as of May 2014: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom
Zurich Motor Insurance Policy Document
 Aviva Motor Insurance Policy Document
Liverpool Victoria Highway Motor Insurance Policy Document
 Countries which are not EU Member States and do not comply to the EU Motor Directives but accept the Green Card system are: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine.