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Motor Insurance and Driving Abroad

Thu, 12/06/2014
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UK motorists planning to escape the inclement British climate by taking their car onto the continent need to ensure they arrange the correct motor insurance for their trip.  

The good news is that all British motor insurance policies automatically provide the minimum level of cover required in any EU country, or the minimum in the UK (third party only), whichever is the highest level of cover.  This further applies to certain European countries which, though not members of the EU, have signed up to the EU Motor Directives.  These countries include: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Andorra and Serbia.

In this video from our Wise Owl series, we discuss the insurance requirements for driving abroad:

It is very important to understand that only the minimum cover required by law is provided by this automatic extension. This is likely to be Third Party Only cover. Therefore, unless you extend your policy to provide comprehensive cover whilst abroad, there will be no cover for any damage to your own vehicle. Check the foreign travel section of your motor policy booklet to ascertain exactly what cover is provided.  If comprehensive cover is not automatically extended then contact your insurer and ask if it can be added. In most cases you will have to pay a small additional premium, but it will be well worth it for peace of mind.         

Those wishing to travel to the countries not signed up to the EU Motor Directives will need to contact their insurance company to ascertain if their policy can be extended to provide cover in the countries they intend visiting. Should the cover be available you will need to obtain an International Motor Insurance Certificate, more commonly known as a Green Card due to the fact that they are always printed on green paper. The Green Card is instantly recognisable and accepted in all countries that have signed up to the Green Card System. 

Although it offers no insurance cover in its own right, the Green Card is a document instantly familiar with police forces around the world and provides proof that your car has valid insurance in place.  In recent times however the importance of this document has decreased for travel in Europe as all UK motor insurance policies provide the minimum cover required in any EU country. Nowadays the Certificate of Insurance of an EU country is accepted across all other EU countries as sufficient proof of insurance.  However if you plan to travel to those countries that have not signed up to the EU First Motor Directive, then a Green Card will still need to be issued.  Countries that do not follow the Directive but are included in the Green Card System include: Albania, Belarus, Iran, Israel, Morocco, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine amongst others.              

Even if a UK policy is extended to cover damage to your own car there are certain aspects of your policy that might not apply when driving abroad.  The “Driving Other Cars” extension found in some comprehensive policies will not operate whilst driving outside the UK.  Any breakdown cover included with the policy is unlikely to encompass European cover so make sure you check your documents before embarking on any trip.  Fortunately, breakdown cover can normally be easily increased to include European travel by contacting the breakdown service provider or your insurance company or broker.      

Driving abroad does, of course, present extra challenges.  Other than the obvious hazards of the language barrier and remembering your bearings when driving on the other side of the road; drivers need to be aware of a multitude of other differences between UK roads and those on the continent.  Road signs will look different, territory will be unfamiliar and speed limits will differ and will be measured in kilometres per hour rather than miles.  It is also important to remember driving etiquette might be different to what you have grown accustomed to in the UK. 

All this coupled with potentially higher car crime rates in certain overseas areas adds up to a somewhat greater risk to you and your insurer than whilst driving in the UK.  It is unsurprising, therefore, that many insurance companies are trying to exclude foreign travel as much as international law will allow, in order to minimise potential losses. With the exception of EU countries, insurance companies are not obliged to provide cover for foreign use so, if you are planning on travelling outside the EU, make sure you enquire of your insurer in plenty of time to ensure that you can get adequate insurance cover in place before you leave.

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