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Cars & travel.

1 October 2021

International driving permits

Planning to drive abroad this year? Here’s everything you need to know about international driving permits and insurance green cards – where you need one or both, how to get them and what's changed since Brexit
Jade Harding
Driving-abroad

An international driving permit (IDP) is a multi-language translation of your driving licence. You need one to drive in many countries throughout the world, including a number of US states. But like many other road laws, IDP requirements depend on the country you plan to drive in.

Importantly, most people don't need an IDP to drive in European Union (EU) countries, even now the UK has left the EU. 

If the permit is compulsory, make sure you also carry your licence along with your IDP – the permit will not be valid without it.

The IDP should not be confused with an international driving licence – a document that can be bought online but is not an official certificate and won’t be accepted globally.

Still not booked the hire car for your trip? Here are the best and worst car hire companies.

Driving in Europe after Brexit

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. Since then, not much has changed for anyone with a UK driving licence. You can still drive in all EU and EEA (European Economic Area) countries using just your UK driving licence. You don't usually need an international driving permit (although there are some exceptions, which we explain below). 

However, if you're driving your own car, you will need some additional documents, including an insurance green card. Keep reading to find out the driving requirements for different countries. 

Is a UK driving licence valid in the EU?

Yes. You can drive in all EU and EEA (European Economic Area) countries using just your UK driving licence.

If you're driving your own car, you will also need extra documentation. These are:

  • A green card from your insurer (this must be a physical copy, so print it out if it's emailed to you)
  • A UK sticker on your car (depending on where you're driving – see below)
  • Your vehicle log book (VC5)
  • At least six months on your passport in order to enter Europe.

Will I need to display a UK sticker when driving in the EU? 

It depends on where you'll be driving and what is printed on your number plate. 

If your number plate includes the UK identifier with the Union flag (also known as the Union Jack), you do not need a UK sticker to drive in most EU countries. But you will need to display a UK sticker clearly on the rear of your vehicle if your number plate has any of the following:

  • a GB identifier with the Union flag
  • a Euro symbol
  • a national flag of England, Scotland or Wales
  • numbers and letters only - no flag or identifier

To drive in Spain, Malta or Cyprus, all UK-registered cars will need to display a UK sticker, regardless of what is on your number plate.

The white oval sticker shows the letters UK in black, standing for United Kingdom. 

It will need to be displayed at the back of vehicles registered in all parts of the UK, including Northern Ireland.  

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Will my UK car insurance cover me in the EU?

Yes, if you have a UK car insurance policy it will cover you in EU countries, but this may only be on a third-party basis, even if you have comprehensive cover to drive in the UK. Ask your insurer if you want to boost your cover to drive in Europe. 

There may also be a time limit on how long you can drive in EU countries under your UK insurance policy (per year and/or per trip), so check your policy documents. 

And, importantly, you will need to carry a green card as proof you have valid insurance. 

What is an insurance green card?

A green card is effectively a translation in several languages of your car insurance certificate. It is an internationally recognised confirmation you’re covered to drive your own car outside the UK.

Ask your insurance company to provide it. If you're towing another vehicle (such as a caravan), you'll need an additional green card for this.

A green card is valid for 90 days. You must carry a physical copy – so print it out if your insurer emails it to you.

Car insurance: add-ons, fees and charges – we explain the extra cover offered by insurers.

Do I need an international driving permit?

A compulsory IDP will depend on where you are planning to drive. Our map below shows which countries always require you to carry an IDP.  Hover over the countries to find out more. 

Map of countries that require an IDP

Please note: some countries have their own terms and conditions in relation to IDPs, so it’s important you research your destination prior to travelling. For example, in Brazil a certified translation is required from the Consulate for you to legally drive.

And there may be occasions when you need an IDP to drive in some European countries that don't usually require one. The gov.uk website says you might need an IDP to drive in some EU countries and Norway if either:

  • You only have a paper driving licence (and not a photographic card licence)
  • Your licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man

If in doubt, check before you leave. 

Will I need a different driving permit for different countries?

There are three types of international driving permit. 

  • A 1949 Convention IDP
  • A 1968 Convention IDP
  • A 1926 Convention IDP

The one you need to apply for will depend on what countries you're visiting, so check carefully to avoid getting the wrong one. The gov.uk website lists which countries need which type of permit. 

How to get an international driving permit

Since 1 February 2019, motorists can only get a permit by personally visiting one of the 2,500 post offices that will offer the service. The Department of Transport will then issue the permit via the post office.

Prior to 1 February, you could get an IDP by mail order from the AA and the RAC, and from 89 post offices in person.

To complete the order you have to be over 18 years old and have the following with you:

  • Your full UK driving licence – photo card or older paper version licence
  • A passport-sized photo
  • Your passport if you're presenting an older paper version licence
  • £5.50 application fee.

How long does it take to get an IDP?

Drivers are able to get their IDP over the counter on the same day, provided they have the supporting documents. You can also order one as early as three months prior and delay the start date of your permit, however a permit cannot be backdated. 

How much does an international driving permit cost?

Each version of the IDP costs £5.50. There are three types of permit. If you need two permits (because you're driving across two countries that require different permits, for example), you will pay £11. Which one or how many you need depends on where you will be driving.

How long is an international driving permit valid?

An international driving permit is valid for one to three years from the date it’s issued, depending on the type required. If you need a permit after that time, you will need to reapply in person for a second permit.

What insurance do I need to drive my car abroad?

If you're driving in the EU, your UK car insurance should cover you to at least the minimum, third-party legal requirement. You can ask your insurer to boost cover if you want.

If you're driving your own car outside of EU countries, check with your insurer to make sure your policy covers you. If it doesn’t, you can either upgrade your policy or, depending on your insurer, pay for a standalone, temporary car insurance policy.

Once you’re insured you should receive a green card (an internationally recognised confirmation of insurance – see below) to take with you. If you don’t, make sure you request one.

Always check the terms and conditions of your cover. Some policies will cease to be valid after a certain amount of days.

If you're hiring a car from a rental company, it will usually include essential car insurance as part of the package. 

Read our expert analysis of the best and worst car insurance policies

Breaking down abroad

Just like checking your insurance policy, you should also check your breakdown cover before driving abroad. Not all policies will protect you for overseas breakdowns.

If your policy doesn’t cover you, you can ask for additional protection at a cost. Alternatively, you can search for separate cover solely for your time abroad.

See our round-up of the best and worst breakdown providers

Are the laws on driving abroad different to UK driving laws?

While many of the rules of the road will be very similar in other, particularly EU, countries (for example, don't drink and drive, and don't exceed the speed limit), some countries have specific rules to follow. Check before you go to avoid being caught out. 

For example:

  • France – reflective jackets (one for each occupant) and a warning triangle are compulsory in every vehicle. The motorways in France are also privately managed so the law states that if you break down you must use the roadside emergency telephones or dial 112. The police will send out a rescue company that will tow you to a safe area.
  • Spain – a warning triangle is compulsory, and while reflective jackets are not compulsory to carry you could be fined for walking along the road or hard shoulder without wearing one.
  • Italy – a warning triangle, reflective jackets and a spare tyre are all compulsory.
  • Germany – reflective jackets, a warning triangle and a first aid kit are all compulsory.
  • Belgium – you have to carry reflective jackets and a warning triangle in the event of a breakdown. If you are driving a vehicle that's registered in Belgium you also have to carry a first aid kit and fire extinguisher.

Avoid breaking down in the first place by opting for a Best Buy car. Here are our expert assessments of the best cars for 2021.