Green Cards: Driving abroad should there be a no-deal or ‘Hard’ Brexit

Whilst the political situation as to the outcome of Brexit continues to be uncertain there currently remains the possibility of a no-deal or ‘Hard’ Brexit on 12th April 2019. In such a scenario there would be the automatic annulment of many agreements and mutually compatible laws which were designed to facilitate the movement of goods and people across the borders between the UK and other EU countries. The long-standing EU agreement regarding compulsory motor vehicle insurance also extends to EEA countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), Switzerland, Andorra and Serbia. Therefore if the UK leaves the EU without a deal then the following notes will also apply if you are planning to drive to or through any of these non-EU countries too.

We are advising you now of the impact on motor insurance, and in particular the need for a Green Card(s), should a Hard Brexit arise.

This article does not attempt to detail every potential issue relating to the use of vehicles abroad in the event of a no-deal Brexit such driving licences or ECMT permits. Its aim is solely to advise you of the primary motor insurance issues to be aware of before you plan to use a UK registered vehicle in France, Belgium, Netherlands or other EU/EEA country via either a ferry or tunnel crossing.

Some background

Before the UK joined what was then called the Common Market in 1973 it was a requirement for UK motorists to hold a Green Card when driving a UK registered vehicle abroad i.e. outside the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man. A Green Card acted as evidence to local Police that your UK motor policy had been extended to certain countries abroad, just as a cover note or certificate of insurance acts as evidence of third party cover in the UK. Up to 1973 a UK motor insurance policy only provided cover in and in accordance with the UK, CI and IoM Road Traffic Acts. To evidence you and your vehicle had at least the minimum third party cover required by law in any foreign country, including the Republic of Ireland, a Green Card was necessary. This was usually issued upon payment of an additional premium. Under the Green Card system insurers in one country agree to have legal representation in other countries who also recognise the validity of a Green Card. This arrangement is primarily for the protection and convenience of local citizens. In the event of an accident any local third party involved in an accident can bring a court case against you/your insurer in their own country and under their own legal system rather than have to locate and appoint solicitors in the UK. (The same applies in reverse for foreign registered vehicles driven in the UK.) The Green Card system nowadays extends to all EU/EEA countries and many others outside e.g. Morocco and Ukraine.

In 1973, upon joining the Common Market, all UK motor insurers had to automatically provide at least the minimum third party cover in any Common Market country to be in accordance with Common Market law. Thus local Police in France, Belgium etc no longer needed to see evidence of third party cover via a Green Card for any UK registered vehicle. Over time most UK motor fleet insurers started to provide full policy cover, and not just third party cover, on vehicles used abroad at no extra cost. Some non-fleet insurers followed suit. Many motor insurance certificates nowadays carry translations in all major EU languages evidencing cover – which is what the local Police would look for should you be involved in an accident.

This could all change on 12 April

If your vehicle is abroad in the EU on 12 April then, in the event of a Hard Brexit, it will need a Green Card. Each trailer will need its own Green card too so do have its details to hand before contacting us. (Make, type [rigid/draw-bar or semi-trailer], serial or chassis number.) You may be denied access onto a ferry bound for the EU without Green Cards for your vehicle and trailer.

As will be noted, if you plan to deliver one trailer and return with a different one then details of both trailers will be needed. We accept this may present you with a logistical problem and remember you will have to physically hold a Green Card for the ‘return journey’ trailer before commencing your trip.

A Green Card has, literally, to be green

Insurers are currently establishing online systems to facilitate the issue of Green Cards electronically but you will need to physically carry it in your vehicle and on green paper to show to the local Police if asked. Do check before printing off any green card emailed to you as should you print it on white, or any other coloured paper, it will not be valid.

Insurers may make an administrative charge for a Green Card. Practice will vary. In addition if your policy is not already priced to include any (or nominal) projected foreign use then the insurer is entitled to make a charge for the foreign use cover requested. This is in part because accident frequency is higher abroad for UK drivers. Also vehicle recovery costs can be substantial. Sometimes a severely damaged vehicle, which would be deemed a total loss, has to be returned to the UK to avoid your insurer having to pay import duty on it if it were disposed of as scrap abroad.


Timescales for issue of a Green Card will vary as each insurer decides exactly how to address this situation. There has been talk in the media of insurers needing up to 30 days’ notice but it is hoped no more than seven days should prove sufficient. However, aim to give your insurer as much notice as possible.

By Tim Foster FCII, Director, Pound Gates

To speak to a member of the Pound Gates team, please click here to contact us.