car insurance for travelling abroad


Taking a road trip in Europe can be spectacular – it’s a great way to move quickly between destinations while taking in some stunning scenery. However, will your car insurance cover your trip?

According to research by the Association of British Insurers, more than two million Brits head to the Continent each year. Yet research by Opinium, in May 2009, revealed that 38 per cent of UK drivers do not know what level of cover their car insurance offers while they are driving overseas.

Are you covered abroad as you are at home?

Research by a comparison website shows that 22 per cent of UK drivers believe they will receive the same level of cover when driving overseas as they do in the UK – even though they admit that they haven’t checked. Even more worryingly, one in five drivers believe their travel insurance covers them for driving abroad when in reality this is not the case.

In fact, the level of cover you receive while driving in Europe is dependent on the terms offered by your car insurance provider. Insurers are only required by law to offer third party cover abroad – this means that even if you have a comprehensive policy in the UK, your cover may still be downgraded to third party only when you travel on the Continent.

An analysis conducted by a comparison website in May 2009 showed that of 20 big brand insurance providers, only half offered the same level of cover while travelling in European Union (EU) countries as they do in the UK. Even then there are significant differences between the number of days this cover applies for over the course of a year and the maximum number of days you can travel for in succession with this cover in place.

So how can you get the cover you need while travelling abroad?

There are several steps to ensuring you have sufficient cover while overseas:

- Step one – Look for a Green Card: A Green Card within an insurance document indicates that you have the minimum level of cover needed to drive within one of its listed countries – usually this is third party only cover. If you are involved in an accident in several European countries – including the likes of Poland and Romania – you will need to produce the Green Card to prevent your vehicle from being impounded. Most insurers will provide this on request.

- Step two - Contact your insurer: Speak to your insurer directly to establish what you’re covered for while overseas. If your provider downgrades you to third party cover while abroad speak to it about upgrading your policy. This will usually involve an extra charge, but at least you will be covered in the event your car is stolen, suffers fire damage or requires repairs after an accident (subject to exclusions) assuming you have comprehensive cover already.

- Step three – Shop around: If you’re likely to take your car with you overseas on a regular basis then it’s worth considering this when shopping around for car insurance at renewal time to ensure you don’t have to pay an additional premium to get the cover you need each time.

What to look for when shopping around

Before signing up for a new policy, consider the length and level of cover it offers for driving abroad. In particular, look at:

- The number of days you are covered for each year: Some policies will cover you for an unlimited number of days abroad each year while others may cap your cover at 90 days, 60 days or even 24 days a year.

- The maximum number of consecutive days you are covered for per trip: Even policies that offer unlimited cover over the course of the year may restrict this cover to just a few days per trip. So check the terms and conditions carefully.

- Is there a charge for extra days: If you opt for a car insurance policy that restricts the number of days you can travel with the same level of cover abroad, then look to see if you can pay an additional premium to receive this cover for an extended period – some insurers will not cover any extra days, but others may charge around £20 for two additional weeks.

- Restrictions: Some policies will cover travel to anywhere in Europe, while others will restrict you to the European Union only. It may also be a requirement to contact your insurer at least two weeks before you go abroad.

Check too, to see if your car insurance company offers European breakdown cover as this can offer added peace of mind. Again, be aware of restrictions to the number of days this cover applies for.

Things to remember when driving abroad

Car insurance can provide a safety net if things go wrong – but it’s much better to avoid accidents altogether. To help avoid accidents, you should be aware of the differences in the laws of the road in Europe. Things to bear in mind include:

- Visibility accessories: In several European countries, including France, it is illegal not to carry a warning triangle and a high visibility vest that should be worn in the event of a breakdown.

- Speed limits: Watch out for changing speed limits, particularly when you travel from a country road into a village as the changes may be unmarked – the village sign should be used as a prompt to slow down.

- Drink driving laws: Check into the legal alcohol limits of the countries you plan to visit – the likes of France, Portugal and Belgium all have tighter restrictions than the UK.