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Brexit and your driving licence

Carlton Boyce / 15 January 2019 ( 30 January 2020 )

Will the UK driving licence be accepted in the EU after Brexit?

Question marks and the EU flag in a car on a phone display to represent how Brexit might affect your driving licence

Well, the jury has returned its verdict and the news is almost universally bad; while smokers and drinkers will be able to celebrate being able to bring back duty free booze and cigs, almost everyone else is going to find driving in Europe more expensive, more difficult, and bureaucratic – and that includes the pooch...

Here’s my take on the situation, and the steps you can take to avoid being stranded if you intend to drive abroad after Brexit.

What’s the problem with the UK driving licences and driving abroad post-Brexit?

The UK Government has confirmed that your UK driving licence will not be accepted throughout European Union (EU) and Norway from 1 January 2021. This will be an issue if you live out there, or if you are considering driving through a European country on holiday or for work.

If you want to drive there after we leave you’ll need an International Driving Permit (IDP). 

(Please bear in mind that the official IDP website hasn’t been updated at the time of writing, so still incorrectly states that you don’t need an IDP for travelling throughout Europe. This article is based on the most up-to-date advice available.)

The AA estimates that up to half-a-million ex-pats will be affected, making it a genuine and largely misunderstood problem.

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So what do I need to do as a visitor driving in the EU?

You will need an International Driving Permit (IDP)

If you’re planning on driving in Europe post-Brexit then you must obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) in advance.

They cost £5.50.

The 1926 and 1949 IDPs last for 12 months, and the 1968 permit lasts for three years or until your driving licence expires, whichever comes first. 

The application process is simple and needs to be done in person at an issuing post office. You’ll need to take your existing driving licence along, plus a signed passport-sized photograph and a form of identification, such as a passport.

You will need to visit one of the larger post offices to obtain it as not all of them are able to do so. To find your nearest issuing post office you can do a search here: Just remember to refine your search by ticking the ‘International Driving Permit’ box in the ‘Driving’ section.

Interestingly, there are three different types of International Driving Permit, and you might need multiple versions to drive through different countries. The system is explained here, but you’d better have some Ibuprofen ready because it’s far from straightforward.

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Do I need a Green Card?

Yes. You will need to ask your insurance company for a Green Card. This can take up to a month to be issued, so please do try to remember to apply for it in good time. 

What is a Green Card? 

In terms of driving, Green Cards are basically international insurance certificates that you may need after Brexit if you plan on driving abroad, in order to prove your insurance policy provides minimum cover.  

Don’t forget your log book

You’ll need to take the V5 Registration Document (the ‘log book’) for the vehicle with you, too. The prudent motorist would take photocopies of this, as well as your Green Card and IDP, with them just in case.

What about if I live and drive in an EU country?

If you live in an EU country then the UK Government advice is to swap your UK driving licence for one issued by the country in which you live.

This is a straightforward process and is made on a one-for-one basis because you can only hold one European licence. This means that you can’t keep hold of your UK one, although you can swap it back for a British licence when you return home.

However, increased demand (and some are saying Euro intransigence…) mean that what used to take a couple of weeks is now taking considerably longer - and if you haven’t got your local driving licence in time. you might have to take a driving test if you want to continue to drive in that country.

While France is said to have agreed a one year period of grace in which to make the exchange, the official advice is still to exchange your driving licence now to avoid any potential problems.

If you lose, damage or misplace your driving licence, you will need to replace it with one issued by the country where you normally live.

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Will the border procedures change?

Oh yes. In the Government’s own words: “Border control: you may have to show your return ticket and money. At border control, you may need to:

• show a return or onward ticket,

• show you have enough money for your stay,

• use separate lanes from EU, EEA and Swiss citizens when queueing”

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I want to drive in Ireland; will I need an IDP?

No, in a rare fit of common sense, it has been agreed that your UK driving licence will still be fine while you are driving in Ireland.

What about drivers from the EU coming to the UK?

The Department for Transport has already agreed that the United Kingdom will continue to recognise the EU driving licence as valid.

This gives me hope that the EU will reciprocate but this hasn’t been the case yet, so my advice remains that it is better to be prepared than to be stranded without a valid driving licence come the big day…

Will I need a visa?

The Government’s latest advice (30 January 2020) is that you won’t need a visa to visit EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland as long as you are going there as a tourist, rather than someone who will be working or studying there.

You’ll be able to stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.

This sounds very difficult

It’s more complex and time-consuming, certainly. But then it was always going to be, wasn’t it?

In the heady pre-EU days, having to obtain an IDP was a regular thing so we are really only going back to the days before things were harmonised across Europe.

Plus, let’s not forget that you already need to obtain a 1949 IDP to drive in the United States of America, Australia, Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Japan, and Turkey - plus another sixty-odd countries…

For more information on driving abroad after Brexit, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) provides guidance on what you need to know as the UK prepares to leave the European Union (EU).

Anything else?

Yes, phone roaming throughout Europe is likely to end too, and travelling with your pets is going to be more complicated. 


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.