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Are you planning the ultimate road trip to Europe? Before you eat your weight in croissants and stroopwafels and take that ultra touristy pic with the leaning tower of Pisa, there are a few things you need to think about.

And we’re not just talking about whether to borrow your mate’s car and get temporary car insurance or rent a car when you cross the channel.

There are other practicalities to consider too. For instance, they drive on the other side of the road in Europe.  Also, they often have different speed limits, road laws may vary, and there may be tolls you need to pre-pay. Of course, the answers to most of your questions are just a few Google searches away.

But it’s as easy to find the info you’re looking for as it is to get lost in lots of lingo and jargon you’ve never come across before.

Like green cards, for example. You were pretty sure those were just to do with immigration. But now, you need one to drive abroad, apparently? Not so quick! Let’s delve into exactly what green cards are and the limited circumstances when you actually might need one.

Person in orange with blue car and trees and sun in the background.

What is a green card?

The green card system is designed to make travelling abroad simpler and safer. It’s a document that proves that you have the minimum compulsory insurance cover required by the law of the country you are visiting. It exists in 47 countries in Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

If you’re travelling within Europe, you generally won’t need a green card. That’s because the UK is part of the Green Card Free Circulation Area which includes all EEA countries as well as:

  • Andorra
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina
  • Montenegro
  • Serbia
  • Switzerland

If you’re travelling outside of the EEA area and the countries listed above, then you might need a green card, even if you’re technically still in Europe.

How do I find out if I need a green card?

In general, if you’re travelling outside of the Green Card Free Circulation Area, you may need to show a green card. Here are some countries in Europe where you will be expected to have a green card:

  • Albania
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Moldova
  • Russia
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine

There are also several countries outside of Europe where you will require a green card. If you want to be absolutely certain, then you could ring your insurer for advice or check the foreign travel advice website.

Man with blue hatchback car with trees and the sun in the background

How do I get a green card?

If you’re planning on travelling to a country where a green card is required, you’ll need to get in touch with your insurer to get one. If your car insurance covers you to travel abroad, they’ll be able to provide you with a green card.

Typically green cards last a minimum of fifteen days. The maximum duration a green card lasts is at the discretion of your insurer.

What if I have a trailer or caravan?

If you are planning on towing a caravan for a nice, long break in Europe, you’ll be able to do that, but you’ll typically need to bring an extra green card. Same goes for a trailer.

You’ll typically also need to carry an extra green card if you have more than one car insurance policy.

How long does it take to get a green card once I’ve applied?

It can take up to six weeks to get your green card. Bear in mind that some insurers will post your green card the old-fashioned way. As in, snail mail. That means you may have to wait a few weeks before you get it. So it’s a good idea to phone your insurer at least a couple of months before you’re due to fly out.

But, also, your car insurer might be able to send you a digital copy, which could significantly cut down on time. You’ll still need to print it though.

Does a green card have to be printed on green paper?

Believe it or not, until not too long ago, your green card had to be printed on green paper to be considered valid. Imagine getting pulled over and fined because you printed your otherwise-valid document on the wrong coloured paper. A bit petty, we know.

But now, you can print your digital green card on white paper (which is usually what regular people have at home) and use that. So phew! You don’t have to go hunting for green printer paper a day before your trip.

Make sure you print it though. We know, we know, you’re used to just whipping out your phone and showing a pdf version of your docs. But it’s still a legal requirement to have a “hard copy” of your green card. So until they come up with a digital version, printing is the only option sadly.

Blue hatchback car with trees and the sun in the background

When do I have to show my green card?

It’s always a good idea to have important car-related documents handy when you’re driving abroad. You never know when you might need quick access to them.

Typically, you’ll need to show your green card if you’re travelling in a country that requires one and if you’re involved in an accident.

But, you might also be asked to show your green card at border crossings and if you’re stopped by police.

What kind of car insurance do I need if I’m travelling abroad?

The considerations for car insurance abroad are pretty similar to those when you’re driving at home. First, there’s the law to consider in any country you’re travelling to, or through. Then there’s the cover you choose, and what would happen if you had a claim, but your policy didn’t cover your car.

You’ll typically need at least third-party car insurance to travel abroad. This is the minimum amount of cover required by law in Europe. It’s always worth checking the relevant foreign travel advice pages for your destination though.

But, while this is the minimum level of cover required, you might find that you’d be more comfortable with a comprehensive policy that would cover your car in the event of an accident. We have a detailed article outlining what you should think before going abroad here.

Also, if you are planning on sharing the driving with a friend and using their car for the trip, it’s unlikely that their cover will extend to you. That’s where temporary car insurance can be helpful.

Travelling abroad with Zixty

With a Zixty temporary car insurance policy, you can share the driving with your friend by getting insured to drive their car on a third party basis while abroad. Policies are flexible and can last as little as an hour or as long as a few weeks.

It takes minutes to get on the road with Zixty. All you have to do is download the app, scan your licence, fill out a few details about yourself, and buy your policy. With our instant car insurance policies, your cover can start in as little as 5 minutes.

If you’re still not sold, bear in mind that we’re the UK’s eco-conscious temporary car insurance provider. That means that if you enable Zixty Miles, our free add-on, we will carbon-offset all your journeys up to 100 miles a day and we’ll plant a tree every time you take out a policy with us.

So if you need temporary car insurance for your trip abroad, you know where to look.