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International Car Insurance

If you enjoy driving and value your independence, you’ll want to keep using a car – even when moving to another country, where you may need to get used to different traffic conditions. For expat motorists, car insurance is a big part of staying safe. Read our tips on international policies below!
Prepare for the worst-case scenario and get a proper car insurance policy for your time abroad!

Visiting Motorists

If you are just planning to take your car abroad for a while, e.g. on a preliminary fact-finding trip or extended business travel, your normal insurance policy will often suffice. Contact the insurance provider and ask what their coverage for international travel entails.

Frequently, international auto insurance policies switch to minimum coverage once you drive abroad. Car insurance for travelers is usually limited to a certain number of days as well. However, by investing a bit more money, most drivers can upgrade their policy for international trips. In other cases, insurance providers at your destination may offer temporary policies for visiting motorists. For example, you can buy short-term car insurance in the UK, but these products require higher premiums than the average quote for local vehicle owners.

If you cross the border in a motor vehicle, you could be asked at the point of entry to provide proof of insurance. Make sure to find out what the usual basic cover for foreign drivers is and carry your insurance documents with you. Most countries expect both national and international drivers and/or car owners to hold some kind of third-party liability insurance.

Proof of Insurance and the Green Card System

Motorists traveling within the EU don’t need proof of car insurance at all. If you register a car in one EU member state and buy the legally required cover, all official policies include basic coverage for other member states by default. Only in case of accident do you have to produce your insurance papers. Though it is no longer mandatory as legal proof within the EU, the so-called Green Card remains the most easily recognized document for international drivers.

Some other countries still expect foreign drivers to carry such a Green Card as proof of car insurance for border inspections or traffic police. These nations include: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Iran, Israel, Macedonia, Moldova, Morocco, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine. If you travel to one of these destinations, ask your local insurance company to issue you a Green Card beforehand.

Buying Motor Insurance Abroad

If you actually relocate to another country, things are a little different. If you don’t want to bring along your own vehicle, most company cars or rental vehicles come with an existing insurance policy. However, if you import your own car, an international insurance policy will only be valid for a limited period – e.g. as long as you can keep your foreign license plates, or so long as you are considered a visitor.

Once you count as a local resident or register your car, you generally need a new quote from a local insurance company. In many countries, third party liability insurance is a legal prerequisite for registering your car with the traffic authorities. For example, in the UK, driving or owning a vehicle without insurance coverage is a criminal offense. Even if the potential consequences are not as drastic as jail time, you should get insurance nonetheless.

Car Insurance Types

It’s now time to go auto insurance shopping. Don’t hesitate to contact several companies and compare their quotes and products. Regardless of where you live now, most kinds of car insurance differentiate between two or three policies.

Third-party coverage pays for all or most damage to other people’s property, as well as treatment of their injuries sustained in an accident you caused. Third party plus extra (e.g. third party plus fire and theft) enables you to file a claim if your car is stolen, or damaged by severe weather conditions and the like. Comprehensive coverage offers – as the name implies – a broad policy that will also reimburse you for having your vehicle repaired if you were responsible for an accident yourself.

You should always read the fine print and check which provisions a specific quote includes. Will the insurance company pay for a courtesy car? Are your passengers covered too? Do you get money for legal expenses? The list goes on.

Paying Premiums

Also find out which factors your premiums depend on. Quotes vary according to…

  • age
  • how many people use the car
  • gender (The EU introduced unisex tariffs in 2012, but other countries might consider young male drivers a risk factor.)
  • deductible (i.e. how much you pay out of your own pocket before filing a claim)
  • where you keep the car over night
  • type of vehicle (e.g. vintage car, sports car)
  • driving experience and insurance record

The latter can pose a particular problem to expats. Insurance companies aren’t necessarily obliged to take your record from another country into account. But if you haven’t had any accidents back home, it could pay off to contact a potential provider. They may be willing to lower your premiums if you send in an official translation of your old insurance record.

Last but not least, be aware of when exactly the insurance coverage kicks in and when the premiums are due. In Germany, for example, motorists usually get temporary insurance papers for all travel involved in registering a car (e.g. driving it to the vehicle inspections office). Premiums are paid on an annual basis, but your car insurance company could make an exception and offer quarterly payments, etc.

Getting Advice

To compare various quotes for international or local vehicle insurance, contact an independent insurance broker or get in touch with the big national automobile clubs. They often provide their members with special offers for car insurance.

Automobile associations can also give advice on what to do in case of accident. International drivers should read up on traffic regulations and legal proceedings beforehand. In some places, like the UAE, it’s highly recommended to contact the nearest embassy or consulate immediately when you are involved in an accident. They can provide legal counsel if the police threaten to confiscate your passport or send you to jail until the matter is resolved.