Driving into Brexit - the latest news for motorists

4683At last we have some clarity on travel within in the EU27 after Brexit, writes Sue Fletcher.

On 13th November the EU issued a preparedness notice on travelling after Brexit. This article will focus on driving and driving licences under the Vienna Conventions of 1949 and 1968, to which the UK is a signatory. The date of Brexit still hangs in the balance so it could be 29th March 2019 in the event of a no-deal or December 31st 2020.


The law for a UK registered vehicle remains as it is now. After it has been in the country for more than 183 days it must be re-registered onto Portuguese number plates. Note that no vehicle older than July 2007 can be matriculated due to emissions. To comply with Portugal’s requirement to reduce pollution the authorities have taken the decision to stop importing older, more polluting cars. 

Much has been written elsewhere on the topic of matriculating a foreign plated car, which I won’t reproduce here. Generally speaking, although like-for-like cars are cheaper in the UK, you have to bear in mind that importing a RHD car holds little secondhand value here in Portugal and if you import it ‘tax free’ at the same time as taking out residency, you cannot sell it for five years. The general advice is to buy a Portuguese registered car and save yourself considerable expense and hassle.


Whatever you decide to do, it would be wise to bear in mind the time it takes to get the required paperwork together. If you have yet to get your temporary residency, obtain a health number and see your GP, you need to be acting now in case the cut-off date is 29th March 2019.

Before Brexit – Registration of a UK licence:

As an EU citizen, a UK driving license currently is accepted without question throughout the EU. In Portugal, if you are resident, all you need to do is to register your UK licence with IMT for a maximum of two years, after which you must swap it to a Portuguese licence. The registration procedure is simple. Visit your local IMT and take with you your:

  1. a) UK licence
  2. b) Fiscal Number
    c) Passport
  3. d) Residency certificate
  4. e) Proof of your address (e.g. utility bill)

However, after March 29th, 2019 this option will not be available so it begs the question whether to bother with it at all. The Portuguese authorities have given no guidance on this, so it may be safer to assume that those UK licences currently on the IMT’s EU register, will cease to be valid after March 2019.

The EU will recognise UK driving licences, under Article 41(2) of the Convention on Road Traffic, Vienna, 8 November 1968. This means that you won’t need to take a Portuguese driving test in Portuguese, but extra paperwork will be required. See below.

Swapping a UK licence before Brexit

If you are already, or intend to be resident in Portugal before 29th March 2019, it would be easier to make the swap now, whilst an EU citizen, as the process is very straightforward.

Swapping a UK driving licence requires a trip to your local IMT. You cannot do this through a driving school, but subsequent renewals can be processed through a driving school, which might save a lot of travelling in the future. Take with you;

  1. a) UK licence
  2. b) Fiscal Number
    c) Passport
  3. d) Residency certificate
  4. e) 'Fit to drive' medical certificate from your Portuguese GP
  5. f) Proof of your address (e.g. utility bill)

IMT staff will complete the paperwork, take a digital photo and digital signature and take away your UK licence. In its place you’ll be given a piece of paper that allows you to drive until your licence arrives in the post – usually within three weeks.

Your UK licence will be cancelled in the UK so please don’t consider lying to the UK authorities about a ‘lost’ licence as the fine is £1,000. It’s worth checking that IMT is allowing you all the vehicle classes currently shown on your UK licence as this can cause complications in the future if you have a motorbike, for example, and then discover you have lost the licence to ride it. 

Cost is €30.

Note that after Brexit this license remains valid.

Swapping a UK license after Brexit

After Brexit, to swap a UK license to a Portuguese licence you will need to go to your local IMT office and take with you the following:

  1. a) UKlicence
  2. b) Fiscal Number
    c) Passport
  3. d) Residency certificate
  4. e) Medical certificate from your Portuguese GP.
  5. f) A statement issued by the issuing authority or diplomatic or consular authority, attesting the authenticity of the driving licence, date of issue and respective validity, categories of vehicles that are enabled with the respective dates and restrictions even though the driving title was obtained in an approved driving test.
  6. g) Proof of your address (e.g. utility bill)


If you are not a resident and travel to and from the UK, or hire a car in Portugal, you will need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) which is a document you carry with your driving licence.

Unfortunately, this is not as straightforward as it sounds because there are different types of IDP and each is valid for a different period. Which one you need depends on which country you are driving in and each is governed by a separate United Nations convention.

The 1949 Vienna convention IDP lasts for 12 months and will be recognised in Ireland, Spain, Malta and Cyprus.

The 1968 Vienna convention IDP is valid for three years, or for however long your driving licence is valid, if that date is earlier. It will be recognised in all other EU countries, plus Norway and Switzerland, including Portugal.

For those of you driving through Spain into Portugal, you will require both IDPs.

Currently, a UK issued IDP for Portugal is not available but from 1 February, 2019, the government will begin providing both forms of IDP at 2,500 Post Offices across the UK. At the moment, applying for an IDP takes around five minutes on a turn-up-and-go basis. However, be aware that the UK normally processes around 100,000 applications a year - after Brexit this could leap to over five million and plans for a staff increase have yet to be announced to cope with this volume.


After Brexit, access to the Green Card-free circulation area will cease. This will mean that UK motorists will need to carry a Green Card as proof of third party motor insurance cover when driving in the EU, EEA, Andorra, Serbia and Switzerland.

As most members of the Green Card system also are part of the EU’s Free Circulation Zone, the Green Card system almost has fallen into disuse and barely hasd evolved since the 1970s. Documents are still issued on green paper and cannot be delivered electronically – despite the fact that motorists are no longer required to carry paper insurance certificates.

Returning to the Green Card system may create the following problems: 

  • A lack of clarity over when motorists need to inform their insurer they intended to travel overseas (making last minute trips more difficult)
  • Creates particular problems if someone’s insurance is due for renewal overseas – they would need to arrange for a replacement document to be sent to them (possibly from their new insurer)
  • Additional problems if a driver loses or misplaces their Green Card documents while outside the UK – they would need to arrange for a replacement document to be sent to them.

Even in a 'no deal' scenario, all UK motor insurance providers will continue to be required to provide third party motor insurance cover for travel to EEA countries in a UK registered vehicle, but please check your level of cover with your insurance company when you apply for your Green Card.

Without a Green Card, you would have to purchase local insurance in the country you are entering (also known as frontier insurance). This provides proof of third party motor insurance cover for a UK-registered vehicle in that country for a limited period of time (the period of validity varies depending on policy purchased). However, due to high costs and limited availability of frontier insurance across these countries, the UK government recommends that you obtain and carry a Green Card to ensure minimum requirements for motor insurance cover are met.

You can request a Green Card from your insurance provider free of charge, but insurers may decide to reflect production and handling costs in a small increase to their administration fees.

If you have two insurance policies covering the duration of your trip (because the policy renews whilst you are away), you must ensure you have the correct documentation (1 or 2 Green Cards may be required).

Please note that you do not need to request a Green Card yet, so speak to your current insurance provider for advice and, if your provider insures many UK cars already outside of the UK, do this earlier rather than later to avoid the inevitable backlog. If your trip into Schengen/EU straddles the Brexit period, you will need to speak to your insurer well beforehand to ensure having the correct paperwork for your post-Brexit travels.

You should expect documentation checks to be carried out when entering these countries (the Schengen Area border), or when randomly stopped.

Below is the link to the EU’s notice on travelling after Brexit:



I asked the British Embassy a couple of questions and had a reply 29th December that reads:

"It’s not yet clear to us what the Portuguese authorities will require in order to exchange UK driving licences once we have left the EU.   I know a consular certificate is one of the requirements for the holders of licences issued by countries which are party to the 1968 Road Traffic Convention, but I’m afraid we can’t yet confirm that this will also be a requirement for UK-issued licences as the Portuguese government hasn’t yet clarified this point.  As soon as we receive clarification, we will, as always, update our Living in Portugal guide.

"We are also seeking clarification on the position after 29 March 2019 of those UK nationals who have registered, but not exchanged, their licences.  Again, once this information becomes available, we’ll publish it on our Living in Portugal guide:



© Sue Fletcher, 2019

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