Existing Customer Portal

15th June 2023

British expats’ FAQs about buying cars in Europe

Sterling insurance experts answer your FAQs about buying a car in Europe and why you should consider Sterling's British expats insurance cover.

Car Insurance from just £125 per year

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest more than three quarters of a million British expats now live in other EU countries.

Many of these British expats opt to take their own UK car to Europe. They can safely drive their UK-registered vehicle in the country they now call “home” with Sterling’s Expat Car Insurance covering them in Spain, France, Portugal, Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe and beyond.

Prices start from £325 a year and the expat policy is a truly international car insurance giving you cover when you are driving in Europe and when returning to drive the car in the UK.

Living in Europe, it’s easier for British expats to hop over to a neighbouring country to buy a car at a better price and then import it to their new country of residence. Here the expat experts at Sterling insurance answer some of your FAQs about buying a car in Europe. 

British expats

Where will British expats get the best car deal?

British expats considering buying a new car in another country should check out the prices online. 

When comparing costs in different countries ensure you are comparing like for like. They may be the same make and model but some features will vary depending where the vehicle is sold.

You will also need to take into account the cost of the VAT you must pay:  for a  new car, the final price you will pay is the net price in the country of purchase plus the VAT in your country.

For a used car, you don’t pay VAT on a private sale but if you buy from a dealer you will pay the local rate of VAT in the country where you buy the car.

What must I do to drive my new car to my new home?

British expats will need to go to their national customs office to make a VAT declaration and pay the applicable VAT for the new car.

They will also need to get insurance, pass a government safety test if it is a used car, register the car and pay any other relevant taxes, such as road tax.

They will also need a temporary licence plate to drive the car to their home country for registration — the car dealer should be able to help with this.

Temporary number plates are not mutually recognised within the EU so check all the countries you plan to drive through will accept the temporary plate.

Permanent number plates will be issued in the country in which your  new car is registered.

You will also need insurance that is valid in all the countries you will drive through — Sterling expat insurance will cover you in all countries within the European Economic Area. 

You will also need a valid driving licence and, depending which countries you intend to drive through, you may need an International Driving Permit which British expats can obtain over the counter in a British Post Office.

British expats

What guarantee will come with my new car?

You will be covered by a minimum two-year legal guarantee when you buy a new car from a dealer and probably one year for a used car. You may also receive an additional commercial guarantee.

Under EU law, you may invoke your guarantee at any dealer in the manufacturer’s network, regardless of the EU country in which you bought the car. So if British expats resume living in the UK, they don’t have to take the car back to where they bought it in Europe to claim on the guarantee.

What if I have problems with a second-hand car bought abroad?

This will depend on what the dealer told you about the car when you bought it, and what the problem is.

Under EU law the car must conform with the contract of sale. It must comply with the description given by the seller and it must be fit for purpose. 

The seller is not liable for defects you knew about at the time of purchase nor for those resulting from the usual wear, tear and deterioration of the car.

Under EU law, you have a minimum two years to invoke the guarantee if the car turns out to be faulty or not as advertised. The guarantee period is reduced to one year for a used car. 

If the defect appears within the first 6 months, it is presumed it existed at the time of sale and only became apparent later.

What if I have problems with a second-hand car bought privately? 

Your rights are limited. Consumer law does not apply to private sales – it only applies when a business sells to a customer. You may have to consider a private legal action which can be both time consuming and expensive, more so with cross-border disputes.

You should be very cautious buying from a private individual in another country, especially if you are not fluent in the language they speak. 

British expats

Helping British expats steer clear of trouble

It might be simpler for British expats who relocate elsewhere in Europe to take their own vehicle with them. They should take Sterling expat insurance cover with them too. When language is an issue wouldn’t it be simpler to continue to deal with UK insurers?

As long as your UK-registered car is used abroad for at least eight months of the year, Sterling will provide insurance cover to drive throughout Europe and when you come home too.

Sterling Expat Insurance comes with many benefits including:

  • Cover for all types of car, van, camper and motorhome, including left hand drives
  • Legal protection up to £100,000
  • European breakdown cover, keycare and windscreen cover can be obtained as optional extras
  • UK based claims hotline open 24 hours a day.

Call 0344 381 9990 to find out how much you could save on your expat insurance cover — our best prices are usually available over the phone.

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