Car Insurance After Returning to the UK – A Moan!

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One rather bitter lesson we learned from living abroad is that the universe doesn’t really seem to reward honesty and doing the right thing.

I’m one of those people (many would call me a mug), who likes to do things by the rules. This sometimes attracts incredulity – from clients who can’t believe I want to give them a proper invoice for a small piece of work, or from accountants who can’t understand why anyone would want to move to Portugal and do things right, rather than staying “under the radar.”

As part of our quest to do things right, one early issue for us (going back many years now), related to driving licences.

A Driving licence - The EU flag is meaningless
A Driving licence – The EU flag is meaningless

The laws around UK licences in Portugal will have expats arguing themselves in circles until they’re dizzy, but the basic facts are quite simple: If you have a UK photo card licence, and you no longer live at the address printed on it, the licence is technically invalid. This is partially due to a British law around not producing UK licences with foreign addresses on them.

The simple way around this is to visit your local IMTT in Portugal, who provide you with a supplementary piece of paper to go with your licence that makes it valid in Portugal. This is actually one bit of Portuguese bureaucracy that’s usually very easy to sort out.

A bigger problem occurs if your UK photocard expires, as happened to my wife. At this point, assuming you still live in Portugal, you have to go through the process of exchanging your licence for a Portuguese one.


The exchange took over a year for us, during which time we had to return to the IMTT three times to have a temporary form stamped (that’s a whole other story). But eventually Louise received a shiny Portuguese licence.

At that point we didn’t know we were going to move back to the UK. Nor did we know how much hassle this long-awaited licence would cause us.

Back in Britain, we purchased a cheap car from a friend, while we wait for someone to make a sensible offer for our car in Portugal. We thought sorting the insurance out would be a doddle. Not so.

The trouble is that car insurance decisions are pretty much all made by a computer, and that computer asks certain questions. If you don’t tick the right boxes, everything gets confusing.

For example:

“How long have you been resident in the UK?”

Erm…two weeks.

“Do you hold a full UK driving licence?”

Shit, no, it’s a Portuguese one.

Computer says no
Computer says no

The computer then assumes you’re a brand new Portuguese arrival who has never before driven on English roads, and goes on to quote you more for a year’s insurance than you paid for the car itself!

After sending one big firm packing, who thought the difference between a UK and Portuguese licence warranted a loading of £1400 on our policy, we finally found an acceptable deal, albeit one at nearly three times the price we were paying for insurance on a far more valuable car before we left for Portugal.

The lesson learned is a depressing one. None of the “under the radar” types who ignore all the rules would have had this hassle, or had to pay as much as us. Things like this seem to happen a lot.

We’ll never turn into different people. The fact we play by the rules is part of who we are. But it turns out there’s a hell of a price premium on doing things properly to sleep soundly at night. And that doesn’t seem at all fair somehow.


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  1. Yep!
    To all of the above.
    We’d exchanged our licenses to Portuguese ones early on anyway so the first thing we did when we got back to the UK was switch them back to UK.
    Fairly simple process which took about 2 weeks.
    Meantime though, we had had (ugh!) to tackle the car insurance thing.
    We’d headed to a company we’d used before who said they accepted overseas no claims. This helps. Our PT insurance company underwriters were a big firm and had provided us with no claims in English which the UK insurers accepted. (we subsequently used PT second vehicle no claims for our van and PT bike no claims for our bike)
    They also agreed to accept our PT license on the understanding that it was temporary and that we would provide them with our full UK license details when they turned up.
    Fortunately, after the first 12 months insurance is up, the UK company will give proof of NCB for the full period (PT plus UK) which will open up the field when we come to renew.

    It’s all one big (expensive) pain in the arse though!
    Price we pay for ‘doing it right’!

  2. Tell me about it !
    I’m Franco-British and had 40 years no-claims-bonus from a French insurance company.
    Back in England, nobody wanted to insure me
    Took about 5 days of research to find a way forward.
    The French Consulate here tells me that EU notwithstanding, it’s an ongoing problem for French nationals.
    Such a pity to have to waste life’s precious minutes on something so boring
    Reminds me of the British Airways hostess announcing on the loudspeaker as the plane was about to land in Paris : “Ladies and gentlemen, we shall soon be arriving in Europe. Please fasten”
    I guess that on 23 June, we might discover that we never did arrive in Europe …
    PS : I loved your book
    PPS : In France people moan like we English talk about the weather. Are the Portuguese moaners too ?

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