Will you buy an electric car when you return to the UK?

If you’re moving back to the UK after living abroad, you’re probably considering buying a new car. And for many motorists, electric vehicles are an increasingly attractive option – not least on environmental grounds.
At the Insurance Factory, we know it can be tricky for expats to resettle in Britain. We aim to make it simpler for you by arranging expat car insurance, and explaining some of the key things you need to know about driving in the UK.
So what are the pros and cons of driving an electric car in the UK? And how might motoring have changed since you last lived here? Read on for our guide!


Electric vehicles: the cars of the future

If you’re considering going electric for your next set of wheels, you’re by no means alone.
More than half of those aged between 16 and 49 who drive petrol, diesel or hybrid cars say they are likely or very likely to switch to an electric vehicle in the next decade.
Among drivers of all ages, the figure is 44%. And of those, more than 40% plan to do so in the next five years.
So although 97% of the almost 38 million cars in the UK currently run on petrol or diesel, there’s set to be a massive shift in the coming years. Should you choose to get ahead of the game?

The pros: environmental benefits

The main plus point is that electric vehicles are considered to be much greener than conventional cars.
Burning fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel releases greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. That’s why the government has set a target of achieving net zero carbon emissions  by 2050.
Electric vehicles are key to the government’s strategy, and sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030.

The pros: running costs

As well as saving the environment, you could save yourself some cash!
First of all, you pay no vehicle excise duty, or car tax, on electric vehicles.
Even better, charging an electric car is almost always cheaper than filling a petrol or diesel model. According to Which?, you’re likely to save hundreds of pounds per year, especially if you can install a home charging point.
And in the last few years, many UK businesses like supermarkets have installed free charging points for their customers, so your power costs could even be zero! But do double check, as some public charging points are pretty pricey.

The pros: ULEZ/CAZ/Congestion charge zone

One thing that might surprise you on your return to the UK is that several cities, including Birmingham and Manchester, are introducing Clean Air Zones (CAZ).
The London equivalents are the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which covers everything inside the North and South Circular Roads, and the Low Emission Zone (LEZ), which extends to most of Greater London.
Essentially, if you want to drive in one of these areas in a highly polluting vehicle, you’ll need to pay a daily charge. If you live here or visit regularly, this can add up quickly.
Electric cars are exempt from these charges, as are most petrol cars. But if you drive a diesel car that’s more than about six years old, you’ll probably have to pay. Check out the ULEZ regulations and CAZ regulations to see if your vehicle is compliant.
And if you’ve been out of the UK for some time, do you know about the London congestion charge, introduced in 2003? Drivers have to pay £15 to enter central London in their vehicles between 7am and 10pm, seven days a week. But if you drive an electric vehicle, you can register for an exemption.


The pros: driving experience

When switching to an electric vehicle, you’ll have to make a few adjustments to your driving style. But most drivers find it pretty straightforward – and many love being at the wheel of an electric motor. 
One big difference is that electric cars have instant torque. This means you can accelerate straight away so you might find that it’s a more exciting driving experience.
Many electric models also offer a ‘driving tutor’ system to help you pick up energy efficient habits such as smooth braking. That helps you become an all-round better and safer driver – but you still need ex-patriot car insurance to keep you covered in the event of accidents or theft.
One last thing: don’t forget that electric vehicles are almost silent. This is generally good news, as it cuts noise pollution and lets us all sleep more soundly at night. However, when driving, do remember that pedestrians, cyclists and other road users might not hear you approach!

The pros: maintenance

Finding a great garage will be high on the agenda of many returning expat motorists. But with an electric vehicle, costly repairs might become less frequent.
Electric cars are generally considered easier to maintain: there’s no oil to drain, spark plugs to change, fuel filters to clean… the list goes on. They’re usually easier on the brake pads, too.
Of course, you still need to keep yours in good nick to stay safe on the roads. And you will need to replace the battery after several years – though technology is improving all the time, extending the average lifespan.

The cons: range

So electric vehicles have a lot going for them. But what are the drawbacks?
The one that worries most people is battery range. If you’re used to going for weeks without filling up, it can be a shock to discover that many popular models have ranges of around 150 miles per charge. That’s affected by factors such as cold weather.
However, that is plenty for most people’s daily commute. And technology is improving all the time: the latest Tesla models promise a range of more like 400 miles.

The cons: lack of infrastructure

Getting stranded is a huge fear for many drivers – let alone motorists who’ve been out of the country for some time.
So the fact that it’s somewhat harder to find a charging point than a petrol station is a big minus point for many motorists.
Plus, many UK flats and houses have nowhere to park off-road, making it impossible to install a home charging point and take advantage of those cheap rates.
Zap-Map lets you search 25,000 charging points across the UK to find ones near you. More and more are being added all the time: the government and businesses are investing hugely in the charging point network.
In fact, in the next decade or two, it might well become tricky to find a petrol station in the UK!

The cons: upfront costs

Currently, electric vehicles are generally pricier than their petrol or diesel counterparts. But prices are dropping all the time as technology improves.
As the market matures, bargain hunters can find more secondhand models, too, though electric cars don’t depreciate in value as fast as others. Of course, that’s another plus point – if you do invest in a new model, you’ll get a high resale value.


Motoring in the UK

So increasing numbers of UK motorists are switching to electric vehicles. Many of these cars now have registration plates marked with a green flash – it’s a badge of pride for eco-minded motorists!

But what about other changes you might see on the UK’s roads when you return from living abroad? Here are just a few.

In 2021, rules were tightened around mobile phone usage. There used to be a loophole that meant you could take photos, but not make calls, while driving; now, you face a £200 fine and six points on your licence for holding your device while at the wheel.

If you’ve been away for several years, you might have missed the controversy surrounding smart motorways.

These use active traffic management to increase traffic capacity, including variable speed limits and opening up the hard shoulder as an extra lane. Many motorists complain these measures are confusing or downright dangerous. Smart motorways rollout is now being reconsidered by National Highways while safety concerns are addressed.

Drink-driving laws have been tightened in Scotland since 2014: the limit has been cut to 50mg/ 100 ml of blood. In England and Wales, it’s still 80mg: the highest limit in Europe.

Also in the past decade, your motoring paperwork has gone largely digital: tax discs and paper counterparts for driving licences are no more.

Those are just some of the key points - there’s a lot to take in. So stick to the left, drive carefully, and make sure you’re covered with expat car cover. Welcome home!

Get a quote from Insurance Factory today

Whether you’ve been off backpacking in India, living in Germany or running a business in Spain, it can be a huge culture shock to return to the country of your birth after a prolonged time away.

At Insurance Factory, we want to make it easier for you to settle back into life in the UK by arranging expat car insurance to keep you covered on the roads.

Get a quote from us today.