What is cabotage?

Photography by Nigel Green at www.truckpictures.co.uk
Photography by Nigel Green at www.truckpictures.co.uk

What is cabotage?

If you have ever been involved in the transport of goods from one country to another – or received goods that have been shipped to the UK from abroad – you may have come across the word cabotage. Where does the word come from and what does it mean?


  • the word was traditionally used to described the process of shipping goods from one port to another along coastal shipping routes;
  • today the work is used to describe the transport of goods and people from one place to another in the same country by a vehicle (ship, railway, aeroplane or road vehicle) registered in another country


  • the official government website has one of the most straight forward definitions of the word – “the haulage of goods for hire or reward in one member state by a vehicle registered in a different member state”;
  • cabotage rights, therefore, are the rights of a company – such as a haulage company – from one country to operate their business in another country;
  • cabotage rights are granted to EU member states, so that when you receive a standard international licence as a goods vehicle operator you are automatically granted the Community Authorisation to exercise cabotage rights for transporting goods between two different places in the EU;


  • cabotage within the EU is subject to two main conditions;
  • you may perform only three cabotage operations in any seven-day period within an EU member state
  • your individual cabotage rights may be suspended temporarily or permanently if you break any EU road haulage safety rules;


  • amongst the most important of those rules are those relating to drivers’ hours and the installation and use of tachographs in the vehicle to monitor those hours;


  • a number of different documents are required if you are taking a British registered HGV for cabotage work in the EU;
  • perhaps one of the most important of these is your lorry haulage insurance – which needs to provide the minimum level of third party cover required by every EU member state and about which those of us here at Isis Insurance are pleased to offer advice;
  • similarly, we are also able to advise about the need for goods in transit insurance – a certificate for which may be required in some countries of the EU;
  • in addition to the vehicle insurance documents, you also need to take with you the original Vehicle Registration Certificate for the lorry;
  • a Green Card may also be required in some EU member states – as proof of your insurance cover meeting the minimum standards of third party cover required by local laws and regulations;
  • the transportation of goods for hire or reward requires that you hold an HGV vehicle operator’s licence – which allows you to carry goods for such purposes both within the UK and Europe, and is issued for an indefinite period but subject to a five-yearly renewal fee;
  • depending on the countries in which you are operating, you may need to pay the relevant local vehicle registration tax;
  • in any event, any British registered vehicle needs to display a GB sticker or plate.

At first glance cabotage may appear a somewhat unfamiliar and unusual word, but in fact resolves itself into the more or less straight forward – and widely conducted – carriage of goods from one part of the EU to another by a British registered vehicle.