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Driving abroad - everything you need to know

  • Our handy checklist will set you up for your travels
  • Ensuring you’re sorted before you leave eases stress
  • Enjoy your holiday knowing you’re complying with the law
  • Our handy checklist will set you up for your travels
  • Ensuring you’re sorted before you leave eases stress
  • Enjoy your holiday knowing you’re complying with the law

If you’re planning on taking your car for a holiday or business trip abroad, make sure you know the rules and regulations of driving in your chosen countries.

Driving in Europe isn’t as simple as hopping on the ferry and hoping for the best; each country will have specific laws and tight penalties for you to be aware of.

From the equipment you need to take with you, to individual emissions regulations for different cities, make sure you know what to expect when you are driving abroad.

Speeding fines in Europe

Research from breakdown providers Green Flag suggests 81% of British drivers abroad aren’t aware of the potential £640 fine you could face if caught speeding in Europe, due to new EU laws.

The law doesn’t apply to European drivers in the UK, however. 

The research also showed that 61% of people surveyed can’t correctly convert KPH (kilometres per hour) into MPH (miles per hour).

Insurance for driving abroad

Driving in Europe

Before you head off on your holiday, you need to go through your insurance policy and check all the details and small print.

You will probably be insured to drive abroad by your provider; however, your policy might stipulate that this cover falls from fully comprehensive to the limited cover needed for the country you're in - often just third party.

As well as the type of cover, you will need to make sure you are sorted for the length of your trip. Some companies provide 90 days’ cover abroad, while other might do 60 or 30. This will obviously cover a two-week break away, but some come with cover as little as three days, so you might have to pay for additional days.

Remember that your camera isn't just useful for happy holiday snaps. If you have an accident, make sure you take pictures of damage as this will make it easier to try and claim on your insurance.

Breakdown cover for driving abroad

Make sure that whatever level of breakdown cover you have will be valid if something happened to your car outside the UK.

Without adequate cover, getting a broken-down car home could cost you a lot of money, with some stories claiming it cost into the £1,000s to get the stranded motor home.

Always check any rules about breakdowns for the country you are travelling to; for instance, in France you aren’t allowed to phone your own breakdown company, instead you have to use one of the orange emergency phones. Read more about breakdowns while driving in France here

Driving licence & paperwork

Always carry your driving licence with you, and if you still have the old-style paper counterpart, take that too.

As well your driving licence, you will also need to make sure that you have all your documents for your car, so don't forget your V5C registration document. You can get a translated version of this called the International Certificate for Motor Vehicles.

Take your original V5C document, not just a photocopy, as some countries won’t accept a copy.

International Driving Permits

Driving abroad

In many foreign countries it is a legal requirement to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) – visit the AA website for the full list of countries

You can get an IDP from the Post Office; it costs £5.50 and lasts for 12 months. Visit the Post Office website for more details. 

Always make sure you carry your UK licence as well as your IDP.

Do I need an International Driving Permit for driving in Europe?

For many European countries, your UK licence should be adequate, but having an IDP as well can give you additional peace of mind.

Headlights when driving in Europe

If you are off to Europe, then you will have to adjust the headlight beam pattern to suit right-hand driving so that you don't dazzle other drivers. You will need to check with your dealer or handbook to see if the lights can be altered.

If this can't be done, then you can buy converter kits to put on your lights in order to make sure they are the legal requirement.

Penalties and on-the-spot fines when driving abroad

Driving abroad

Cross-Border Enforcement means if you commit a speeding offence in any EU country, your licence details are available to the authorities in the country the offence was committed. So don’t assume that because you’re abroad, the authorities can’t access your details and chase you for a fine.

Penalties and on-the-spot fines vary from country to country. In France, for instance, some police authorities can impose and collect on-the-spot fines of up to €750. Read more about penalties driving in France here

Speed camera detectors when driving in Europe

If you have a radar device that locates speed cameras, it’s probably best to leave this at home when driving abroad. They are illegal in some European countries and you could face a €1,500 fine – even if it’s turned off. The device might be confiscated and they could even take your car. Having the software as an app on your phone could also see them take your phone away.

What safety kit should I carry in my car?

Many European countries require you to carry warning triangles and reflective jackets in the car with you at all times, and to always wear a reflective jacket if you have an accident.

In some countries, you could face large fines for not carrying this equipment. Check the specific requirements for the country you are travelling to.

Low Emission Zones

This works in a similar way to the London Congestion charge where the most polluting vehicles are regulated in some way - they are either banned or charged for entering the zones.

More than 180 cities and towns in 10 European or countries have the zones, or are set to launch them. 

Some cities, such as Paris, Lyon, and Grenoble in France, and a whole host of cities in Germany, require your car to have special emission stickers. Check the specific requirements for the cities you’ll be visiting to make sure you’re not caught out and fined – for instance, in the French cities mentioned, failure to have a clean air sticker could result in a fine of €68 for light vehicles, and €135 for heavy goods vehicles.

Low emission zones in France
Low emission zones in Germany

Motorway tolls and vignettes when driving in Europe

Driving abroad

Some European countries require tolls on certain roads, meaning you need a ‘vignette’ or special sticker in your car. Other countries simply require payment at toll booths. There’s a useful list of requirements for individual countries on the Caravan Club website

GB stickers for driving in Europe

Since March 2001, Euro reg plates that include the GB-Euro symbol have been legal across the EU, and means that you don't have to bother with a GB sticker on the car.

But if your car doesn't have the symbol on your number plate, you will have to display the sticker otherwise you could be hit by an on-the-spot fine.

Futher reading: everything you need to know about....

Driving in France
Driving in Italy
Driving in Spain
Driving in Germany

Take our Driving Abroad Quiz!

How much do you think you know about driving in Europe? Take our fun quiz to find out!

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