What you need to know when driving abroad, including local driving customs and the car insurance and documents you must take with you.
We explain what documents you need and customs to be aware of when you drive in Europe and worldwide following the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU).
Find out what the UK leaving the European Union (EU) means for you and your car insurance after 1 January 2021.
There’s more to driving abroad than sticking to the other side of the road. Depending on where you're going you could be obliged to travel with all manner of driving kit.
In France you need reflective jackets for the driver and all passengers
A first aid kit is a standard requirement in Austria and Croatia
Most countries recommend carrying a warning triangle, high visibility vests for all passengers, and spare light bulbs
You also need to check your car insurance and whether it will cover you
First of all, make sure you have the right to drive in your country of choice, check on Gov.uk where you can use your licence abroad.
You may need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in some European countries.
You do not need an IDP to drive in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein if you have a card driving licence issued in the UK
You might need an IDP to drive in some EU countries and Norway if you have either:
A paper driving licence
A licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man
Check with the embassy of the country you will be driving in
You’ll need an International Driving Permit to drive in countries outside of the EU.
If you’re travelling through more than one country, you might need more than one type of IDP
If you’re hiring a car, check with your car hire company
If the country you’re visiting is not included in the Gov.uk list, check with the embassy of the country you’re travelling to
If you already have an IDP, make sure it is still valid.
You can get an International Driving Permit (IDP) from the Post Office, the AA or the RAC, at a cost of £5.50.
You must be over 18 years of age, with a full licence and be a resident of Great Britain or Northern Ireland
A 1926 or 1949 IDP lasts for 12 months
A 1968 permit lasts for 3 years or until your UK driving licence expires, whichever comes first
Each country has its own regulations that will be second nature to native motorists but might catch British holidaymakers out when driving abroad.
You must park on a certain side of the road depending on the day of the week on some roads in Spain
Anyone driving in Romania or Russia can get a fine if caught driving a dirty car
Other customs that might result in a fine or worse include:
Driving in Germany – it’s illegal to overtake school buses that have their hazard lights on
Driving in Holland – buses have right of way when leaving a stop in built-up areas
Driving in Macedonia – passengers who are visibly under the influence of alcohol can’t travel in the front
Driving in Portugal – it’s illegal to carry bikes on the back of a car
Driving in Slovakia – Proof of medical insurance is a requirement when entering the country
Driving in Spain – drivers who wear glasses, and this is noted on their licence, should keep a spare pair with them
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has a tool that can help with explaining driving laws and recommendations for driving in individual countries.
If you're driving your own car abroad, you need to carry your driving licence, vehicle registration document and motor insurance policy.
Police in most European countries are able to give on-the-spot fines or confiscate your car if you infringe their driving laws and fail to pay up, so it pays to be aware of local laws.
If you're looking for car insurance, bear in mind your UK policy may protect you when driving abroad in the EU, the EEC and Switzerland, but this may only be third-party only cover.
Some UK insurance policies allow you to drive abroad, but check with your provider to find out exactly what they will cover outside the UK.
Before leaving, let your insurer know you are travelling overseas
If you go for more than a week it is probably best to let your insurer know
Sometimes, insurers will cover theft but not damages, so this means your car will not be covered for damages, or any expenses for personal injuries sustained.
Many insurers will extend comprehensive cover to Europe but for limited periods.
You need to check with your insurer or specify that you want European cover when searching for quotes.
If you want more comprehensive European car insurance with extras such as breakdown cover, speak to your provider about an upgrade.
Know what you are covered for whether you have third-party only (TPO), third-party damage, fire and theft (TPFT) or comprehensive cover
Third-party only insurance will not cover damage to your own car or your medical expenses
Third-party damage, fire and theft insurance also covers you for arson and if things are stolen from your car
Check how many days you are insured for.
The RAC also recommends the following equipment when driving abroad.
Red warning triangle
High visibility jacket
A first aid kit
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This is useful and can also include accommodation costs and or a courtesy car if your car needs to spend several days in a garage being repaired.
It can also cover the cost bringing your car back from another country
Some insurance policies include European breakdown cover as standard
Some countries insist foreign drivers carry a ‘green card’ – a form of ID you can get free from your insurer.
Countries where you are required to have a Green Card, include: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Israel, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia, Turkey, and Ukraine.
Hiring a car is another great way to explore a new country. But it’s not as easy as walking into a car hire company and being handed the keys — you need to do some preparation first.
prove you’re entitled to drive, so must bring your driving licence with you.
you must declare any endorsements on your licence
part of the cost of hire will cover your insurance, so you don’t need to worry about being covered
You may want to take out excess insurance to pay off the excess if you do have an accident
The paper driving licence counterpart was abolished on 8 June 2015, since then this information has been stored electronically by the DVLA.
if the car hire company requires this information, you can give them online access by using the DVLA’s Share Driving Licence service
the service allows you to generate a code
the hire car company uses this code to view relevant parts of your driving licence
for security reasons, the code is only valid for 21 days
you can generate the code before you go away but if you're on an extended trip you may have to log on or call the DVLA while you’re abroad
Some hire companies may accept print-outs of this information.
Being a named driver
If you're borrowing a car for a trip abroad or you want to share the driving on a trip with friends or family, you can ask the car's owner to add you as a named driver on their insurance policy.
This may not be the best or cheapest option if you only plan to drive their car on a one-off basis.
‘Driving other cars’ cover
You may already be insured to drive their car if you have ‘driving other cars’ cover on your own vehicle.
Check the restrictions — as this type of cover is usually only third party and may exclude driving outside of the UK.
Temporary car insurance
If you are only planning on borrowing a car you can also compare quotes for short-term or temporary car insurance.
Temporary car insurance is often the best option when sharing or borrowing a car to drive abroad.
This can cover you to drive someone else's car for 1-28 days, and some policies offer the choice of cover within the EU
The car must be UK-based with valid road tax and MOT
Child safety and alcohol limits
Different countries have their own rules on how to ensure children travel safely — so before you leave check what individual country requirements are.
Alcohol rules tend to be stricter for driving abroad than they are here. The UK limit for drivers is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (50mg in Scotland), while it’s often 50mg per 100ml or lower in the EU.
Remember to make sure you have the appropriate car seat if you have passengers who are young children. Other ways to find cheaper car insurance
If you own a vintage car or distinctive model joining an owners’ club could save your up to 15% on specialist car insurance.
If your family own several cars it may be better to insure them via a multi-car insurance policy.
Multi-car insurance might also be suitable:
If you own more than one car
If you’re a family with more than one driver
If you’re a couple with more than one vehicle