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Driving abroad - what you need to know

Written by Jafar Hassan, Content editor

Edited by Samantha Downes, Freelance writer, 23 September 2020

Find out about driving abroad, including local driving customs and the car insurance and documents you need to take

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What you need to take when you drive abroad

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 

Can I drive abroad?

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.

If you hold a British driving licence you are fine to drive in:

  • European Union (EU) member countries,

  • European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland

International driving 

You’ll need an International Driving Permit to drive in countries outside of these zones.

  • 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.

  • Ii 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

Where can I get an International Driving Permit and how much does it cost?

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 the GB 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.

Driving in Europe from 1 January 2021

The rules for driving, passports, EHIC cards, pet travel and more may change from 1 January 2021 updated advice will appear on the Gov.uk website.

Driving abroad and local driving customs

Each country has its own regulations that will be second nature to native motorists but might catch British holidaymakers out when driving abroad. 

For example:

  • 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 will 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 

Driving in Switzerland – pedestrians have right of way and expect vehicles to stop if they step onto a crossing

Driving abroad and local laws

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

Car insurance and driving in Europe 

If you're looking for European car insurance, bear in mind your UK policy will 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 

  • some insurers don’t require notification for short periods in Europe

  • if you go for more than a week it is probably best to let your insurer know

  • if you are driving outside Europe you will probably need extra car insurance cover

Comprehensive cover versus third party cover

Sometimes, insurers will cover damages but not theft, and some insurers insist that within Europe it is basic third-party cover. This means your car won’t be covered for damages, or any expenses for personal injuries sustained.

Many insures 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. 

Car insurance before you travel:

  • 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

Breakdown cover

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

Green cards and driving abroad

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 abroad

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

Driving abroad if you have endorsements

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. 

How to save on car insurance when driving abroad

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 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

Join a club

If you own a vintage car or distinctive model joining an owner club could save your up to 15% on specialist car insurance.

Compare car insurance

Checklist for driving abroad

As well as all your travel documents make sure you apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) although this will not be valid after January 2021 when the UK leaves the EU.

The RAC also recommends the following equipment when driving abroad. 

  • red warning triangle

  • high visibility jacket 

  • a first aid kit

  • headlight converters

  • GB sticker 

Consider multicar 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 

Get a car insurance quote

See a range of car insurance quotes in just a few minutes when you compare with Uswitch