8 tips for driving abroad

Mirror, signal, manoeuvre

Even for experienced drivers, driving overseas can be a challenge. Here are some tips for navigating the roads abroad.

1. Keep your documents handy

Even if you're taking your own car overseas, remember to take your driving licence and insurance documents with you, as well as your V5 registration document to prove ownership of the car – you could be fined for not having this.

If you’re driving your own car, don’t forget to check that your car insurance policy and breakdown cover will protect you for the whole of your trip. Make sure your insurance policy fully covers driving it in a foreign country – if not, you can usually get this added to your policy. Most standard motor policies give you the minimum cover required by law (third party cover only), but it’s advisable to have more protection than that. Foreign Use cover would give you the same protection as you have at home.

Another insurance document you may wish to carry is the EHIC card – this entitles you and your family to emergency healthcare in the EU (at least while the UK remains a member).

When driving abroad, you may also need an International Motor Certificate (Green Card) or an International Driving Permit – your insurer can help you figure out what you'll need.

2. Pack everything you need

Check what’s required by law in the countries you’re visiting. You might be required to carry and use a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, warning triangle, breathalyser (check the expiry date as they usually only last 12-18 months), snow chains, headlamp beam reflectors or spare lamp bulbs – and even if you’re not, they might be handy to have, just in case.

For example, in France you need to have a safety vest and warning triangle in your car, as well as a breathalyser and an accident form called a Constat Amiable D’Accident Automobile 1. You can easily download and print this online.

Another tip? Don’t forget loose change in the local currency for toll roads.

3. Adapting your vehicle

If you’re driving your own car overseas, you'll need to make sure your headlights are modified for driving on the other side of the road. An easy way to do this is with a headlamp beam convertor or adapter stickers, which are cheap and widely available.

Your vehicle also needs to display the country letters of where you’re from. If you’re driving in the EU and you’ve got the GB Euro symbol on your number plates, that’s good enough. But when driving outside of the EU, for example in Switzerland, you’ll need a GB sticker.

4. Check the rules of the road

This might sound obvious, but knowing the rules of the road where you’re going can make your trip a lot less stressful.

Every time you get into the car, remind yourself which side of the road you’re supposed to be driving on – especially when you need to negotiate roundabouts or turnings.

Keep an eye out for speed limit signs and try to familiarise yourself with any unusual road signs before you set off – trying to discuss a speeding offence with a policeman in broken English or sign language can be tricky. Also, remember that blood alcohol limits vary from country to country, so take this seriously and think twice before that glass of wine.

Be aware of unexpected international driving laws, such as:

• You must keep your headlights on in Norway at all times2

• You can’t eat or drink behind the wheel in Cyprus3

• You need to carry a spare pair of glasses in Spain4

• Dashcams are banned in Austria and Portugal5

5. Plan your journey

Marking out a route on an old-fashioned map can help you concentrate on your driving (and not trying to figure out directions on the road).

If you can, load your SatNav with the relevant country's maps before you head off to help you while you're out and about. You can usually download maps to your phone to use offline, so even when you can’t connect to the mobile network, you’ll still be able to navigate. Remember, most countries ban radar detectors, but in France, Germany, and Switzerland, you’ll need to switch off the fixed camera speed function on your SatNav. 

Parking may be difficult in historical city centres, where cars may not be allowed at all, so research this in advance to avoid stress. Low Emission Zones (LEZ) are also becoming increasingly common, and you may need a pass or sticker to drive through them without getting a fine.

6. Start slow

Consider taking it slow at first – take it easy with overtaking and other manoeuvres. You may find that the way locals drive varies from country to country, and if you’re on a different side of the car, your perception of where you are in the lane will be different. If you hired a car, you also won’t be used to driving it, and it may be considerably bigger (or smaller) than usual. Don’t be intimidated by other drivers, and don’t get pressured into doing anything dangerous – or respond to road rage!

7. Get travel insurance

Make sure you have travel insurance, and that it’s enough cover for your trip. 

When hiring a car (remember your driving licence), the hire agreement will tell you what is covered as standard – usually a collision damage waiver (CDL) for total loss of the vehicle, and third party cover (for damage or injury to others), with an excess. You can read our tips for hiring a car abroad here. Travel insurance may also provide some excess cover if you’re hiring a car, but make sure it’s enough to cover the full amount.

8. Have an LPG-fuelled car?

You’ll need to make extra travel arrangements if you’re planning to drive your LPG car to Europe.

Firstly, you can’t take it in the Channel Tunnel, so you’ll have to use the ferry. And should your route take you through the Mont Blanc Tunnel in France, you must tell the attendant at the toll point and they’ll give you a special sticker.

You’ll also need to make sure you’ve got the right fuel pump adapter for wherever you’ll be driving.

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There are so many places you can visit by car, but are you (and your vehicle) ready for a long trip? Make sure you’re prepared before you set off.

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