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How to drive your car abroad

Millions take their cars abroad each year for holidays, but how much do you know about the laws of the road in the country you're driving?

Heading somewhere special with your car? Take a look at our specific guides on:
How will Brexit impact driving in Europe?
Article 50 has been extended until 31 October 2019 – with the option to leave earlier if a deal is agreed and ratified.
As such, it’s unlikely that there will be any changes to the current way of doing things until the UK formally leaves, either with or without a deal. Whatever the outcome, the below information will be updated once the UK leaves the EU.
Documents you’ll need abroad
When driving abroad, you’ll probably need the following documents to drive your own car:
  • Passport
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Valid driving licence
  • Vehicle registration certificate (original, not a copy)
  • Motor insurance certificate
If you’re hiring a car, you’ll also need a personal code from the DVLA. You can request this up to 21 days ahead of your trip. Outside of the EU, you might require an international driving permit and a visa, depending on the country. You can check if that’s the case here.
Is my driving licence valid for driving abroad?
If you have a full UK driving licence (not provisional) then it should be valid for driving abroad. Obviously, it needs to be valid for driving in the UK too. You won’t be able to drive abroad if you’ve been disqualified here.
Remember that your physical driving licence card needs to be updated every 10 years, and the photo needs to be up-to-date on each renewal. Your driving licence should also include the correct address and correct name, if yours has changed. You can update your address for free here.
Can I drive my own car abroad?
You should be able to drive your car in most countries, if you want to.
Just remember that, in most European countries, you must drive on the right. You may therefore find driving easier in a left-hand drive hire car. Aside from the initial confusion of knowing which side of the road and adapting accordingly, right-hand drive cars are likely to have headlights that point in a direction that will dazzle oncoming traffic. Some modern cars will have a feature in a menu somewhere to fix this, but in most cases, it’s worth investing in deflector strips, which blank out the offending parts of the headlight. If you’re driving in the EU, you’ll need a GB sticker on the car unless it has an EU number plate. If you’re going outside of the EU, however, it’s advisable to have the sticker on anyway.
Does my insurance cover driving abroad?
Under current EU rules, your UK car insurance policy should give you automatic third-party cover. Some UK policies go further and offer more comprehensive European cover too.
Make sure you take a copy of your insurance certificate, so you can prove you are covered. If you’re travelling to non-EU countries, you may need a “green card” from your insurer. A green card is basically an international insurance certificate that can help prove you have minimum cover on your policy. The green card should be free, but you may be asked to extend your cover if the insurer sees fit. If you do need to extend your insurance, make sure you include all the countries you’ll travel through (e.g. driving through Spain to get to Portugal). Compare car insurance deals
Understanding international driving laws
Different countries have different laws, but some of them are more obvious than others.
Speed limits
Speed limits are the easiest ones to spot. In most countries they’re similarly to British speed limits – just remember that they’re likely to be in kilometres per hour, not miles per hour.
Germany’s network of Autobahns are wrongly thought of as being a high-speed free-for-all, with no speed limits. In fact, most of the motorway network in Germany is now limited. Large sections are still de-restricted, with an advisory limit of 130kmh (81mph), but it’s very important to be certain that you’re on a de-restricted stretch, as speed limits are rigorously enforced and heavily punished.
Additional laws
In many European countries, it’s a legal requirement to carry certain things in the car. In France for example, it’s a requirement to carry at least two disposable breathalysers in the car (it’s also worth remembering that the drink-drive limit is lower than in the UK). These must be certified by the authorities.
Also mandatory in France are warning triangles (to be placed behind the car in the event of a breakdown) a fire-extinguisher, reflective jackets – which must be easily accessible and therefore not in the boot – and replacement light bulbs for your car, as it is illegal to drive with any of your lights not working.
Fines and penalties
Driving in Europe also carries dangers that we may not be used to in the UK. In many countries, the police have the right to fine you there and then – even taking you to a cashpoint – and collect the fines themselves, rather than going through the whole administrative process that we have in the UK.
International toll roads
Toll roads aren’t something we encounter much in the UK, except for a small section of the M6 or the occasional bridge.
Many roads in other countries, particularly parts of Europe, have toll gates. French tolls (péages) are almost ubiquitous and will involve stopping to pay for your journey. You can either pay using spare change, or you can fit an electronic tag which communicates with sensors in the booths and debits your bank account every time you use it. This tag also allows you to use separate lanes which are often less busy and sometimes non-stop, lifting the barriers automatically as you drive through slowly.
Final thoughts
Driving on the continent is pretty similar to driving in the UK – it just takes a little bit more planning, research and organisation.
Make sure you know the rules of the road in the countries you’re going to and, above all, don’t give the local law-enforcement any excuse to book you – it can be much more expensive and much more sudden if you get caught doing something wrong in Europe. Lastly, and most importantly, don’t forget to drive on the other side of the road!

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