Driving in Europe

Along with the ease and cost-effective means of crossing the English Channel, many of us now opt to jump in our cars and take to the roads of Europe.

With an economical vehicle, this method of travel can often be cheaper than flying and if driving in Europe for recreational purposes, it can often be less restrictive than the conventional holiday. Driving in and around Europe may offer a certain level of fun and freedom, but it’s important to go prepared with the correct equipment and with knowledge of each country’s law that motorists must abide by.

If you are planning to drive in Europe and have little or no knowledge, this guide may be of value.

European countries drive on the right

Around 70% of the world’s countries drive on the right. With the exception of Cyprus, Ireland and Malta, all other European countries drive on the right. For those that have little or no experience at driving on the right, the shock at crossing the English Channel to suddenly driving on the other side of the road along with new driving rules can be overwhelming and hazardous.
Driving in Europe

The situation is made worse when driving your own right-hand drive car in a left-hand drive country. Our driving on the right tips offers advice on best preparing to drive on the right hand side of the road along with common areas where mistakes are made by inexperienced drivers.

Driving in Europe requirements

If you intend on traveling to European countries from the UK, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the various legal requirements that each country enforces. Although one countries driving laws may differ from another, below are minimum legal requirements that motorists should be aware of before setting off around Europe.

  • Driving in Europe age
    Although a full licence holder may drive in the UK at the age of 17, most European countries require that the driver is 18 years of age or older to drive legally unattended on a full licence. Below lists the minimum age a full licence holder must be to drive unattended in European countries.
European countryAge with full driving licenceEuropean countryAge with full driving licence
Albania18Jersey17
Andorra18Kosovo17
Armenia18Latvia18
Austria18Liechtenstein18
Azerbaijan18Lithuania18
Belarus18Luxembourg18
Belgium18Macedonia18
Bosnia and Herzegovina18Malta18
Bulgaria18Moldova18
Croatia18Montenegro18
Cyprus18Netherlands18
Czech Republic18Norway18
Denmark18Poland18
Estonia18Portugal16
Finland18Romania18
France18Russia18
Georgia18San Marino18
Germany18Serbia18
Gibraltar19Slovakia18
Greece18Slovenia18
Guernsey17Spain18
Hungary17Sweden18
Iceland17Switzerland18
Isle of Man16Ukraine18
Ireland17United Kingdom17 or 16 if claiming higher rate Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
Italy18
  • GB stickers
    Older UK registration plates do not display country of origin information (GB). European registration plates became a legal option from March 2001 and provide country of origin information. If your car registration plate does not display country of origin information, GB stickers (white oval international vehicle registration code) must be applied to your vehicle. Certain countries may fine motorists for not correctly displaying such information. European registration plates are only legally recognised within the European Union (EU). Motorists must display a GB sticker when driving outside of the EU.
  • Headlight adjustment for European driving
    In terms of headlights, UK vehicles are designed for driving on the left-hand side of the road. Dipped beam headlights are angled downwards and to the left away from oncoming vehicles so to not dazzle drivers. Driving in Europe will involve using the right-hand side of the road, therefor dipped headlights on a UK vehicle will dazzle oncoming motorists. It is compulsory in most European countries that your headlights are adjusted. Relatively cheap headlight beam converters can be purchased from car accessory stores that are easily applied and available for most modern cars. If you are unable to find a beam converter for your vehicle, you must have them professionally altered before leaving the UK onto right-hand drive roads.

Compulsory motoring safety equipment

Many European countries have rules enforced that make it law for motorists to carry certain safety equipment whilst driving.

  • Warning triangle
    In many European countries it is law that a warning triangle is displayed to oncoming motorists to alert them of the approaching hazard. Motorists found not displaying a warning triangle if broken down may be subject to an on-the-spot fine. It’s advisable to carry two warning triangles for placement in front and to the rear of the vehicle during a breakdown.
  • Reflective jacket
    It is compulsory in certain European countries to carry and wear a reflective jacket in the event of vehicle break down. On-the-spot fines may be issued to motorists found not carrying / wearing such equipment.
  • First aid kit
    It is advisable and in a few European countries compulsory that a first aid kit must be taken in vehicles.
  • Fire extinguisher
    Taking a fire extinguisher in your vehicle is compulsory in some countries and highly recommended in others.
  • Spare bulbs
    Some countries require that you carry a spare bulb set in your vehicle.

Compulsory documents for driving in Europe

  • Driving licence
    You will need to take along your Great Britain or Northern Ireland driving licence when driving abroad. A full driving licence is required, a provisional licence is not accepted. The old-style driving licence that doesn’t have photographic identity is not recognised, other forms of photographic identity documents such as a passport must be at hand. It may be advisable for drivers to update old-style driving licences to the new-style before traveling. If taking along a new-style licence, ensure both the photographic card and the paper counterpart are taken. Motorists traveling outside of European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) areas may require an International Driving Permit. EU/EEA countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.
  • International Driving Permit
    Depending on where you intend on traveling, you may be required to hold a International Driving Permit (IDP). This is a requirement for certain countries outside of the EU/EEA. An IDP is valid for one year and can be applied for at most post offices. An International Driving Permit can be applied for three months in advance from when it is to be used. International Driving Permits cost £5.50 at the time of writing and you must:

    • be a Great Britain or Northern Ireland resident
    • have passed your driving test
    • be 18 or over
  • International Driving Permit
    Depending on where you intend on traveling, you may be required to hold a International Driving Permit (IDP). This is a requirement for certain countries outside of the EU/EEA. An IDP is valid for one year and can be applied for at most post offices. An International Driving Permit can be applied for three months in advance from when it is to be used. International Driving Permits cost £5.50 at the time of writing and you must:

    • be a Great Britain or Northern Ireland resident
    • have passed your driving test
    • be 18 or over
  • Valid passport
    Ensure you take along a valid passport. Some countries require that a passport is valid for a minimum of the next six months.
  • Car insurance documentation
    Before driving in and around Europe, ensure your car is properly insured. Car insurance policies vary considerably and it’s not always clear what you are covered for. All UK car insurance covers the policy holder to drive in other EU countries. This is often in the form of the most basic cover, and typically is third party car insurance only. If you require greater coverage or intend on traveling outside of EU countries, contact your insurance provider to discuss a new or upgraded policy. See car insurance help for advice on the various types of car insurance and their meanings. If driving outside of the EU, a Green Card proves that your car insurance coverage meets the minimum legal requirements for that country. Ask your insurance provider if they can issues you with a Green card. Countries that require a Green Card are: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Iran, Israel, Moldova, Morocco, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine. Although you may be traveling in a country that does not require a Green Card, it is advisable to take one to avoid any potential complications. A Green Card is free. Continued reading on Green Card car insurance
  • Breakdown cover
    It is highly advisable to have breakdown cover before setting off on the roads around Europe. This may be an extension of your current car insurance policy or a separate policy altogether. Either way, ensure that your breakdown cover covers you for all the countries you intend on traveling to and that the duration of coverage meets the time you are away. As with car insurance, breakdown cover comes in various forms. Ensure you choose a cover that best suits your needs in the event of a breakdown.
  • Proof of vehicle use or ownership
    If you are traveling abroad in your own car, take along the original (not a copy) of your vehicle registration document to prove that you own the vehicle. If borrowing a car from someone or using a company car, take a letter confirming that you have authorisation to use the vehicle. Hired vehicles must be accompanied by a Vehicle on Hire certificate (VE103b).

Health and medical cover

  • European Health Insurance Card
    A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows you to get state healthcare at a reduced cost and sometimes for free. The EHIC will cover you for treatment that is needed to allow you to continue your stay until you plan to return. EHIC also covers you for treatment of pre-existing medical conditions and for routine maternity care, as long as you’re not going abroad to give birth. The EHIC is valid in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries, including Switzerland. The EHIC is however not an alternative to travel insurance as it will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property. Therefore, it is important to have both an EHIC and a valid private travel insurance policy. Some insurers now insist you hold an EHIC and many will waive the excess if you have one. See NHS for further information. If you intend on taking your own car over to Europe by starting in France, read our driving in France guide for tips, keeping legal and safe.

Benefits of driving in Europe

Taking your car abroad or hiring one on your arrival provides you with freedom and mobility. Being mobile means you can:

  • plan your trip how you want it around various interests or business commitments
  • travel at your own pace
  • stop where and when you like
  • visit locations of interest as you travel
  • visit remote areas
  • carry extra equipment that may enable you to go camping or sports equipment such as canoes, skies, surfboards etc.

Before you leave

Before travelling abroad, ensure your car is professionally serviced and checked over. Make sure all tyres including the spare are in good legal condition and that you have all appropriate tools in case of puncture. It’s also advisable to take spare car keys and spare light bulbs for all exterior lights.

Tips for driving abroad

Driving abroad, especially for the first time takes a lot of preparation. Preparing yourself with as much knowledge on the various laws that Europe imposes on drivers, along with driving tips helps to make your journey as smooth as possible. Here are some tips for driving abroad.

Watch your alcohol intake

Many European countries have far stricter laws in regards to legal alcohol driving limits. Other countries do not allow for any alcohol levels at all whilst driving. The safest option is of course not to drink at if you intend on driving, but if in doubt, familiarise yourself with the alcohol limits for the country you are in. Personal breathalyser test kits can be purchased which are ideal to use before driving.

Speed camera detectors

Speed camera detectors, especially those used in sat-navs are something we take for granted here in the UK. Certain countries in Europe however have strict laws that prohibit motorists from using such detection equipment and if found to be active, high on-the-spot fines can be imposed. Disable speed camera detection in any devices that may be used in countries that prohibit them. France for example have strict rules that can see a driver faced with fines up to €1,500 along with confiscation of the device and even the vehicle itself. See driving in France for rules, legalities and various tips for taking to the roads in France.

Driving offences

Driving offences typical of the UK may see higher fines imposed in Europe. Getting caught driving whilst using a mobile phone in France for example can see you hit with a fine of 135 Euros (approx. £115). Compare this with the current UK fine imposed by use of a fixed penalty notice (FPN) of £60.

Research local road signs

Many road signs around Europe are easily understood by UK drivers as they are universal. Many countries however have their own particular road signs as well as the universally recognised signs. Research local roads signs before setting off to ensure you are fully aware of the rules of the road.

Research driving routes

Research and plan your routes before setting off. Many free route planners are available online. Ensure your sat-nav maps are up to date and take along a good old fashioned map book just in case. Remember to also take plenty of spare change as motorway tolls are common place in Europe.

Driving temperaments

Most of us are familiar with road rage, whether conveying the often inappropriate emotion ourselves or witnessing it from a distance. Such driving temperaments vary in every country depending on location. Always drive with caution and care and always be prepared for the unexpected. Drivers in some European countries can be far more unpredictable and temperamental than other countries.

Traveling with your dog around Europe

If you intend on taking your dog with you during your travels around Europe, there a some legal requirements that must be met. When traveling within the EU, you must have your dog:

  • micro chipped
  • vaccinated against rabies
  • a pet passport
  • treated for tapeworm

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