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Tips for driving in Europe

Driving on holiday is supposed to be exciting and broaden your horizons, but getting caught out by foreign road rules and regulations is enough to put a dampener on anyone’s trip.

There’s the extra kit you need to have in the car, the essential documents, the right insurance, not to mention driving on the other side of the road and working out what the different signs mean. Sounds like a lot to remember, right? Well don’t worry. We’ve prepared this essential check list to help you prepare for your next road trip in Europe.

Must-have documents

Just like at home, you could be pulled over and asked for your documents at any time. Fail to show the right ones and you could be in for a fine or worse – you could be hauled off the road.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, keep essential info to hand in a plastic wallet or folder. That way everything you need is in one, easy-to-access place, should you need it.

Documents to keep in your car:

  • Full valid driving licence
  • Travel insurance document
  • If travelling in your own vehicle, motor insurance and your vehicle’s V5c (registration document).
  • Passport (and visa if you’re in a country that needs one – unlikely for Europe, for now)
  • If you’re renting a car, you should also have all the relevant documents given to you at the rental pick-up point, as well as your driving licence ‘check code’ – the unique number that allows you to share your driving record with someone else.

Think right and take it steady

Driving on the right-hand side of the road can be confusing at first, especially if you don’t drive abroad often. When entering roundabouts, remember to give way to those on the left, and take extra care when pulling out of petrol stations and junctions.

Just take things steady, and approach tricky manoeuvres with extra caution. Some drivers even add a little sticker on the right side of the dashboard as a handy reminder.

Get the right insurance

If you’re taking your own vehicle abroad, you must ensure you have the right type of insurance. This is simple enough to check: all you need to do is go over your existing policy to see if you are covered for driving on the Continent. If not, you may have to take out extra insurance.

If you are covered, there are still certain things to look out for. For example, the length of time you are covered for (some policies will only cover you up to 28 days) and the countries where your insurance is valid (some policies will only cover EU countries, rather than all of Europe).

For more information about insuring your car abroad, check out this helpful article.

For car hire, insurance can be slightly trickier to decode, and lots of people find this a murky topic. Check out our comprehensive guide to car hire insurance and make sure you’re properly covered.

European breakdown cover

Similar to car insurance, you may need to take out a specific European breakdown policy if your existing insurance does not cover you on the Continent. Again, this should be fairly clear once you read the policy.

However, if you are covered by your existing breakdown policy, do check what this entails: just because you are fully covered in the UK, this does not mean you will necessarily have the same level of cover on the Continent. This goes for general motor insurance as well.

If you’re hiring a car, this should be covered by the company you are renting the vehicle from. However, you should never assume this as given – it can vary from company to company.

Finally, always check what cover you have at the rental office before driving away. For more information on what to do if you have a car hire catastrophe while abroad, check out this article.

Stick to the speed limit

Brush up on the speed limits for the country you’re visiting, and stick to them. In certain countries, such as France, the police can issue on-the-spot fines for speeding.

Think about it: do you really want a fine cutting into your hard-earned holiday cash? Of course not! So take it steady and stick to the limits, even if you’re getting pressure from the locals driving behind you.

Drinking and driving

The rules around drinking and driving vary from country to country, but on the whole Europe is much stricter than England (and Wales). The legal limit is generally closer to 50 milligrams (per 100 millilitres of blood), as opposed to 80 milligrams here.

Of course, the best way to avoid having to worry about all this is simply not to do it – it’s much safer to avoid driving altogether if you plan to have a drink.

Need-to-know facts for specific countries

Before you head off on holiday, look into your destination’s rules of the road in detail. To get you started, here are a few essentials facts for some of the most popular countries for Brits driving in Europe.

  • Spain: In Spain it’s compulsory to have a spare wheel, warning triangle and reflective jacket in your vehicle. Horns are forbidden in urban areas, except in an emergency.
  • France: In France it’s compulsory to have a breathalyser, warning triangle and reflective jacket in your vehicle. When driving on snow-covered roads, snow chains must be fitted. You must not use headphones or headsets while driving.
  • Portugal: It’s compulsory to have photographic proof of identity, a reflective jacket and a temporary electronic toll device (called a DEM – not required if you’ve pre-paid for tolls) in order to drive on most of Portugal’s motorways. You can find more info here.
  • Italy: It’s compulsory to have a warning triangle, a reflective jacket and snow chains (between October and April or whenever weather dictates) in your vehicle. Most Italian motorways have tolls.
  • Greece: In Greece it’s compulsory to have a fire extinguisher, first-aid kit and warning triangle in your vehicle.
  • Ireland: It’s not compulsory to carry any extra equipment in Ireland.
  • Germany: It’s recommended that you carry a spare bulb kit, a warning triangle and a reflective jacket in your vehicle when in Germany.
  • Cyprus: In Cyprus it’s compulsory to carry two warning triangles in your vehicle. Carrying a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit is recommended, but not required.
  • Croatia: In Croatia it’s compulsory to carry spare bulbs, a first aid kit, warning triangle, winter tyres (between November and April), snow chains (at least one set in winter months), a shovel (during winter), and a reflective jacket.
  • Switzerland: It’s compulsory to carry a warning triangle and snow chains in your vehicle when in Switzerland.


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Staying safe abroad

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides valuable up-to-date travel advice for British citizens abroad. It is the best resource for reliable safety and security information. You can also find other important details, such as local laws, passport information and visa requirements. Stay safe abroad – check the FCDO before you travel.

For the latest FCDO advice, follow @FCDOtravelGovUK and