Driving abroad

Driving abroad can be fun if a little hair-raising at times. Whether you’re simply hiring a car for the day, driving down to France or going on a self-drive holiday here are some tips to help you on your way.

Before you go

If you plan to drive you need to take your driving licence with you and if you’re travelling outside the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland you might also need an International Driving Permit (IDP). This costs £5.50 and you can find out which countries you need it for and how to get one on the AA and RAC websites. You can also apply for an IDP at the Post Office.

If you’re taking your own car abroad you will need the right car insurance. You can find out more about this in our guide on self-drive holidays. But if you’re renting a car, the hire company will usually arrange this for you.

Hiring a car

If you want to hire a car it’s a good idea to do this in advance. The hire company might ask you for a check code so it can see your driving record. You can apply for this on the government website Gov.UK and the code is valid for 21 days.

If you’re travelling with children don’t forget to ask for children’s car seats and if the rental firm can’t provide them take your own.

When you pick up the car make sure you check the tyres, brakes, lights and safety belts before signing on the dotted line. It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with all the controls before driving off. For example, while the pedals may be in the same order as you’re used to on a right-hand drive car, the gear stick and handbrake will be on your right.

Your rental company should also give you a contact number to reach it in an emergency such as if you have an accident or the car is stolen.

Road safety

Most countries drive on the right-hand side of the road which can be very confusing if you’re used to driving on the left. For example, if you’re driving down a narrow road you need to pull over to the right to let oncoming vehicles pass; on motorways the overtaking lane is on your left side and on roundabouts you give way to the left and drive anti-clockwise.

Driving rules vary from country to country so you need to find out about these. As well as checking the local speed limits, find out about the local customs. For example, did you know it’s illegal to drive without headlights, even in daylight, in Sweden? In some cities in Spain, cars must be parked on different sides of the road according to the day of the week, in France driving with headphones on is banned and in Russia it’s illegal to pick up hitchhikers.

Different countries have different rules on what equipment you must keep in your car. For example, a warning triangle, first aid kit, fire extinguisher and reflective jacket are compulsory in some countries but only recommended in others. While in Serbia you must keep a tow bar and a 3 metre rope in your car and in some cold countries you are required to have snow chains at particular times of the year.

Driving abroad checklist

The AA and RAC websites have lots of useful information on driving abroad with information on specific countries.

Driving on poor roads

You need to take extra care if you find yourself driving on badly pot-holed or corrugated dirt roads. For more on this see our guide on self-drive holidays.

What to do if you have an accident

If you have an accident contact the emergency services immediately. In Europe the number is 112. It’s a good idea to check what it is in other countries and store this number in your phone just in case you need it at short notice.

If you’re in a hired car, contact your rental firm straight away. Many will have given you an emergency contact number when you first picked up the car.

If you’re driving your own car you should contact your car insurer as soon as you can and take photos of any damage to your vehicle.

For details of what to do when you need medical help and how to claim on your travel insurance for any medical treatment you need see our guides.