Before you venture across the channel in your own car or hire one further afield, get to know the rules of the road in the countries you're visiting so you don't get caught out.
Wherever you're heading, you'll find our general advice below. But first some advice on what Brexit means for UK drivers venturing across the channel.
Documents for driving abroad in Europe
New rules on travel in the EU came into effect on 1 January 2021. You'll now need a Green Card from your insurer to drive in Europe.
You may be asked to show your documents at any time and could be fined or even have your car taken away if they're not in order.
You must carry:
- Your valid full (not provisional) driving licence.
- A copy of your DVLA driver record and a licence check code if needed.
- Your vehicle's registration document (V5c - the original, not a copy).
- Your motor insurance certificate. Your insurer may ask to be told when you're going abroad and only provide third party cover when you do.
- An International Driving Permit when necessary.
- A Green Card from your insurer when necessary.
- Your passport(s).
- Your travel insurance documents.
- You may need a visa for certain countries too.
If you're taking a boat or going in a vehicle other than a car or motorcycle you may need additional documents.
Borrowed, hired or leased
If you're taking a company-owned, hired or borrowed vehicle you'll need a letter of authorisation from the registered keeper as well as the original vehicle registration document (V5c) or a Vehicle on Hire Certificate (VE103).
The VE103 is the only legal alternative to the V5c and you can get one from BVRLA/All fleet services on 01452 881037.
Low emission zones and urban restrictions
Many cities across Europe now operate low emission zones, congestion charge schemes and other restricted access schemes, many of which affect foreign-registered vehicles. Some require registration before you travel.
It's always a good idea to take out travel insurance so that you're covered for accidents and emergencies.
EHIC and GHIC health insurance cards
If you’re visiting the EU, take your EHIC card if you have one that's still valid, or apply for a new GHIC card free of charge. A UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in the EU.
The rules differ slightly in Spain, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The cards aren't a replacement for travel insurance so you should always have insurance as well.
UK-issued credit cards aren't always accepted at stores or petrol stations in other countries. It's wise to check with the card company before you go, particularly if you're going to rely on using the card.
If you're planning to travel with a pet, make sure you're familiar with official rules and advice.
Safety tips for driving abroad
Wherever you're headed, check the latest crime and personal safety advice from the Foreign Office Travel Unit before you go.
You can call 112 anywhere in the European Union in case of an accident, assault or any other distress situation.
Drinking and driving
Legal limits vary and are explained in our country-by-country guides. But there's only one safe rule – if you drink, don't drive. Laws are strict and penalties severe.
Using a hand-held mobile while driving is against the law in most countries.
Glasses for driving
If you need glasses for driving, take a spare pair with you - especially if you're the only driver.
It's easy to forget to drive on the right, particularly after doing something familiar, such as leaving a petrol station or car park. Roundabouts can be tricky too, and some drivers find it helpful to stick something on the dashboard or windscreen as a reminder.
What to take in your vehicle
You need a GB sticker on your car if your number plate has any of these:
- The Euro symbol.
- A national flag of England, Scotland or Wales.
- Letters and numbers with no flag or identifier.
The GB sticker must be have black letters on a white, elliptical background. They must be at least 80mm high with a stroke width of 10mm.
In some countries like Spain, Cyprus or Malta, or countries outside the EU, you must display a GB sticker no matter what's on your number plate.
You can buy your GB sticker here.
Many countries require all drivers, including visitors, to carry reflective jackets and wear them as soon as anyone gets out of a vehicle in an emergency or breakdown. We recommend carrying at least 2 in the passenger compartment of your car - one for the driver and one for a passenger.
- Our country-specific guides include national requirements.
- Bear in mind that car hire companies don't always provide reflective jackets, or other compulsory equipment, as standard.
You can buy reflective jackets here.
It's the law 'not cause dazzle to oncoming drivers', rather than specifically to adjust your headlamp beams for driving on the right.
You can't always predict delays and bad weather. So even if you're only going for a short trip and don't expect to drive at night, it's a good idea to carry headlamp beam converters with you, just in case. You don't need to if your lights can be adapted without them.
- Don't leave it to the last minute to find out what you need to do – you might need to get a dealer to make an adjustment for you.
- Beam converter kits may not be suitable for all types of headlight so check carefully.
- Make sure you remove headlamp converters as soon as you return to the UK.
You can buy headlamp beam converters here.
Whether compulsory or not, we recommend carrying a warning triangle wherever you're heading. You can buy a warning triangle here.
A door or wing-mirror on the left-hand side is very helpful when driving on the right. We recommend getting one fitted if your vehicle doesn't have one.
Servicing and tyres
Get your vehicle serviced well in advance to reduce the chance of a breakdown while you're away.
- If you've got a long road trip ahead of you and drive a new diesel that uses diesel exhaust fluid (AdBlue), it's a good idea to carry a top-up can with you.
- Check your tyres for condition, pressure and tread before you go.
- Most countries have the same minimum tread depth requirement as the UK (1.6mm). But tyres do wear out quickly when they get down to 3mm, so if they're this worn, think about new tyres before you go.
- Depending on the time of year and where you're going, you might have to get winter tyres fitted.
Snow chains are important for any winter trip and are compulsory in some countries, even if you've got winter tyres fitted.
Find out more about snow chains and winter tyres in Europe.
- Using or carrying a police speed trap detection device is illegal in most European countries and penalties can include a fine, driving ban, or even imprisonment.
- Some countries also ban you from using a sat nav system that can show fixed speed camera locations so you might have to disable the function before you go.
Updated 26 January 2021