Driving in Europe this summer

driving in Europe this summer

With summer here and the holiday season under way, you may be planning on taking your car to continental Europe, or flying there then renting a vehicle. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to driving in Europe this summer, with 10 top tips to consider before hitting the road.

From how to check you’ve got the right paperwork and insurance cover, to country-specific info on driving laws, emissions rules and extra equipment you’ll need, our guide is designed to help you plan for driving abroad and help you stay safe while you are away.

If you’re driving in Europe, you’ll need to take your driving licence with you. The DVLA advises any driver travelling abroad to carry a photocard licence, rather than an all-paper version. This isn’t obligatory, but it may make your journey easier.

The UK and EU have agreed an extension to Article 50 until 31 October 2019 at the latest, so while no deal remains the legal default at the end of this extension period, it’s now unlikely that there will be any changes affecting European travel this summer e.g. you will not need to carry an IDP (or insurance green card) to drive in an EU country.

If there is eventually a ‘no-deal’ Brexit then mutual recognition of driving licences between the UK and EU may end, and UK drivers wishing to drive in Europe may need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP).  Click here for further guidance re: driving in Europe, should the UK leave the EU without a deal.

While Switzerland isn’t in either the European Union or European Economic Area, UK driving licences are also valid there provided the holder is 18 or over.

If you’re planning a road trip further afield, check here to find out if you’ll need an International Driving Permit (IDP).

These are required or recommended in over 140 countries, for example Thailand and India. Drive without one where it’s needed and you risk trouble with the authorities, and may be refused a hire car.

IDP’s are available at selected Post Offices, they last a year, and you can apply up to three months in advance of going away.  Click here to find your nearest Post Office branch that offers the IDP service.

Has your driving licence expired? It may sound obvious, but it’s an easy one to miss at any time, let alone when driving abroad. So before you depart, check the expiry date on your current licence. If it’s due to expire before your planned return from Europe, you’ll need to renew before you go.

Hiring a car?  Request a DVLA code to take with you

If you’re hiring a car abroad, your hire company may require a DVLA code to enable them to check your full licence details.  So to make your trip as pain free as possible, before travelling you can go online to obtain a DVLA code to give to your hire company when you collect your car. Each code is valid for 21 days from the date you obtain it and it can only be used once (to protect your privacy).

In order to avoid being fined or having your car towed away, it is recommended that you take the following documents with you when driving abroad.

  • Valid passport.For certain countries – and in the event of a no deal Brexit – your passport must be valid for six months after the date you travel and be less than 10 years old. Take photocopies of your passport and other important documents and keep these separate from the originals when you travel and/or store them online using a secure data storage site. Make sure you fill in the emergency contact details in your passport.
  • Travel insurance documents.
  • Valid driving licence (see point 1 above).

If you’re taking your own car, you’ll also need:

  • Vehicle registration certificate.  Otherwise known as the V5C or log book – you’ll need the original, not a copy.
  • Motor insurance certificate.

If you’re hiring a car in Europe, you’ll need:

  • A DVLA licence check code.  Hire companies won’t always ask for this, but it’s worth taking to be on the safe side (see point 1 above).

If travelling outside the EU and EEA, you may also need:

  • Visa(s).  Check the entry requirements of the country you’re visiting on the Government website.
  • International Driving Permit (IDP) (see point 1 above).

In the UK there’s no legal obligation to carry any particular equipment in your car. But in many European countries it’s compulsory to have certain gear – exactly what, depends on the country and time of year.

While it may seem unlikely you’ll be caught without the necessary equipment, bear in mind that by not carrying it you’ll be breaking the law. So if you’re driving your own car in Europe, or hiring one to use there, you should buy the equipment that’s compulsory in the country/countries you’ll be driving in before you travel.

View our factsheet for a summary of requirements for the most popular destinations for UK drivers travelling to Europe.

Hiring a car?  Check the boot before you drive off

Car hire firms will usually provide all the necessary equipment – but it’s technically the driver’s responsibility, not the hire company’s, to make sure it’s on board. So when checking over a rental car before you drive off, make sure you have all the necessary equipment.

Depending on where you’re planning to drive in Europe, you may need to display an emissions sticker or badge on your windscreen. Several countries on the Continent require you to do this to drive through certain cities at certain times, to curb pollution. If you have an older car it could be banned altogether at certain times.

View our guide for information on the current Environmental Zones in European cities.

Hiring a car? Check with the rental firm

What if you’re renting a car in Europe and driving in a low emissions zone? Well, check with the hire company if it’s organised a sticker. In Germany, for instance, hire cars come with stickers by default.

You’re unlikely to be able to get a sticker yourself as you’ll need vehicle registration details to do so.

Many European countries, including France, Ireland, Italy and Spain, have toll roads where you pay at a gate to use them. While most tollbooths now accept a variety of payment methods, it’ll make your journey a lot less stressful if you’re prepared for any eventuality.

So keep enough loose change and cash in your car in the correct currency or currencies to cover the cost of toll roads and keep it somewhere accessible to avoid any last-minute fumbling at the barriers.  Click here for a guide to toll costs before you go.

Apart from the UK (and the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), there are just three European countries that drive on the left – Cyprus, Ireland and Malta. So, chances are that if you’re driving in Europe, you’ll be driving on the right.

As you’d expect, it can take some getting used to if you’ve not done it before, especially in a left-hand drive car so give yourself extra time to get where you want to go, take regular breaks and travel with an alert passenger able to give you the heads-up should you lapse into ‘left-hand side autopilot’. This is easily done when pulling back onto the road after a fuel stop or lunch break, so be aware.

If you’re taking your own wheels overseas, you’ll need headlight converters. That’s because at night the headlights of cars designed for driving on the left-hand side of the road will dazzle oncoming drivers in countries where you drive on the right. It’s a legal requirement in most European countries not to dazzle oncoming drivers, and if you don’t take steps to ensure your car doesn’t, you could receive a fine if stopped – or even invalidate your insurance.

Headlight converters are stickers that adjust the dipped beam of your headlights to prevent them dazzling oncoming drivers. They’re generally compatible with a huge range of cars and come with fitting instructions. Kits are widely available and usually cost £6-£10.

Remember to remove converters as soon as you return to the UK.

In continental Europe, speed limits are measured in kilometres per hour and the legal limit varies, country to country.  View our guide to find out the speed limits in the most popular European destinations for British drivers.

Drinking and driving is never a good idea but it becomes especially bad when you go abroad where some countries have zero tolerance. The laws of driving under the influence of alcohol vary between countries and the legal limit is not the same in all EU-member states.

View our guide which explains the legal limits in the various European countries.

It is worth noting that the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia all have a zero alcohol limit.

Unless the number plates on your car have a Euro symbol and the Great Britain (GB) national identifier on, it’s compulsory to display a ‘GB’ sticker on your car when travelling in the EU.

Check your car insurance

Make sure your car insurance covers you to drive abroad. If you don’t have overseas cover, you will only have the minimum legal cover (usually third party only) in the EU and you may need to pay an extra premium to extend your insurance cover.

Check your breakdown cover extends to Europe

You may need to increase your existing cover or take out standalone European breakdown policy to avoid unnecessary stress and significant additional expense if anything goes wrong.

Bon voyage!