7 Things you Need to Check Before you Drive Abroad

by from money.co.uk, Last Updated: 14 November 2014

Being able to drive while you're abroad can make getting around that much easier, however there's more to think about than which side of the road you should be on. Here are 7 things you need to check before you drive abroad.

Woman car holiday sea

Taking a car to the continent or hiring one while you're away can be a great way to get about, especially if you're in an area with little in the way of public transport.

However, you shouldn't just hop behind the wheel and drive off into the sunset or you could find your dream trip turns into a nightmare.

Here are 7 things you need to check before you drive abroad:

1. Are you licensed to drive?

Some countries will allow you to drive on their roads providing you hold a full UK driving licence, however this is not always the case and you may need to apply for other documents before you can legally drive your car overseas.

International driving permits

When driving in certain countries outside the UK your UK driving licence may only be valid in conjunction with an International Driving permit.

You can check whether the country you plan to visit requires an International Driving permit on the AA website.

Each International Driving permit is valid for 12 months and usually costs 5.50 plus any administration charges.

You can apply for an International Driving permit by post via the AA website, online on the RAC website or the Post office website, or you can also visit your nearest Post Office in person to pick up an application form.

Green card

If you are taking you car to certain European countries or crossing European borders you may need to apply for a Green Card before you travel.

A Green Card provides confirmation to border agencies that you hold the minimum level of car insurance for your vehicle necessary to drive on the country's roads.

Most insurers will issue policyholders with a Green Card for no charge, however strictly speaking they are under no obligation to do so.

If you cannot get a Green Card from your insurance company, you can contact other car insurance companies to apply for a Green Card even if you don't have a policy with them. For more information on the Green Card visit the Motor Insurance Bureau website .

2. Your car insurance

Making sure you are insured to drive in the country you plan to visit is essential.

Most insurance policies will provide third party cover as standard overseas but if you want to be protected with the same level of cover that you have in UK you may need to pay a little extra.

Fire, theft, or damage to your own car in a collision is unlikely to be covered while you're abroad - even if you're fully comp in the UK - so you should consider if you are happy with limited cover or whether you want to pay extra to have them included.

Your insurer is also likely to place limits on where you can drive - it's likely to just be countries within the EU but it's important to check.

They are also likely to limit how long you're covered overseas. You should check whether they limit the number of days you can drive abroad on a single trip, and also how many days you're covered abroad in total over the 12 months that your policy runs. You may need to pay a little extra if you plan on being away for several weeks.

If your current insurance policy includes cover outside the UK you're likely to find that it's on the basis that you inform the company before your trip. As such you should make sure that your contact your insurance company before you travel as the last thing you want is to find out that you aren't covered should the worst happen while you're away.

You should also make sure to make a note of their claims helpline should you need to contact them if you do have an accident while your away.

If you are planning on hiring a car while you are away rather than taking your own vehicle you need to check your insurance.

Most car hire companies will include a basic level of insurance but it is not always the case. It is worth checking the exact level of cover included in your terms and conditions, especially if the hire rates appear too good to be true.

Check that you are covered not only for damage to the hire vehicle you are driving but also third party and personal injury, if you are unsatisfied with the cover either look to ask for it to be upgraded or look to hire your car elsewhere.

3. Your breakdown cover

Breaking down is a big inconvenience at the best of times, but if you find yourself in a foreign country it is likely to be ten times worse, especially if you don't speak the local language.

Check the terms and conditions of your current breakdown cover (if you have it) to check if you're covered to drive outside the UK , it's also worth checking that the specific country you plan to visit is included in your policy and what happens if you encounter a problem.

Rather than the patrol service you're used to in the UK breakdown recovery is likely to be provided by a local garage and you may be required to pay for the work up front and then claim the money back so it's important to check that you're happy with the set up and have a means of paying for any work before you venture overseas.

As with car insurance you may need to inform the company that you plan on driving your car while you're away in order for any policy to be valid so double check your policy terms and conditions.

Many breakdown policies also put a limit on the number of days of overseas cover that is included in each policy, so again check that you will be covered for the full duration of your trip.

If you don't have breakdown cover outside the UK then you should seriously consider getting a breakdown policy before you travel.

Use our European breakdown cover comparison table to find companies that offer overseas cover and compare the policies on offer and the overall cost.

It also makes sense to have your car serviced in the weeks before you travel, this will ensure that any problems are spotted and sorted before you leave the UK.

As with car insurance many car hire companies will include a basic level of breakdown cover with their cars, however again it makes sense to check exactly what is included and if you should consider upgrading to a more comprehensive level of cover.

4. Local laws

Driving laws vary beyond which side of the road you should drive on and you need to make sure you check local laws, speed limits and other restrictions before you start your first journey overseas.

It also makes sense to avoid drinking any alcohol when you're driving abroad as the limits are often lower than the UK levels, with some countries adopting a zero tolerance approach.

You can check local driving laws and regulations on both the AA website and the RAC website so you know exactly what to expect when you arrive.

5. Local car requirements

Although your car may be roadworthy in the UK you need to check that it meets the requirements of the country you're visiting before you travel.

You may need to have a GB sticker clearly visible and install headlamp converters if you will be driving on the other side of the road.

With some countries the time of year can also affect vehicle requirements; Germany is one example, requiring you to have winter tyres fitted to your car for the cold season.

Make sure you do your research and kit out your car with any necessary paraphernalia before you venture out of the UK or you may face fines overseas.

6. What do you need to take with you?

Some countries require you to have different paperwork with you when you drive.

Chances are that you will need to take your full driving licence with you, even if you have a Green Card or an International Driving Permit.

Some countries also require you to carry certain equipment - such as warning triangles and high visibility jackets - by law and impose on the spot fines if you don't have everything you need so make sure to check you have everything you need in your boot before you go.

You should also get a travel first aid kit for your car before you leave the UK. It's not only a good idea just in case, some countries require you to carry one by law, while others strongly recommended it.

You can get country by country travel advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth website .

7. Compare car hire car deals

If you're planning on hiring a car overseas it makes sense to do your research and make your booking while you're still in the UK as it's likely to be cheaper. In particular, the price of hiring a car at an airport will generally be much higher than if you book in advance online.

So before you travel you should take the opportunity to compare the cost of car hire from several different car hire dealers.

You might also want to consider the running costs of the car you hire while you're away, especially if you are considering doing a substantial number of miles. Although a flash convertible may seem like a real treat it could end up costing you more than you expect by guzzling up gallons of petrol while your away.


Some countries also require you to carry certain equipment - such as warning triangles and high visibility jackets - by law and impose on the spot fines if you don't have everything you need so make sure to check you have everything you need in your boot before you go

It won't do to have your Hi-Vis jacket in the boot. It should be in the saloon within easy reach. Put it in the boot and you could land yourself a fine.

I have driven 10s of thousands of miles on foreign roads without incident, except one in Nigeria where I was caught smoking whilst driving (an offence) a two naira contribution to the police officer saw me on my way.

by Leodis, 15 Jun 2011
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