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The do's and don'ts of taking your car abroad

The do's and don'ts of taking your car abroad


If you’re heading abroad this summer, in your car, there are a few things you need to check, and know about, to ensure you keep everyone safe and happy; Motoring journalist, John Swift take s you through the do's and don'ts.

What do I need for driving abroad?

  • Documents - Driving licence, DVLA driver record, V5, insurance certificate, passports, international driving permit where necessary
  • Headlight modifiers - stick-on headlight converters to stop your headlights dazzling as you're driving on the right
  • Emergency kit - warning triangle, hi-vis jacket, first aid kit
  • GB Sticker - you car may have the GB symbol on the number plate, if not you need a self adhesive sticker
  • Travel Insurance/Breakdown & Recovery Insurance - don't take a risk, make sure you're insured
  • Patience & Focus - driving on the right-hand side of the road can be daunting, give yourself plenty of time and keep focussed.
  • Pre-journey heatth check - get your car checked over before embarking on a long journey

What are the do's and don'ts of driving abroad?

If you’re heading abroad this summer, in your car, there are a few things you need to check, and know about, to ensure you keep everyone safe and happy; if you’re heading over the Channel for the first time, then don’t worry, driving abroad is different, but with just a little preparation it needn’t be anything to worry about.

Let’s break it down into four areas, documentation; rules of the road; preparing your car; and the big one, driving on the right.


It’s not unheard of for police in European countries to target UK drivers, pull them over and ask them to show their documents.

So, what you must have before you go, and carry with you at all times are:

•           Your valid full (not provisional) driving licence. This applies to everyone in the vehicle who may drive.

•           A copy of your DVLA driver record and a licence check code if needed. Click on this link https://bit.ly/UF7SId for more details.

•           Your vehicle's registration document (V5c) (the original not a copy).

•           Your motor insurance certificate. You should tell your insurer you are travelling abroad because some only provide third party cover.

•           Your passport(s)

V5 logbook

It sounds far-fetched but – in theory at least – you could have your car impounded if you can’t produce this paperwork. A fine is more likely.

For a non-EU country you will need an International Driving Permit. 

Rules of the Road

Leaving aside the obvious, that across the Channel they drive on the other side of the road, which we’ll come to later, and even though we are currently in the EU, driving laws do vary from one country to the other and you should be aware of them before you cross the border.

For example, there are different speed limits on French roads depending on if it is wet or dry. Drink/drive laws vary between countries too, but just as here there’s only one you should ever heed - if you’re driving, don’t drink. Speaking of which, in France it is compulsory to carry a breathalyser kit.

Some rules are pretty obscure. Did you know that in Italy you should park in the direction of travel on that side of the road, if you wear glasses then in Switzerland you must carry a spare pair and in Spain don’t drive in flip-flops.

Some are better known. When you take a UK car abroad your headlights must not dazzle oncoming traffic but it is a very simple matter to buy some plastic stick-on converters which do the trick perfectly well. Any high street car parts store will sell them. 

There are a few other basics such as, it’s an offence to use a speed detector and you should have a warning triangle and at least one hi-vis jacket in the event of a breakdown (it’s a good idea in this country, not just abroad), and in some countries - Germany for example – it’s obligatory to have a first aid kit. You will need, or at least it is recommended, that you take out travel insurance and breakdown/recovery cover.

A long standing one is that you will need to display a GB sticker or face an on-the-spot fine. A lot of cars sold here have a little GB in the EU emblem on the rear number plate which takes care of that, but make sure you check.

Black and white car GB sticker

Speed limits are a popular cause of confusion and wallet-emptying fines. Speed restrictions vary according to the weather or traffic conditions and motorways are often covered by radar traps. Don’t think that autobahns in Germany give you licence to max-out your car. Although technically not given a speed limit, there are blue signs which normally show 130 kph (78 mph) this is the suggested limit and most locals will observe it.

However, there are more open areas with less traffic, so, here’s one little tip; if you’re driving on one of these stretches of autobahn, keep an eye on your rear mirror, because those little dots of light can very quickly turn into a Ferrari or Porsche blasting past at some improbable high-speed. It happens and it’s not nice to be taken unawares.

Finally, a growing number of cities and towns have Low Emission Zones and you will need to apply for a little disc you display in the windscreen proving your vehicle meets pollution standards. Apply early as by all accounts the backlog is pretty long.

We could fill a book, several in fact, with the various rules for the various countries but the best advice is to access any of the plentiful guidance from driving organisations such as the AA, RAC, IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) or the big insurers or even one you may not have thought of, your dealer.

Your car

Breaking down can seriously interfere with holiday plans, so, perhaps more than ever, it pays to get it serviced beforehand. New oil and filters, a radiator/coolant and air conditioning service and a tyre tread depth check are the minimum and it removes one area of worry.

If it’s hot and your car’s heavily loaded with passengers and suitcases, check the handbook for the manufacturer’s recommended tyre pressures, which may be a little higher than usual so make sure you know how to do that before you travel.

There is absolutely no reason why your vehicle is at any more mechanical risk abroad than here, but a pre-journey health check at your dealer could be some of the best money you’ll spend.

car packed with luggage for holiday with little girl in a hat

Book a health check for your car

Driving on the right

This is the big one which understandably frightens first-timers and even experienced Euro-drivers need to adjust their thinking. Following the locals is the easiest and safest way to get it into your system and it’s easier than you may think but there are a few danger points.

At roundabouts, the flow goes counter-clockwise so you give way to traffic coming from the left. It is not always easy to turn your head enough to see safely so a passenger can be very useful in telling you when it is safe to go. At junctions on smaller and quiet rural roads with no traffic around it is all too easy to forget you’re abroad, – and I was a passenger once when it happened to me in Portugal – pull out and drive on the left as if in the UK. It gets interesting as you then drive towards a head-on collision!

Autobahn at sunsetOn tighter left hand corners it is very easy to cross the centre line and while it sounds simple, it’s always a good idea to make sure the mirror on the passenger side is adjusted to give you the maximum view. Position it so that you can just see your car’s doors and most of it is pointing to the road behind, giving you the best view of faster vehicles coming up to overtake. It’s a good idea in the UK but even more useful abroad.

Even more than here, give yourself time and space until you get the hang of driving on what at first probably feels the wrong side of the road. It does take some concentration and thought, so slow down, drop back from the vehicles in front and enjoy the drive.

Happy holiday!