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30 May 2018
Adam Bate

A whistlestop guide to driving abroad


If you’re heading abroad, make sure you have the right insurance and other road essentials for your trip.

Car on a map

Licence requirements

You can use your UK driving licence to drive within the EU/EEA, but if you drive outside of these countries, you'll need an International Driving Permit (IDP).

It costs £5.50 and you can buy it from the Post Office. You have to be over 18 and have to have a full driving licence to be able to have an IDP.

Although the minimum age for driving a car in the UK is 17, other countries may have their own rules so it's worth checking. For more information, visit GOV.UK.

Getting insured to drive abroad

To drive in another country, you need to make sure your insurance covers you outside the UK.

So before leaving, let your insurer know that you’re travelling overseas, and check if your existing policy covers you.

Your insurer should automatically extend your cover when you’re driving anywhere in the EU, but this is usually the most basic third-party cover.

It usually only covers claims from other drivers. So if your car needs repairs, you’ll have to foot the bill.

READ MORE: A guide to holiday car hire

Extend your existing policy

For a higher level of protection, get in touch with your insurer to see if they'll upgrade your existing comprehensive policy to be covered abroad. Also check if you have to pay extra for it.

Your insurer should give you a Green Card if you’re driving in Europe which will act as proof of your European cover. If not, ask for it - the card itself is free.

If your insurer doesn’t extend your policy, you might be able to add European cover as an optional extra, which usually covers you for up to 30 days.

Don’t forget to check the small print for any exclusions on your policy, as some will put a cap on the number of days you’re fully insured while in Europe.

What’s a Green Card?

A Green Card is an internationally-recognised document that acts as proof of insurance in Europe.

While it’s no longer required in most countries, taking one will make it easier if you need to make a claim or exchange details with another driver or the police.

Countries that still need a Green Card are: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Israel, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Visit the Motor Insurance Bureau for more information about the Green Card.

READ MORE: International driving permits

Breakdown cover

Girl pushing car

Breakdown cover can be important, especially on long trips. It’s worth checking if you already have a European breakdown cover with your policy, or if you can get an upgrade.

While you might be tempted to cut corners and go without breakdown cover, this could be a false economy given that the cost of repair and repatriation can be quite high.

Checklist for driving abroad

You can never be over-prepared, so get equipped before your trip.

Create a travel pack containing all the documents you’ll need:

  • full driving licence

  • car registration document (V5)

  • insurance documents

  • authorisation letter if it’s a company car

  • breakdown policy documents

  • travel insurance documents

  • European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

The following kit and equipment is also recommended:

  • first-aid kit

  • tool kit

  • red warning triangle

  • reflective jacket

  • torch

  • fire extinguisher

Prepare your car before hitting the road:

You may also need to convert your headlights so they don’t dazzle oncoming drivers while being driven on the opposite side of the road.

You can do this with a beam converter kit, which you simply stick over your headlight. Just remember to remove them when you return to the UK.

READ MORE: Worst places in the world to break down 

Looking for country specific information?

Most police forces in Europe issue on-the-spot fines for motoring offences, so carry enough local cash just in case. Better yet – don’t break the law.

The general rules around the seating of children within cars are:

  • All children must be seated within approved baby, child or booster seats that are appropriate to their height and weight.

  • If a child seat is used in the front of the car, passenger-side airbags must be deactivated.

  • Adult seatbelts must be worn if fitted.

Before hitting the road, don't forget to brush up on some local laws.

Test your mettle with this fiendish quiz and decipher these Russian road signs. Only 4% of people got more than five right!

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 First published 02 March 2016


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