Driving Abroad

Driving and travel checklist

This essential driving and travel checklist will help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you are away.

There are a number of things you may not have thought of when holidaying away so this article will help ensure you make the most of your time away and stay safe and prepared.

Popular European destinations

For many, a driving holiday abroad will entail travelling through one or more of the below popular European destinations. Our European country driving advice pages will be your bible for these destinations - we offer an extensive and researched guide with all the information you could need from rules of the road to embassy information to travel advice.

Find out more about driving in the top five locations in Europe:

For those travelling to France we also have a further top ten tips for driving through France to keep your knowledge up to date at a glance.

Also see our full driving in France kit you can buy online at the RAC Shop which you can store in your car. The kit includes a warning triangle, GB sticker, headlamp beam convertors, adult high visibility vest, first aid kit, foil blanket, NF approved breathalyser twin pack and much more.

Alternatively for a trip elsewhere in Europe take a look at our popular European driving kits include all the required driving accessories for your summer travels in Europe.

Want to learn more about the International Driving Permit (IDP) and if you need one? Visit our International Driving Permit page for more information. Alternatively to find a simple list of countries that require them, click here.

Before you go:

We've teamed up with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to give you some tips on preparing for a great trip, whether you’re driving or travelling abroad.

European breakdown cover

Wherever you end up on holiday, we’ve got you covered

General travelling information

  • Find out where the nearest embassy will be – check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's website to find out what services they offer and their opening times
  • Don't travel without travel insurance - make sure it covers you for any activities you are likely to undertake such as water sports
  • Travelling within the EU? Then get a free European Health Insurance Card which entitles you to free or reduced emergency care - you still need full travel insurance though! Also remember, you can call 112 to contact the emergency services in any EU country
  • Check www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk or visit a travel health centre or your GP to find out what vaccinations or medication you may need
  • Make sure you've got correct visas for the country you are visiting and that your passport is valid
  • All first-time adult passport applicants must now attend an interview to verify their identity. It now takes up to six weeks to get a first passport. For more information please visit DirectGov
  • For certain countries your passport must be valid for 6 months after the date you travel – check the entry requirements before you go
  • 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. This will make it much easier for us to contact someone if necessary
  • Tell a friend or relative where you are going and for how long for - give them some idea of your itinerary if possible and an emergency contact number
  • Take enough money for your trip and some back-up funds in a mix of cash and travellers cheques - make a note of the cheques' numbers before you go
  • Invest in a good travel guide to help you plan your trip
  • Make sure your driving licence is current and valid. Make sure you are aware of the driving laws in the country you are visiting
  • Check HM Revenue & Customs Travel website for information on duty-free allowances, banned goods, etc.

We have also made a downloadable travel abroad-checklist of all the essential items you may need when driving in Europe - so you can tick as you go and guarantee you don't leave anything behind.

When you get there...

Get on the right track – remember most European countries drive on the right-hand side of the road (the exceptions are: the UK, Irish Republic, Cyprus and Malta). This means that typically, you’ll be negotiating roundabouts in an anti-clockwise direction rather than clockwise! If you find you have to overtake, exercise extra caution as it is not easy in a right-hand drive car and may be safer when you reach a stretch of dual carriageway.

Don’t get caught out in the headlights – it is a legal requirement not to dazzle oncoming drivers. Make sure you adjust your headlamps ready for driving on the right-hand side of the road. Headlamp converters (stickers you put on your headlights) are widely available and you can buy them from the RAC Shop.

Map out your travel plans –Sat-navs are invaluable, but it’s worth double-checking your route with a detailed map of the area. Remember to bear in mind that sat-nav requirements may differ from country to country – for example, in France, it is illegal to use sat-nav equipment with radar detection indicating where fixed speed cameras are located.

Keep the loose change – many European countries operate toll roads, so make sure you have plenty of loose change in the correct currency to cover the cost of tolls. It is also worthwhile keeping some spare money to cover any unexpected costs that crop up along the way.

Expect the unexpected – drive carefully and cautiously, taking extra care to be really observant. Remember the local driving style may be very different to that of the UK. The advice from the Foreign Office is to drive defensively when abroad and to expect the unexpected at all times.

Stick to the rules – make sure you obey the rules and regulations of the road. This means sticking to all the speed limits and observing what we as UK drivers may think are rather obscure rules – e.g. in Spain and Switzerland, if you wear prescription glasses, always carry a spare set; and in Spain, never wear flip flops while driving and in Italy only park in the direction of the flow of traffic. Observing the local rules will make your holiday go much smoother - attempting to discuss a driving offence with a police officer in a foreign language or using broken English and sign language is never easy!

Take a break – driving is tiring at the best of times but if you are driving overseas in unfamiliar areas, concentrating on driving on the right hand side of the road and reading different road signs it can be even more exhausting. Ensure you take frequent breaks and stop in a safe place for a rest if you are feeling tired.

Watch out, thieves about – protect your car from being broken into by exercising vigilance. Don’t leave valuables in sight, check your vehicle is locked and park in safe, well-lit areas.

Beware ‘wear and tear’ – any driving holiday when you are using your car for long periods of time may increase wear and tear on your vehicle. It’s worth checking your tyres, windscreen, mirrors and lights throughout your holiday to be on the safe side.

Accidents happen – if you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident, contact your insurer immediately and call the police. Obtain the other driver’s full details together with the names and contact details of any witnesses. Remember to take photographs of the damage to your vehicle.

Use your commonsense – just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean you throw all your commonsense out of the window! Wear your seatbelt at all times and make sure your passengers are wearing theirs, don’t use your mobile phone while driving and make sure you don’t get distracted by your satnav.

When you are away, consider these driving and travel tips:

General travel tips

  • Think about what you are doing at all times and trust your instincts - don’t take risks that you wouldn’t at home!
  • Don’t openly display valuables such as mobile phones or digital cameras and consider using a padlock on suitcases or backpacks
  • Find out about local customs and dress, behave accordingly and obey local laws - there may be serious penalties for breaking a law that might seem trivial at home
  • Be careful when taking photographs, videos or using binoculars. Such activities may be misunderstood, especially near military installations or airports
  • Check with your service provider to make sure your phone works abroad
  • Check whether it’s safe to drink local tap water- if not, stick to bottled water and avoid salads, non-peeling fruit and ice in drinks
  • Use your judgement when buying and eating food you’ve not prepared yourself
  • Respect the environment – don't buy wildlife souvenirs, conserve resources like water and don't drop litter
  • Check import regulations for food and plants before you attempt to bring them back to the UK - for more information visit www.gov.uk/defra

Additional information if you’re looking to drive aboard:

  • Familiarise yourself with the driving laws of the country you are visiting. This means more than just checking what side of the road to drive on – it should also include speed limits; what paperwork or documentation is required by law; alcohol limits and any other important rules and regulations.
  • Check your breakdown cover and extend it to Europe if you need to. 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.

For more information on the RAC’s European Breakdown Cover for complete peace of mind, visit: European Breakdown Cover, or call us FREE on 0800 015 6000 to get a competitive quote.

  • Make sure car insurance covers you to drive abroad. Check with your insurance company that you’re fully covered 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.
  • Find out if you need an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP allows motorists to drive vehicles overseas without further tests or applications and is required in many countries including Egypt, Thailand and India and recommended in countries such as Mexico, Hong Kong, Canada and the USA.
  • Check what compulsory in-car equipment is required in the country or countries you will be driving in. For example, in July 2012 it became compulsory for all cars on French roads to carry a portable breathalyser. The kits enable motorists to check if they are under the French limit of 50mg per 100ml of blood which is 30mg lower than the UK. Motorists in France are also legally obliged to carry a warning triangle and fluorescent vest.
  • Remember to keep all your essential paperwork together in one place. Create a travel pack containing all the appropriate documentation you will need to comply with the legal requirements of the country you are visiting and to help if you get into difficulties. In addition to your passport and driving licence this may include: vehicle registration document (V5); motor insurance certificate; International Driving Permit (if required or advised); breakdown policy and contact numbers; travel insurance documents and any emergency helpline numbers.
  • Don’t forget to display your GB sticker (if you don’t have a GB Euro number plate). Don’t forget that your vehicle must display the appropriate country identification letters (e.g. GB). Failure to do so may result in an on-the-spot fine, but if your number plates include the GB Euro symbol, you do not need a sticker within the EU.
  • Prepare your vehicle before you go. There are also simple things you can do yourself to make sure your car is in good, roadworthy condition such as checking your tyre pressures and tread and topping up your oil and checking your coolant level. These simple tasks are vital to keeping your car running smoothly on the road and to stop your engine overheating.
  • Stock up on your in-car ‘tool kit’ – make sure you have a breakdown kit in your car including: fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, tool kit, torch, blanket, warning triangle and reflective jacket . A jack and wheel removal tools in case of a puncture could come in extremely handy when you’re on the move abroad. You can buy European driving kits and other essential items at the RAC Shop.
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