Driving Abroad

Driving in Europe 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.

Downloadable driving in Europe checklist

For a comprehensive list of what you need to take with you when driving in Europe, our downloadable checklist will have you fully prepared.

View checklist

In addition to the checklist above, it is worth visiting our popular country advice pages, to find out the specific laws for the countries you may be driving in on your trip away.

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.

READ MORE: Do I need an international driving permit?

15 tips for before you leave

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.

1. Find the nearest embassy

Check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's website to find out where the nearest embassy is, what services they offer and their opening times - you never know when you might need to contact them and it's better to be safe than sorry

2. Don't travel without travel insurance 

If you become seriously ill or injured abroad, you will need full travel insurance to cover any medical bills, otherwise you could be left with a hefty bill after you get better - most countries will even charge you if an ambulance is called out. Also make sure your insurance covers you for any activities you are likely to undertake such as water sports

3. Get a free European Health Insurance Card

A European health card isn't a substitiute for travel insurance, but it does entitle you to free or reduced-cost emergency care in some instances. To find out more about what they cover, visit the NHS advice page. Also remember, you need to call 112 to contact the emergency services in any EU country

4. 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.

5. Check you car insurance

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.

6. Need a visa?

Make sure you've got correct visas for the country you are visiting and that your passport is valid. STA Travel is a good resource to find out more about travel visas.

7. First time abroad?

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

8. Passport validity check

For certain countries your passport must be valid for six months after the date you travel – check the entry requirements before you go

9. Photocopy your passport

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

10. Emergency contact

Make sure you fill in the emergency contact details in your passport. This will make it much easier for us to contact someone in case of an emergency

11. Share your trip details

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

12. Emergency funds

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

13. Travel guide

Invest in a good travel guide to help you plan your trip. Yes, be spontaneous, but there's nothing more frustrating than walking round in the heat for hours looking for the nearest good restaurant or cashpoint and a guide can point out these with ease

14. Duty free allowances

Check HM Revenue & Customs Travel website for information on duty-free allowances, banned goods, etc

15. Vaccine check

Visit a travel health centre or your GP to find out what vaccinations or medication you may need before your trip - do this early as some destinations require vaccinations months in advance of your trip


11 tips for using the road in Europe

It can be a vastly different experience driving in a different country, so get to grips with these 11 tips to help you adjust as quickly and safely as possible.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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!

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

Additional information if you’re looking to drive aboard:

  • 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.

General travel tips

  • 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
  • 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

The RAC offers the BEST European breakdown cover on the market†. For complete holiday peace of mind, it’s got to be the RAC.

^Price for 1 day Comprehensive Plus cover for up to 9 people travelling in a vehicle up to 1 year old in zone 1. †Comparisons based on top standalone cover levels from other major providers, visit www.rac.co.uk/eurocompare for full details.

RAC European Breakdown cover arranged and administered by RAC Financial Services Limited (Registered No 05171817) and provided by RAC Insurance Ltd (Registered No 2355834). Registered in England; Registered Offices: RAC House, Brockhurst Crescent, Walsall WS5 4AW. RAC Financial Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in respect of insurance mediation activities. RAC Insurance Ltd is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.