Driving abroad: get your paperwork in order

If you are planning to drive in countries outside the EU you will need to apply for 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. It is also recommended in countries such as Mexico, Hong Kong, Canada and the USA.

On 1 January 2013, a new law was introduced in the state of Florida in the USA making it compulsory for anyone holding a foreign driving licence to carry an IDP, creating confusion among some British holidaymakers. The law may be repealed and is not enforceable at this time; however the RAC strongly recommends motorists obtain an IDP if they are planning a trip anywhere in the USA.  

Driving without an IDP where it is required by law could land you in trouble with the authorities and you may even be refused a hire car. And, in some countries, if you are involved in an accident, insurance companies will insist on seeing your IDP in addition to your driving licence and insurance papers.

It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure they have all the necessary documentation needed to comply with the requirements of immigration, customs, health and other relevant regulations. It is therefore vital you don’t assume anything and do your research well in advance of your trip to allow sufficient time to get all the necessary paperwork in order.

To help motorists planning to drive overseas, the RAC is offering the following advice:

  1. Check your driving licence – Always make sure your driving licence is current and valid.
  2. Do you need an IDP? – Generally, UK driving licences are accepted throughout the EU; however always double check before you travel. The RAC has a full listing of individual countries’ requirements and you can order your IDP by post from the RAC. Visit:  www.rac.co.uk/travel/driving-abroad for more information.
  3. Taking your vehicle overseas outside Europe? – If so, you may need a ‘Carnet de Passage en Douanes’. This is an internationally recognised Customs document entitling the holder to temporarily import a vehicle duty-free into countries which normally require a deposit against import charges. The RAC is the only issuer of Carnet de Passage en Douanes in the UK. Visit www.rac.co.uk/travel/driving-abroad/carnet-de-passage for further details.
  4. Make sure you’re covered – Never go on holiday without travel insurance. You also need to check with your insurance company that you are fully insured to drive abroad and covered for any medical expenses resulting from an accident. If you’re driving to Europe, the RAC provides travel insurance especially for self-drive holidays. We also offer European Breakdown cover to help keep you on the road and ensure your trip is worry free. To get a quote, call 0870 333 2784.
  5. Does your vehicle comply? – Some countries have different vehicle requirements and you need to check your vehicle complies before you travel. For example at certain times of the year, winter tyres may be compulsory in some countries.
  6. Car essentials – The regulations of what you need to carry with you in your vehicle when you’re abroad differs from country to country. In the UK, you are not advised to carry your vehicle ownership (V5 log book), however in many European countries, if you don’t, you could be subject to a fine. Another example is the new regulation in France which means you must carry a French authority-certified breathalyser in your vehicle at all times.
  7. Obey the laws of the land – You need to familiarise yourself with the driving laws of the country you are visiting. This includes local speed limits and which side of the road they drive on! Visit www.rac.co.uk/travel/driving-abroad to make sure you’re familiar with the local rules before you go.
  8. Do a maintenance check – Ensure your vehicle is in tip top condition before you travel and double check you have the numbers to call if your vehicle breaks down.