What Do I Need to Drive in Europe? Driving in Europe Checklist

British drivers are not uncommon on European roads – particularly in the summer months. However, each country has sets of rules that may differ from those you're familiar with back home, so what do you need to do before you start driving in Europe?

John Ellmore, Rhiannon Philps Published on 23 October 2020. Last updated on 17 March 2021.
What Do I Need to Drive in Europe? Driving in Europe Checklist

Whether you regularly drive abroad or you’re making a one-off trip, it is important to make sure you are fully prepared before embarking on your journey.

By planning in advance and making sure you have everything you need, you can relax and enjoy yourself if you’re travelling for pleasure, or focus on your work if it’s a business trip.

From knowing which side of the road to drive on to what essentials to take with you, read on to find out what you need to do to get ready for driving in Europe.

Documents

Before you travel, it is worth compiling a travel pack of important documents.

These should include your:

  • Passport.
  • Full driving licence.
  • Car registration document (V5C) or a VE103 vehicle on hire certificate for leased or hire vehicles.
  • Car insurance documents, including a “green card”.
  • Breakdown policy documents.
  • Travel insurance documents.
  • European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC).

You don’t need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, as long as you have a UK photocard driving licence. If you are driving in a country not listed, you can check if you need an IDP and which type you require here.

Some of the rules on driving in Europe have changed since leaving the EU. You can read more about these changes in our guide to driving in the EU after Brexit.

Equipment and accessories

In some European countries it is compulsory to carry certain items in your car. Failure to have them may result in a fine. You can confirm the rules for each country on gov.uk, but some items you may need to have when driving in Europe include:

  • GB car sticker.
  • Red warning triangles.
  • Reflective jacket.
  • First aid kit.
  • Headlight deflectors to avoid dazzling drivers when you drive on a different side of the road. Alternatively, you could adjust your lights.
  • “Clean air” stickers or certificates to drive in towns/cities with low-emission zones. You can use the Urban Access Regulations site to check if there are any restrictions or extra charges.
  • If applicable, a “vignette” sticker or permit. Some countries may charge extra fees to drive on certain motorways, so you may need to register and pay beforehand.
  • Winter tyres and/or snow chains, depending on the region and the time of year.

Other useful items to take with you

Even though they are not compulsory, it may also be useful to take at least some of the items listed below for your own personal safety and comfort.

  • Tool kit.
  • Torch.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Water (for your engine).
  • Snacks and water (for you and your passengers).
  • Blanket or warm clothes.
  • An up-to-date paper road map (in case your sat-nav stops working!).
  • Spare tyre.

» MORE: Essential items to keep in your car

Insurance

If you’re planning to drive in Europe, you need to make sure that your car insurance provides at least the minimum level of cover needed. Most car insurance policies will automatically give you the minimum protection needed to drive in Europe, but it is worth checking the terms of your policy to make sure that this is the case.

Do this well before you start your trip, so you can give yourself plenty of time to amend or add any extra cover to your policy (such as accidental damage or theft) if you want further protection.

You will need to get a physical “green card” to drive in Europe, which proves you have the necessary insurance. To apply for a card, contact your insurer and you can either get one by post or by email to print out yourself.

Many insurers will restrict the number of days of European cover on a policy, so double-check that you have enough for the duration of your trip.

If necessary, don’t forget to get travel insurance before your trip, to provide cover for medical expenses, cancellations, and any activities you might do.

Do I need European breakdown cover?

If you break down or have an accident when driving abroad, it can be a stressful time, especially if there’s a language barrier to overcome. It could be costly and take time to sort out, so having breakdown cover can help to make your life a lot easier should something happen to your vehicle.

» MORE: Do I need breakdown cover?

European breakdown cover means your car will be covered in a European country in the event of a breakdown or incident.

A good European cover plan will get you immediate European roadside assistance. This will most likely lead to your car being repaired on the spot or at the very least towed to the closest garage.

In some cases, European cover may already be included on your standard breakdown cover. But if you think it isn’t, then it’s worth contacting your provider to see if you can purchase the add-on so you know you are prepared for all scenarios when you do make your trip abroad. If you regularly drive in Europe you could purchase an annual multi-trip breakdown policy.

Read our guide to European breakdown cover for more information.

Don’t forget to familiarise yourself with your policy before you leave for Europe, so you know what to do and who to contact if you do break down while you’re away.

Planning your journey

Before leaving, make sure your vehicle is in good condition to minimise the chances of breaking down while abroad.

In the lead up to your trip, it will also be useful to read up on the local driving laws in the country you are travelling to, including speed limits, road signs and other regulations such as toll charges or low-emission zones.

For example, some urban areas have restricted access, while some roads and low-emission areas may require you to register and pay a toll charge beforehand.

Perhaps most importantly, remember that all European countries except the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta drive on the right-hand side of the road!

Be aware that leaving the EU has affected pet travel, passport validity and what you can bring in and out of EU countries, among other things. Read more on travelling to Europe after Brexit to find out what has changed and if you need to do anything before setting off on your travels.

About the authors:

John Ellmore is a director of NerdWallet UK and is a company spokesperson for consumer finance issues. John is committed to providing clear, accurate and transparent financial information. Read more

Rhiannon is a financial writer for NerdWallet, with a particular interest in personal finance and insurance guides for consumers. Read more

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