What do I Need to Drive in Europe?

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 30 November 2020

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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 you need to take with you, read on to find out what you need to do to get ready for driving on the continent.

Checklist for driving in Europe

When it comes to driving abroad, you can never be over-prepared. Make sure you don’t forget anything important by looking through the following checklist of key things to remember.

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
  • breakdown policy documents
  • travel insurance documents
  • European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) (valid until 31st December 2020)

Depending on the country you are driving in and when you plan to travel, you may need a “green card” and an International Driving Permit (IDP), and other documentation, so check this in advance of your trip.

For your personal safety, it will also be useful to take at least some of the below on your trip. Some of these items will be compulsory in certain countries, so check before travelling to avoid any fines or other consequences later on.

  • first-aid kit
  • tool kit
  • red warning triangle
  • reflective jackets
  • 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!)

You also want your car to be in the best possible condition so you don’t find yourself relying on your breakdown policy straight into your trip! You could take your car in for a service at a garage, or do some checks yourself.

This is a fairly simple process that includes:

  • checking the water, oil and coolant levels
  • checking tyre pressures and tread
  • adjusting your headlights and adding deflectors if necessary (to avoid dazzling drivers when you drive on a different side of the road).
  • if applicable, ensuring your GB sticker is visible on your number plate

You should also check in advance if you need to get a clean air certificate or sticker to display in your vehicle.

There are low-emission zones in several European towns and cities, in France and Germany for example, which may have restricted access or may impose charges or require some form of permit/sticker in order to drive there.

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.

You should check 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.

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.

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.

Be prepared

Before you embark on your trip abroad, you should make sure you are fully prepared. Planning in advance will make things easier once you are abroad, and minimises the risk of anything going wrong.

As a minimum, you should plan your route so you know exactly where you will be driving.

In addition to making sure you are comfortable about where you are going, rather than just relying on a satnav or your phone for directions, planning your route will also mean you know if you will drive on any toll roads. So, instead of feeling stressed if you enter a toll-charge zone, you will know how and when to pay, whether by cash or online.

In the lead-up to your trip, it will also be useful to familiarise yourself with the local driving laws in the country you are travelling to, including speed limits, road use, and other regulations that may not be in place in the UK. You should also make sure you are aware of any differences in road signs so you aren’t caught out on your travels.

What could change after the UK leaves the EU?

If you’re planning to drive in Europe after Brexit, it is important that you stay updated on how things might change.

For example, you will need to get a GB sticker on the rear of your vehicle, and you may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) and a “green card” when you drive in the EU from 2021.

For more details on what these documents are and how to get them, as well more information on what could change after the transition period, see our guide on driving in Europe after Brexit.

About the author:

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

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