Your guide to driving in Europe – before you leave

Taking your own car abroad has become an incredibly popular option for holiday makers, there’s no luggage limit, you’re not restricted by the terms and conditions of a car rental and driving in a different country in a car you’re familiar with makes the experience less daunting, especially if it’s all new.

There’s a few requirements for driving in Europe that you may not be aware off. There’s different laws, driving behaviours, and road systems which, for first-time drivers in Europe can all be a bit perplexing. So, whether you’re just preparing for your 10-minute commute from the villa to the beach, or an all-out cross-country adventure through rural Spain. Be well-prepared and have a look through our guide to ensure you’re not caught out by some of the intricacies of European driving legislations.

What documents should I bring?

First, make sure you have all the necessary paperwork before you set off. You’ll of course need your driving licence, proof of ID, and proof of vehicle insurance. But we recommend you also take the following documents if you’re going to drive in Europe:

  • Passport
  • V5C certificate
  • National insurance number (if you plan to rent a vehicle)
  • Travel insurance documents
  • EU breakdown cover policy
  • European health insurance card (grants you access to reduced cost healthcare in European Economic Areas. You can apply for an EHIC through the NHS.)

What items should I bring?

Each country has their own legal requirements for items you must bring with you before you hit the road. For instance, many countries require a universal bulb kit and reflective jacket. See below the items we recommend bringing to meet EU legislation and make your journey more convenient.

European driving kit

A bundle of all the common items legally required to drive in Europe. This saves you the hassle of sourcing and purchasing everything individually. The pack usually includes; a GB sticker, high-vis jacket, first aid kit, universal bulb kit, warning triangle and a foil blanket.

Toll tag – toll roads are common throughout Europe; did you know that France has over 90 of them? It’s more than likely you’ll be coming across a few during your time away.  It may be worthwhile getting a Sanef tolling tag, which allows automatic payment of motorway tolls. You simply place it inside your windscreen, and can drive through a toll gate without having to stop to pay.

Sat-nav – or If you don’t own one you could also use a smart phone, since 2017 EU laws now prohibit roaming fees, so data is the same price as it would be in the UK. Although note that some countries prohibit use of speed camera detecting technology, so ensure these features are disabled before you set off.

Crit’air sticker – A ‘clean air’ sticker which identifies the emissions your vehicle produces, and is required to drive in a handful of cities in France.  The sticker costs just over €3 and if you don’t have one, you could potentially receive an on-the-spot fine of £117.

Crossing the channel

What’s the best way to cross the channel, Eurotunnel or a Ferry? There’s compelling cases to be made about both, so it’s down for which suits your travelling presences and is most convenient for you.

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle – The Eurotunnel is the quickest option, you can cross the channel in less than 35 minutes. There is no excess luggage charge and you can book via their website, with the option for self-check ins, making the process quicker.

Ferry –  Taking a Ferry is a much longer journey, Dover to Calais is the shortest trip which takes 90 minutes, but there are also ports doted around the UK, with 61 Ferry crossings made each day, which gives you some flexibility as to where you can travel from.

While the Eurotunnel has speed on its side, there’s still a multitude of reasons you may want to opt for a Ferry. It generally allows you for a more pleasant travelling experience, with the ability to go to a restaurant, walk, have a rest and wash.

What do I need to check before I set off?

Vehicle tax and MOT

Ensure they’re up to date. If you’ve brought your own car do this before you travel and if your MOT is not yet due but you have gone a while without getting your vehicle checked or serviced, then it’s a good idea to do so as a precaution.

Otherwise, if you’re picking up a rental car, have a quick run through the documents or ask the employee dealing with your rental. They should also be able to provide useful information regarding the protocol for breakdowns.

Insurance documents

You should always check what your insurance covers and never assume that you’ll be getting all the cover you need from the UK policy. Check your insurance and the number of abroad days it covers, you may have to pay a premium if you stay for longer. If you notify your insurer about your intent to drive abroad beforehand, they could advise on what your insurance includes and the procedures should something unexpected happen.

There are three types of insurance you should consider getting when driving abroad; insurance against a crash, breakdown and health in case an accident happens. You should check your current insurance covers all three of these in the EU, or otherwise you will need to purchase a separate policy.

What should I do if I breakdown in Europe?

A breakdown in an area you’re unfamiliar with can be extremely stressful for you are your family and disrupt or even ruin a relaxing and peaceful get away. So, it’s important to know the steps of what to do if a breakdown occurs beforehand.

You will be provided a number to call by either your car insurer if it includes a European breakdown policy, or a motoring organisation if you purchased your insurance separately. They will then be able to give you advice in English, and usually have translators to liaise with the local garages to help get your vehicle fixed.

It’s important to see what your insurance includes. Should the garage not be able to fix the vehicle, it could pay for travel back to your accommodation, a hire car and possibly more.

Tips for getting the best deal on renting a vehicle abroad

If you’re looking to rent a vehicle abroad, then it’s important to take care when booking with car rental companies who sometimes capitalise on holidaymakers unfamiliar with the process and country. They may bundle add-ons such as insurance, additional drivers and car seats but charge a much higher price than it would be to purchases them separately.

Often with insurance, it can be cheaper to purchase a standalone policy to cover the vehicle before you travel, this way you can also get the exact cover you need at the right price.

Extra costs to watch out for

  • Fuel policies
  • Additional drivers
  • Insurance
  • VAT
  • Cleaning
  • Car seats
  • Cancellation fees

Read up on driving rules for each country

Each country has their specific driving rules, so it’s useful to be aware of these. For example, France changes their speed limit according to the weather, and if drivers are flashing their headlights at you it’s because they are going to move first, rather than letting you go, which could cause some confusion for drivers from the UK!

Do I need a car seat?

European laws states that anyone up to the age of 12 or 135cm tall (or 150cm in Germany, Portugal, Ireland and Italy) must use a car seat. Children must not sit in the front unless they have the correct child seat and the airbag is disabled. This law varies slightly from country to country so ensure that you’re compliant with the law of the country you’re visiting.

Driving with pets

If you have a cat, dog or ferret, your pet will need a passport, vaccinations against rabies, a microchip and documents confirming ownership.

You can read our guide to traveling with your pet for more information and tips on taking your furry companion abroad.

Have fun!

Make the most of the opportunity and explore new places you usually wouldn’t get a chance to see, with the peace of mind in knowing that you’re fully prepared for worst. You’ll be able to avoid any frantic family fallouts, and expertly deal with whatever is going to happen without causing too much disruption to your relaxing holiday!

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