Driving in Europe

Driving abroad

13 July 2023

Please note: Before you travel, you should always check the Government’s website for up-to-date information about any travel restrictions.

Breathtaking mountainside passes, scenic ocean roads and empty country lanes - driving is one of the best ways to navigate Europe's varied landscapes. Whether you're making the hop over the Channel for business or pleasure, bringing the car along could be a straightforward and relatively speedy journey.

However, driving abroad does mean being aware of (and sticking to) the local rules of the road. Our handy guide gives you everything you need to know about driving in Europe, to help you have a safe and hassle-free trip.

How has  driving in Europe changed after Brexit?

Some changes have been made to the rules governing driving in Europe, car insurance and driving permits since leaving the EU.

We’ve listed some initial areas to consider below, but you may also like to read our full, most up-to-date guidance.

Am I covered to drive in Europe?

Yes. UK-issued motor insurance policies automatically include the minimum level of third-party cover needed for driving in the EU.

What documents do I need to bring when driving in Europe?

Firstly, you'll need to take your passport with you when driving abroad, which will need to have at least six months' validity left.  You'll also need to take your valid Great Britain, or Northern Ireland, driving license with you - check  it’s still valid, or renew your license online if it’s  expired or is about to. 

If you're driving your own car, you'll need to take your V5C (logbook) with you as well as your insurance certificate. If,  you'll be hiring or leasing a car in the UK and taking that abroad, you'll need a valid VE103 certificate.

You might also need to have an international driving permit (IDP) on you when you are driving abroad in some countries. You can use the Government website to check whether you need this before taking your car abroad. If you do need an IDP, you can get these over the counter at the Post Office. 

What is a green card, and do I need one?

The green card is an international certificate of insurance issued by UK insurance providers. It proves that you have the right motor insurance in place for driving in certain countries.

You no longer need a green card to drive anywhere in the EU, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia or Switzerland. You may still need a green card to drive in countries outside of the EU. Always check the requirements for the country you are travelling to, and leave enough time between your green card application and date of travel to make sure you get your green card on time.

If you’re insured with AXA, you just need to contact us to get a green card,  these can take up to 14 days to be issued. If you don't plan on driving your car outside of the UK, you don't need to arrange for your AXA to issue you with a green card, and there won't be any other impacts on your insurance cover.

What other paperwork do I need for driving in Europe?

If you drive safely and sensibly when travelling by road in Europe, you're unlikely to encounter many problems. However, if accidents happen, or you're stopped by local police, there are a few documents you'll need to have at hand:

  • A valid passport and personal ID. Depending on the travel agreements agreed between the UK and the country you’re travelling to, you may need these documents to enter or exit the country.
  • Full photocard driving licence.
  • Your original V5C vehicle registration document.

It's also wise to take an international phone number for your car insurance and breakdown cover providers. AXA customers can contact us from abroad on the following numbers:

Please note that European breakdown cover is an optional extra that you'll need to add to your policy at least 24 hours before you travel.

Preparing your car for a European road trip

To ensure your car is both legally and mechanically fit for European roads, there are several items you may be required to install, display or carry. These could vary country to country, so you need to check before you depart.

For driving on the other side of the road, you'll need to apply headlamp beam adjustors to avoid dazzling drivers on your left. They're available from most auto shops, but aren't 'one size fits all', so make sure you buy the right kit for your car model.

Most European countries require cars to be marked with their country of origin, so be sure that your vehicle displays the UK sticker at the rear. In addition, some European countries may legally require that motorists carry items such as:

  • A warning triangle
  • A first aid kit
  • Reflective jackets/waistcoats
  • Spare bulbs for your headlights and taillights
  • A fire extinguisher and basic tool kit are often recommended, though not legally required

The rules can vary from country to country, so always check the legal advice for each country you’re travelling to first. And as with any long car journey, your vehicle should be in good condition before you leave, so it’s wise to get it serviced before your trip. There are certain safety measures you can take yourself too, such as:

  • Checking your tyre pressure is correct. You can find the correct PSI figure for your car in the user manual, on the label inside the door frame, or the label inside the fuel flap
  • Checking whether the tyres have enough tread – this should be a minimum of 1.6mm Tyres do wear down quickly when they get down to 3mm, so think about getting your tyres checked before you go.
  • Making sure there's enough oil in the tank
  • opping up coolant and windscreen washers
  • Storing spare antifreeze, water and oil in the car in winter months
  • Packing a tyre inflator/sealant set

You may also want to see a registered mechanic to make further checks, especially if you have any rattles, chips, scrapes or handling issues already on your mind.

Practical tips for driving in Europe

Before you set off on your journey, it's a good idea to take some time to familiarise yourself with the key differences between driving in the UK and in the European countries you'll pass through. Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or driving abroad for the first time, here’s some essential road rules you should keep in mind before you put your pedal to the metal.

  • You must be over 18 to drive in most European countries
  • With the exceptions of Malta and Cyprus, you'll need to drive on the right-hand side of the road while travelling through continental Europe
  • Road markings vary from country to country, so familiarise yourself with important road signs, markings and crossings to avoid nasty surprises
  • Many countries have toll roads and bridges – check your route or carry plenty of change in the local currency to avoid getting caught out
  • Most speed limits across Europe are expressed in kilometres per hour (km/h) rather than the UK standard miles per hour (mph). As a rough guide, it's worth remembering that 10mph = 16km/h
  • Speed limits vary widely from country to country, so it's sensible to check local limits for your country of travel, and pay attention to speed limit signs
  • If an emergency arises, the emergency number is 112 across Europe
  • A UK sticker should be clearly displayed on the back of your vehicle, if this information isn't already included on your number plate. You can find out more about UK stickers requirements on the Government website.
  • Radar and camera detectors (which pinpoint speed cameras) are illegal across much of the EU, even when built into satellite navigation
  • In Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Finland, Slovakia and Sweden, your car must be fitted with winter tyres during winter weather. Many countries also require drivers to carry snow chains in winter.
  • In Croatia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, you must always have your headlights on, even during the day
  • Drink driving laws vary across Europe, with many countries having rules stricter than the UK
  • Many major cities have traffic-restricted areas and congestion charging zones, it's a good idea to avoid driving in urban centres, sticking to public transport instead.

Country-specific driving laws

The rules can vary from country to country, so always check the local laws and requirements for each place you’ll be driving through.

Toll roads

There aren’t many toll roads in the UK, but they’re a fact of life in continental Europe – especially on motorways. In Spain, Italy and Portugal, tolls are charged for stretches of road, while motorway vignettes (stickers that you display on your windshield) are compulsory in Austria and Switzerland. Vignettes are available in post offices, newsagents and petrol stations and should be on show from the moment you enter the country – failure to do so can result in an expensive on-the-spot fine.

While manned booths used to be the norm on motorway tolls, automated systems are gradually being rolled out and many don't accept cash. If you're travelling to France you should consider purchasing a Telepeage device, which is electronically read as your car passes through the toll booth. A benefit of these devices is that drivers in right-hand vehicles don't need to lean over the front passenger seat to pay the booth’s attendant.

Plan your route

In the age of the sat nav, getting lost on overseas roads isn’t the problem it used to be. That said, it’s still risky to be solely reliant on technology. If you're heading abroad, it's certainly worth purchasing a sat nav device for the trip, but you should also take a detailed, country-specific road atlas with you to be on the safe side.

Before you head off, take some time to plan the best route – and if you’re travelling with friends or family, ask one of the passengers to familiarise themselves with the route, too. If you do stray off-piste, it's also worth packing a phrase book and learning a few key terms in the local language. Just knowing the correct terms for ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘straight ahead’ can help a great deal if you need to stop and ask for directions.

From carrying the necessary paperwork to familiarising yourself with local road signs and driving styles, keeping up to speed with what’s required to drive safely and legally in Europe safely can feel a little overwhelming. Preparation is key, which is why it’s a good idea to get as organised as you can and brush up with the latest driving laws before you hit the highway so that your European driving trip goes without a hitch.

And if you’re looking for car insurance, why not get a quote from AXA Car Insurance today!

Keep your car road ready with AXA

Don’t let an unexpected bump in the road but the brakes on your plans. Protect your vehicle with AXA Car Insurance to help keep it going from A to B – no matter what lies ahead.