Driving in Europe

Tips & guides

20 March 2018

With convenient links like the Eurotunnel and Channel ferries, driving to Europe from the UK is easy. Travel safely when you arrive with this guide to EU road rules.

For UK holidaymakers, making the hop over the Channel (and bringing the family car along) is a straightforward and relatively speedy journey. Keep the rest of your trip just as safe and hassle-free by preparing your car in advance and getting to grips with European road rules with our practical guide.

Make sure you have the right paperwork for your trip

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

  • Passport/personal ID. Although the Schengen area has practically eliminated border checkpoints across much of Europe, you'll need these documents to enter or exit Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania or the UK.
  • Full photocard driving licence. From June 8, 2015, paper counterpart licences will no longer be valid, so make sure you always carry your photocard licence. To find out more, read our guide to the UK driving licence changes.
  • Your original V5c vehicle registration document.
  • A valid car insurance document, covering you in each country you're planning to visit. If your car is insured with AXA (and you received a quote for your policy on or after 26/11/2014) then you can drive your car throughout the European Union for up to 90 days during the policy year. 
  • Travel insurance and/or a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The EHIC is free from the NHS, and entitles you to free or reduced-cost healthcare across the European Economic Area (EEA).
  • A pet passport, if you're taking your pet abroad with you – you can get this from your vet.

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:

  • To make a car insurance claim: +44 (0) 1732 376 249
  • To call for breakdown assistance in Europe*: +44 (0) 1737 815 375

* Please note that European breakdown cover is an optional extra that you'll need to add to your policy.


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're required to install, display or carry.

Firstly, 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. If your number plate doesn't display the GB-Euro sticker, you'll need to apply your own GB sticker. In addition, many European countries legally require that motorists carry:

  • A warning triangle
  • A first aid kit
  • Reflective jackets/waistcoats
  • Spare head/tail lamp bulbs
  • A fire extinguisher and basic tool kit are often recommended, though not legally required

As with any long journey, it's wise to service your vehicle before setting off. Basic checks and precautions you can do yourself include:

  • Checking tyre pressure and tread (minimum tread depth is 1.6mm)
  • Checking your oil levels
  • Topping up coolant and windscreen washers
  • Storing spare antifreeze, water and oil in the car
  • 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.

While some are immediately obvious, others may be trickier to spot:

  • With the exceptions of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus, you'll need to drive on the right
  • 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 all across Europe


Local laws

The EU may have helped to simplify some legal matters across the continent, but laws of the road can still vary considerably. Some important rules to be aware of include:

  • You must be over 18 to drive in most European countries
  • 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 have your headlights on at all times, even during the day
  • Some German and Swedish cities have low emission zones similar to the London Congestion Charge
  • If you need glasses to drive, Spanish law requires you always have a spare pair in your car
  • Drink driving laws vary across Europe, and many countries are more strict than the UK